Volume 8 | Issue 2 | Fall 2007


Gayla Chaney

Sin is a Naked, Fat Lady

            Vivian Jean Walker stands at the south side bus stop waiting for the northbound bus and gazes upward, appearing to survey the heavens before she proclaims, “Sin is a naked, fat lady attempting to conceal herself behind a tree.” She offers this to no one in particular but to all of us waiting for the bus at Eleventh and Washington.  Apparently inspired by her own words, Vivian continues. “No matter how hard she tries to hide or cloak herself, some bit of flesh will, undoubtedly, remain visible.” 

Vivian, who once legally changed her name to Ms. Viva la Revolución, seizes any opportunity to have a captive audience.  A bus stop will do.  She regularly expresses whatever thoughts float through her mind, meaningful or not.  She receives a few glances, but no nods today.  This is a tough crowd.

I remember when people wanted to hear what she had to say.  None of those present here today, but there was a time when she could gather an audience without even trying.  Back when I first met Vivian, she was the young darling of our small community’s intelligentsia.  That was back when babbling brooks were entertaining and time appeared to be on our sides, along with God, the hip version, who hated war and ordained free love, and who rarely, if ever, darkened the door of churches built in His name.  That’s back when Vivian Walker was Viva la Revolución, the precocious fourteen-year-old daughter of the local college’s favorite philosophy professor. 

Our small, East Texas newspaper frequently photographed her at anti-war demonstrations, partly because she was so vocal and so visible, and partly because, aside from high school sports, there wasn’t much else of interest going on in our town. Vivian constantly and consistently spewed the jargon that shocked our town conservatives who bought the newspaper, creating the kind of rift in our community that made us feel a part of the bigger world.  We, too, could have sit-ins and arrests and AP stories if Little Miss Viva participated. 

Fame, that seductive elixir, evaporated for Viva la Revolución toward the end of the Vietnam War, and by nineteen seventy-six, Viva had become Vivian again.  Her father, after being implicated in an unsavory scandal at the university, moved to Oregon with a couple of his former students to find a more liberal environment.  He succumbed to some horrible malady eight years later.  Vivian claimed that he was poisoned by the CIA because he uncovered a drug connection between the State Department and God- knows-who in Central America. 

Her story of conspiracy was a vague, cryptic tale and I, for one, never paid much attention to it.  Like the majority of those in our community who could recall her father at all, I remembered him only as “one of those nuts from the sixties.”  His image faded from my mind, and his name would have, too, except for Vivian’s annual eulogy for him, published in the local paper where she is now employed.  She works in Classifieds, but the editor yields annually to publish her tribute to her father, Gregory Milton Walker, a silenced voice for truth and alleged victim of the military-industrial complex. 

Vivian is no longer our town’s precocious darling; she is, in my opinion, an erratic, middle-aged big mouth to be ignored when present and avoided whenever possible.  Each afternoon, Monday through Friday at the bus stop, avoidance is impossible. Thus, Vivian, the would-be revolutionary, rambles to the disinterested and the bored, hoping against hope to provoke a comment, a raised eyebrow, any response at all on a gray, overcast afternoon as we all wait for the bus to take us home. 

Although my car was repossessed after my last divorce and I am, for the time being, dependent on public transportation, I fantasize about driving to work in order to avoid Vivian’s drivel.  Sometimes, I deliberately take a later bus.  However, most of the time, I stand in the crowd and listen to Vivian Jean Walker, speaking to everyone in general, but to herself mostly. 

I watch her face as she tilts her head up, appearing to contemplate the clouds above our heads.  Vivian is plump with blotchy pink patches on her soft, pale arms, which she flails about as she speaks.  Her hair is hennaed a dark burgundy, and today, she is in army boots under a floral skirt, carrying a large muslin bag with a silk-screened picture of Timothy Leary’s face and the words “Question Authority” printed above it.

Vivian likes her metaphor of sin being a fat lady.  I can see the self-approval on her face.  Part of me thinks that this afternoon, instead of ignoring her continual rambling, I will speak.  I will respond to her remarks, challenge her stupid metaphor.  I will say, “Vivian, I believe you are wrong about sin.  Sin is a frail man trying to carry a piano on his back.  It will crush him before his trek is through.” 

Vivian turns to look in my direction, and I suddenly realize that I said aloud what I was pretending I would say.  Oh, Lord, I think.  What have I done?  The others around us turn to look at me.  Vivian can say anything, and she so often does, that no one notices.  But today, someone in the crowd responds and everyone turns to stare at me, their eyes questioning, Why?

“Sin has many faces.” She smiles in my direction.  “I know you, don’t I?”

“Not really,” I quickly reply, not wanting my name to be blurted out, not wanting to be forever linked in anyone’s mind to Vivian the Bus Stop Nut.

“Yes, I do. You’re Patty … something.  Patty Hall?  Hill? Howell!  That’s it.  Patty Howell,” she repeats with pleasure, exposing my former identity.  Thankfully, I have married and divorced three times and have long since ceased to be known as Howell.  “So you think,” she continues, making direct eye contact with me as she speaks, “sin is a skinny man.  That’s interesting, Patty.  You attribute sin to a gender other than your own.  I, on the other hand, find sin to be very much like myself: female, fat, and often naked.”  Vivian laughs a little, and I notice a few others giggle, probably at the mental image of a naked Vivian.  God knows how much she loved planting that thought in their heads.  The damn little exhibitionist of thirty years ago is at it again, probing into the minds of anyone unfortunate to be in range of her diatribe. 

“I neither think sin is male nor female,” I reply, but my words have a defensive tone, and I know that gives Vivian the point in this match.  “Anyway, I was simply responding to your metaphor with one of my own.  I personally don’t concern myself much with defining sin.”  That feels better; I turn my head to stare down the empty street in search of the not yet visible bus.  The conversation is over from my point of view.  But not from Vivian’s. 

“Well, I guess Patty Howell doesn’t need to concern herself with sin.  I, on the other hand, stand here before you, willing to confess my sins and ask for your forgiveness.  I can tell by the way you turn away from me, Patty Howell, I have either now or in the past, offended you.  I doubt it is something I’ve done here today.  After all, a comment about a fat lady hiding behind a tree couldn’t possibly apply to someone such as yourself.  It must have been some offense from our youth.  You are older than me, as I recall.  Did I steal your boyfriend or something back when we were kids?”  She giggles, but this time no one else does. “Of course not.  That’s not it.  It must have been my stand on some issue.  Most likely, that’s the problem.  Many people around here didn’t like my point of view when we were young.  Did they, Patty?  Well, just for the record, I didn’t deliberately try to step on your toes.  Sincerely, I never meant to make a lifelong enemy merely by exercising my First Amendment right to free speech.”

“Oh, Lord, Vivian, I am not concerned with what you did then or now.  Okay?  I was just offering a metaphoric volley to pass the time.  It was a joke.  Get it?”  I am obviously annoyed and regret every word that continues to come out of my mouth because every response is a coup to the pariah of the bus stop.  She has won some victory today because she can present herself as a victim of censorship or something, invoking the First Amendment as though I had attempted to gag her.  The idea doesn’t seem so bad at the moment, and I picture myself grabbing the muffler off the elderly woman standing beside Vivian and wrapping it around Vivian’s mouth.

“A metaphoric volley?  How clever!  Oh, Patty, I didn’t remember you as clever, but that’s very good.  Try again.  This time I’ll return the volley.  I’ll play ball.  Come on, Patty.”  Vivian pleads sarcastically.  I respond with only a sigh.

Vivian sighs louder and then again and again until I think I will slap her.  She was an agitator thirty years ago.  That’s what people called her.  I remember now how she provoked anyone who didn’t rally around her.  She was masterful at manipulating situations and that was how she so often found her way onto the front page of the daily newspaper.

“I’m trying to make a joke, Patty.  A joke, get it?  You made a joke and I’m supposed to get it.  Now it’s your turn.  Get it, Patty?  I’m volleying back your sigh.  But I guess you don’t want to play this game anymore.  How about this game:  Patty Howell, former young Republican, campaigned vigorously for Nixon-Agnew, had pillow talk with Mr. Clifford Doyle before he was our state representative but not before he was an obnoxious blowhard, and if I’m not mistaken, Patty Howell filed a grievance against my father which the university, of course, dismissed as ludicrous.  Three facts about your life that I recall.  Now, it’s your turn, Patty.  See if you can quote three facts about my life.  Come on, Patty.  If you don’t play, you can’t win!”  Vivian throws back her head and cackles. 

I barely notice, though, so astonished am I by the remarks she has just made.  I am speechless.  Vivian lunges forward, sensing her prey is frozen.  “It was Clifford Doyle, wasn’t it?  That’s what I heard.  Clifford and Patty on election night after the victory party, and Louis Myers somehow figured in the mix. I think he photographed the event. Oh, you crazy Young Republicans sure knew how to party.  You weren’t too good at picking honest candidates, but you certainly could kick up your heels and let down your hair.  Do I have the facts right, Patty?”

I have recovered.  “No, you are not right, Vivian.  Your remarks are slanderous lies.  You are crude, grotesque, both physically and in personality, and of no significance whatsoever to anyone anywhere.”  

“Crude…grotesque… and of no significance.  That’s three facts, unless ‘grotesque’ counts as two since you threw in ‘both physically and in personality.’  That would make four. But I won’t get too technical about it, Patty Howell.  I don’t like to criticize amateurs, despite the fact that your points are more ad hominem remarks than actual facts about my life.  I mean, I was expecting you to discuss my political activism, or my father’s martyrdom, or even my arrest for that nuclear power plant thing.  Those are facts about my life.  Your remarks were subjective assessments, Patty.  What I said about you didn’t reflect my personal feelings about your personality or physical appearance.  My remarks were merely observations regarding your …life choices.  We’ll call them that.  We’ll avoid highly charged words such as ‘sins’ or ‘abominations’.”

“Oh shut up, Vivian,” I snap at her.  The crowd around us is obviously uncomfortable.  Clifford Doyle serves in the state legislature. Louis Myers was implicated in the savings and loan scandal of the eighties, and his wife had a legendary nervous breakdown after the fact.  How Vivian learned of Clifford and Louis’s involvement in my earlier life is a further testament of her obtrusive nature.

“Excuse me,” an older man in the crowd speaks up, directing his comment to Vivian.  “Did I hear you say your father was a martyr?” I am both relieved and repulsed as the conversation turns away from my personal life but toward the ridiculous fable Vivian has created about her father.

“Yes, he was.  Martyred by the CIA for trying to expose the machinations of the powerful against the people.”  Vivian is happy.  She has managed to inject her infamous past and fantasies into the conversation.  She inhales deeply before beginning the myth she has spun about her father while interjecting dubious details about her own life as a young Joan of Arc, hearing voices and all.  She rattles on as I step away from the crowd. 

I realize I was only a pawn in Vivian’s game.  Today, she succeeded in resurrecting her former life, and that’s really what is at stake daily at the bus stop.  Every morning and afternoon this stout, middle-aged woman appears and desperately attempts to revive the young revolutionary who died with the birth of disco.  This afternoon, thanks to my unwitting assistance, Viva la Revolucion has risen from the ashes like the phoenix to soar above the bus stop crowd.  “Hovering” is the word that comes to mind, like a hawk; no, more like a buzzard.  Nevertheless, I must concede that today, Vivian is triumphant.

I listen as she recites some lyrics from a Barry McGuire song about the eve of destruction.  She quotes Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Henry David Thoreau, and Joan Baez with a zealot’s fervor.  The bus arrives and Vivian takes the crowd onto the bus singing, “And it’s one, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?”  

I don’t board.  I shake my head at the driver’s quizzical look.  The door closes and muffles the sound of Vivian’s voice.  I watch as the bus pulls away.  I open my purse to search for a breath mint in order to fight the stale taste in my mouth as I contemplate my own complicity in the resurrection of the Viva-zombie who, at this very moment, has taken hostage an entire busload of work-weary citizens, time-traveling to another era whose songs and chants Vivian prefers.  She will tell them of her father’s martyrdom, omitting the exact cause of death:  Hepatitis C.  The CIA link she alludes to intrigues her listeners; and for any conspiracy mongers, of whom there are always a few, even at bus stops, it is just too tantalizing a suggestion to dismiss. 

For the next ten or fifteen minutes, Vivian will be “Viva, Viva, Viva!” - a chant echoing from years ago, all because of a random definition of sin.  I picture her leading the bus choir in a rendition of Amazing Grace.   My eyes gaze at the asphalt road in front of me, but it’s not what I’m seeing.  Instead, I behold a naked Vivian, winking at me from behind the bus stop sign, giggling as she darts first one way and then another, unable to conceal her ample, pulpy form behind the pole, unwilling to cloak her bare, blotchy skin, causing me to witness - no matter which way I turn my head - fleshy bits of Vivian spilling out in all directions.

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The views expressed in The Oklahoma Review do not necessarily correspond to those of Cameron University, and the university's support of this magazine should not be seen as an endorsement of any philosophy other than faith in -- and support of -- free expression. The content of this publication may not be reproduced without the written consent of The Oklahoma Review or the authors. © 2007 The Oklahoma Review