I worked my afternoon shift in a state of mind where my consciousness was supressed. I didn’t reflect on what I was doing or who I was; I simply did it. The duties were so natural to me now. I needed no direction or reflection on what needed doing; I just got it done.
It was funny to think about a time when hair and make-up and lights and glamour were what my life consisted of. Now it was only dirty toilets and dirty floors, soiled sheets and filthy baths. It felt like there was no transition between these two states; that I couldn’t have ever been a model. How could that slender beauty be anything to do with the leviathan on her hands and knees scrubbing the gaps between the floor tiles? It wasn’t possible.
Once I was done with the cleaning and helping serve the evening meal I piled my usual plateful of fattening food and went through to the break room. I ate alone, going back for seconds, thirds and fourths, my appetite not allowing me to pause or hold back in any way. My stomach was like a great maw now, a bottomless pit that demanded filling, and I was addicted to that sense of bloating: the intense pressure in my stomach that meant I had gone too far; that my fat cells were expanding; my flabby body getting even fatter than I had been the day before. In my former life I had hated that bloated feeling. Now it was the only thing that made me content.
But it also made me feel wretched. I knew this was wrong., Of course I did. But I couldn’t stop.
I joined the other cleaners for their evening festivities but as always, I remained on the periphery. I tried to join in the laughter but could never quite connect and my courage was minimal when it came to contributing. I had no gift anymore for conversation or humour and when I did speak I spoke with Melissa’s voice. My constant practice had done its job. Her inflection and word use was more natural to me now than my own.
The term “my own” didn’t even seem appropriate anymore. It was my voice.
The other cleaners drifted off one by one but I didn’t shuffle back to my room. I was hoping to see the cook when he got off. Seeing Melissa with that man at her hotel bar earlier had made me feel lonelier than ever. I knew he didn’t really care about me as a person, but I craved the physical contact. I needed to be close to somebody, even if it was a lie.
In the end, only Maxine and I remained in the staff room. She was very drunk and exuberant. I was at least as drunk – I had gone on drinking all evening – but my own inebriation was more dour and introspective.
“I’ve been watching you Little Piggy you know,” said Maxine. “Since you started here. How long’s it been now?”
I looked at her shyly. She didn’t seem to require an answer. She didn’t really care about the specifics.
“Every night you sit in here and eat more than I’ve ever seen anyone put away,” she said. “More than anyone should eat. I mean, it’s okay to splurge here and there but it’s like you want to get fatter.”
In my lap, my fingers curled, the knuckles whitening.
“You were a bit chubby when you got here but nothing like you are now.” She chuckled. “I shouldn’t really be calling you Little Piggy anymore. Plain old Piggy would suit you better.” She laughed.
I blushed, smiling with half of my face because I didn’t want her to think I was touchy about it.
“Why do you do it?” she asked, and her voice wasn’t goading suddenly. It was different from any tone she had ever used with me before: genuine and curious and maybe even caring.
“I, er…” I cleared my throat and then did it again.
“Am I right?” she asked. “Are you eating so much because you want to get fat?”
“I, uh, I don’t know why,” I mumbled. “I just… I like to eat.”
She was being so uncharacteristically kind, I almost wanted to confide in her; maybe even tell her everything; but I knew that nobody could ever understand. It was amazing that Melissa had but she was wound up in it. If she hadn’t been getting a benefit from it then surely she would have found it more difficult.
And also I hated the idea of breaking character. To Maxine and all the other staff here I was Melissa Chapman.
“You should watch yourself Piggy,” said Maxine. “One day you might pop.” She gave a raucous laugh.
My headache increased in intensity and then wavered, vibrating my brain.
“Actually, on another subject, you’ll never guess what happened to me,” said Maxine. “I was over on the coast yesterday and I was talking to a bloke at one of the big hotels. He told me they had a big celebrity staying there.” She smirked. “Turned out it wasn’t such a big one but you might have heard of her. Dahlia Western? She’s a model; or she used to be. Pretty big a few years ago.”
I stared at her. My throat rattled.
“Made me want to go and get a look,” said Maxine, “so I snuck into the hotel and checked her out. She was by the pool.”
“Did you… Did you recognise her?” I asked, nervous.
“Yeah. Sure,” replied Maxine. She looked a bit different from the pictures but not so much and she was definitely the one. Had a lovely body. I envied her. I wish I looked like that. Don’t you?”
“Don’t you wish you were slim and beautiful?”
“And rich of course. She must be loaded staying there. Apparently she’s been there all summer. Wouldn’t you love to be her?”
“It’s not a hard question Piggy,” said Maxine. “Would you rather be a big fat butterball cleaning lady or be a rich, sexy model?”
I couldn’t get a word out. I just looked at her.
Maxine laughed finally. “You don’t have to worry,” she said. “The decision’s been made for you. There’s no way you could be as slim as her, the way you eat. And no offence but you aren’t exactly model material.”
I blushed again.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of Piggy. Some people are cut out to be beautiful and the rest of us have to clean up after them. Am I right?”
I looked at her.
“Eh? Am I right?”
All I could do was nod.
She certainly wasn’t wrong.