The Fitter Family Contest

By Anna Tatelman

Posted on

The nurse squeezes a rubber ball that makes the strap around Raymond’s arm tighten more and more. It really hurts. Raymond pushes his lips together so he won’t complain, because complaining is bad heredity. Mother told him that this morning when he complained about the Brilliantine she put in his hair. The gel still smells awful, like dead flowers and Father’s breath during good-night kiss. Mother is determined to win this Fitter Family contest, which is why she made Raymond wear the hair gel and why Raymond must not complain.  Mother thinks they lost the competition last year because of Aunt Julie, who is what Mother calls a broad, although she won’t tell Raymond what that means. 

The nurse finishes Raymond’s physical exam. While he waits for the psychiatrist, which he knows is a doctor for thoughts and feelings, Raymond reads a pamphlet about how “unfit people are born only to be a burden,” and how “armed with your superior heredity and your knowledge of eugenics, you can help save us!” Raymond knows the pamphlet is important, but he has trouble paying attention, because he’s daydreaming about all the other much more fun things to do at this fair. Raymond doesn’t have money for the fun things, but maybe Mother will reward him with a few pennies later, if he helps her win this contest.

The psychiatrist comes in and introduces himself as Dr. Carter. He asks Raymond lots of questions about wrong things in his family, like jail time and feeblemindedness and laziness, and he takes lots of notes while Raymond talks. Raymond doesn’t mention Father’s weekday drinks or Aunt Julie being a broad, which aren’t (as Mother calls them) sinning lies because wanting to win this contest isn’t vanity: it’s for the good of humankind.  Raymond gets asked about happy things too, like his skills, and to prove he’s an exceptional musician, he sings “You’re A Grand Old Flag.”

“Well, Raymond,” says Dr. Carter, “it seems that you’re quite the thoroughbred!”

Raymond is confused about why Dr. Carter calling him a horse seems to be a good thing.

“That’s an analogy that Margaret Sanger came up with,” says Dr. Carter. “The thoroughbreds of the human race. See, it’s people like you – people with upstanding heredity – that will create a cleaner and happier world.”

Raymond doesn’t know about Margaret Sanger or analogies either. But if he asks, Dr. Carter will think Raymond is mentally defective, and then Mother definitely won’t give him any pennies. So Raymond smiles. “Thank you, sir.”

An hour later, Raymond’s family wins.

They receive medals and pose for newspaper photographs on stage. Everyone applauds. Raymond touches the medal’s raised letters that say, Yea, I have a goodly heritage, which is from the Bible. God likes thoroughbred humans, too.

Mother and Father are so proud, Mother especially, that she gives Raymond pennies before he asks.  Raymond closes his fist over his medal and money, then visits the most fun thing at the fair: the freak show.

– Anna Tatelman