A cool, white stream of light coming in at an angle through the high window lit the dust suspended in the air. Below, the plastic chairs had been arranged in a crude circle on the scuffed wooden floor and were currently occupied by six figures. They were all really fat.
There was George, a forlorn looking man in his sixties. He was dressed in corduroy trousers, a polo shirt and a jumper that had seen better days. Next to him sat Jenny and Amanda, two sisters. Amanda was the older of the two and wore her age with a slight frown. Then came Joe, a younger man dressed rather formally in a suit, followed by Chloe in a pink tracksuit.
It was Fran, though who was leading the discussion today. It was she who had set the chairs in a circle and she was using a clipboard and paper to make notes as they went along to try and keep track of the discussion.
‘Go on, George,’ she said, ‘you were saying.’
‘I just suppose I didn’t expect it to be like this,’ replied George, ‘I was not expecting these kinds of problems.’
‘Well it is always going to be an adjustment, ‘ said Fran. ‘It is a process.’
‘You are telling me it is an adjustment,’ snorted Chloe. ‘All my life starving myself and for this! What an understatement. If I had known then what I know now…’
Fran ignored her, ‘So George, do you want to talk us through last night?’
George sighed and looked at his feet.
‘It was awful; horrible in a hundred different ways. It is always the same. I was waiting in the wardrobe.’
‘You were in the wardrobe again?’ asked Amanda.
‘Please, Amanda,’ said Fran, ‘let George tell his story.’
‘I was in the wardrobe,’ said George, ‘in the bedroom. I could hear her moving about the house, you know, and I knew she would be coming up to bed soon. So I was in the wardrobe waiting for her to come.’
‘Go on, George.’
‘Well I was in there, surrounded by all the clothes and I could hear her footsteps on the stairs. There is this one step, the second or third one near the bottom of the stairs, it always creaks and so I could hear when she started to come up to bed.’
‘I am standing there waiting in the dark and my heart starts beating so fast. It is pounding so hard I swear I can hear it.’ He smiled, ‘It was always that way when we were first dating, I used to get so nervous.’
‘What happened then, George? asked Fran.
‘I am standing there in the dark and just waiting to see her again, and I can imagine the way she will look. She used to do this thing, you know, with her hair. It was sort of in a roll, all rolled up and around her head. It looked like the sea made of sun – that is what I used to tell her.’
‘And what happened when she came into the room? asked Fran.
‘I don’t know,’ said George, ‘I never saw her. I left before she arrived.’ He looked at the floor again.
‘What made you leave, George?’
George sighed. ‘I was standing there in the cupboard and then I looked down and saw my stomach. I am not used to being this big – I used to be a small man. My stomach was sticking out through the door. So I got the hell out of there before she came in.
I mean, what is she going to think? She walks into the room with her hair all nice and the first thing she sees is this – at this he gestured towards his round belly – sticking out through the wardrobe doors. I couldn’t stay.’
Fran nodded. ‘I am interested in why you chose the wardrobe, George? Why didn’t you just wait in the room like we had discussed?’
‘I wanted to show some respect,’ said George. ‘Give her some privacy. She didn’t want to come in and find me just standing there.’
‘She would not have seen you, George,’ said Chloe.’
George said nothing. He looked crucified.
‘How long have you been with us, George? asked Fran.
‘I don’t know,’ said George, ‘maybe four years?’
‘I didn’t have a wardrobe with doors,’ said Joe, suddenly. ‘It was a walk-in wardrobe – plenty of room for your belly in there, George – and mine now.’
‘It’s so unfair,’ agreed Chloe, ‘Why do we have to be so fat?’
George smiled. ‘It is what it is, isn’t that right, Fran?’
‘I am afraid so,’ said Fran. ‘We just have to work through it. I am checking my notes, George and I see that it is a little longer than four years.’
‘Really?’ said George.
Fran looked at her papers, ‘It has been five years, nearly six since you passed.’
‘Oh,’ said George, ‘I am sorry.’
‘No need to apologise, George,’ said Fran. She wanted to reach out and place a hand on his shoulder, but felt it might be inappropriate, given her role. ‘We talked about how you could try using the curtains to hide instead of the wardrobe. Did you think about maybe trying that?’
‘There is no point in him hiding behind the curtains,’ said Amanda, ‘for a start, it is just as creepy as leaping out of the wardrobe and anyway his stomach will probably stick out through the gap, just like it poked out through the wardrobe door.’
‘I don’t want to hide behind the curtains,’ said George. ‘I like it in the wardrobe. All her clothes are there. I know it is stupid but even though I didn’t get to see her, I could feel her, I could smell her on the sleeves of her shirt. I could smell her perfume and the lacquer she uses for her hair.’ He was beginning to get upset again.
‘Clothes are the most important thing,’ announced Joe. ‘All my suits were handmade. I always made a point of dressing well.’
‘Waste of money, in my opinion,’ said Amanda. ‘What’s the point?’
Joe ran his eyes over the older sister, ‘A good suit, my dear lady,’ he said, ‘is an investment. It says that you care about yourself and that you are careful and attentive of the things that matter. I would go to Italy once a year for a new suit. The tailors there are the best in the world.’
‘But expensive,’ insisted Amanda, ‘nice for some that have the money.’
‘I was not especially rich,’ Joe went on, ‘but why waste money on three crappy suits that would fall apart or become shiny with wear when I could go to a tailor and buy one suit, custom made for my body? They took measurements in nineteen places, you know. The suits they made fit like a glove.’
‘You do always look very smart, Joe,’ said Jenny. ‘Even your shoes are smart.’
Joe nodded, ‘Handmade, in London. Although now they do pinch a little.’
‘It that because you have such fat little feet?’ asked Amanda, sweetly.
‘How did you come to be here, Joe? asked Fran.
‘It was the last suit,’ he replied. ‘Not this one, but a new one I had ordered for the summer. I had gone to Venice for the final fitting. My tailor was surprised because I had lost a little weight, so he had to re-measure. As I came out of the shop, I could see my reflection in the big windows of a shop across the street. I was looking at the window and I did not see the taxi. Unfortunately, he didn’t see me either.’
‘Foreign taxi drivers – they are maniacs,’ said Jenny.
‘What would you know about foreign? You never set foot out of the house,’ said Amanda. ‘You just lured people in.’
‘I didn’t have to lure, him,’ said Jenny, ‘he just came.’
‘Girls,’ said Fran, ‘this is Joe’s time.’
But Joe had finished for now. ‘It was a beautiful suit. I never did get to wear it.’
It was Chloe’s turn next.
‘It is just so unfair. Every day all I would say is no, no, no, no, no, no thanks, no. All day, every day and now look at me.’
‘What did you say no to, Chloe?’ asked Fran.
‘Everything!’ Chloe complained, ‘No to ice cream, no to chocolate, no to jam on my toast – then no to toast.’
‘What is wrong with toast?’
‘Carbs,’ said Chloe. ‘Carbs were getting blamed for all the obesity, so we had to cut them out.’
‘I don’t understand,’ said Jenny, ‘I thought carbs were OK?’
‘Everybody thought carbs were OK,’ said Chloe, ‘and we were all avoiding fat, then all of a sudden fat was OK as long as there was no sugar with it and carbs became really bad.’
‘What made the carbs bad?’ asked Joe.
‘Nothing made them bad,’ said Chloe, they just decided they were bad, that’s all.’
‘What about red wine? said Amanda, is red wine still OK? We used to be able to drink red wine every day because it was good for the heart or something, can you still do that?’
‘It didn’t make any difference to your heart, though, did it?’ said Jenny
Amanda shot her a look.
‘They changed it,’ said Chloe, ‘You can still drink red wine but I think it is only two glasses a day now, or maybe one.’
‘Was it important to you to be beautiful, Chloe?’ asked Fran.
‘I thought it was,’ said Chloe. ‘It seemed to be. I didn’t want to be rich or famous or anything, but I wanted to be the best that I could be, I suppose – like Joe. I wanted to be beautiful.’
‘I was in love with a beautiful woman,’ said Joe. ‘I was going to propose to her. I had wanted to ask for such a long time, but I felt I just did not have the right suit to wear. I wanted it to be just right. I was sure that this time, the suit would be the one, so that I could finally go to her and ask her to be my wife.
Fran looked around her little group. It had been a hard session that day and they were probably due for a break.
‘That’s good work, everyone,’ she said, ‘let’s call it a day for now. Perhaps we can pick up next time with some action plans that you all feel comfortable with.’
They nodded and started to get to their feet. She watched them as they drifted off: the sisters bitching at each other as usual, Joe and Chloe leaving together, with Chloe surreptitiously pulling her knicker leg, which had ridden up, back down around her buttock.
George was hovering as usual. She liked George and knew he was still finding it tough. She tried not to have favourites but there was something about George – she was not sure what – perhaps it was that he reminded her of her father.
She wondered how her father was getting on without both her and her mum now. She had not been back to look, she was not ready yet. She preferred to be able to picture him in her mind’s eye, standing in the kitchen making a pot of tea and some toast for breakfast. She was pretty sure he would not be worrying about the carbs.
She smiled at George, ‘I’ll see you next time.’
His mouth formed a tentative smile in return, ‘Yes, of course.’
He was a nice man. She hoped he would be OK. She hoped that he would stay in the wardrobe as long as he needed to, before he felt ready to move on.