Jennie Ivey 

The Eating Machine

Most afternoons when she got home from school, Jazzy sat at the kitchen table trying to do her homework. But the eating show going on in Mama’s recliner in the corner of the living room made it hard to concentrate.  It made Jazzy sad to watch. And disgusted. 

Because Mama was an eating machine.

Sometimes she read romance novels while Jazzy studied. A glass bowl filled with Skittles nestled in the folds of fat on her stomach. Every time she turned a page, she popped a Skittle into her mouth. Most days, she managed to finish the book and the bowl of candy at exactly the same time.

On days when Mama was too tired to read, Little Debbie became her best friend. She’d turn on Game Show Network and then hoist herself up out of her chair and waddle to the food cabinet. Breathing hard, she would shuffle cans of Spaghettios and bags of Cheetos around until she found what she was hunting.

A fresh box of Oatmeal Crème Pies.

Little Debbie’s wholesome face, the tie cord of her wide-brimmed hat knotted firmly below her chin, smiled mockingly at Jazzy as Mama waddled back to her recliner. 

                                         "Mama had the prettiest hands you ever saw. . . . If a person                                                     was to see just those hands and no other part of Mama,                                                        they’d never believe they belonged to a fat woman."

She would plop into it and raise the footrest to exactly the right height so that her stomach became a ledge for the Little Debbies. She’d gently slide her right thumb under the end of the carton that said OPEN HERE and listen for the glue to pop. Mama had the prettiest hands you ever saw. They were as small and soft and delicate as a child’s hands and she kept her fingernails perfectly rounded and painted a pale, pale shade of pink.  If a person was to see just those hands and no other part of Mama, they’d never believe they belonged to a fat woman.

After the carton was open, Mama would dump all twelve oatmeal crème pies into her lap and study them, trying to decide which one to eat first. Jazzy would never in a million years understand why Mama did this. Little Debbies were made in a factory, for gosh sakes. Every oatmeal crème pie in the whole universe was exactly alike.

What was there to think about?

Once Mama made her choice, she used both hands to pinch the sides of the cellophane wrapper and pull it apart. She slid the pie, which wasn’t really a pie at all but just two cookies stuck together with white goo, out of its wrapper. She broke the pie in half. Then she broke the halves in half. One at a time, she popped the bites into her mouth, chewed once, and swallowed.

Four bites for each oatmeal crème pie. No more. No less. Not ever.

When she was done, Mama would crumple the cellophane into a tight ball and drop it into the empty carton. She’d choose the next pie and start over again until all the pies were gone. Jazzy felt sick at her stomach just watching. So she would hunker over her geography book and try doubly hard to concentrate on which Great Lake was which.

But what she really wanted to do was stand up and holler, “Stop it, Mama! Stop eating!” 


Jennie Ivey lives in Cookeville, Tennessee. She is the author of three nonfiction books: Tennessee Tales the Textbooks Don't Tell (The Overmountain Press, 2002), E is for Elvis (Rutledge Hill Press, 2006) and Soldiers, Spies & Spartans: Civil War Stories from Tennessee (The Overmountain Press, 2011). Jennie is a Sunday columnist for the Cookeville Herald-Citizen newspaper and a regular contributor to Guideposts magazine and other publications. The novel-in-progress from which this piece is excerpted is her first.