Big Alabama and the Chained Refrigerator
Nobody could say Big Alabama didn’t exercise. Between abusing me and fighting girls and running down boys she didn’t like with her bike and setting fire to the police station, Big Alabama worked out more than any six razor thin-waifs combined.
No, the reason Alabama was Big Alabama was because she ate. She ate a lot more than too much.
When my parents started giving her smaller servings, Big Alabama raided the dinner leftovers when they were asleep. This went on months. After they figured out what she was doing, my father chained the refrigerator and padlocked it.
My sister and I came home from school one day and saw the chain. It wasn’t a discreet bike chain. It was like something you would use to secure the fence at a military institution. The padlock seemed unnaturally heavy, like it was made from some metal mankind had not discovered yet, and the door would open only enough for you to peek inside.
“This sucks,” Big Alabama said. “It’s an infringement of my rights.”
I said, “We have no rights. We’re kids.”
“They think they’re so clever. Well, I’ll show them.”
“They’re trying to help.”
“Who asked them?”
“Everybody needs help sometimes,” I said.
Well, how could I argue with her? I had seen Big Alabama take on three grown men in a fight—and win. I’d seen her run down a girl half her size and pull her down by her hair. Starting without a dime, I’d seen Big Alabama scrounge up enough money in two hours to bail her best friend out of prison—when I couldn’t even afford a quarter for a Chocodile.
I figured my sister would make a move to find the key. Or maybe she would cut through the chain. Or maybe she would start eating dinner with her friends. But Big Alabama didn’t do anything. Or she tried these things and they failed. I guess the parents of her friends didn’t want to feed my sister’s appetite any more than my parents did.
It got worse. Big Alabama told me one morning that our lunches had been canceled. Since Big Alabama was not losing weight, my parents would have to cut out every meal but dinner.
“Why is my lunch canceled?” I asked. “I’m practically disappearing.”
“They think I’ll steal your lunch.”
I had to admit this made sense. There was no way, walking to school with my sister, she wouldn’t demand at least half my lunch. If she happened to like it and I continued to value my life over meat loaf, I would be lucky to sniff the bag it came in.
None of this worked. Although I lost a few precious pounds, Big Alabama kept putting on weight. My father, shouting at the walls, forbid her to go outside. He moved all the food out of the pantry down to his shop, where it too would be under lock and key.
Alabama kept putting on weight. Nobody could figure out the mystery.
Then one night, sitting in my bed, listening to my stomach grumble, I thought I had the riddle solved. I went to my parents.
“You didn’t stop our lunches, did you? Alabama said you had, but she’s really eating two lunches every day.”
“No,” my father said. “She was telling the truth. There haven’t been any lunches.”
My mother believed Big Alabama was stealing lunches at school, but I didn’t think that was possible. I would have heard something about it. Sooner or later, I heard about everything my sister did. It went on and on. For weeks my sister ate nothing and lost no weight. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a miracle. Somehow my sister was the cure to starvation. If we could just make a Big Alabama pill, we could end world hunger overnight. Or at least world skinniness.
The mystery continued until an offhand comment solved it for me. The whole family was sitting at the dinner table when my mother remarked that the dog was going through his food too quickly and that I needed to stop feeding him so much.
I looked at Big Alabama. She looked at me.
Her eyes begged for help.
James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His work has been published in Anderbo, Atlanta Review, Juked, Nimrod, Poetry East, River Styx, and has been featured in Verse Daily. He lives in Issaquah, Washington.