Hey, guys! This is a writing sample I'm using for a class. I wrote it at random in July of 2016 and had zero plans for it, so it's a pretty good sample to work with. Anyway, I need to revise it by Tuesday 04/23 for our class workshop.
Structurally I know it's a total mess, even though things connect more or less logically: the opening is totally vague in terms of setting, and there are like five different flashbacks or memories, some of which are nested within each other. However, because my class focuses particularly on sentence structure, I will take not only big-picture feedback but also feedback at the sentence level! In particular, I'd like to know if there is cohesion between sentences, whether any pronouns are vague/unclear, and generally if my sentence structure is effective. If possible, please leave me suggestions for revision along with your critique. Thanks!
Word count: 1480
The worst part of getting old and fat was realizing you had done so. For years Ernestine remembered herself—when she remembered herself at all—the way she looked the summer of her wedding: thin and lithe, so freckled from tanning that her mother ceased complaining about her complexion only to complain about her red bikini.
That bikini. Ernestine dimpled. So risqué to show your stomach back then, and such a daring shade of red! Her mother said it made her look like a hussy. At least being a hussy was fun.
But she got married, and then the children came, one after the other in quick succession. She'd been too preoccupied with housekeeping, cooking, and child-rearing to look at herself. It was disheartening to find that the freckled, bikini-clad girl you knew had vanished in cellulite, wrinkles, and sagging breasts.
"So wear a bikini," Walter grouched when she broached the subject. "You've seen what they wear to the beach these days. No one's going to notice an old lady in a bikini."
He made a noise like a bear clearing its throat. Bikinis disgusted him. String bikinis, thong bikinis, those bikinis masquerading as one-pieces by hiding under a layer of sheer stretch fabric. Disgusting. That was what he always said, but Ernestine noticed the way his eyes lingered on the very girls he pronounced "not nice."
Only the thin girls. Fat girls went unnoticed.
Not by Ernestine. She smiled at them when she dared, the fat young women parading the beach in tiny swimsuits. She hovered between the fear that a smile from an over-the-hill stranger would disgust them and the hope that it would let them know how brave she thought them. How she admired them. Admired and envied.
That red bikini. She could never wear it now. She'd never be as comfortable in this wrinkled, bloated body as those fat girls on the beach looked in theirs.
"But they're not comfortable, Mom," Eleanor had said at dinner last Sunday. She sounded exasperated, but it might have been the way Charlie was wailing and banging his spoon on the high chair. The couple at the next table, who gave an air of the wealthy childless, glared. "They just act like it so people won't realize how broken up they are. They're unhealthy and unattractive and they have a problem, Mom, they just don't know how to stop eating and they don't understand what a joy exercise is."
If that was what Eleanor thought of fat people in general, what did she think of her mother? Ernestine knew when to stop eating, but she'd always cooked to Walter's tastes. That meant meat and potatoes and butter in everything. And while she didn't dislike exercise, she'd never given it much thought. The gym seemed unnecessary when you spent all your time running after children and grandchildren. But not to Eleanor. The gym was her sacred space and the 20-Minute Calorie Buster video her higher power.
Eleanor succeeded in wrestling the spoon away from the baby.
"Really, Mom," she continued, as though Ernestine had bothered to comment. "Why do you think people always talk about what great personalities fat people have? You have to say something nice, and that's all anyone can think of. Comfortable, my God. They're all miserable."
All this "they" when it might as well have been "you, Mom." Maybe it was only wrong for young people to be fat. Or maybe old was worse than fat. There were certainly just as many anti-aging products on the market as slimming products. For a moment, Ernestine resolved never to use anti-aging anything ever again. Then she decided it was bad enough being sixty-seven and fat without having all those fine lines her moisturizers and make-up claimed to get rid of.
Jim pointed his fork at the redhead three tables away. "She could be so beautiful if she'd just lose the weight."
Her attire, a form-fitting black number with a low neckline and short skirt, had prompted the discussion. Ernestine might have worn something like it forty or fifty years ago and had made the mistake of expressing her admiration aloud. She should have known better. Jim and Eleanor couldn't shut up about this sort of thing once they got going.
"If I did it," Eleanor said, sticking a spoonful of food in the baby's mouth to quiet him, "anyone can do it."
She'd put on weight in high school but had taken off fifty pounds and been religiously "healthy" ever since.
"Can't imagine you fat, baby," Jim said with a grin. "Never could've married you if you were."
Eleanor giggled and smacked his shoulder as if he'd been flirting, but Ernestine felt offended for reasons she couldn't express. Perhaps because she felt unattractive enough without hearing such comments. She couldn't remember the last time she and Walter had had sex. Of course, there was his condition, which made him feel emasculated even though the doctor said it was perfectly normal in a man his age. Nothing a pill couldn't take care of. But Ernestine could never shake the feeling it was her fault, a feeling compounded by their last anniversary. In a fit of daring, she'd stopped at the adult novelty store off Main Street and bought a slinky night dress that looked like it would fit. She couldn't bring herself to try it on in the store. It turned out to be a squeeze, to say nothing of the fact that black made her look so pasty, but she'd rather have died than brought it back to ask the clerk for a bigger size or something in red. Checking out had been bad enough. The cashier, a petite black girl with brilliant turquoise hair, had joked around with her, given her a thumbs-up, and wished her luck in her romantic endeavors. She'd meant well, but Ernestine had slunk from the shop with the bag clutched to her chest so no one would see the logo.
By the time Walter came home with a bouquet in hand, she was worn out from squeezing into the darned thing. She met him in the foyer anyway, wearing the slinky black night dress and nothing else, proud of herself for surprising him that way.
He looked her up and down, handed her the flowers, and gave her a peck on the cheek. She deflated, remembering a time when he'd come through the door and work her clothes off almost before he'd got it closed.
"Happy anniversary," he said.
Then he clomped off to the living room.
The young woman in the restaurant, though—she had looked fantastic in that black dress, and her date seemed to think so, too. He couldn't keep his hands off her. Not bad-looking himself, either, which took some credence from Jim's theory that you only ever saw fat people on dates with unattractive people.
"Ernestine!" Walter bellowed up the stairs. "Are you ever going to be ready? It's nearly quarter-to."
She slipped a pink muumuu over her shapewear and hurried downstairs.
It was the same every Sunday. They met at Ray's. Walter ordered the ribeye, rare, with a baked potato. Ernestine ordered the baked chicken and a side salad. The children dominated the conversation while Walter said little unless Katherine was there to engage in sports talk. Jim and Henry sometimes attempted it, but Jim was more interested in the workout value than the scores or players, and Henry's knowledge was limited to basketball and football. Katherine, on the other hand, wrote the sports column for the Freemont Daily. She knew even more about sports than Walter.
Ernestine looked out the car window with a sigh. A change would be nice, but she had received blank stares the one time she suggested they meet at another restaurant.
"What's wrong with Ray's?" Walter asked, bristling as though he owned the place.
"Where else did you have in mind?" This from Eleanor, on the phone. "Do they have high chairs?"
Nothing was wrong with Ray's. There was nowhere in particular Ernestine wanted to go. Just somewhere different. The question of where stumped her. As for high chairs, how was she supposed to know?
Since a new location was out, she ordered an entree she'd never tried. Cajun linguini alfredo sounded good—until she looked up to see Walter, Eleanor, and Jim staring at her. She faltered. The waiter, with a kind smile, leaned closer.
"What was that, ma'am?"
"You don't get the pasta," Walter said in astonishment. "You always get the chicken."
"Mom." Eleanor sounded scandalized. "Do you know how many carbs are in that?"
"Forget carbs," said Jim. "Alfredo's the worst pasta sauce you can get. It's loaded with fat."
The waiter's smile tightened. Ignoring them all, he said to Ernestine, "You wanted the pasta, ma'am?"
Red-faced, she shook her head and mumbled a request for baked chicken.