Sid Elliott is an alcoholic Vietnam veteran who works as an Emergency Room janitor. His lover, Roxanne, is a drug addict. Their relationship deteriorates until Roxanne leaves. After trying to stop a patient from banging her head on the wall, Sid is transferred from the ER down to the morgue. When the body of Gloria Luby, a 326 pound woman, is brought in, Sid decides to try and move her himself, repectfully, rather than rolling her with the help of an orderly. She is too heavy: they fall, and Sid is trapped under her body, his knee smashed. The story ends with Sid in the hospital, after knee surgery, visited by the phantoms of Gloria Luby, his father, and Roxanne.


There is so much in this story. There are two very different emergency physicians, the female one who is pregnant and reassuring, and the male one whose precept is "We save bodies, not souls." Thinking about the harvest of donor organs, Sid observes the way medicine is caught in the limits of material bodies, saying that doctors use their skills for "endless exhanges" of organs, a process he finds "merciful," but also "futile, extravagant." In these contradictory adjectives lie the story's powerful exploration of trauma and masculine identity.

Thon gives us a protagonist who is damaged, both physically and psychically (his parents reject him; his war wound is humiliating: he was "shot in the ass"). She conveys an illuminating sense of male vulnerability. Sid's body is huge, bearlike, but he is threatened (as he sees it, and significantly we see things only from his trapped point of view) by women who are physically smaller than he is. His mother rejects his affection, the slender Vietnamese girl whose corpse he finds is also the one who made a lethal booby trap, the girl he tries to help in the ER bites him, and skinny Roxanne is "the swamp swallowing him," threatening to kill him "with her body." Even the mosquito tormenting him in the jungle is like a dangerous woman, "graceful" and "not malicious."

When he encounters the astonishingly huge, and dead, Gloria Luby, Sid is moved, and determined to treat her as the person she still is. His action, like that of the doctors, is "merciful, futile, extravagant." He identifies with Gloria, imagines himself trapped inside her body, observes that "The body you hate might be your own." He believes he will move her "with the strength of his love." But he fails and is injured and humiliated, left delirious in a hospital bed, with his disappointed dead father, the obese cadaver who tells him what could and could not be found in her by the pathologist, and the ghostly Roxanne who promises him hell. The last two sentences capture his quandary, the collision between his body and the rest of him, his love and his intentions: "He tries to be tender. He prays to be strong."

Primary Source

First, Body: Stories


Houghton Mifflin

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