Fiction: Desperately Seeking Slimness

By Fran Hayden

I don't want to admit it, but the woman before me is right. 
“The emptiness in you – the food fills it. Physically at least. Don’t you think?” She reiterates and leans forward to brace her elbows on slender knees.
Do I think? I raise my fingertips to my mouth and nibble on the skin surrounding my thumb, I’m hoping it gives the appearance that I’m considering her musings, but I think that I know she’s right. She’s hit the nail on the head, really. But I didn’t need £500 worth of therapy sessions to tell me that. I’m overweight. Presenting Daddy issues. Struggling with grief. No real love in my life… aside from my cat. She should be paying me for being such an easy read.
I slick my tongue over the sore I’ve created in my nail bed and raise my eyes to meet hers. Concern blooms in her gaze as if she’s presenting me with a brand-new ideology that will bring me to my knees.
“Mmm,” I squeeze out through pursed lips. “You’re probably right.” She sits back, tucking her thin frame neatly into the chair, and smiles tightly. Job done. Problem solved. She observes me and waits for me to snatch up her insight and run with it. I haven’t done any running since Year 3.
I know that a few weeks of therapy won’t solve my issues for me but I sure as hell expected to be further along than this. As if in answer, my stomach growls loudly and her eyes drop to my waistline – or lack of. I shift and my thighs struggleagainst the arms of the chair. Why don’t they make these things bigger? Fat people need therapy too.
“You’re right.” I amend, throwing her a bone that she snatches up with a nodding head and pitiful look. She doesn’t speak and I realise that she’s waiting for me to elaborate. But I don’t. As she lifts her perfectly lined eyes from my grumbling stomach I can see the judgement there – whether she means it to be or not. A thin therapist should not be dealing with me. Fortunately, I’m saved as she glances over my right shoulder to the clock on her wall and claps her hands together. 
“So Jess, that brings our session to a close today. Over the next week, I want you to really dig deep into your emotions. Try to come to our next session with some ideas to tackle your weight problems and the attachments that cause them, okay?” I grimace at her words but nod, nonetheless. 
“See you next week then.” She slips from the chair seamlessly to see me out. I extract myself from the arms of my own chair and ignore the relief that floods my thighs. I scoop up my canvas bag and sling it over my shoulder. 
“Okay. Will do. See you.” I force out and leave her office –right into the rain that the heavens deemed it appropriate to dump on my head right at that moment. Drained and empty. That’s how I feel after these therapy sessions. Totally empty. And utterly miserable.
I know I sound like a grump, and it makes me sick of myself. But life has a way of throwing shit at you on repeat to see what sticks. Where I’m concerned, you could basically call me a shit stick. Duped by this afternoon’s sunshine, I’d left my raincoat at home, instead choosing the comfort of my biggest and baggiest jumper. But as I turn toward home, rain slapping me in the face and plastering my wayward hair to my cheeks, I regret the decision. The lack of a raincoat comes in at a close second of regrettable decisions as my stomach rumbles again. A stop on the way home is called for. As if I hadn’t planned it already.
Therapy had been my friend’s idea. Or rather, I’d overheard the idea. From a work colleague. During a conversation that I wasn’t a part of. Since losing Mum unexpectedly, I was already aware that I was falling into one of life’s pits. Without Mum’s guidance to keep me on the straight and narrow, usually manageable problems were becoming huge, massive, gargantuan. 
Like me. 
“I’ve been seeing this woman on Eastwood Drive,” my colleague had twittered to her gaggle over a limp salad. “I go before Weight Watchers and she’s amazing. Honestly, I’ve never felt more on track. She really puts it all into perspective, you know?” 
Her cronies had of course twittered back with equal eagerness, but it was the phrase ‘perspective’ that had stuck with me. Which is exactly the reason why I sought out Dr Holly Berry (no, really) and have been paying through the nose for her ‘perspective’ for the last two months. Scoffing, I sidestep a puddle, my ballet pumps not exactly primed for the unseasonable downpour. But where I’d sought ‘perspective’on my problems, she’d only succeeded in telling me what I already knew.
Your Mum died out of the blue. That’s why you’re fat. 
Your Dad abandoned you when you were 4 and moved to Australia with his new wife, then fathered two perfect daughters. That’s why you’re fat. 
You’re 29 and have never had a boyfriend. That’s why you’re fat. 
You live alone in a cramped rented flat above a lighting shop. That’s why you’re fat.
You stuff your face with chocolate and crisps and biscuits and cake and takeaways and bread and cheese and pizza and chips and pastries and wine and DIET Coke, of all things. That’s why you’re fat. 
I stomp my feet with every food item I list. Trust me, I understand all of this. I know why I can only shop at particular stores and choose to order online instead ofventuring into town. I know why I’m in my overdraft every month and my statements show reams of supermarkets and takeaway places. Yet when it comes to food and alcohol and all the stuff I know is bad for me, I’m powerless. Maybe it’s because I know it’s bad for me. Maybe I don’t know any better. Maybe I don’t deserve any better. 
I pause at a zebra crossing and a prick in an Audi speeds past. I don’t even bother raising my hand to show how pissed off I am. What’s the point when I’m invisible anyway? I look left and right and cross; the slight pause alerts me to the ache in my bones when I start up again. I’m no fool, I know it’s because of the pressure bearing down on them and nothing to do with the weather.
Since starting my therapy sessions, the overarching theme has been my weight. Yet it’s taken this long for her to suss out that my eating is a poor attempt at combating the emptiness in me.It remains clear in society, the media, social media, and the world, that the issue of overeating is viewed glaringly differently from the issue of under-eating. If my ribs protruded, if my face was gaunt and I rushed off to vomit up the contents of my stomach after meals, I would be whisked away to a hospital or clinic. But overindulging so that you get sores in your skin folds, you can’t wear a vest without a cardigan, and you can’t go an hour without thinking about your next meal, isn’t the same as starving yourself. 
The world was made for skinny people. You're on your own if you’re fat. 
I turn left and spot the fluorescent lights of the off-licenseamid the pelting rain, my beacon of salvation. Despite the ache in my lower back and the heave of my chest, I speed up toward my destination.
Mum dying really took the biscuit. Underweight and overworked, a sudden heart attack at 58 ripped her from me. Being slim doesn’t protect you against the universe’s plan for you. Even though she spent her life desperately seeking slimness, Mum never made me feel like I was any less – even as her opposite. She did her best by me. She was the one who was there when Dad left, as a kid distracting me with fun days out and then as a teenager letting my bulk weigh on her bones as I sobbed on her shoulder. 
Why doesn’t he want to know me? What’s wrong with me? What have I done? I’d gasp out between tears. But she’d be there, steadfast, unwavering. It’s his loss. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. And, when I was older, I’m sorry that I married such a bastard. The last thing I wanted was for myheartache to root in her. A knot forms in my stomach every time I think that I may be the reason that she only ever ate a Chicago Town Pizza and three tomatoes for dinner. Every night. For 9 years. Come to think of it, that’s all I ever saw her eat, save for a Muller Light toffee yoghurt every day at 11am, bucket loads of coffee and a pathetically small slice of cake at my 16th birthday party. God, I miss her. The ding of the off-licence bell washes Mum’s freckled face from my mind and the man behind the counter waves at me.
“Hi Ayaz,” I smile and gesture to my drenched jumper and hair. “It’s raining.”
“I see that,” he replies, almost apologetically. “Oh Jess – we have your favourite. I ordered it for you. It’s in the usual place.”
I grin at him, “Thanks Ayaz.”
Grabbing a wheely basket I haul it behind me to the alcohol aisle. I quickly spot the Australian rosé and pluck it from the middle shelf. Then I grab a second bottle. It would be rude not to, especially as Ayaz stocked up for me. Then I follow my familiar route, hitting the confectionery aisle first. A bar of Dairy Milk, two Double Deckers, Maltesers and a sharing bag of Haribo. Then, because I’ll need something salty to offset the sweet, I locate the crisps and dump a bag of cheesy Doritos into the basket, followed by a pack of cheapy onion rings. Some apple custard doughnuts also snag my interest, along with a five-pack of oat and raisin cookies. That’ll do, that’ll last me for the next few nights. Yeah right. With my head lowered, I approach the counter and haul the basket onto the counter. 
“Do you need a bag?” He asks as he scans through the oat and raisin cookies. I shift my canvas bag from my shoulder and glance inside and back to the basket of goodies.
“Yeah, I’d better. Please.” As Ayaz reaches under the counter and shakes a red and white striped bag loose, I can’t help but feel embarrassed. Why am I so embarrassing? Maybe that’s why Dad doesn’t want to know. Why would he want a daughter like me when he has two golden daughters to dote on? I can’t blame him really.. The beep of the till shakes me from my misery, and I grin tightly at Ayaz. 
“Right,” he says, pressing enter on the till and handing me my haul. “That’ll be £27.89 please.”
I exhale. Nearly £30. On what? I’m paid minimum wage. I’ve worked almost 3 hours in my dead-end job for this bag of… stuff… that will just be shitted out in the next day or so. Less, if my unreliable bowels are anything to go by. Sighing, I fish out my Hello Kitty purse and tap my card on the machine, holding my breath until the transaction is accepted. 
“All done.” Ayaz hands me the bag with a smile, “See you tomorrow Jess.”
“Yep, see you – tomorrow – Ayaz”. I take the bag and the handle digs into my fingers. Hopeful that the rain has let up, I duck out of the off-license. No such luck. With the dark evening drawing in, the mood outside of the shop is miserable. Fitting. 
I trudge through the puddles on the pavement, no longer side-stepping them – my feet are already soaked. I can’t wait to get home. Cookie will be waiting for me with a rumbling tummy. She was Mum’s cat. They rescued each other when Cookie was already 10 and I couldn’t bring myself to rehome her. So I gave her a forever home, or as best a home I could from mysmall flat... at least she stayed with family. When Mum died, Cookie developed thyroid issues and acute blindness in one eye. Still, having something to care for has been good for me.  
Thinking about Cookie has me delving into the carrier bag to dig out one of the oat and raisin cookies. The pop of the plump raisins and oaty sweetness offer some relief, but it’s not enough. I fish around for a Double Decker and use my teeth to rip the wrapper open before chomping a bite. The chewynougat and crispy rice pops coat my tongue, and something eases in my chest as I swallow. The bar is gone in two more bites; the weight in my chest is not. 
Home is a few more streets away, 5 minutes at most. Dr Holly Berry’s office is only 15 minutes away, and I thought the walk would do me good. Yet the pinch of a blister forming on my right heel and the chafe of my thighs against my leggings has me wishing that I’d caught the bus. It would have cost me £3.95 but I’d have paid it. 
I’m sure Dad’s daughters wouldn’t be seen dead on public transport. That said, their lean bodies wouldn’t dare spoil their perfect skin with chafing or blisters. I don’t remember much of Dad, only that he moved to the other side of the world when I was a toddler. I used to jokingly say that if he’d gone any further he’d be on his way back. But over the years, I’ve realised that it wasn't just a physical separation that the distance created. On cue, the emptiness in my chest hollows to new depths and I stuff the second Double Decker into my mouth. 
Rounding the corner onto my street, the blister on my heel screams. Is therapy worth this? Maybe I’ll call tomorrow and cancel my next appointment. Maybe I’ll use the money I save from the sessions to book a one-way ticket to Australia. Maybe I’ll become besties with my half-sisters. Maybe I’ll learn how to take care of myself. Maybe I don’t have to be like this forever. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I plop my bags down as I reach my front door to the left of the shop entrance. It’s a bit of a contradiction, living above a lighting shop named Bright Ideas. I’m hardly full of them.
Cookie darts around my feet as I step into the hallway, mostly barging into my ankles as the poor thing can’t see where she’s going properly.
“Hey Cooks, hey baby.” I simper and bend to stroke her. Her back arches into my palm and deep, rumbling purrs erupt from her bony body. Bizarrely, stroking Cooks is one of the things that makes me feel closest to Mum. Mum really loved her and knowing that her hands once felt the softness of Cookie’s fur makes my chest hurt if I think about it too much. 
I hang my canvas bag on a wall hook and slip off my ballet pumps to inspect the damage to my heel. It’s red raw and I wince as the air hits it. I slowly make my way upstairs, my hips and lower back screaming with each upward step after walking in the cold for so long. Cookie doesn’t understand though as she continues to weave through my legs. She’ll be the death of me, I’m sure of it. 
“Are you hungry baby? Do you want some din-dins?” I ask as I plop my carrier bag on the kitchen counter. I dig around in the bag and locate the crinkly bag of onion rings. I open it quickly and pop two around my finger like a ring before sliding them into my mouth. The crunch is satisfying, and oniony goodness explodes on my tongue as I retrieve Cookie’s specialist diet food from the cupboard. 
Cookie opens her mouth in a silent meow as I carefullymeasure out a cup of biscuits and squeeze half a pouch of food into her bowl. Then I refill and replace her other bowl with fresh water, straight out of a bottle from the fridge. While she’s hoovering up her dinner I glance at the clock. I usually try to wait until 5pm to crack open a bottle of wine, but what’s 10 minutes between friends? I grab my favourite wine glass from the draining board – it’s a gin glass really but it means that I don’t have to keep getting up to fill it up – and take it and the carrier bag to my coffee table. 
Sitting heavily on the sofa, I crack open the wine and fill the glass to the brim. Oops. I lower my face to the glass and take two large glugs. Then I refill it to the brim once more. Oh well. The wine warms my cheeks and chest, heating the chill that had settled over my bones. Therapy. Ha. Why I thought that therapy would work for me, I’ll never know. This is all the therapy I need. 
I don’t even bother to get changed out of my soaking clothesas I unload the contents of the carrier bag onto the coffee table. Cookie jumps up next to me and begins kneading and suckling on her favourite cushion. They say that when cats knead and suckle too much it means they were taken from their mothers too young. Or that their mothers were taken from them too young. I can’t remember which way around it is. 
I survey the haul in front of me and my chest flutters in anticipation. The Dairy Milk, the Maltesers, the sharing bag of Haribo, the cheesy Doritos, the open bag of onion rings, the apple custard doughnuts, the remaining three oat and raisin cookies and two bottles of Australian wine may seem like overkill. But after the day I’ve had, I think I deserve it.

Fran Hayden is a 30-something woman living in Essex with her boyfriend and cat – both of whom have patiently endured endless readings of her short stories and poetry. Writing has been something of a gift and a therapy for Fran who uses the craft to heal, grow and learn about herself, others, and life. When she’s not writing, Fran can be found lost in a good book, teaching rock ‘n’ roll dance classes and procrastinating, when she should be doing something more productive with her time.