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MAIDA VALE, LONDON
FAT GIRLS can do. Fat girls can do. Fat girls can do and do and do.
As she trod the pavement towards her car, Katie Waddington used her regular mantra in rhythm with her lumbering pace. She said the words mentally instead of aloud, not so much because she was alone and afraid of seeming batty but rather because to say them aloud would put further demands on her labouring lungs. And they had trouble enough to keep going. As did her heart which, according to her always sententious GP, was not intended to pump blood through arteries that were being fast encroached upon by fat.
When he looked at her, he saw rolls of flesh, he saw mammae hanging like two heavy flour sacks from her shoulders, he saw a stomach that drooped to cover her pubis and skin that was cratered with cellulite. She was carrying so much weight on her frame that she could live for a year on her own tissues without eating, and if the doctor was to be believed, the fat was moving in on her vital organs. If she didn't do something to curb herself at table, he declared each time she saw him, she was going to be a goner.
"Heart failure or stroke, Kathleen," he told her with a shake of his head. "Choose your poison. Your condition calls for immediate action, and that action is not intended to include ingesting anything that can turn into adipose tissue. Do you understand?"
How could she not? It was her body they were talking about and one couldn't be the size of a hippo in a business suit without noticing that fact when the opportunity arose to have a glimpse at one's reflection.
But the truth of the matter was that her GP was the onlyperson in Katie's life who had difficulty accepting her as the terminally fat girl she'd been from childhood. And since the people who counted took her as she was, she had no motivation to shed the thirteen stone that her doctor was recommending.
If Katie had ever harboured a doubt about being embraced by a world of people who were increasingly buffed, toned, and sculpted, she'd had her worth reaffirmed this night as it was every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when her Eros in Action groups met from seven till ten o'clock. There, the sexually dysfunctional populace of Greater London came together for solace and solution. Directed by Katie Waddington--who'd made the study of human sexuality her lifelong passion--libidos were examined; erotomania and -phobia were dissected; frigidity, nymphomania, satyrism, transvestitism, and fetishisms were admitted to; erotic fantasies were encouraged; and erotic imagination was stimulated.
"You saved our marriage," her clients gushed. Or their lives, or their sanity, or frequently their careers.
Sex is commerce was Katie's motto, and she had nearly twenty years of approximately six thousand grateful clients and a waiting list of two hundred more to prove this true.
So she walked to her car in a state that was somewhere between self-satisfaction and absolute rapture. She might be anorgasmic herself, but who was to know as long as she had success in consistently promoting happy orgasm in others? And that's what the public wanted, after all: guilt-free sexual release upon demand.
Who guided them to it? A fat girl did.
Who absolved them of the shame of their desires? A fat girl did.
Who taught them everything from stimulating erogenous zones to simulating passion till passion returned? A terminally hugely preposterously fat girl from Canterbury did and did and did.
That was more important than counting calories. If Katie Waddington was meant to die fat, then that was the way she'd die.
It was a cool night, just the way she liked it. Autumn had finally come to the city after a beastly summer, and as she trundled along in the darkness Katie relived, as she always did, the high points of her evening's group session.
Tears. Yes, there were always tears as well as hand wringing, blushing, stammering, and sweating aplenty. But there was generally a special moment as well, a breakthrough moment that made listening to hours of repetitious personal details finally worthwhile.
Tonight that moment had come in the persons of Felix and Dolores (last names withheld) who'd joined EiA with the express purpose of "recapturing the magic" of their marriage after each of them had spent two years--and twenty thousand pounds--in exploring their individual sexual issues. Felix had long since admitted seeking satisfaction outside the realm of his wedding vows, and Dolores had herself owned up to enjoying her vibrator and a picture of Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff far more than the marital embrace of her spouse. But on this night, Felix's ruminations on why the sight of Dolores's bare bum brought on thoughts of his mother in her declining years was too much for three of the middle-aged women in the group who attacked him verbally and so viciously that Dolores herself sprang passionately to his defence, apparently flooding away her husband's aversion to her backside with the sacred water of her tears. Husband and wife subsequently fell into each other's arms, lip-locked, and cried out in unison, "You've saved our marriage!" at the meeting's conclusion.
She'd done nothing more than give them a forum, Katie admitted to herself. But that's all some people really wanted, anyway: an opportunity to humiliate themselves or their beloved in public, creating a situation from which the beloved could ultimately rescue or be provided rescue.
There was a genuine gold mine in dealing with the sexual dilemmas of the British population. Katie considered herself more than astute to have realised that fact.
She yawned widely and felt her stomach growl. A good day's work and a good evening's work meant a good meal as a reward to herself followed by a good wallow with a video. She favoured old films for their nuances of romance. Fading to black at the crucial moment got her juices flowing far more efficiently than close-ups of body parts and a sound track filled with heavy breathing. It Happened One Night would be her choice: Clark and Claudette and all that delicious tension between them.
That's what's missing in most relationships, Katie thought for the thousandth time that month. Sexual tension. There's nothing left to the imagination between men and women any longer. It's a know-all, tell-all, photograph-all world, with nothing to anticipate and even less left secret.
But she couldn't complain. The state of the world was making her rich, and fat though she was, no one gave her aggro when they saw the house she lived in, the clothes she wore, the jewellery she bought, or the car she drove.
She approached that car now, where she'd left it that morning, in a private car park across the street and round the corner from the clinic in which she spent her days. She found that she was breathing more heavily than usual as she paused on the kerb before crossing. She put one hand on a lamppost for support and felt her heart struggling to keep to its job.
Perhaps she ought to consider the weight loss programme her doctor had suggested, she thought. But a second later, she rejected the idea. What was life for if not to be enjoyed?
A breeze came up and blew her hair from her cheeks. She felt it cooling the back of her neck. A minute of rest was all she needed. She'd be fit as ever when she caught her breath.
She stood and listened to the silent neighbourhood. It was partly commercial and partly residential, with businesses that were closed at this hour and houses long ago converted to flats with windows whose curtains were drawn against the night.
Odd, she thought. She'd never really noticed the quiet or the emptiness of these streets after dark. She looked round and realised that anything could happen in this sort of place--anything good, anything bad--and it would be solely left to chance if there was a witness to what occurred.
A chill coursed through her. Better to move on.
She stepped off the kerb. She began to cross.
She didn't see the car at the end of the street till its lights switched on and blinded her. It barreled towards her with a sound like a bull.
She tried to hurry forward, but the car was fast upon her. She was far too fat to get out of its way.
I WANT to begin by saying that I believe this exercise to be a waste of my time, which, as I attempted to tell you yesterday, is exactly what I do not have to spare just now. If you wanted me to have faith in the efficacy of this activity, you might have given me the paradigm upon which you are apparently basing what goes for "treatment" in your book. Why does it matter what paper I use? What notebook? What pen or what pencil? And what difference does it make where I actually do this nonsensical writing that you're requiring of me? Isn't the simple fact that I've agreed to this experiment enough for you?
Never mind. Don't reply. I already know what your answer would be: Where is all this anger coming from, Gideon? What's beneath it? What do you recall?
Nothing. Don't you see? I recall absolutely nothing. That's why I've come.
Nothing? you say. Nothing at all? Are you sure that's true? You do know your name, after all. And apparently you know your father as well. And where you live. And what you do for a living. And your closest associates. So when you say nothing, you must actually be telling me that you remember--
Nothing important to me. All right. I'll say it. I remember nothing that I count as important. Is that what you want to hear? And shall you and I dwell on what nasty little detail about my character I reveal with that declaration?
Instead of answering those two questions, however, you tell me that we'll begin by writing what we do remember--whether it's important or not. But when you say we, you really mean I'll begin by writing and what I'll write is what I remember. Because as you so succinctly put it in your objective, untouchable psychiatrist's voice, "What we remember can often be the key to what we've chosen to forget."
Chosen. I expect that was a deliberate selection of words. You wanted to get a reaction from me. I'll show her, I'm supposed to think. I'll just show the little termagant how much I can remember.
How old are you, anyway, Dr. Rose? You say thirty, but I don't believe that. You're not even my age, I suspect, and what's worse you look like a twelve-year-old. How am I supposed to have confidence in you? Do you honestly think you're going to be an adequate substitute for your father? It was he I agreed to see, by the way. Did I mention that when we first met? I doubt it. I felt too sorry for you. The only reason I decided to stay, by the way, when I walked into the office and saw you instead of him is that you looked so pathetic sitting there, dressed all in black as if that could make you look like someone competent to handle people's mental crises.
Mental? you ask me, leaping onto the word as if it were a runaway train. So you've decided to accept the conclusion of the neurologist? Are you satisfied with that? You don't need any further tests in order to be convinced? That's very good, Gideon. That's a fine step forward. It will make our work together easier if you've been persuaded that there's no physiological explanation for what you're experiencing.
How well spoken you are, Dr. Rose. A voice like velvet. What I should have done was turn straight round and come back home as soon as you opened your mouth. But I didn't because you manoeuvred me into staying, didn't you, with that "I wear black because my husband died" nonsense. You wanted to evoke my sympathy, didn't you? Forge a bond with the patient, you've been told. Win his trust. Make him suggestible.
Where's Dr. Rose? I ask you as I enter the office.
You say, I'm Dr. Rose. Dr. Alison Rose. Perhaps you were expecting my father? He had a stroke eight months ago. He's recovering now, but it's going to take some time, so he's not able to see patients just now. I've taken over his practise.
And away you go, chatting about how it came about that you returned to London, about how you miss Boston, but that's all right because the memories were too painful there. Because of him, because of your husband, you tell me. You even go so far as to give me his name: Tim Freeman. And his disease: colon cancer. And how old he was when he died: thirty-seven. And how you'd put off having children because you'd been in medical school when you first got married and when it finally came time to think of reproducing, he was fighting for his life and you were fighting for his life as well and there was no room for a child in that battle.
And I, Dr. Rose, felt sorry for you. So I stayed. And as a result of that staying, I'm now sitting at the first-floor window overlooking Chalcot Square. I'm writing this rubbish with a biro so that I can't erase anything, per your instructions. I'm using a loose-leaf notebook so that I can add where necessary if something miraculously comes to me later. And what I'm not doing is what I ought to be doing and what the whole world expects me to be doing: standing side by side with Raphael Robson, making that infernal ubiquitous nothing between the notes disappear.
Raphael Robson? I can hear you query. Tell me about Raphael Robson, you say.
I had milk in my coffee this morning, and I'm paying for it now, Dr. Rose. My stomach's on fire. The flames are licking downwards through my gut. Fire moves up, but not inside me. It happens the opposite, and it always feels the same. Common distension of the stomach and the bowels, my GP tells me. Flatus, he intones, as if he's offering me a medical benediction. Charlatan, quack, and fourth-rate saw-bones. I've got something malignant devouring my intestines and he calls it wind.
Tell me about Raphael Robson, you repeat.
Why? I ask. Why Raphael?
Because he's a place to start. Your mind is giving you the place to start, Gideon. That's how this process is going to work.
But Raphael isn't the beginning, I inform you. The beginning is twenty-five years ago, in a Peabody House, in Kensington Square.
Copyright 2001 by Elizabeth George