The why of why I agreed to play bridesmaid is startlingly simple—she has something I want. The why of why I hate her is not too complicated either. It began as envy, many years ago. You see, she was everything I was not and wanted to be.
As a child her perfection and beauty had to be seen to be believed—straight black hair and the biggest, most innocent blue eyes you ever saw, while I was an ugly, ungainly thing topped with a bizarre mop of curls. She was perfectly formed and I was… Well, my nickname used to be Fatty, and when they were being kind, Fatso.
I had no drama. Drama followed her like a well-trained pet. Her mother was always dying, but never did. Her father went to work one day and never came back. A pedophile tried to snatch her. Drama, drama, drama. It was never-ending.
Oh, and I should add, Billie Black, the coolest girl in school and the one person I was dying to befriend, became her best friend. But, I guess, my real hatred for her began when—
‘Julie,’ my mother bellows from downstairs.
‘What?’ I yell back.
‘I got you a donut.’
‘I’ll come and get it,’ I shout, quickly scampering off my bed and landing on the floor with a soft thud. I hear her heavy tread pass into the living room. I unlock my door, run down the stairs and stand at the foot of them. From this vantage point I have a view of the kitchen and the living room.
On the kitchen table I can see the thin, white paper bag with the donut in it. In the living room I see a woman. A huge woman. The last time she weighed herself she was nearing four hundred pounds. That was nearly a year ago.
She looks like a mountain of lard held together by a thin layer of human skin, pasty white and stretched so tight you can see all her veins, green and working themselves to death to service the large needs of her body. She collapses backwards into the sofa. The springs are gone but three cushions squash obediently into the shape of her massive arse.
Under her tent-like, gray T-shirt she wears no bra, and two broad flattened pieces of flesh lay over her stomach. Where the shapeless T-shirt ends her meaty elbows begin. They bloom into club like hands that clumsily fan out into fat red sausage-like fingers. The sausages are clutching a greasy paper bag that she brings up to her chest. Her hands do not reach higher. Her neck bends and she buries her face in the first Jamaican pattie of the three she will have bought: they supersize them especially for her at the bakery down the road.
She is my mother.
She lifts her head—her lips are covered with a coating of greasy brown gravy and her mouth is so full, her cheeks bulge. She chews exactly three times and swallows. ‘It’s in the kitchen,’ she says.
‘Yeah, I see it. Thanks,’ I say, but do not move.
She nods, bites off another chunk of pastry and returns her gaze to the TV screen. Next, she will reach for the two liter bottle of Coke and guzzle from it. She goes through a bottle a day. Not taking her eyes off the TV she stretches for the bottle.
I go into the kitchen. The place is an unbelievable pigsty. There are many days worth of dirty dishes to be done and a coating of grease and grime everywhere. The cooker is so encrusted with spills, stains, and dirt that there is not a speck of white left on it. The linoleum floor is thick with crud and the dustbin is in need of emptying. It stinks.
I stop breathing.
When I was younger I used to come home from school and clean, but as if my mother and brother prefer to live in filth it was almost impossible to keep the grime and dirt away. I stopped when my brother acquired a dog.
Then it became impossible.
It is exactly like one of those homes on that How Clean Is Your House TV series where those two busybody expert cleaners, Kim and Aggie, go to really dirty houses to help clean them. Sometimes I watch the show just to see if I can find a home dirtier than ours. Once they had this woman on who had, like, fifty cats living in her basement flat and that was real bad, worse than our flat.
I snatch the paper bag off the table and, without touching anything else, run up the stairs. I close and lock my door and look around the room. Shades of pink, neat and scrupulously, scrupulously clean.
I take a deep breath, let the scent of green apples filtering out of the air freshener plug-in fill my lungs, before I go to my bedside drawer. I find a plate and put it on top of the bedside cabinet. Then I take the donut out of the paper bag. Jam donuts are my most favorite thing in the whole wide world. When I was a kid I could eat a whole Sainsbury’s packet of six in one sitting.
I lay the paper bag on the plate and the donut on top of it. Then I sit on the bed and look at it. At the sugar-dusted layer and the lovely reddened bit where you can see where they have piped in the jam. I think of it in my mouth. The rough grains of sugar, the thin fried skin, the deliciously doughy bit beneath, and finally, the sticky squirt of sweet jam on my tongue. Saliva fills my mouth.
I swallow hard. I remember my science teacher once said that the desire to eat is instinctive, a mechanism of evolution. A newborn babe knows to turn its head towards a nipple. Without food the species would die.
A shiver passes through my body.
I open the bedside drawer and from a box of disposable gloves I extract one. I pull it around my right hand and flex my fingers, feeling the stretch in the glove. Using the gloved hand I pick up the donut and squeeze it as hard as I can. Jam splats onto the paper bag underneath. I open my hand and let the compacted mess in the shape of the inside of my fist drop onto the paper bag, and look at it emotionlessly.
Like those anti smoking ads where they put out a cigarette in a fried egg. Nobody would desire such a thing. Not even I. There: once more I have conquered the evolutionary desire to eat. I take off the glove and crush it together with the destroyed donut inside the paper bag and bin the whole thing in the wastepaper basket.
Then I take out a notebook from the drawer. Carefully I tear a page. I tear a small piece from that page and put it into my mouth. I chew carefully and slowly before I swallow the fairly tasteless mush. I eat five pages before the hunger pangs die away. I close the book and put it away. Feeling virtuous I go to the weighing machine and stand on it. I take a deep breath and look down.
Idling under eight stone.
I shift my weight around and the needle remains constant.
I have to be extra careful with my intake of calories today because tomorrow I am having lunch with Lana and Billie. I look to the windowsill where I have stood Lana’s wedding invitation with its bespoke caviar design across the inside of the envelope.
Then I turn towards the wall opposite my bed.