‘It’s dangerous out there,’ he warns, shoveling a Mars Bar into her mouth. ‘Trust me.’
Unable to respond, she chews and swallows as fast as she can, teeth grinding, beads of sweat leaking from her skin and trickling down her sullen face. Her hair is damp and stuck to her forehead, stagnant in the breeze emitted from the fan beside her bed. She looks at him, eyes dry and swollen, tears no longer possible.
‘You’re better off here.’ He un-wraps another mars bar and winks. ‘I’ll look after you.’
This isn’t the way it always was. When they met she was fit and healthy. She was a different person, in more ways than weight alone. They would walk together, hand in hand and happy. They would visit and vacation and travel to places near and far away. They would tease and joke and laugh until their muscles throbbed, their aches soon soothed by love’s warm and soft embrace. It was a time of friendship and boundless affection, until the boundaries broke and crooked walls closed in, crumbling brick by errant brick. Now, as she lies motionless atop the special mattress and strengthened frame beneath, cushions plumped and propped beneath her head, she is more uncomfortable than ever before.
‘Come on. Eat up.’ He pushes the chocolate into her mouth. ‘That’s it. Good girl.’
It wasn’t long after they married that things began to change. The dates beyond their gates vanished; replaced by evenings sealed behind the curtains, fast food and fizzy drinks flowing in their veins. Excursions out gave way to couches and cushions and conversations controlled within a box, widescreen inches imitating life, the living still and lifeless. When clothes no longer fit and elastic ceased to stretch, she finally weighed herself, and fainted. It was too much. She was too much. Too big. Too disgusting. All flappy and fat and foul. She woke up on the freezing bathroom floor, saliva pooled beside her mouth, her head sore, horrified.
‘Swallow it all.’ He mimics her chomping mouth. ‘Every last bit.’
She told him she wanted to lose weight. It was time to change. She tried to reason and explain, but he said nothing, the television flickering in the distance, an empty popcorn packet silent on his lap, fingers twisted into twitching fists. The room remained silent until he got up and stood before her, his face inches away from hers, eyes wide and angry, the word; cunt. Her will to lose the weight was countered by expletives and accusations. Shouting and screaming. Jealousy and suspicion. Phone smashing. Broadband disconnecting. Covert spying and curfews. Anger and abuse. He was her new life, he said, be happy, and eat.
‘I got you something.’ He removes a Bacon burger from a bag. ‘Just the way you like it.’
Ignoring the change in his personality was impossible, his eyes forever fixed, suspicion and mistrust conspiring in his head. She sat beside him on the sofa, clutching her expanding rolls of fat, trying to understand how and when it happened, trapped and scared and silent. A week later she was called in to her managers’ office, informed about her poor performance, and fired. It didn’t matter, her husband said. Work was not important, not now that she had him. It wasn’t long before family visits and friendly phone calls ceased, dial tones dead and doors forever locked. She wanted to tell them. She wanted to tell someone, anyone, but she didn’t know where to begin. She didn’t know what to say, or how. It was her fault, all of it. Soon enough the need to leave the house was gone, together with all she knew of love. There was no one left. No one but the figures on the screen, the comfort of the food, the world outside, spinning.
‘How about some drink?’ The glass of Coke balanced before her mouth. ‘Drink it up. Good girl.’
The vigour she once possessed was assimilated and extinguished, leaving nothing but exhaustion. And now, staring at the ceiling, she has no idea how much time has passed, no knowledge of the world beyond. Fact and fiction merge and everything blends into nothing. The dreams. The nightmares. The faces on television repeating the same atrocities over and over again. The war. The riots. The recession. The never-ending crisis. The fear and hate and hurt. Day after day. Year after year. Present, past and future, fickle and capricious. Germans. Russians. Christians. Muslims. Atheists and non-believers. All of them blown to bits by shards of shattered dreams, hope wilting in the ashen soil on which they tread, leaving her behind.
‘There’s a funny smell in here.’ He presses down on the nozzle of the air freshener. ‘That’s better.’
She watches the perfumed particles burst into the air above, tiny scented shapes falling down down down until they land on her bare perspiring arms, chemicals masking uncleanliness and decay. Trying to work out how long she’s been stuck in the room, she thinks about forgotten facts, anything and everything which might help, though none of it does. She can’t remember the last time she left the bed, the dignity of independence suffocated beneath her rippling folds of fat. The day she let her dreams dissolve, her grip on life was lost. She ate, and ate, and ate. Chew and swallow. Chew and swallow. Cry. Everything she once resembled was now reduced to bedpans and soapy flannels and shame and isolation. Only this remained, all 58 stone of her, lying in a bed, lonely and lost, entombed. But not for long. Not anymore.
‘Hhhmmmrrmmmm.’ She whispers.
‘What did you say?’
‘I can’t understand.’
He leans over and aims his ear towards her trembling lips. She pauses and examines his unshaven skin, inches away from where she lay, the vein on his neck inviting. She musters what energy remains and bites down as hard she can, muscles clenching, jaws locking, blood seeping from his punctured flesh onto her fattened face, the pain, for once, his. He fights to break free, flailing limbs unable to focus on his freedom, empty wrappers crunching beneath his feet, Coke spilling and staining crumpled sheets, blood pressure dropping, heart rate increasing, shock and dread deepening. She tightens her grip and holds on, her hunger, almost, quenched.
The Soundtrack for ‘Heartburn’ is Xavier Rudd’ s ‘Follow The Sun’.