Margie had tried every diet out there. The Scarsborough Diet, Atkins, Flat Belly, Wheat Belly, Hawaiin, Paleo, Gluten-Free, Fat-Free, Low Cal - you name it. She’d started dieting in the early 80s when a friend passed her a handwritten copy of The Cabbage Soup Diet after Jazzercise class.
“Eight banana milkshakes on Day 4? Are you sure?,” she’d asked her friend.
“And all the cabbage soup you can eat!” her friend replied with glee.
It turned out that Margie could only eat a minimal amount of cabbage soup before her farts forced her to isolate herself from friend and foe alike. She did lose seven pounds that week, so it wasn’t a total loss.
The diets always worked; she’d drop twenty pounds, buy a new wardrobe, then promptly gain thirty. She went from self loathing to maniacally enthusiastic with dizzying speed, and soon her friends learned to just smile and nod whenever she began talking about the latest diet fad. Oh, you know that Margie!, they’d say to each other and roll their eyes. They didn’t really mind that little bit of craziness, because everyone loved Margie.
It was hard not to. She walked into a room like a gift, wrapped up in a velour sweatsuit and a dozen bangle bracelets. She wore too much makeup and too much hairspray and laughed too loud. She was a little embarrassing at times. She ordered her food in the accent of whatever country the dish originated in - Mexican for enchiladas, Southern for fried chicken, Chinese for lo mein noodles. Margie was a born and bred midwesterner (“You can take the girl out of the Heartland, but you can’t take the Heartland out of the girl!”, she liked to say), so the accents were always cringeworthy. But she charmed everyone with a smile and a wink, and no one seemed to mind too much.
Margie wasn’t married, and her friends could never quite get the full story of her past. “There was a man,” she’d say, lowering her voice to a whisper and cutting her eyes. But she never said more, and when pressed she’d change the subject. What kind of man could have that effect on Margie?, they wondered, and agreed that regardless, he didn’t deserve her.
Margie belonged to the local Lutheran church, she volunteered at the hospital and was a reading buddy at the elementary school. She hosted a monthly supper club and was at Jazzercise twice a week, without fail. She had a host of friends and a full schedule, but still went home to a cramped apartment she shared with her bichon frise, Malcolm. Malcolm had been her mother’s until her death, and Margie inherited the dog along with the apartment. He was an ancient and grizzled ball of fur, who seemed to wake just long enough to eat and use the bathroom. Too old to handle stairs and too lazy to play, his toileting was contained to a small square of astroturf on the balcony. Every day when Margie woke, she stared at the dog on his pillow, trying to discern if he was breathing. Every day she would think, “Oh, he’s dead!” only to be startled by a sudden, ragged snore. She was always a little disappointed.
Margie was, despite outside appearances, terrifically lonely. At home, she led a painfully mundane existence - eat, take Malcolm to the bathroom, watch TV, try to sleep. She’d complained to a young mother in Jazzercise about her sleeping problems and been shocked when, the very next week, the woman came to class with a small cello bag of Xanax and a pill bottle full of marijuana.
“This will fix you up!,” the woman whispered.
Margie hadn’t known what to say, so she stuffed the drugs in her purse. She sat them on the counter and stared at them for a long time. She didn’t even know how to smoke marijuana! Didn’t you need to make it into cigarettes? She had some post-it notes, but had a feeling that wouldn’t work. After an extensive search on the internet and repeated viewing of a You Tube video from a young man named weedman420, she fashioned a rudimentary pipe out of a soda can and tin foil.
She nearly vomited after inhaling. Weedman420 had suggested a deep, hard, fast draw on the ‘pipe’, and Margie always followed directions. She’d never even smoked cigarettes, so the sharpness of the smoke penetrating her lungs was unexpectedly painful. The second puff was considerably easier, and by the fourth she downright digging it.
She scrambled eggs and made chocolate milk and giggled at Malcolm twitching in his sleep. She had a sudden and overwhelming urge to dress him up like Elvis Presley and spent thirty minutes trying to make a wig out of clothespins and felt before she forgot what it was that she was doing.
There was a noise. It was a not unfamiliar sound; the sound of a person trying not to make a sound. Margie stood perfectly still, the hairs on the back of her neck at attention. She could hear her own ragged breath and willed it to be quieter. Stop beating, heart! Stop breathing nose! Stop rushing, blood! She thought she heard the sound again, but wasn’t sure. She became convinced, standing there in her living room, that someone was in the apartment. Someone other than her and her comatose dog and Weedman420, frozen on the computer screen.
She had to get help.