Soaked with sweat and panting from exertion, Tabitha stepped forward in the patchy plot of grass between trailers and punched out as hard as she could. Parts of her jiggled in a fleshy, unflattering way, but she could only grit her teeth and bare with that. For now. Planting her left foot heavily amid the weeds, she adjusted her stance and lifted her right knee up in the air. She pivoted her leg and round-kicked—clumsily, before dropping down, shifting her weight into another careful stance and raising her arms up into a crisp block.
It was hot out today. The sun overhead was relentlessly beating down across the tiny yard beside her mobile home where the young girl was toiling away through a series of memorized movements and positions. To her dismay, Tabitha had been forced to recover several of those redneck-style sleeveless tops from the trash simply to have work-out clothes to wear.
Working through the familiar Taekwondo forms and katas... was hell. Normally, each series of stances and movements flowed with natural momentum from one into the next with grace and ease... but her thirteen-year-old body was useless. She felt awkward and rotund, all of the extra weight she was carrying constantly throwing her off balance and forcing her to consciously compensate for it, all the time. It was like trying to type a document while wearing heavy winter gloves, only that aggravation was joined with an ever-present aching burn throughout all of her muscle groups as they shrieked at her in protest.
Well, if nothing else, at least I know how to do proper stretches, Tabitha thought to herself bitterly, throwing a knife-hand strike and then lunging into a forward stance to awkwardly jab an elbow out into the air. Despite several years of regular Taekwondo, she’d only advanced as far as a yellow-belt. Stretches, warm-ups, a few drill forms, and the first thirteen katas made up the entirety of her knowledge. Most of the practical application, like sparring and actual martial arts would have come later, after a certain foundation of basics had been built up.
But, it’s not as if I have to fend anyone off. If a burglar breaks into the trailer looking for money and valuables, I’ll help them look. Hopefully we’ll turn up something. Tabitha snorted. If someone tries to abduct me, I’ll sigh with relief. She snapped out a side-kick, and then held her extended leg in the air until it began to tremble.
My grasp of the fundamentals could be considered excellent... but basics will only get me so far. The Taekwondo school she’d attended in the future existed here in the past, as well—but enrolling wasn’t cheap, no matter which time she was in. From what she recalled, in these years, the Taekwondo place in town was run by Mr. Lee Senior, while many years from now he would pass it on to her instructor, Mr. Lee Junior. She did still intend to at least visit the place sometime in the next few years, if only to show off her mastery of the katas.
Wincing at hearing her stomach growl, Tabitha lowered her arms and allowed her shoulders to slump down. She was hungry. It was Sunday, her third full day in the past, and all of the frozen vegetables were long gone. She’d had the last hard-boiled egg for breakfast, and although she was intent on starving her body of carbohydrates, options were running out fast. There was a single can of chopped spinach still, and then she might be able to cannibalize each of the frozen TV dinners for their small portions of assorted vegetables… but that was it. Her family didn’t grocery shop until they were just about out of everything, and that was still days away, from the look of the fridge.
Tabitha frankly wasn’t used to being without any form of agency. She had no money or resources of her own, little say in how her life was led, and required her parent’s permission for virtually everything. Being a minor again was more stifling than she could have imagined.
Her parents had sat down with her yesterday to discuss the matter of arranging her an allowance... and rejected the idea outright. They simply didn’t have the money to spare. She’d nodded, thanked them for the consideration, and retreated to her room without any further argument. There were plenty of areas where their spending could be reduced, but Tabitha was smart enough not to bring that up in this first confrontation.
Still, this lack of capital is going to grind all my other efforts to a halt, Tabitha exhaled slowly, readying herself into another combat stance again so that she could resume her practice. A healthy diet may be fairly cheap, but it isn’t free. I need clothes for school. A pack of floppy disks to store my work on, when I start heading to the library. Maybe laundry detergent, too. The cheap stuff they use isn’t great in the first place, and on top of that they’re diluting it to make it last longer. I’m going to start high school, I need some basic things. Better deodorant. Conditioner. Foundation, and concealer. The make-up kit she’d found in her room was intended for children, gaudy cheap eyeliner and several horrific shades of lipstick.
Unfortunately, she didn’t own anything of value to sell for cash. Apart from her room’s worn furniture, the only thing worth more than ten dollars was her dilapidated old stereo, and she doubted she’d be able to sell the thing. It wasn’t like she could just find a job, either.
She couldn’t remember anyone who had kids she could babysit—looking after her cousins was a familial obligation and wouldn’t be paid. She wasn’t allowed to handle her father’s small weed-eater to mow lawns for money. No one in this area seemed to maintain their landscaping, so prospects like watering plants or weeding for neighbors seemed... unlikely. Everyone seemed to have either tiny inside dogs they’d only let out into tiny fenced enclosures, or large, filthy dogs chained outside in the yards of their trailers, so even walking pets wasn’t a viable option. Everyone living here’s as broke as we are, anyways.
What she did have was all the basic ingredients to bake cookies, which was… a start, she supposed. There were no chocolate chips or even raisins, but she estimated she could make several hundred plain sugar cookies with the materials on hand. If she could find a venue to run a bake sale.
I could beg for money along a busy street downtown, if only I wasn’t fat, Tabitha rolled her eyes. Nothing quite screams IMPOVERISHED CHILD like an obese kid, right?
Front kick. Step forward and punch. Jump kick, barely getting off the ground and landing rather unsteadily. She kept bracing herself for sudden joint pain, but at thirteen, her body just didn’t have any. Her overall stamina and recovery seemed to be several orders of magnitude greater now than they had been when she was sixty, the only limiting factor to her youthful energy seemed to be her skipping so many meals. In fact, Tabitha’s body was struggling on pretty well, considering the thorough punishment she was putting it through.
I need a REAL plan, something more than just... scraping by slightly better than I did last time, Tabitha decided after long deliberation. Breathing heavily again, she pushed herself to thrust out her strikes faster, to snap her kicks up higher.
There’s at least two years before Julia’s even born. I definitely need to save her from everything that’s about to happen to her. Maybe get custody of her, if I’m able. I’ll turn twenty-one in… what, eight years? So, she’ll be six already by then. Clenching her teeth, Tabitha attempted the jump and twist of a butterfly kick, but achieved neither the height nor spin necessary to complete it yet. Need to get Goblina, at least, on the market as quickly as possible, she decided. My writing may not have ever been much, and maybe Julie was my only real fan. But, if my story helped her through rough times like she said it did, it needs to better than ever. It needs to be PERFECT for her.
Then, there’s the shooting this October. Few other future events stood out to Tabitha. Later this year, a police officer would be fatally shot, down on the other end of the trailer park. That had been what really gave the Lower Park its horrible reputation, more than anything else. She’d always seen it in the way people in the area looked at her when they learned where she was from. The subtle, slightly different way they treated her, as if she was raised in a den of criminals. Ironically, the shooter wasn’t even a resident—the officer had simply pulled that driver over to ticket them for something, and happened to do so from the road that went alongside that lower end of the park.
I know that he was shot, and that the officer bled out on the way to the hospital, she pressed her lips into a thin line. But, I don’t remember his name, or the exact day, and I’ve no idea how I’d prevent it. Call 911 right before-hand? Shout out a warning, just before it happens? That’d be tough to explain afterwards. ‘Hey, be careful! That crack-head has a gun, and I don’t want the office lady at the Safety plant giving me constant dirty looks when I work there in the future!’
Tabitha sighed. She really hoped circumstances would never force her back to work at the Safety plant.
In the meantime, she needed to secure a source of food. Grandma Laurie—her grandmother on her father’s side of the family, had an apartment across town. Perhaps she could be convinced to lend some aid, she should be only a half-hours bike ride away. Unfortunately, they’d never had much of a close relationship, as her cousins—Uncle Danny’s kids—seemed to have claimed that grandmotherly resource for their own exclusive use. They were even territorial about it, from what she remembered. Little hellions. But, well… I am starving. Mike’s around, and I can borrow his bike.
“Hey, Mike!” She called down the street, finding a barefoot eleven-year old clutching a basketball and staring off into space.
“What?” he yelled back, indignant. Mike had always been a character, and she found herself wondering whatever happened to him in the future.
“I’ll trade you all of my toys if you’ll let me borrow your bike today.” Aside from a few hand-picked sentimental keepsakes, she’d already collected all of the rest of her toys into a square plastic basket she’d found.
“Nah,” he said after a moment’s consideration. “I don’t want stupid girl toys.”
“I mean it, Mike,” she pleaded, stepping closer and sending him a serious look. “Just this once. You can give them all to your sister.”
“I hate my sister, and you smell. Why’re you all sweaty?”
“Fine!” he cried in mock exasperation, rolling his basketball with a crash into a pile of junk in front of his trailer. “But, only my old bike.”
“Grandma! Tabby’s here! Tabby’s here!”
As Tabitha feared, four of her cousins were running amuck throughout her grandmother’s apartment. She knew them to be Sam, Aiden, Nick, and Joshua, and remembered that they were all only a year apart. They sported identical buzz-cuts, and she had no idea who was who right now.
One of them was carrying a driveway marker, while the others each wielded sticks like a small mob. She hoped they were only hitting each other with them, and not chasing cats or looking for squirrels to hunt. Grandma Laurie was watching them from the chair on her porch, at least... so in theory, they were all behaving. She looked even more spritely than Tabitha remembered, probably only somewhere in her mid-fifties now. Younger than me. What a trip.
“Good afternoon, Tabitha,” Grandma Laurie said, rising out of her seat. She had a very slight, almost frail stature, not unlike what Tabitha had in the future, with shortly cropped brown hair and crows feet wrinkling the corners of her eyes. “This is a surprise. When did you learn to ride a bicycle?”
“You can’t even ride a bicycle?” the youngest of her cousins asked, disdain in his voice.
“Uh, duh, she’s riding one right now, retard,” another cut in.
“Yeah, you’re retarded,” another agreed, swatting the youngest one with his stick. “Duh.”
“Ow! You can’t hit me here, I’m out of bounds!”
“Hi, Grandma Laurie,” Tabitha greeted, stepping off the borrowed bicycle. Realizing it didn’t have a kick-stand at all, she gingerly laid it down beside the sidewalk and skirted around the stick-fight her cousins were suddenly engaging in. To her dismay, the young boys all too quickly lost interest and started following alongside her, instead.
“Hey, I heard you hit your head so hard you had to go to the hospital,” one of the cousins taunted. “Did you get brain damage?”
“Yeah, are you retarded now?” Another asked.
“She was already retarded.”
“But is she brain damaged?”
“She was already brain damaged. That’s how you get retarded, duh.”
“On the contrary,” Tabitha replied with a serious face, sending the small group of boys into a rare silence, “acute trauma seems to have unlocked the higher portions of my brain, making me extremely intelligent.”
“A cute drama?” One of the boys turned to look up at their grandmother. “What’s a cute drama?”
“You’re a cute drama, Aiden,” Grandma Laurie stepped off the porch and bent down to pinch at his cheeks. “She means that she’s real smart now, from hitting her head. Like a superhero.”
“Oh yeah?” a cousin challenged, yanking at Tabitha’s arm. “What’s a thousand times a million, then?”
“One thousand multiplied by one million,” she shrugged him off, “is exactly one billion.”
“What’s… uh, what’s the capital of Albuquerque?”
“Albuquerque is a very large city in the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe is the capital city of New Mexico.”
“Uhhh… how much does a T-rex weigh?”
“I would expect more than several tons, though the exact weight of any individual Tyrannosaurus Rex would vary greatly based on its age, size, and diet.”
“Uhhhhh,” the little boy stared up at canopy of branches spread out above the yard, tapping his lip as he struggled to stump her.
“You go on now and leave her be,” Grandma Laurie shooed the brats away. “Well, Tabitha, what brings you here, today? How’s your head?”
“It’s fine. Barely even notice it. I… came to ask for your help,” Tabitha said, flashing her a guilty look. “I’ll do anything I can for you in exchange.”
“What do you need, Honey?”
“I’m… fat,” Tabitha said bluntly. “I want to change, before I go to high school. I need to change, both my lifestyle, and my eating habits. I need to eat healthy. I need to be healthy.”
“Well, that’s good, Honey, good for you,” Grandma Laurie praised, placing her hand on Tabitha’s shoulders.
“Pfft, she said she’s fat,” one of her cousins erupted into laughter. “That’s priceless!”
“Go on, get out of here,” Grandma Laurie waved him off the porch. “Let us ladies talk.”
“But…” Tabitha paused, “I’ve eaten all the vegetables and eggs at the house, all that’s left is… food that’s bad for you. They’re not going to go shopping until all of that runs out.”
“Ah,” the older woman said, frowning. “Well, I’d love to help you, Honey, but there’s not much here, unless you eat cucumbers.”
“I can eat cucumbers,” Tabitha said, perking up. “I’m not picky at all, so long as it’s healthy. Please.”
“Of course, let’s see what we have!” Grandma Laurie said, leading her around the house towards the garden in the back. “I haven’t checked on them in a few days, but I know there’s a lot of cucumbers this year.”
In no time at all, her wild cousins were tasked with enthusiastically pillaging all of the cucumbers and tomatoes in the kind old woman’s normally off-limits garden. The tomatoes were still shades of yellow and orange, but Tabitha knew from experience that they’d continue to ripen if she kept them in a dry, somewhat enclosed space. She was also given a half-bag of lettuce from the fridge, and several cans of sweet peas her grandmother was more than happy to part with. I should look into starting a garden at the trailer for next year.
“Have you talked with your parents about being healthy?” Grandma Laurie asked, reinserting one of the driveway markers she’d sectioned off her garden with.
“...No, not really,” Tabitha admitted. “Mom got angry when I called myself fat. Like, she doesn’t want to accept… certain things. I don’t think I can change their comfort food diet right away, but I am very, very desperate for change myself. I was the fat girl in middle school, Grandma. I don’t think I can make it as the fat girl in high school.”
Not again, at least. There’s no way I could endure.
“I’ll talk to your father, the next time I see him. Let’s get you a paper bag for all of these.”
“Geez, no wonder she’s so fat—she’s takin’ all our food!” a cousin remarked.
“Oh?” Grandma Laurie raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to eat cucumbers, then?”
“Ew, no way,” the boy backed away, holding his hands up defensively. “I thought they were pickles.”
“You thought those were pickles?” another cousin guffawed at him. “They’re two completely different plants, you retard.”
“...Thank you so much, Grandma,” Tabitha said, trying to keep her face from twitching. “It’s been… it’s been so hard. But, I’m going to keep at it, and I’m not going to stop until I’m thin. I’m going to make you proud of me.”
“Don’t push yourself too hard, dear,” she said, pulling Tabitha into a hug. “Stop by and visit whenever you can.”
It was touching that Grandma Laurie loved her just fine the way she was... but also disconcerting when she realized how indulgent she was with Uncle Danny’s kids, and how low her standard was for their quality of character. Well… they ARE family... Tabitha resolved to visit her every weekend over the summer anyways, because Grandma Laurie had always been good to her, and deserved the best company.
At Grandma Laurie’s insistence, Tabitha was sent off with a startling amount of food to struggle home with, all heaped in a double-bagged paper grocery bag. She hadn’t even remembered when shopping centers even still used paper bags, and found herself idly wondering when they’d gone obsolete. With a little bit of a struggle, she hugged the food against her body with one hand and pedaled home on sore legs.
After discreetly tucking her treasured vegetables in the fridge, hidden behind the take-out containers, Tabitha readied half a can of sweet peas for her dinner. She would still be hungry afterwards, sure, but she wouldn’t die. True to the promise she’d made them, she set her parents places at the table and pulled out leftovers for them; hamloaf, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes. She wanted rid of the last of these leftovers, because she wasn’t sure how much longer they would be edible. Also, she was actively working to empty the fridge in preparation for a new and healthy spread of groceries. She had just finished preparing for dinner and was tiptoeing to take a quick shower... when her mother rose from her position at the television and gave her a look.
“Let me guess. You’re gonna take another shower? Tabitha Anne Moore, you just showered yesterday,” Mrs. Moore griped. “I hope you don’t think you’re taking one every day after school. Do you have any idea what our water bill is?”
“A little over forty-seven dollars, not counting the sewage charges,” Tabitha answered, keeping her composure as she continued down the trailer hallway and stepped into the small bathroom. “I organized all of our utilities. They’re in the letter-holder, on the counter.”
“Yeah, well are you gonna pay that, Missy?”
“I would love to meaningfully contribute,” Tabitha nodded, closing the bathroom door between them. “Please reconsider giving me that opportunity to do so.”
“I’ve had it up to here with all of this attitude, young lady,” her mother’s voice barked. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you! Alan, did you hear the lip she just gave me?”
Releasing a deep breath, Tabitha turned away from the door and took a moment to regard herself in the dingy light of the bathroom mirror.
Yep. Still a fattie. She knew looking for any sign of weight loss after just these few days was unreasonable, but despite knowing that her hazel eyes seemed to search all the same. I just look… tired.
Reddish-brown hair hung just past her shoulders, looking limp, stringy, frayed and without volume. She’d started carefully brushing her hair out the past several days, but damage from neglect had run its course, and she’d need to get her loose ends trimmed. Using shampoo that wasn’t dollar-store brand, and acquiring appropriate conditioner would probably be a great help, as well.
Her forehead, nose and neck were beginning to turn red from spending each day out in the sun, despite the expired sunblock she’d applied. Otherwise, her face just looked so fat, her full, pudgy cheeks, deep frown and—
Tabitha purposefully turned away from the mirror to undress. Once she started criticizing her current appearance, there really was no end to it. Dwelling on the issue wasn’t productive, and there were too many other things to do. From what she gleaned from one of the packets that had been strewn about in her room, her middle school finals were approaching in the coming school week. They consisted of a basic examination for the overall middle-school coursework for her various classes, as well as two high school placement tests, one for literature, and another for mathematics.
As a college graduate, Tabitha didn’t imagine she’d fare poorly on any of them... but college was also a long, long time ago. She remembered the classes leading up to exams being non-stop review sessions to prepare them all, but it wouldn’t hurt to read through all of the worksheets and papers in her room. The difference in score of even a few percent on her tests would affect whether she was placed in normal classes or honors classes in September. Her first time through, she hadn’t been transferred to honors courses until after her sophomore year. From her recollection, she much preferred the more focused, quiet group of honors students as peers.
Still… school tomorrow. School, all over again, Tabitha shook her head as she started the water running. What a joke. I’ll do it again if I have to, if only for Julie. Even if it’s just as bad as last time, because I’m still just trailer trash right now. But, I can change—I’m GOING to change! I’m going to always get top marks, and I’m going to have both Goblina and Goblin Princess sent to a publisher before I’m out of high school. Using a pen name, if I have to. Somehow or other, I’m going to make all of this right, Julie...