Winner of 2017 Giller Prize

Winner of 2017 Giller Prize
Michael Redhill for his novel Bellevue Square

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Marvellous and imaginative story by Sue Blott.


My Thin People
by Sue Blott
Dr. Meadows first introduced me to my thin people seven years ago.
            “All obese people, Kathryn…” he paused, apologised with a sad smile, then continued, “…have a thin person inside screaming to get out. You just have to acknowledge your thin person and let her speak.”
            I’d been gazing out his office window to sparkling snow on nearby rooftops, thinking about my receptionist’s job actually, but I brought my attention back to the doctor. He looked like a basset hound in human form; even his ear lobes sagged.
            “Kitty,” I said. “I prefer to be called Kitty.”
            “Ah, that’s another thing…let’s examine why you want to be called a pet name from childhood. Who called you that? Your father?”
            “No, my randy Uncle Thomas who always made me sit on his knee and busied himself under my dress when no-one was looking.”
            Dr. Meadows arched his eyebrows, leaned forward in the chair and templed his hands. “Maybe we should talk about him?”
            I had no desire to talk about Uncle Thomas so I never went back to see Dr. Meadows. But, as I said, he did connect me with my thin person. People actually. Keeping my thin people inside proved to be as tricky as holding onto my unborn babies.
            Same with husbands. Funny how so much can lie between a couple when they lose a baby yet nothing’s really there at all, not even a memory. All they’ve shared is a pregnancy stick and an ultrasound confirmation, maybe a doctor’s visit or two. In the end, I didn’t tell my husband that I was pregnant the last two times, convincing myself that telling had been the curse. But ultimately the curse was me.
Marriages-2 Miscarriages-5 Me-0.
Henrique, one of my thin people, is a trapeze artist in Cirque du Soleil. He flies above a ring of fire. I watch him on TV, being too afraid to go to the live shows even though he’s often offered to send me tickets. He twirls through the air from one trapeze bar to another, so close to the flames they seem to embrace him, even has fire on the bar sometimes which makes me gasp with the crowd.


The first time he came back to visit, I told him: “I can barely stand to watch you. It’s too dangerous! Too scary!”
“Ah, my Katie. Is safe. This,” Henrique ran his hands down his red-and-yellow-costumed body, “is all ’ow you say…fire resistant? Safe. The bar, me, everything. Shoes.” He shook a ballet-slippered foot at me.
Unconvinced, I shook my head.
He smiled at me the way I imagined a father would smile at his child. “It’s ’ot, I’ll give you that. But I practice. Everyday, I practice. Every night, I practice. Then we take care of what we can control like my costume. We ’ave fire extinguishers and firefighters ready and off I go.”
            Dr. Smyles knows all about my thin people and she’s okay with them. Well, she frowns sometimes when I talk about them. But it’s not like I have voices in my head that tell me to do stupid things or anything. She knows that.
            Dr. Smyles is my new doctor. I say new, but I’ve been with her for about five years. She’s like the best friend I never had. She agreed with Henrique, that life is a series of calculated risks but that ultimately there are no guarantees.
“You control what you can control and leave the rest up to…whatever.” Dr. Smyles shrugged and laughed. But I didn’t feel like laughing. I studied her clock, watching the second hand tick tick away.
Finally I said, “Life is messy. Like spaghetti and meatballs. A big plate of it all twisted up into itself.”
Dr. Smyles pursed her fuschia-coloured lips. “It could be. I like that image. But what a joy to experience that, to devour it!” She smiled, then added, “In moderation, of course. Everything in moderation, right, Katie?”
No one calls me Kitty anymore. Not even my thin people. Not since Kitty appeared. She arrived on a drizzly October Thursday, huddled in the corner of the living room. I made chicken soup for the little girl straight away. Emaciated, she was, so she looked both older and younger than her real age which I figured to be about six years old. Her grey dress fell in folds from her shoulders; her elbows poked like knitting needles through her cardigan; she constantly pulled her socks up to her knobbly knees. She never said a word. Never. But she let me hug her and feed her and comb her hair. Each time I paid her attention, her cheeks grew plumper, her smile bigger, her eyes brighter.
Rosie is another of my thin people—pretty as a china doll with rosy cheeks and pouty lips, and wispy as a runway model. She looks like she’s stepped off the pages of Flare magazine.
“I envy your fat,” she told me one day when she visited. She poked me as though I was the Pillsbury Dough Boy. “It’s like a shield. You can be yourself. No one expects anything special from fat people.”
I sighed along with her. “But I wish I could look like you.”
Rosie rolled her eyes. “That’s just it. Everyone wants to look like me. Do you know how exhausting, how invasive, that is? People expect big things from thin people. Dazzling qualities like sparkling wit, vast knowledge and engaging conversation. They expect me to dance like Ginger Rogers, charm like Princess Di.” Rosie stood up. “Oh, what do you know about being thin? Why am I even talking to you about it?” She flounced to the door. “Just eat another bag of chips and be thankful you have your fat to protect you.”
            Dr. Smyles told me not to listen too much to Rosie, that she was too full of herself and that she didn’t help me with my weight problem. But, despite Rosie’s harsh words I always felt better about myself after talking to her, especially after eating that bag of chips she recommended. But I know what to tell Dr. Smyles and what not to tell her. And she knows never to mention my Uncle Thomas so we get along fine. Which is how I imagine most people get along. Don’t cross the big red boundary line and everything runs smoothly.
My favourite thin person is Jasmine; Dr. Smyles’s, too, I think. Jasmine wears purple silk scarves, armfuls of gold bangles and hoop earrings. Her laughter, which begins as a purr in the back of her throat, is completely infectious. She encouraged me to try new things like Indian food, musky perfume and belly dancing and I noticed that people gave me compliments when Jasmine had been around.
Jasmine suggested I make friends with a couple of neighbours and join them each month at their book club. Sometimes I even see these neighbours in between the monthly meetings on their own which makes me feel like I’m crossing the big red line but I’ve found that I can cross sometimes, and I can navigate back and it’s all okay. Henrique and Dr. Smyles would call that a calculated risk. I’d call it a meatball in the spaghetti plate of life, something to chew on.
            In time, Jasmine visited most. She helped me cook and got me to my belly dancing classes and Weight Watchers meetings on time.
            “It has nothing to do with fat or thin.” She smiled as she diced celery and carrots with me one evening. “It has to do with self love and self care. You understand?”
            “Of course, Jasmine, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
            With a flourish she dropped the vegetables into a pot of steaming chicken broth. “Easier! Everyone wants easier. But was it easy developing self loathing in the first place? Was it? No! You went through hell to get there so maybe you go through hell to get back, no?”
            I added pinches of rosemary and parsley to the soup. Jasmine looked and acted like herself but sometimes she talked like Dr. Smyles.
            I shrugged. “You make it sound so simple.”
            She waltzed across the kitchen floor, her skirt swirling around her calves. “Little steps, see? Little steps.”
            I stirred the soup. “On about little steps, you know I’m too old to have babies now?”
            Jasmine nodded as she selected bowls from the cupboard. Even she couldn’t dispute that.
“Well, if I could still have babies and if I had a girl, I’d call her Jasmine.”
She beamed. “Thank you, Katie, that’s a huge honour.”
The last person to arrive revoked all the rules I thought my thin people had: he called me Kitty and he was far from thin—Tommy, my one fat person. He appeared when I was losing weight, when I was in a good space. He was gross. I hated him being fat and gross because that feeds stereotypes, but what could I do? Full of all the yucky things in life, that’s just the way he was—like the rhyme: snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of. Such a sexist poem but Tommy was THE biggest stereotype I’ve ever known. He was a bully, too. He snitched on me to Weight Watchers every time I slipped and binged yet he stood over me, threatening me, until I gave in to food. Then he ate too, mimicking me by eating lard, stuffing it in his mouth until he slobbered grease.
When I lost 125 pounds I evicted Tommy. I don’t quite know how I did it because he was big as an overstuffed armchair. In a dream, I tossed him out of the third floor window. Instead of plunging to the ground, he became an overinflated balloon floating away on the wind. He snagged on a branch, made a disgusting farting sound and whooshed away out of sight. He never came back in real life. Sometimes in my nightmares his face bobs outside my window and I’m compelled to watch him gobble golden butter until it drips down his chin. I wake up sweating from those nightmares, but I always keep the windows down in my dreams. I know he can never reach me if I do that. Another calculated risk.
            All my thin people arranged to come and celebrate when I lost Tommy and had kept the weight off for six months. That day, in preparation, I brushed Kitty’s hair a hundred times and pinned it back with butterfly clips. She beamed at me, now a healthy weight, and skipped around the kitchen.
Jasmine arrived next and hugged me tight. “You’ll feel much better now, Katie. Self-loving will be easier because you’re in a healthier place.”
Rosie entered the room with a bouquet of pink carnations. “You look good,” she said as I snipped the ends off the flowers and arranged them in a glass vase. “But you must be careful because people will expect more from you now, especially men.”
Henrique burst into the party late, full of apologies saying he had been busy practicing. He strode over to me and took my hands, holding my arms out. “Ah! Look at you. So beautiful.” He twirled me round until I collapsed laughing against the counter. Leaning close, he kissed me on the cheek. “You are ravishing and so brave to dispose of Tommy. You are doing what I do, clothing yourself with fire resistant material, yes? Is very good, my dear Katie.” But when I caught his gaze resting on Rosie and she raised her eyebrows at me, I knew I’d better send them all packing before they caused trouble.
Sometimes I find it lonely without them. Four months they’ve been gone. But Dr. Smyles seems relieved that they’re not around. We chat about all kinds of things. Once she suggested that I had overeaten partly to compensate for the loss of the babies, to fill the void inside myself. Pretty deep, but it made sense. It sounded like something Jasmine would have said.
Today Dr. Smyles looks sad. Partway through our session she mentions that maybe I don’t need her services any more. She tells me I’m doing so well. Such a long waiting list, she says. Blah blah blah. But I have to cut our visit short. I don’t tell her, but Cirque du Soleil is on TV and I have to check on Henrique.



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