How I Became the Fat Bloke
It happened in the office on Tuesday afternoon. Jane was talking to the new girl: Susan, explaining something or other about the arcane intricacies of the filing system. I was just around the corner trying to get the photocopier working again. I was out of sight, but within earshot.
"If you have any problems," Jane said. "Just ask Pete."
"Who? Oh yes, I remember," Susan said. "The fat bloke."
It came as quite a shock. Up until then, I'd never really thought about it. As far as I was concerned, I was the same as I'd always been since I joined the firm, back when I was twenty and thin. Now, here I was twenty years later, and - in one mid-afternoon moment - I'd become The Fat Bloke.
Of course, Pauline - the wife - had been on about it for years. And, it seems, our kids have always been making joking comments about Dad's belly. But - up until that afternoon - I had thought; yes, maybe I was a bit overweight. Yes, maybe I could do with cutting down on the sandwiches and beer, the lunchtime pub. Yes, I might be filling out a bit. Yes, perhaps a bit more exercise would help, if only I had the time. A touch of middle-age spread, maybe. But - fat? Me? Never!
That night, Pauline found me trying to stand up straight and squint down at the dressing table mirror.
"What's the matter?" she said. "Have you lost you dick?"
"No… I…. Pauline, am I fat?"
"Yes! You are bloody enormous. Have you weighed yourself?"
"The scales are broken."
"No, they are not. You are so bloody heavy you go off the scale."
"No, come here and look at this." She had just had a bath. She took off her dressing gown and stood there, naked. For a moment I thought my luck had changed. I reached out for her.
"Piss off," Pauline said, slapping my hands away. She stood on the scales. "Look, ten stone. They work perfectly. Now you get on."
She got off and I got on. The dial whirled, wobbled and clunked to a halt.
"What does it say? I can't see." I pressed my gut in, but I still couldn't see the dial.
"It's gone past the end. Off the scale."
"It's official then." I sighed and sat down on the bed. "I am The Fat Bloke."
"The new girl at work, Susan. I heard her call me The Fat Bloke today, this afternoon.
Pauline, still as naked as I was, sat down on the bed next to me. I noticed that the bed didn't sink under her weight like it did under mine. I had a sudden vision of what we must look like, sitting on that bed side by side. The nudist re-make of some Laurel and Hardy film. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Pauline - despite two children - still not looking all that different to when I met her seventeen years ago.
I could feel my desire growing, just having her so close to me. But then I thought of that description some woman had given of a fat politician with an erection: A wardrobe with the key sticking out of the door, and my desire faded away.
"What's the matter, Pete?" She put her hand on my thigh. I almost flinched under the touch.
"Why… how… did I get like this?" I said, shrugging in despair. "When did it happen?"
Pauline sighed. "I've been telling you for years. But you never pay any attention. You just sit on that sofa in front of the telly. Beer on one side of you, pork pie, crisps, a sandwich, or something on the other. The only bit of you that gets any exercise is your jaw."
I stood up. "That's it then. From now on, diet and exercise."
"Yeah?" Pauline shook her head. "That'll be the day. Anyway, do any exercise in the shape you're in and you'll kill yourself."
"I've got to do something though." I winked. "We could… y'know… exercise together?"
"Sod off. I'm not having you on top of me until you lose some weight. It's like being buried under a huge sweaty mattress."
"That's probably why I'm the shape I am. When we were young we used to be at it all the time. We must have shagged our way through thousands of calories in our time."
"Did we? I don't remember doing it that much, or that often."
"What about all those times… over the common, after the pub… in that red car I used to have?"
"Bloody hell. You couldn't get up much of a sweat in that thing, there was no room. I used to end up with my knickers wrapped around the gear stick and my left leg hanging out of the bloody window." Pauline smiled.
I moved closer, opening her knees, and knelt down between her legs. "What happened to us?" I said.
"Life," she sighed. She touched my face with her fingertips and stood up. "Come on now, let's get to bed. I'm tired." She dragged a clean nightie from the drawer and shrugged it on. She got into bed and picked up her book.
I sighed and trudged slowly around to my side of the bed. I lay there for a while, my arms behind my head, staring up at the ceiling.
The next day I was back at the common for the first time in years. I had made some excuse about having something else to do when the lads gathered for the lunchtime stroll to the pub. I couldn't think what to do, so I just drove.
I just sat there, in the car, in the same car park where we used to go, Pauline and me - before we were married - after the pub had closed. Back then it all seemed so simple. Life was just there, and you lived it. There was no thought about what life would do to you in return, how it would get its own back. How it would get its revenge on you for taking it for granted.
Now, I wondered, where do I go from here? What with family, job, mortgage, the payments on the bloody car and on the furniture, and the youngest needs new shoes again.
I thought about going for a walk over the common; at least it would be exercise. But how would that look? Some middle-aged fat bloke skulking through the woods. I didn't even have the excuse of a dog to justify my being there. Just another someone up to no good - a flasher or a peeping tom. A fat bloke? Bound to be a pervert.
There didn't seem much point in doing anything though, not then, and not with the rest of my life. I could see the choice I had to make. I could carry on slobbing my life away, until being a lazy fat slob killed me. It is self-perpetuating in a way, once you get past that critical point there is nothing else to being fat, except getting fatter. No sex, no other life, no outside life, your life just gets centred around what you can eat and using the least amount of effort to get it. You become pure consumer, ad-land's wet dream, sitting there swallowing everything that comes your way, until… well, until that last… final… wafer-thin mint.
I looked down at my stomach: big, fat, round. It had been hard work making it that big, but now it had become a sort of monument, living history. A record of over-indulgent, and self-indulgent, living. A barrier I had built to keep the world, mortality, at bay. I was safe behind my self-made rampart. An Englishman's stomach is his castle.
The other way was the way of denial, of guilt, of punishment. Deny myself, leave my desires unsatisfied, punish my body and its cravings with exercise. Turn hedonism on its head and get my pleasures from self-denial and torture. People used to suffer, want to suffer for religion, forty days in the wilderness, celibacy, self-denial, and self-flagellation. These days they do it to themselves through diet and exercise, punish the body for its desires, its demands. Sex isn't dirty enough anymore, so punish the body for its other desires - for satiety and for comfort.
I couldn't imagine myself living like that. To me a life of virtuous self-denial seemed like no life at all. I don't feel guilty for being born and I don't want to spend the rest of my life punishing myself for it, and punishing my body for being… well, so base.
After all, that is what it is all about isn't it? The whole of human civilisation seems to be about finding ways to deny the animal, the instinctive, the body, in all of us. The body reminds us of our weaknesses, our frailty, our mortality. The body has to be punished, for it carries the terrible news that we are no different to any other living thing and that, one day, we too will die.
I did, seriously, think about it for about ten or fifteen minutes. In the boot of the car, there was the hosepipe I borrowed from Pauline's brother six months ago. I'd put it there intending to drop it off one day, on the way home from work. I thought, one end in the exhaust pipe, the other through the side window. Just sit there, like Buddha, and wait. Cheat life out of its revenge, get my retaliation in first.
"Don't be so bloody ridiculous!" I said out loud, looking around guiltily when it came out far louder than I'd anticipated. "The only bloody reason you're acting like this is because you've just realised that the new girl in the office isn't ever going to fancy you, that you're too old and, yes, too fat to be reasonably fanciable any more." I sighed. "I may be getting older and fatter, but at least I don't talk to myself. I'm not that mad." I looked up at my reflection in the rear view mirror. I tried smiling at myself. It seemed to work.
I started the car engine and headed back to the office. On the way back I noticed the sign, and stopped on impulse. The decision seemed to make itself once I was in there.
"What's in the box?" Jane said, as I struggled back into the office.
"I decided I was getting a bit porky, a bit fat," I said. "So I bought this exercise machine."
Jane looked at me, then into the box. "Aaaah. It's lovely. It's a Labrador, isn't it?"
"Yes, ten weeks old. When I saw him I couldn't resist."
"Sue! Come and look at this," Jane called. She smiled at me. "You are going to get plenty of exercise with him. They need at least one long walk a day. It'll do you good, really."
"Oh, he's lovely, so cute." Susan reached down into the box to stroke the puppy. She looked at me. "What made you decide to get a dog?"
"I decided I need some exercise," I said. "I'm tired of being a fat bloke."
"A fat bloke?" she replied. "I wouldn't say that. Cuddly perhaps. Anyway, I like men with a bit of substance to them. Thin men always seem so vain. So, what are you going to call him?"
I shrugged. "I dunno, probably An Expensive Mistake."
[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]