Fighting Mr Fat
a rich glass of port
I first realised that things were serious again when I came home unexpectedly early to find Alison, my wife, standing chubbily naked in front of the full-length mirror. She had drawn two dotted lines in thick black marker pen down the length of her body – one on each side; she looked like one of those cut-out paper dolls.
I raised my eyebrows; she glared at me.
'I'm trying to get an idea of what I would look like if I lost all the weight I need to. I have to motivate myself somehow!'
Knowing it was more than my life was worth to comment I merely nodded, as if what she was doing was the most natural thing in the world, closed the door and slunk off.
Downstairs, the dog cowered, reflecting the mood of the house. Cruelly, I added to his misery by curling my lip and growling at him. Why shouldn't he suffer too, especially as the raison d'être of his existence: Alison, good food, and a quiet life – so closely mirrors mine? All the signs indicated that for the foreseeable future this nirvana would be a pipedream. Alison is preoccupied; dinner – if it appears at all – will be late tonight, and the atmosphere is as fragile as glass. Unless I'm much mistaken, the fight with Mr Fat is once again on.
Trust me, I'm not usually a heartless rat but when it comes to Alison's weight loss, mind-boggling boredom doesn't begin to describe my reaction. Mention the word 'calorie' and like a mad dog I positively froth at the mouth. Years of being wed to my well-upholstered sweetheart have turned me into an encyclopaedia of nutritional values, an absolute wunderkind of weight-loss plans -- and all against my will. The problem is that although age will no doubt catch up with me in time, encasing my ribs in a duvet of pudding-related padding, for now I can eat what I like. Tasked with supporting a body that's well over six feet tall my hollow legs gratefully absorb whatever comes their way. Unfortunately, by contrast, Alison's tiny frame is less accommodating – her weight is her Achilles heel and a constant source of misery in our otherwise almost perfect life.
Since his arrival during her unhappy childhood Mr Fat, as we know him, has been her constant and unwelcome house guest and like a troublesome relative she seems incapable of either banishing or ignoring him. While the world at large considers her no more than curvaceous, her self-esteem nevertheless bears the deep scars of their endless bitter wrangles. Alison was pleasingly plump when we met and since then I have loved her unreservedly whatever her size. So it was not for me that she lost three stone for our wedding although I was delighted for her that on the great day she was as slender as a lily. But, unfortunately, the discarded weight bounced back as swiftly as a boomerang and within months our new household was facing our first joint skirmish with Mr Fat. This time the weapon of choice was a strict, calorie-controlled diet which worked for a while, but then.
A year or so later, I sadly concluded that this relentless pattern probably would form the fabric of our lives for the remainder of our years. Up to two weeks of hell, then total despair, a binge with the chocolate biscuits, ice cream, or chips (usually all three) and suddenly it was all off. I could relax again – until, of course, her next new fancy came along. Oh yes, over the years she's flirted with dozens of diets including Gary-Grapefruit, Sylvester-Steak-and-Salad, and Derek Dukan – not to mention good old Fred-Fibre: boring, predictable, but ever-so-dependable in the fight with Mr Fat.
However, on the day of the paper-doll incident I saw no more of Alison until later in the evening when, although dinner was served to the dog and I (while Alison ate salad), I judged it expedient to let the episode pass without remark. Nevertheless, the atmosphere confirmed that there was something my beloved wanted to share.
'I'll be away for the night,' she said finally, quoting a date some two months hence. I wondered why she was telling me now as being a management consultant, she travels a lot.
'A school reunion.' The words rattled out like dried peas on a table top. 'I've been asked to speak to the sixth form at St Catherine's. You know, living proof that fame and fortune can happen to an Old Kat.'
'Well, well. That rather knocks your theory of never having achieved enough on the head, doesn't it? Obviously you're one of life's great successes if they're asking you to do that!'
There was no nod of acknowledgement – and modesty wasn't the reason. I've known my darling long enough to realise that there was more to the story than had so far emerged; something was definitely wrong.
'Clare Seagle has been invited too.' She spat the words out. 'Can you imagine the two of us on the platform together? We'll look like a porpoise and a whale!'
An image of the blonde and reed-like Ms Seagle as seen on TV every evening flickered into my mind but I was careful to prevent any hint of approval from crossing my features.
Alison stared moodily into the distance and I looked beyond her, non-committally. Another thing I've learnt over the years is that in our house silence is like a big hole in the road. One way or another it has to be filled, and swiftly, or you'll come a cropper.
'What really gets me is not that she's held up as the TV presenter with the personality of Mother Theresa and the brains of Einstein,' she sighed, eventually. 'That's rubbish – and I can live with that. What I can't stand is that she's thinner than me and always was.'
Another hole opened up in the road. For a matter of moments we sat and surveyed it.
'At school she always hated me because I consistently did better than her in every single subject and she couldn't get out of second place – not that I was bothered. So at our leaving ceremony she was upset because I'd scooped the annual prize yet again and just as we were leaving the hall she turned on me, in front of everyone, and said: 'I'm glad I'm not you, because whatever you do and however clever you are, you'll always be a fat ugly cow.' And look at me - she was right!'
I didn't need to lie. 'Of course she wasn't. But if she makes you feel like that, just avoid her. Don't go to the reunion - tell them you're not available.'
'It's too late. I'd already accepted before they told me that she'd be there. I can hardly back out now.'
Silence descended again and inwardly I heaved a sigh and resigned myself to a further hour or so of providing comfort and reassurance to my beloved. Not that it was difficult, the comforting. After all, Alison Pringle is not a fat cow; at thirty-four she is sexy, sophisticated, warm, witty and alarmingly talented. As I say, we've been through all this before - again and again – and the format always is that I tell her how wonderful she is and how her weight problem is a figment of her imagination and she cries and eventually starts to feel a bit better and then starts to tell me shyly, as if describing a new lover, about this fabulous new diet and what do I think, should she give it houseroom? And we agree that maybe this will be the one and a new peace descends upon her and calm is restored.
But this time was different. Before I even had time to draw the deep breath required to launch into my standard words of comfort, she abruptly stood up and swept from the room, dry-eyed, and (I wondered if I should tell her by way of encouragement) decidedly thin-lipped. This was obviously a new type of skirmish and as a man not keen on living dangerously I decided to hold my counsel.
As the weeks went by, I found that I was still holding it. For once she didn't seem to want or need my advice; something had definitely changed. Prudently, I waited to see what – and as the weeks passed what became apparent was that, without any fuss, bother, or bosom-beating, the lovely Al was slowly disappearing before my eyes. The grim persistence which until now had always reserved itself for every sphere of her life was obviously at work. I knew to my cost that faced with this mindset the only reaction was to stand clear and let her get on with things: untrammelled, uninterrupted, and definitely uncommented upon. But finally my curiosity overcame me.
'Are you still going to that thingy next week?' I asked in an offhand fashion as we sat coordinating diaries as we do most Sunday evenings. In all the weeks that had passed no more had been said about the dreaded reunion so I was keen to know.
'Of course. And by then I'll have lost another three pounds; the suit I'll be wearing is a size 10.'
I made a sort of noncommittal clearing of the throat noise, but said no more. Strangely, she hardly seemed in celebratory mood although in view of what she had achieved she should have been on the phone ordering the champagne, brass band and dancing girls. Even in her Sunday night t-shirt, leggings and no makeup, she looked fantastic. Witty, sexy, sophisticated, talented, and now fashion-plate slim.
And mine. Oh lucky, lucky man. Even the vision of the forbidden but secretly lusted-after Clare Seagle had now been banished from my disloyal brain, bleached out by the beauty of my beloved. I had loved her cuddly. I would love her huge. But slim …. she was the apotheosis of every man's dreams, the walking fulfilment of all desire.
Nevertheless, she was prickly with it. As I say, when she has her determined head on it's like she's encased, mentally and physically, in a suit of armour. It takes a brave or foolish man to bother her until it comes off. So I didn't. I knew enough to hope that all this was the build-up to the reunion and once it was over, the barriers would be down. It'd be a great success of course, she'd come home in triumph – and then, relaxed and victorious she would, in all her new loveliness, be mine.
And I was right.
The day after the event she was home waving the invisible conqueror's sword. Modest as always, even with the gleam of victory in her eyes, she said little, but I was itching to know.
'How was it, then?' I asked casually finally cornering her in the kitchen, having given her time to change.
'Good, I think. Yes, very good. The girls seemed really impressed and they honestly seemed to like me. We connected; it was fine.'
'And did Ms Seagle turn up? How was she?'
'Mmm - she was there but the reaction was quite subdued really. Perhaps people have seen too much of her already. She seemed surprised to see me though – said she hardly recognised me. Actually, she looked quite haggard. I think it's all that TV makeup; they say it's very ageing.'
So that was it. The battle was over; paradise regained, peace in our time. Inside, although I tried not to make it too obvious, my joy knew no bounds and I reached towards her, a happy, happy man. But victory in battle doesn't win the war. Armadillo skin shed, my winsome wife smiled provocatively in return but neatly sidestepped my outstretched arms, reaching instead into the cupboard behind me for a packet of her favourite double chocolate chip cookies.
‘Want some?' she purred, simultaneously pouring out a large glass of full-cream milk and lapping the crumbs of the first two rapidly consumed cookies from around her mouth.
From behind her eyes Mr Fat smiled his gleeful, disingenuous smile.
Dianne Bown-Wilson is a freelance writer and management consultant. She is fascinated by people – as demonstrated by the fact that she has a first degree in psychology and a PhD in organizational behaviour. To date she is a published non-fiction author but her real love is fiction in which is now striving to make her mark.
Dianne was born in England, grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Oxford where she has a partner and an elderly cat. Her grown-up daughter has flown the nest.