The Big 4-0 (final draft) Look, look at all the balloons bobbing about in the draught from the

window – not the old fashioned type, these are the silvery, rustling helium ones that stay upright on their own, weightless. Silvery pink, silvery blue, shaped like overstuffed cushions, all with 40 on them. 40! 40 Today! The big 4-0! Now look around the room. There’s a bit of everything in here, it’s a bedroom, and it’s got a sink and a mirror in it, fair enough, other bedrooms have those - but do they have microwaves, mini-fridges, tellies, computers? This is not a hotel room, it’s a bedroom in an ordinary house, in a boring cul-de-sac in Reading. Gaynor Beech’s bedroom, in her own house, and she never leaves it.

Have you noticed the photos on Gaynor’s wall? Surprising that she keeps them, really. There she is at eight years old, a skinny child in a sexless padded coat and unflattering socks that don’t pull up quite high enough, dead flat shoes. Pudding basin haircut; Dean calls it the Joan of Arc photo. Did call it the Joan of Arc photo. Then there’s the picture from that holiday in Clacton the year after, Gaynor getting ready to catch a ball on the beach, (not that she will, she’s so unco-ordinated there must be a medical name for it.) She got changed in Uncle Tony’s car that day and put her swimming costume on back to front so it looked like a Victorian strongman’s

leotard, pink nipples on a flat chest showing. Gaynor can’t remember if it was Dad or Uncle Tony who took the photo. It could’ve been either, they were both constantly snapping away at her. Uncle Tony would’ve loved a daughter, that’s what Mum said, but him and Auntie Sharon only had Lee. That’s why he was always so keen on you, Gaynor.

There are two tickets on the bedside table, black and sparkly pink. They’re for a Big Girls club night in town, but they won’t get used now. Dean had high hopes for this one. Gaynor waved them around the last time she went on the webcam, promising she’d be there for everyone to see, in the flesh. You may have noticed there are no birthday cards around, despite all the 40! balloons. It’s because Gaynor is 36 years old, not 40, and anyway, it’s not her birthday. No, the balloons were sent last week from various well-wishers, all men, when Gaynor reached 40 stones in weight. Dean broadcast the weigh-in live on his website, got over a thousand hits.

The telly’s been on for hours but it’s just background noise – Gaynor’s not really watching it. She’s so sick of being looked at herself, she’s not even comfortable doing the same to the people on TV who want to be looked at.

There’s a daytime repeat of an awards ceremony on. An actress is accepting an award on behalf of an actor who can’t be there. She’s as thin as a famine victim, showing it off in a backless dress . The tops of her arms are narrower than her elbows, the architecture of her shoulder joints clearly visible. She’s beaming - all teeth and sharp cheekbones, skeletal. She’s recently been voted the most beautiful woman in the world (by readers of The Sun,) but not according to Dean, who said, “Beautiful? It’d be like shagging a xylophone.” The actress wants to be seen, but to disappear at the same time.

Look, here’s Gaynor’s last-day photo at school, sixteen and with the world at her feet – the male world. Within reason. No man will take her on as a pilot or an astronaut, but they’ll promise her the world. She’s a knock-out, see; the uniform looks slutty on her, blouse hardly buttoned, tie loose, hair bleached, lips gleaming. That was the day she saw Mr (Sleazy) Sleaford the careers advisor, who told her, “Gaynor love, you won’t need a career with knockers like that. I advise you to get yourself preggers while you’re still young enough to get your figure back, then you’ll get a council flat.” Then there was the photographer, who got through the boys faster than the speed of light but took ages over the girls. Told Gaynor to lick her lips because they looked a bit dry. One more button undone please dear, your collar’s ruining my line.

That’s one hell of a big cupboard, for a bedroom. It’s got a hospital store-room quality - it houses all the vaguely medical stuff that goes along with being 40 stones. The incontinence pads, (more to soak up the sweat than anything, being fat doesn’t actually render you incontinent.) The huge tubs of Sudocreme for the rashes and the sores in the folds of flesh, and the lint dressings for when they ooze. Painkillers for early-onset arthritis. The dry shampoo for when Gaynor’s breathing is too bad to bend her head for a hair wash. Talc, tub upon tub of the stuff, to keep everything as dry as possible. The top surface of this cupboard is stuffed with food – cereals, crisps, pot noodles, biscuits, all the dry stuff that doesn’t need to go in a fridge.

Would you like a Dean of your own? A skinny little bloke who brings you endless food, sits on the side of your bed feeding you, staring at your gluttonous mouth like he wishes he was your pink wafer or something? Worshipful. The more you dribble or burp, the more he likes it. He likes washing you too – oh yes, he loves it when your bulk becomes so great that you can no longer reach most of yourself to wash, and he has to hold up your huge swathes of fat to clean the ulcerating skin underneath. Actual sex? No, forget it, if it didn’t kill him, it’d certainly kill you – the exertion, the sheer effort. Men like Dean are content just to fuss around feeding you, cleaning you, setting up the webcam to share your particular brand

of beauty with likeminded men.

Ah, you’ve seen the two wedding photos then. Yes, it’s unusual for a woman to display evidence of her marriages to two different men, but there they are. The first – that’s the one Gaynor calls ‘ThinWedding,’ where all the normal people stared at her in awe as she came down the aisle in her beaded dress, looking like a Hollywood star, ready to marry Kelvin. The best man, Kelvin’s own brother Eddie, he made a move on Gaynor at the reception. She told him where to go, and he stared at her with murder in his eyes for the rest of the evening. Creep. Gaynor started insulating herself with food about two months into married life. Now here’s the ‘Fat-Wedding’ photo– not taken by a professional photographer this time, but by a bored and resentful Uncle Tony, who is keener on following the ten year old bridesmaid around with his camera than photographing the blushing bride. When she got out of the wedding car, Tony said, “Christ, you’re huge. You’ve started walking like you’ve got a broom jambed sideways between your ankles.” No-one’s looking at Gaynor with open admiration this time – actually, scratch that, there is a little group of groom Dean’s friends there on the sideline, in a huddle. Gaynor can remember overhearing their conversation that day – it wasn’t about their hopes for the couple’s future, it was a series of boasts about what they’d done to humiliate fat girls in the past, laced with inconsistent

fantasies about what they’d like to do to various parts of Gaynor’s anatomy in the present. Turns out they hated fat girls but fancied them at the same time - then again, Gaynor’s met a lot of men that hate all women, while fancying them at the same time. Dean was one.

If you look down there in the corner, you’ll see Dean’s feet and the lower half of his skinny legs sticking out from under the manual hoist. Note how still they are; but then what did you expect from a dead man? It’s surprising how hard it is to operate a manual hoist, having to pump a lever with one foot while you’re trying to stabilise a sling holding 40 stones of naked Gaynor. It was the dangerously high cholesterol, about which Dean was unaware given that he was ten stones of spindly limbs, narrow shoulders and nervous energy – that’s what killed him, the lurking 6.7. Gaynor’s remembering the night she met Dean, she could kick herself for not recognising the warning signs – she assumed he liked her for herself because she was so heavy already, he couldn’t possibly find her physically attractive. Then he said, “I want to bury myself in your fat so it closes in all round me. I could die happy then, I reckon.” So they gave it a go. Maybe Dean did die happy in the end, it was hard to tell, but it wasn’t under a mound of his wife’s fat.

Now cast your eyes over the lady herself; Gaynor, the elephant in the room, so to speak. She’s manoeuvred herself back onto the corner of the bed, and has got her breath back; she’s taking stock now. There’s a phone nearby, Dean wasn’t a monster, but journeys across the bed have to be planned by women like her. Plus she’s got to dress herself first, and the wardrobe is all of three feet away – the effort required to get one of her gauzy parachute-shaped dresses down off its hanger is likely to be insurmountable. What do you think of the mountainous flesh, the mysterious cascading rolls and lumps? Can you even tell what bits of her body they belong to? Are you disgusted, turned on, sympathetic? Imagine for a minute what it must be like, to carry that astonishing bulk. Hold your arms out to the sides, as wide as they’ll go, and feel your hips – they’re as wide as your arm span. Your stomach hangs down like a great apron, you can feel it on your thighs, your knees. Now lower your arms – you can’t, can you? It’s that fullness under your armpits, it feels like you’ve got cushions under both arms. It’s time for you to get up and play to your audience, while you’re still visualising yourself draped in Gaynor’s weight. There are men out there – hundreds of them, thousands – who are turned on by big girls. Dean was one, but his days of watching Gaynor pose are gone; the rest are still alive though, waiting at computer desks or in front of laptops, many of them with slim wives in another room. They pay good money just to watch you sit there eating – some of them will

ask you to hold your stomach or your breasts up so they can see the raw red skin; others prefer you to lie back and open your legs, liking the fact that they can’t open fully. Some of the more extreme ones ask for the funnel with the red rubber tube stuck in it, they like watching feeders pour cream or melted ice cream into your gainer’s mouth

The last photo on that wall is the one Gaynor used to pretend she liked best. There she is in the middle, she’s about 19 stones in this one, still mobile, and either side, those hairless, oiled, mahoganycoloured men are strippers from the club, admiring her. One stands behind her with his arms around her and his hands over her thendefined breasts. She looks beautiful by most standards, not just the niche market’s; her hair is in thick, glossy, plum coloured waves, her lips strong red, her pale shoulders bare. She’s wearing a black and flesh-pink bustier topped with black feathers. She looks like a widescreen version of a 1940s starlet. Why then does Gaynor not like this picture? Easy – it represents failure. There was a brief period of time when her increasing weight made her invisible - to the blokes at work, to Dad, Uncle Tony, Kelvin, even to ever-ready Eddie - they all lost interest. It was a blissful interlude of invisibility. Then Gaynor’s new friend Desrine took her to a Big Girls’ club night, and the rot set in. She could kick herself now for surrendering

to the old temptation; surrounded by men again, leaning in too close, their eyes wandering over her, not listening to a word she said, she felt powerful again. She danced in the centre of a male circle, won a Big Beautiful Woman competition the following week. Met Dean there - allowed herself to be fed for the benefit of her new public, settled into a routine of being fed, bathed, watched, fed, bathed, watched. Her bank account was swelling too – Dean was no con-man, whatever else he was. Not much good having loads of money if you can’t go out to spend it though. Dean was the one who liked the photos on the wall. He told Gaynor it was because they illustrated her achievement, (by which he meant her weight gain.) There are hundreds more photographs in plastic boxes somewhere. Gaynor never sees them but she knows they’ve been sorted and scored. The highest scores are awarded to the ones that have caught Gaynor at strange angles, revealing oddly protruding lumps of flesh that look impossible.

Gaynor’s been daydreaming recently, of looking for a blind boyfriend. It’d be such a change, if there was a man who liked her even though he couldn’t look at her. She confessed this dream to Desrine, who said, “Yeah, but he’d just feel you up instead. Blind men are probably just as obsessed by women’s bodies as ones that can see.” “Ok then,” Gaynor had answered. “How about a boyfriend that

couldn’t see me or touch me? Someone who just likes me for my personality?” “Yeah,” said Desrine. “I think you’ll find that’s called a woman.”

The awards ceremony is still on telly. Now an actress in her 70s is on the podium. She brandishes her award and shouts, “This is for all the invisible actresses over 50 – look everyone, we exist!” She’s enjoying the attention, but Gaynor’s envious of the alleged invisibility. It gives her hope – only fourteen years to go before she disappears, apparently.

Take a last look around Gaynor’s bedroom while you can. It’ll be too dark soon. She’s preparing to haul herself up and shut the curtains. It’s an old mark of respect – the paramedics won’t bat an eyelid when they come in to collect Dean’s body, and neither will the fire crew when they take the window out so they can get Gaynor into a specially-adapted ambulance of her own. She’ll have to sit in an extra-wide wheelchair, probably in front of the neighbours and the local press. But for now, she’s struggling to her feet so she can close the curtains, and for a while, no-one will be able to see her at all.

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