July 1, 2007

Health & Beauty

"Serving Up Lunch"

by Jennifer Mackey Stewart

“Want to get some lunch?” my good friend Anna asked after we finished playing our regular Saturday morning tennis match. She had beaten me as usual, and the score was an embarrassing six games to one.

“Sure,” I managed to gasp as I wiped my clammy forehead with a towel. I felt like I was being baked in the hot Texas sun.

Not looking the least bit winded, she tossed her tennis gear in the trunk of her car and slammed the door shut. “How about Sweet Water Cafeteria? It’s pretty close by, and it’s got great lunch specials.”

“Sounds good,” I said, thinking any place that served ice water worked for me.

When we got to the restaurant, we slid our plastic trays along metallic rails and chose our lunch from the steaming dishes of American food. Anna piled her plate high with roast beef laden with thick gravy, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and green beans dotted with bacon bits. Her glass fizzled with Dr. Pepper.

I was surprised at the amount of food on her tray since Anna had been dieting for as long as I had known her. I had never understood why. She was such a wonderful athlete, always crushing me in straight games. But she insisted that she needed to lose those last five pounds, despite my arguing that she looked great just as she was. I figured that she had finally come to her senses and stopped all the dieting nonsense, realizing that those “extra five pounds” were necessary muscle that propelled her ferociously across the tennis court.

We settled in a booth and talked about our weekend plans and the latest Wimbledon scores and whether or not tennis legend Lindsay Davenport would retire. Suddenly Anna announced, “I’m so proud of myself.”

“Why?” I asked as I helped myself to another chicken finger.

“We passed by all those rolls,” she said, pointing to bread baskets flanking the register, “and I didn’t take one. I’m being really good about sticking to my low-carbohydrate diet.”

She merrily slurped her Dr. Pepper.

With much effort, I was able to suppress a laugh. All that rich, caloric food with the buttered potatoes and pasta swathed in cheese, not to mention the beans floating in bacon grease. The Dr. Pepper was pure sugar, and she was concerned only about bread, the one unprocessed item in the whole cafeteria. The rolls should have been the least of her worries.

But she looked so pleased and proud of herself, unlike her normal restaurant demeanor of feeling guilty about eating this or worrying about eating that. When in fact she was in excellent shape and always a fierce opponent on the other side of the net. Who was I to interrupt her joy and bring her down? Did it really matter if she wasn’t “dieting” in the traditional sense of the word and restricting her meal options to salads and diet shakes? She was fit, healthy, and for the first time I’d seen, happy and guilt-free about the choices that lay on her plate.

I smiled at my friend. “I’m proud of you too.”

Jennifer’s writing credentials include poetry featured in Spiky Palm, a review of Quotable Texas Women that was published by Texas Books in Review, editorials for HardOCP.com, and a feature story for The Good Life Magazine. Her short fiction has received Honorable Mention distinction in ByLine Magazine’s Short Story and WRITERS’ Journal Romance contests. She edits academic journal articles for international clients and teaches creative writing through Round Rock Independent School District.