ROOTS (1977) is a television mini-series about ethnicity and family origins, based on Alex Haley’s novel. The show won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award.
12/01/09 | Television

Roots

by Corey Mesler

Gloria was overweight. There was no longer any question about it.

She stood in front of her full-length mirror, naked, and surveyed. I have large breasts, she said to herself, nice breasts. But, who can tell? She shook her arms and watched the flesh over her biceps undulate. She put her hands on her midsection where the biggest problem was. Mm, Gloria thought, so much fat here. She grabbed two handfuls. She put a hand in her thick, reddish-brown pubic hair and shrugged. My natural color, she thought. Nobody wants your pussy anymore, she sneered to the mirror, eye to eye with herself.

She decided to take another bath as long as she was naked, her second of the day. In the bathtub Gloria felt lighter and happier. She liked to lie in the water until it was cold, singing lowly, letting her arms float out to her sides. Then she would get out and pat herself dry with a thick towel, put on a nightgown and check out the icebox.

Summer was never Gloria’s favorite time of year. This summer before her senior year in high school was a particularly bad time. She had gained even more weight. Her parents divorced in the spring and she and her mother had moved to a shitty apartment in the suburbs. And to top it off, her acne had spread from her face to her wide shoulders.

“This is an ugly time,” Gloria said to her mother one morning before her mother went to work. “I’m at my ugliest.”

Her mother smiled a tight little smile and patted Gloria’s shoulder.

“Honey,” she said.

Bill Donahoe was a hoodlum. He drank a lot, smoked a lot, and combed his hair straight back from his oily forehead. He had been arrested when he was fifteen for DWI and Gloria thought he was as attractive as a man could get.

He was a kingpin at the apartment swimming pool. He was always at the center of a group of young toughs, broken-home kids mostly, who spent every sunlit hour at poolside.

Gloria would sunbathe on her towel in a two piece bathing suit and sunglasses and watch that vital social group in action. She liked the way the boys all swaggered and spit, did fancy dives, and pushed each other into the water. Occasionally they’d talk to Gloria, always friendly enough, but not too warmly. Gloria relished their smallest attentions.

One afternoon, on a day that couldn’t decide if it wanted to rain, Gloria had the pool all to herself. She would tread water for a while, lie on her chaise for a while.

She was sunning on her stomach when Bill Donahoe approached and put his bare foot on her ass.

“Big ass,” he said, in greeting.

Gloria grabbed the ends of her untied top straps and looked up. “Hey, Bill,” she said.

Bill sat down beside her and lit a cigarette. He was wearing an unbuttoned sport shirt and jean cutoffs. He squinted as he blew a smoke ring.

“Whatcha doin’, Gloria?” he asked after a minute.

“Tannin’,” Gloria said.

Bill took another drag from his cigarette. Gloria propped herself on one elbow and faced Bill. Bill looked unabashedly at Gloria’s breasts as she tied her straps behind her.

“Your folks home?” he asked.

Gloria shut the apartment door behind her and flipped the keys onto a chair. Bill looked around the living room in brief appraisal. He looked at Gloria’s body.

I’m fat, Gloria thought.

Bill took her breasts in his hands, without preamble, as if weighing them. Then he reached down and tugged her bathing suit bottoms down. Then he undid his pants and let them drop. He wasn’t wearing underwear.

He turned Gloria around and untied her straps. He reached around her and gripped her breasts. Bill then pushed himself against her, knocking her slightly off balance. She took a step forward. Bill steadied her with a hand on her midsection and bent her over the TV stand. Gloria closed her eyes in exquisite delight. Love, she said to herself.

The next morning Gloria awoke smiling. She had smiled the whole night before, too, while watching a segment of Roots with her mother. She had chatted away like a child while the two of them sat on the couch, popcorn between them.

“Shush, Glo,” her mother said. “This is wonderful drama here.”

Now it was morning. Now Gloria hopped out of bed. She recognized her own smile in the mirror.

As she showered and put on her bathing suit she tried not to look at her own nakedness. She resolved firmly not to eat the whole day. She went straight to the pool.

It was 10:30 a.m. and Bill and some of his friends were already there. As she walked across the grass toward the fenced-in pool she saw them see her. They were murmuring to each other.

Gloria went through the gate and set her towel down on one side of the pool. Still standing she chanced another look at Bill. He was staring off over his friends’ heads, smoking a cigarette. He had an International Harvester cap on his head. A bad minute passed.

Gloria lay down on her back on the towel. The sun was a bright blister. She stared at the sky, now almost devoid of cloud cover.

“Uhhnnn,” someone said from Bill’s crowd. Gloria looked up and they were laughing and a small child jumped in the pool near her.

Gloria’s ears began to burn. As she started to lie back down someone mooed. She jerked up in time to see a boy and girl imitating the position with which Bill had taken her yesterday. Everyone was laughing. Bill looked straight at her. He flicked his cigarette into the grass outside the fence.

Gloria gathered her towel and ran inside.

Gloria threw her balled-up towel across her dresser, scattering various objects. In a blind rage she headed for the kitchen and yanked open the icebox door. She pulled food items out one after the other, tossing them, helter-skelter onto the kitchen table. Olive-loaf, pudding-in-a-cup, tuna salad, boiled ham, apple pie, congealed salad. She poured herself a tall glass of milk and set it down deliberately by the slapdash picnic. She opened the silverware drawer and got a fork.

When Gloria’s mother came home from work that evening there was a foul smell to greet her. She found a pile of food on the kitchen table. An unopened pudding-in-a-cup, dried tuna fish, a tepid glass of milk, and more, all stale and stinking. “Gloria,” she yelled.

She batted open Gloria’s door, glowering.

Gloria was on her side under the covers. She looked at her mother with sleepy eyes.

“What the hell have you been doing?” her mother stormed.

Gloria blinked. “Sleepin’ mostly,” she said.

“What’s the goddamn food doing all over the goddamn table?” her mother fairly howled.

“I was hungry and then I wasn’t,” Gloria said.

Gloria’s mother looked at her daughter hard. They looked into each other’s eyes. An electric moment passed. Mother, daughter.

After a while Gloria’s mother started to cry and then, a second or two later, so did Gloria.