Bob Lightfoot held the large, shiny packet in his hand. It contained exactly 150 grams. He tore it open and removed the contents one by one. Piled them on top of the wooden table in front of him. A table full of dirty pots and pans, an opened jar of Strawberry Jam, a loaf of bread edged with blue/green mould, sweets in a glass jar, and cups; most of them still with a few mouthfuls of tea in their elegant china bottoms. Ignoring the mess, he concentrated on the back of the packet. Each bag had 7.6g of fat, 1.2g of sugar, 131 calories. The illuminating stats that proved things could be pushed down inside oneself. Two packets equalled hope. A sort of sensory appeasement, a steadying of all that could topple forward and spill out like a pool of sick on a clean shoe. Four packets began to lay down new foundations, plugging up the holes and crevices so nothing could twist through the cracks. Six packets, well six he imagined to work like a foot, a heavy foot, encased in a steel toe-capped boot, stamping down over and over until things lay flat, acquiescing to a stark monochrome of apathy.
‘Isn’t it time?’ Bob’s wife appeared at the door. She didn’t have her teeth in, so the line of her mouth was baggy and she didn’t have clothes on either, apart from an old grey bra and a pair of bleached white knickers that matched her unwashed, wiry hair.
‘Just one more,’ Bob said. Christine rubbed her distended stomach with a liver-spotted hand and made a clacking sound with her mouth.
‘What ya going to have then?’ Bob looked at his wife’s body, the folds of her skin. No matter what she did those folds contained a story never to be untold.
‘A Club I think.’
‘Get me a Vodka.’ Bob ran hands over his face. Pinched his red bulbous nose. Closed his eyes tight to block out the thoughts the way people often do.
‘Don’t you think…?’
After consuming 800 more calories, pushing them in and down, a sort of interim equilibrium seemed to have been found. Everything quiet, inaudible, unplugged. With a moments respite, Bob squished himself into his clothes – quite like stuffing a sleeping bag into a small polythene bag he thought and tied his feet into his large, brown shoes. He had folds, too, pieces of himself that clung to the status quo. These folds would accompany him everywhere, a constant reminder of how utterly vulnerable he could be.
Bob arrived at work with a deep frown pressed into his forehead and his eyes rolled around like small black marbles, making him look distracted and uncomfortable, like he may run off at any moment. He worked in a white cubicle, in a open-plan, cluttered office, doing something to do with numbers. The job, his since the 90’s, was stupefying. The sort of occupation that made your soul wither and die whilst your physical body plodded on, stooped and despondent. His body hadn’t carried on. Unpicked like a bit of meat stuck between two front teeth. Everything loosing definition, lines becoming indistinct and blurred. Things falling away.
His colleagues mostly ignored him. He was invisible to their eyes, hiding in plain sight, blending into the smooth magnolia walls and stuck between sleek metal desks. It happened almost immediately, after he began pushing things down. After he found he required an anaesthetic to get though the day. They pretended, all of them, that they were conscious, alive. Perfect women with perfect make-up and perfect dresses. Men in immaculate suits, shoes polished to a high shine. Though underneath it all – behind eyes made bigger and brighter and sketched on artificial smiles, behind fashionable beards, manicured nails, behind dewy skin and apple smelling hair lay the same disease. Nietzsche’s Last Men.
At the end of each day, how well they performed would be judged by management. Kevin, their boss – face like a terrier, constant shaving rash, body like a pipe cleaner would mark the white-board up, giving them all a score out of ten. If they did well, there would be rewards. His colleagues, rapacious free-loaders that they were, would sell their soul for a prize, do anything to lift themselves up from the failure and denigration that was commonplace in the office. Bob felt different. It was just one number amongst many and he had many, many others to obsess about.
He always counted on the way home. How much would he need to feel better. One packet, two, three, four… He would caress the papery note in his pocket, finger the warm loose change, feel his stomach begin to swell with anticipation, his mind begin to yelp. In the supermarket, the trolley would be filled to the brim. All the goods piled on top of each other, stuffed down, squashed, given no room to breathe. Before every shop, he felt less invisible, felt his folds were becoming transparent, his powers crippled.
Bob carried his bags home, two in each hand. They swung this way and that, the sharp corners of the boxes stabbing him in his legs. When he reached home, Marie, his wife, lay on the single bed in the back room. She had put on a pale blue tunic, wore old leather sandals on her feet, had a slick of berry red on her cracked lips.
‘Marie?’ Bob opened a packet, filled his mouth, sat down with a sigh. ‘Marie?’
No response. Bob reached out for her hand and threw it back down on the crumpled bedsheet when he felt the cold in her fingertips. He sprung up from the chair and stared at his wife.
‘Marie? Look c’mon, stop it now.’
She didn’t stir. He sat back down. He opened one of Maria’s eyes, then watched the lid crumple shut as if a curtain had been drawn. He touched her neck and her face and stroked her hair. He waited for her to smile.
When she didn’t, Bob Lightfoot opened another packet of crisps and began to cry.
© Copyright Henrietta M Ross