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Some Tormented FA

Fat in Seven Weeks: Linda & the National Chub-up

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This is the first part of a longer story in progress. A girl called Linda Ellikopa is caught in a national festival where the aim is to eat whatever and however much you want for seven weeks. The question is how she and her peers will handle this outright permissiveness. I won't post all seven parts of this story here, otherwise I'd just be hoarding forum-space. If you like this chapter, you can find the rest on my DA page -> https://www.deviantart.com/firewarrior121/gallery/ <- alongside similar stories of progressively poorer quality. Enjoy :)

 

~~Fat in Seven Weeks: Linda & The National Chub-up~~

~Chapter 1~

  •   by firewarrior121 / Some Tormented FA


 

One morning a slender, a fit gymnast in Södrahem slipped off her aerobics rail by accident while performing a flip. Slamming to the ground on her back, she rolled around winded on the ground. When she could breathe again, she shouted, ‘Aaaagh…  f@ck this,’ went home, flung opened the fridge and proceeded to consume every piece of food. She gave no second nor third thoughts about her figure.

Thus began Södrahem’s bi-annual Tjockningfest of 2017; the big Seven Weeks in which the sovereign island-nation of Södrahem indulge in a very certain liberty; the freedom to eat as poorly and as much as you want for a ripping seven weeks. What happens each time makes the rest of the world cast a sidewise glance from afar.

((Some history to read only if you like: Here most people are either Swedish, Spanish, Australian or mixed race, ever since traders from Spain accidentally ran ashore on Södrahem’s south coast in 1799. They were looking for Western Australia to establish trade with Perth. Instead they found a new island. The short story is that the Spaniards were too slow to act. It had been a long time since the Spanish Empire in the 1500’s… One year later, Swedish merchants accidentally ashore as well, but they acted immediately, establishing a trade outpost and fortifying claims on the island. A short, four-year war, fought mostly with half-assed naval missions and angry letters, ended with the Spaniards getting tired and asking for citizenship from the Swedes instead. The island grew, went through some hiccups and eventually reached a standard of living where they got bored of insulting each other and formed a coalition in 1824. After some more hiccups, involving religious disagreements and a nine-month food scarcity, people were able to move on and learn to tolerate each other.))

Currently it was Monday morning, 8th of May, 2017 – not exactly beaming bright, but fresh enough to delight your spirits at the realization that today is the day you finally let go. Cafes and coffee shops were blistering with so much activity they struggled to maintain staffing, as customers came in to eat and drink everything they’ forbidden themselves until now; brain-fogging chocolates, tongue-numbing sugar treats, flavoured chips until you were too full, soft drink until you got a stomach ache, doughnuts until you felt sick, desserts until you grew round. It was not uncommon to wake one morning and find yourself carrying a pot belly. Sometimes even more than that.

While Tjockningfest only begun in 1825 as a brief time of indulgence in resistance to government-enforced rations, since then the economy had slowly blossomed. Now in 2017, Tjockningfest had bloomed into an entire holiday season of gluttony– a cultural event just as important as Christmas or Easter. So, if you put on a bit of weight, then so what. That’s the whole cultural fun of it. Tjockningfest ends, you shed the weight, best you can, and move on.

But we understand that, for some reason, Linda Ellikopa could never manage to do this. At nineteen years of age, this was her second Tjockning festival since turning seventeen, the age you could participate. While everyone she knew took Seven Weeks to eat whatever their salivating tongues wriggled towards, seventeen-year-old Linda seemed to resent Tjockningfest with the same attitude of an adolescent who turns Christmas into an excuse to criticize “society, man”. For two embattled years, she’d held off the Great National Indulgence, seeing it as nothing but decadence. This year, it looked like things were going to be no different.

‘Aw, come on Lindy-girl,’ her high school friends would plead. ‘Why does it have to be all about limits, here? Smash those limits! Live a little! You’ve only got seven weeks.’

Sure, they’d say that, but after a few weeks they’d appear at the graduation ceremony and Linda would find herself peering at their tummies, wondering if that was a little spill of belly roll she could see there. Then a week later at the graduation party, she’d be finding ways to ignore the way her friends’ hips seemed to be puffed up more than she remembered, their upper thighs looking thicker and their waists swollen. So Linda would eat as strictly as if she were her own prison guard, preferring instead to watch with a contemptuous eye as everyone joked, laughed and ate more than their bodies could cope with.

Linda wasn’t the only one. You could say she was part of the ‘prissies’; a minority of people who appeared to prefer breaking out in a sweat over restricting their food intake rather than let go for a few weeks. But we also understand that Linda behaved this way to, among other reasons, keep her head down… She’d been shunted into this corner of obedience by her parents who, crucially, were not Södrahemish.

Maria and Terry Ellikoppa moved to Södrahem at the respective ages of 29 and 27– only a year before Linda was born. Mr and Mrs Ellikoppa were outsiders; they were not Swedes, nor were they Spanish. Instead they’d come straight from Britain, nearly as Anglo as they come except for Terry’s Greek mother. So this curious cultural “festival”, in which the whole Island Nation of Södrahem spent seven weeks indulging in as much food as possible until, lo-and-behold, muffin tops peeked out from under shirts, was utterly questionable. But it’s not as if the ordeal was entirely insane to Mr Terry Ellikoppa. He understood it fine, at a grassroots level; the need to just let go once in awhile. It was just… disappointing. A neglectful state of affairs. Hundreds of thousands of people, all failing to say “no” to themselves. A deliberate surrendering of self control. For all anyone knew, that same mentality could leak into other things, other behaviors best left repressed, until anything might be excused. If you weren’t your own master, then who would be?

All this fright he felt… it found gravity, it found a center, in his daughter. He looked at her young from sleeping and knew this was where she’d grow up. In a place which allows seven weeks of the year to ignore your better sensibilities. Where would she find her self control if not in that very festival season? He never told her this directly, just gave her subtle cues; silent but obvious silences to any mention of Tjockningfest. At the age of seventeen, Linda became aware of the full scope of the power dynamic at play here, and found herself settling into a daughterly complacency. She’d never indulge in the Tjockningfest. Well, yes, her father did have to apply his paternal pressure, but… After all, it’s never been an evolutionarily natural decision to deny to your impulses. Then again, most parenting is exactly that isn’t it: to force behaviours into shape.

 

***

 

The year’s Tjockningfestival came, went, and faded away to show up in the nation’s collective memory like a fingerprint on setting clay. While Linda stayed trim, she watched with something between disgust and a kind of envy she wasn’t ready to admit to herself as everyone tore down their barriers, bulldozed through their inhibitions and had fun. Why couldn’t she let go like that? They looked so happy for those seven weeks, eating whatever they wanted to. Some of them came out of Tjockningfest sporting little muffintops and potbellies, but no one cared. Some lost them, some didn’t. Some even let their muffintops keep expanding. Some grew fast, some grew slow. Nobody seemed to worry so much. Except for the prissies, who could barely hide their sneers every time they saw someone still carrying around whatever weight they’d added to their bodies in the last two months. Some prissies were vocal enough to begin blogs, or write in a letter to the editor making an argument that Tjockningfest was unhealthy and morally degraded. Being only a recent voice, with the advent of concern for the ethics of fast food, the prissies had never gained that much attention. People pretended they didn’t exist. If anyone acknowledged what they said at all, it was only by giving a solemn nod of the head, and ‘Oh’ and an ‘Ah’– before shrugging their ‘do I care?’ shoulders and getting on with life.

Linda was never so vocal. It was her father who was most against the idea. Her mother let it happen, but especially at family gatherings, you’d hear him passionately discussing his point of view with relatives. Most of them– aunts, uncles, cousins, gandparents –saw him in the same light as a climate change denier and merely acted like they agreed with his opinions. Linda wasn’t blind to this dynamic. She wished he’d either shut up, or they’d stop pretending to agree and actually argue with him. Yet his views still had their effect on her. She’d taken them on, and they stuck. All until she turned twenty.

By March of the next year, 2018, now twenty years old, she’d begun university in Södrahem’s capital city of Hestia. This sent her packing 800 kilometers east of home, where she bunked down in student accommodation in the city center, paying her way through the year by working shifts behind a coffee machine at a hardware store. Since Soderhem’s trade workforce was so large at the time, hardware stores were bustling hubs of industry, hi-visibility shirts seething throughout the area. The moment Linda’s barista shift began, it was 100% go-time until she finished, breaks rarely afforded. The stress came swift. At first it was only all the anxiety of a new job, but once she’d learned to operate on her own, the expectations to perform came crashing down on her head, and it was suddenly her fault if anything went wrong. And when things went wrong, the stares she got from angry men up to three times her age felt even more threatening than ever, as if the mere stare of their weathered eyes, unable to stop lingering around her chest, would destroy her in a way no act of sexual assault ever could.

As soon as the second semester of university began in June, the work piled up so high it bolstered the severity of her stress as if it had been wedged under her barista stress somehow. Soon enough she found out her hips pushing out into miniature lovehandles when she leaned to the side. This scared the sh1t out of her so bad she starved herself for a month. When she thought about it, she realised that since being away from home, she was out from under her father’s watch, meaning she’d begun to behave the way she felt she needed. And that involved eating whatever steamed in the glass display cases beside the barista machine– pastries, sandwiches, cakes –all at a worker’s discount. But, as everything demanded her attention, she forgot about it and stopped coming down so hard on herself. Her father and mother weren’t here to mold her.

Then her boss quit, moved onto another job somewhere overseas, and a new boss appeared. Jennifer was her name, as far as Linda was concerned, she was an angel in comparison. The filthy stress left. She began to feel like an uncaged bird, and nearly went binge-eating again and had to keep stopping herself.

By the next year, 2019, she was twenty-one and confident enough to have said goodbye to most of her first-year anxieties. She was near omniscient about where everything was around the university campus, understood the scaffolding of her freedoms, knew what was expected of her, where, how and when. The same went for her shifts at the store. Thing is; at twenty-one, she was also becoming complacent. That is, complacent to the idea that her life was probably going nowhere soon. After the first-year uni student gloss wore off, it became pretty clear to her and her new friends that job prospects have never been that good for post graduates. So instead they splashed their spare money around at hipster cafes and pubs, having conversations and telling stories over cheap lattes and beer. Then Tjockningfest came around again.

It would fall on Wednesday, 8th of May, 2019. The month had kicked off with mass anticipation– big food companies stirring up the population to guarantee maximum sales, TV adverts, radio talks, supermarkets displaying signs and banners like billowing flags… People did various things to prepare. One was to fast. This seemed like a delivery of genius to Linda.

One sunny midday during a break between lectures, she recommended fasting to her friend Jaimie Bejanaro; an aspiring poet with untapped genius and a poverty of ambition, despite so much spare time and intelligence. ‘Maybe you should fast, just to be sure you don’t over do it?’ Linda suggested.

The reaction she got was a, ‘What, are you kidding me?’ from Jaimie, as she blew on a strand of mousey-brown hair tickling her nose. ‘Don’t worry about it so much. Stop clinging. Just let go. You’ll probably find what you were holding onto so bad was never there? It was all fake?’

Linda didn’t want to hear this. The way Jaimie spoke often struck chords of sense, but sometimes it was a sense Linda turned away from.

They walked across the city street choked with traffic, a few blocks from where they’d be meeting the rest of the gang. Linda cast her hazel eyes to the ground, watching her canvas-topped shoes scuff the pavement as they walked. She decided she wantd to drop the subject. ‘Nyeh. I guess.’

But Jaimie cast a sidewise glance. ‘What, so you’re really going to just… fast for the entire festival?’

They came up to a bike stand and waited there, watching the oncoming foot traffic for the familiar faces of friends. In a daydream, Linda looked up, and saw a sky mostly obscured by the flanks of dominant corporate towers.

‘It’s not exactly great to have those kinds of eating habits, you know.’ Jaimie waited, staring at Linda, waiting for her to return the gaze.

‘Exactly,’ Linda said, thinking Jaimie meant the habits of overeating.

‘No. Lindy, I mean *fasting*. It’s not a good habit.’

‘What? Why?’

But before Jaimie could explain, the rest of the uni gang appeared ahead. Baily, a stout little chick with pigtails and pride in being one of the top 10% best Genji players in the world was walking hand-in-hand with Travis, an absolute joker, one of the tallest dudes around, looking slightly stoned. Crimson-haired Patricia, the group bitch was gossipping with Billy, making indignant gestures and no doubt telling a story in which she is whining about someone’s bad glance. There was Theo, the silent-but-wise German exchange student who ironically does not drink, politely tolerating the ramblings of Sebastien, who despite the fact that he can have a good time, believes it’s mathematically certain we all live inside a simulation.

Gathering around beers on a table outside Den Gröna Ankan, discussion found itself coming round to Tjockningfest, now only eight days away.

‘So who’s ready for it?’ asked Patricia.

Theo nodded and put his hand up. ‘Ja.’

‘Actually,’ Travis scratched his head, ‘this is going to be the first year I’ve done it.’

‘Us both,’ added Baily, with a nudge in his side and a smile all affectionate-like.

‘I am,’ Jaimie put in.

‘Here,’ Billy said with a pat of his insubstantial stomach, as if saying farewell to it while he still could.

Patricia snorted. ‘Then again, who ever isn’t?’

Amidst shrugs, Jaimie glanced at Linda, but said nothing. Nobody thought to ask the oddly silent girl about her plans. That was fine– she wasn’t about to tell.

Hours later only Patricia, Jaimie left and Linda were left. Patricia went off to the girl’s room for a moment, leaving the other two alone. Linda caught Jaimie looking at her as if trying to decide on something.

‘You seriously don’t want to do Tjockningfest, do you?’ she asked.

Pressing her lips into a straight line, Linda shrugged. For all the ambiguity in her gesture, she clearly meant “no”.

‘Well if you didn’t resemble such an anglo version of Gal Gadot every day, would you feel better doing Tjockningfest like the rest of us?’

Linda narrowed her eyes. ‘What are you…?’

‘I’m saying, you sound like you’re worried you’ll lose your figure or something.’

‘Well–’

‘Well yeah– you are.’ Jaimie watched her with some kinda smirk of understanding. Though exactly what she understood, Linda had only half an idea.

Something about the look struck her the wrong way. ‘Yeah! Why wouldn’t I be worried!’

Jaimie flinched and shrugged. ‘Can you, like, give me any reason why you should be averse to it? Any reason at all, that I won’t just roll my eyes at?’

She had an answer, but it turned sour just as she was about to say it. Now she had to think. Well… that one gave her pause. Looking aside, brows faintly pressed, she sorted through all her reasons and realised that, no, for now she couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t make Jaimie roll her eyes. Was that her fault? Or was it Jaimie’s? Unable to decide, she kept quiet.

 

_________

Week One

_________

Too bad for her then, that the 8th of May ticked over while she slept– a fat load of nothing she could do about that. When she woke late morning, she emerged into the living room wearing her silk nightgown to find her roommates already up and watching TV. It was as bad as Christmas; just about every advert was about food.

Being the start of Tjockningfest, it was a public holiday, meaning nobody had to go to work. Linda had to attend uni later, but that was all. At the dinner table, which stood across from the two window-facing lounges in the living area, Milo Bergstron sat spooning sugar-loaded cereal into her mouth.

‘Where’s Prairie?’ Linda asked.

‘Getting more food.’ Milo beckoned Linda to sit. ‘Come on, eat up, Tjockningfest is today.’

‘I’m not hungry.’

Through a mouthful; ‘Yes you are. Come on.’

Standing awkward in her nightgown, she felt the impulse to draw it tighter around herself. But she sat down instead, pretending to be part of the fun. Just as she took a seat at the far end of the table, with the morning light from the window at her back, Sofia Carria, a two-hundred and ninety pound cover model with an Instagram following to match that of Tess Holliday, came in through the front door carrying multiple shopping bags. ‘Girls I’ve got goodies!’ she announced as she waddled out from hallway. She beelined for the kitchen, from where could be heard the sounds of unloaded groceries. Feeling vaguely alienated, Linda watched in silence as Milo scoffed her breakfast; her pale hair held up in a bun, dainty Scandinavian eyebrows working as she spooned more food into her mouth than she could chew.

Emerging from the kitchen was Prairie Gardner, a blonde, curtain-fringed homecoming queen with an impressively wide grin and gleeful blue eyes that seemed always to shine with erotic energy. In her arms was a fondue fountain. She brought it to the table, set it down and switched it on. Milo straightened her petite body at the sight and gave Prairie a vigorous thumbs-up. ‘Good idea,’ through a mouthful, and she loaded another spoonful of sugar onto her already unhealthy cereal.

‘Damn.’ Prairie admired her fondue. ‘Feel like I’ve put on a few just looking at it.’

Linda stayed poker-faced as she imagined the implications of the remark– suddenly extra width in Prairie’s hips, the pressure of her butt more visible against the rear of her jeans, maybe her belly sticking forward a bit, breasts gaining a size.

‘Jeez Linda,’ Sofia called, coming out of the kitchen with some blocks of chocolate.She cracked the blocks into lines and arranged them beside the fondue with bowls of strawberries, marshmallows and banana slices. ‘Stop looking so glum. What’s the deal?’

‘Huh? Nothing.’

‘You sure?’ Sofia was giving her a certain look.

They were all watching her now, concern glaring from their eyes. She imagined them thinking *What’s the matter with Linda? She sad? She anxious? Bad sleep?*

‘No I’m fine,’ she said. ‘What’s going on here, do I look sick or something?’

Milo, with her spoon held up ready to pop into her mouth, said, ‘You just seem a bit off?’

Linda said nothing.

They seemed to get it. No more questions were asked.

Prairie took a seat before her fondue tower like some shrine, her head tilted to one side, knee bobbing with delight. While Milo spooned yet more sugary cereal into her mouth and kept an eye on the news– talking heads across the room yabbering about local news on low volume. Sofia visited the kitchen to grab some drinks. When she came back they started to eat.

Sometime later Linda still hadn’t touched a thing, and now Sofia was standing behind a chair leaning with her hand atop its back, casting glances at her. Prairie was too bodily involved in consuming her fondue to realise. But Milo perceived the dynamic at play. Taking a line of chocolate, she extending her hand across the table. ‘Have some.’

Linda smiled, shook her head.

Milo’s small, fair face was deadly blank. ‘Why not…’

‘Dunno,’ Linda shrugged. ‘Don’t feel like it.’

‘Surely you do, though. It’s Tjockningfest.’

Linda was getting irritated with all this nagging. ‘No. It’s okay.’

‘Why not?’

Giving in at the last, Linda went to open her mouth. She wanted to explain herself. But she couldn’t quite do it. ‘I just, I don’t like… I’m just not… I don’t wanna take any risks. That’s all there is to it.’ She looked away to the TV.

‘Risks?’ Sofia giggled. ‘Ah, come on now.’ She put a hand on one of her mammoth hips, giving Linda a skeptical look. ‘What, you’re afraid you’ll put on a few? You’ve got a lo-o-ong way to go before you get anywhere near this.’ Just for emphasis, Sofia did a little hip-twisting dance to show off her over-exaggerated figure, hands rising and falling down her torso, hips and thighs. There was no rebuttal Linda could offer to this.

Sofia was easily around three hundred pounds. Sometimes you would hear her breathing when she made any repetitive movements. Strange thing is when you consider she used to be a bulimic anorexic. Whatever body used to be underneath had been consumed in huge globs of fat. Her body parts lunged and wobbled even as she side stepped from one side of the kitchen to the other. Strange thing was, none of her enormous rolls looked sloppy. It was as if they wanted to forget gravity, roaming outwards in smooth, exaggerated shapes of bulbousness. You’d think that underneath all that extra weight was muscle. But all she had to carry around her burden with was the bones and muscles of her once-anorexic frame.

‘Trust me; you’ll be fine.’ Sofia shrugged. ‘You have nothing to worry about.’

Last time Linda checked, her own weight had never exceeded a hundred and twenty-one pounds. ‘Fine,’ she said, slow and careful, after a long time of staring out the window and hoping the topic went away. ‘But I’ll… I’m only having a little bit, okay?’

The problem, as we understand, is that “a little bit” turned into “heaps”, and left Linda with a heavy discomfort in her stomach. It seemed like there was no way of getting rid of it. The only way to banish the feeling was by letting go of her stomach muscles. All that did– unknown to her since she never once looked down at herself –was release her belly into the balloonish shape it’d wanted to take all this time. Now she stood up and went about her day with the curious sensation of being led everywhere by her tummy. In fact she was.

But forget it. She paid no attention. Why? Only because, that night, she devised what she thought was a good plan. Truth was, it was never going to work. We understand this. But it was all she had, and so she believed in it:

Since it was Tjockningfest, people would expect her to eat *at least* something. There was nothing she could do about that. So she was going to participate. At the same time, though, she was going to keep a strict eye on her body, and the moment she caught any change in her form, she was going to pull the pin and quit. If anyone asked, she would cite “health concerns” given to her by her doctor.

Linda had no doctor.

All she had was a complex about eating.

 

***

 

So Linda let herself be dragged into the Seven Weeks of Tjockningfest, more or less happy to have junk food here and there. Never anything too severe. The moment her body showed any signs, she was out.

Problem is, things become relative. Once everyone around you starts consuming so much food that doctors prescribe laxatives and other medicines to alleviate discomfort… when an entire nation’s population overeats every single day, binging until their tummies ache… commuting home from work still bulging from their workplace’s Evening Feast party– it’s fatally easy to find yourself doing the same thing without realising it. You can overeat to a moderate degree, and still be “eating less than everyone else”. Linda wasn’t the first to fall into this trap of relativity. Nor will she be the last.

But as we’ll understand, Linda had never consumed so much food per day in her life as she did first week of Tjockningfest. It was too easy to feel relatively safe. While everybody else, each stranger she met, was going about with distended guts, eating their fifth pizza for the day, Linda was only ever on her second. Doesn’t seem like so much in comparison. But when it comes to the scientific realm, eating two pizzas injects more calories in your system then you need. By that stage, you’ve well and truly lost. Linda was never going to admit this to herself. Even as she got ready for uni on Friday morning– after a breakfast of syrupy pancakes, strawberries and cream, then some danish rolls for good measure, causing her stomach to balloon out so bad she could only suck it back into a slight mound –she knew it was only bloating. It would eventually vanish. So long as nobody saw her like this, things were gonna be okay.

 

*

 

Sunday rolled around, marking the end of inaugural week. A celebration was held every Sunday of Tjockningfest, each event based loosely on the types of foods. The event calendar pinned to the nation’s fridges, walls and doors read something like;

Week 1: Entree Fest

Week 2: Appetizer Fest

Week 3: Bakery Fest

Week 4: Mains Fest

Week 5: Savoury Fest

Week 6: Sweets Fest

Week 7: Final Fest

These happened across multiple venues; theatres, ballrooms, universities, park lawns– just about any public space big enough to cater for crowds of hungry people. Corporation executives felt their groins warming up over the prospect, just secretly, even to themselves. They sent legions of oversized trucks loaded with the most binge-worthy products you could imagine, selling them at discounts low enough to bring wallets out of pockets, but high enough to generate inequality-boosting amounts of profit. Someone was always sponsoring the event, making massive dollars off the hunched backs of underpaid workers and the expanding bellies of Södrahem’s population.

Not wanting to look like such a loser, Linda agreed to go along with Jaimie and the others to a local Entree Fest. Tonight’s event was more or less on the roam. Since so many venues were going at once, different crowds found themselves bleeding into one another. Wandering around a park venue east of the city center and browsing all the local cuisine, it didn’t take long before Linda and Jaimie became disoriented in the general throng. By the time night fell, they ended up in some dock-side bar with a view over the ocean, the place crammed with loud music, indigo lights, alcohol and calorie-rich “entree” foods, which were more like junk food disguised as entree dishes wrapped in plastic– some of which had shamefully found its way into the sea, later to clog the propeller of some poor old man’s yacht next morning.

Mousy as Jaimie’s hair was, soft and inoffensive, there was no stopping her opportunism for reckless living. Already woozy on food, the moment she strolled in, she was buying up beers and seeing each pint through to the end. Linda could only watch as more drinks were brought to their table, each time feeling more disconnected from herself. She left like she’d woken up all of a sudden, but could not rise from her dream, leaving her mired in a world between worlds

As the night drew deeper beyond midnight, a general humidity gathered along the bayside and instilled a note of serenity. The mobs began to calm, yelled a little softer, slowed their drinking, were more content simply to chat and laugh with each other while they watched the void-black sea twinkle with city light. High in sky fireworks bloomed in the shape of chicken legs, dim sims, quiches, chocolate treats and other confectionery. Linda’s upturned eyes took on a glossy, reflective shine, painting upon the orbs of her bronze eyes what bloomed above her. All this was giving her heavy vacation vibes. You know that feeling you get when you’re far away from home, someplace else– who cares where –except for the one, undeniable fact that you’ve left all the shackles of your consequences behind you. Your actions don’t matter here. You’re just a pair of eyes on legs, going here and there, absorbing experiences like some infinite sponge. Before Linda knew it, she was at the bar, ordering tall beer and a platter of thick black brownies just because she felt so free, her tongue salivating, and an emptiness ballooning in her stomach as if to make space for the treasures it sought.

Returning to their outdoor spot, a table with four stools by the rails looking over the bay, she found a newcomer sitting in a spare chair. She was chatting and laughing with Jaimie, who looked up as Linda took her seat. They saw the beers and brownies. ‘Ho- ho,’ came Jaimie, ‘What you got!’ Then, turning to the newcomer, said, ‘I want you to meet Valeria, my cousin,’ gesturing to a Spanish girl about their age with a reserved air about her, shadowy eyes and even darker hair, half on the plumper side. Linda tried being less overt about looking Valeria up and down, but why as it so hard?– the girl hid inside a green parka and dark leggings. Well fitting, but unable to make her somewhat thick frame appear slender, not by any measure. Judging by the width of her torso, and the set of her legs, her thighs must have been touching, although she was nowhere near so big as to be the size of Sofia, Linda’s roommate. Valeria was only what you’d call moderately porky. Thick boned.

‘She’s half cousin, but still cousin,’ a tipsy Jaimie went on, swaying with pride. ‘She did last year’s Tjockningfest. Guess what, put forty pounds on from it.’

Valeria seemed to find this funny, though she tried to cover her smile and shut her mouth, but only snorted.

‘Well?’ Jaimie provoked. ‘You did, didn’t you?’

With smiling eyes, Valeria gave an aloof sort of shrug. ‘Eh… e-e-eh… *maybe*?’

A memory of faint worry stabbed Linda through the chest. But it didn’t live for long– she killed the worry, because she wasn’t going to let herself become like Valeria. Not that she was making judgements or anything…

The hour turned along on its multi-directional wheels and soon enough, amidst chatting, laughter and sh1t-talking, platters and platters of food were nibbled at. They took turns to bring the food to the table. Each time Linda stood up for hers, she could feel the hug of gravity that little bit more until, returning with a batch of spiced potato fritters, she leaned over the table only to feel the edge barge into the front of her stomach.

‘Last year I watched dad put on, like, twenty,’ Valeria was saying to Jaimie.

Before Linda sat down she hoisted her jeans back up her waist. It came to bite her– she scooched up onto her stool, only to find her belt going for a strangehold around her gut. ‘Agh.’

Noticing the way Linda sat back and tugged her belt so suddenly, Valeria and Jaimie stopped to look. Feeling a prickly warmth come into her cheeks, Linda tried to suck in, but she flushed and touched her mouth– a sudden bubble of nausea was threatening to bubble up her throat. We understand that Linda had never been this full. She was getting so little air into her lungs she was beginning to wonder if this is what asthma felt like.

Which was the moment Valeria, broke out into a bit of laughter, having experience with Tjockningfest already. Jaimie caught on too, joining with a chuckle of her own. ‘What were you trying to do that for?’ nodding at Linda’s bloated midsection. ‘Look around. Everybody’s got what you’ve got.’

‘Yeah, look at me,’ added Valeria. Linda watched with an unsure face and an unsettled gut feeling as Jaimie’s cousin leaned back in her stool and rubbed her own tummy– a mound obvious even under all the padding of clothes. Jaimie added her own two cents, or pounds, depending if she’d gained anything already, leaning back with a smirk to massage her own bloated belly. Then, admiring its size, she said, ‘I wonder what the damage is,’ before lifting her shirt to show a small pair of love handles Linda never knew her friend possessed. The sight stunned her. She felt invasive, and invaded at the same time. She didn’t ask to see this. She hated the way her friend’s raw, naked little spills of flesh looked. She wanted to eliminate then, bite them off and discard them. She hated the way she wanted to put her mouth around them in the first place– the way they’d squeeze and slop under her lips and her finger tips. Seeing it made Jaimie and Valeria laugh. The only reason Linda did as well was to camouflage her residual shock, but she did it too late. The recoil had lasted a moment too long.

Then Valeria got the idea to copy Jaimie. Unzipping her parka, they saw a purple sweater full as a billowing sail. Underneath was a white tank top. She lifted this last piece. So this is was what a bloated stomach looked like after already becoming soft. Valeria displayed to them an olive-skinned, chub-coated belly with a gaping navel like an eye, and a fraction of hip-chub that there was likely more of peeking out between the sides of her gut and the limits of her waistband. Linda writhed. She wanted to burn it. There was cold fire, fear or something else, in the pit of her pelvis. Suddenly Linda had to endure a brief, horrible vision of dough-textured fat oozing forth from the center of her body, each lump competing for space until they had to rub against each other in uncontrollable rolls of flesh.

Valeria covered herself back up.

With the rite of initiation over, they looked to Linda, whose heart turned to cement.

‘Your turn,’ Jaimie said.

Her heart tried to break its freeze. ‘Oh, but I–’

Jaimie rolled her eyes so far into the back of her head she had to bend over backwards to follow their path. ‘God. Again with these ideas about limits. Don’t make me do this for you. I will intervene.’

Linda knew Jaimie’s surprise authoritarian attitudes only appeared under liquor… if she could fly under the radar this time, she could get away with it until the next. She felt her arms cross over her firm stomach by instinct and she doubled up, looking like some cowering orphan.

Jaimie adjusted her shirt and leaned a little towards Linda. ‘Don’t make me.’

‘No, don’t,’ Linda asked. Hearing herself sounding so much like a little child, she had to hold back a sudden spray of laughter that she had no idea where it came from. She didn’t want it to be seen. They’d think the wrong things about her.

Jaimie lunged forward anyway. Between a set of sudden hiccups, ticklish laughter and small cries of shock as laughing made her stomach muscles contract, Jaimie finally pried Linda’s arms away and lifted her clothes. Linda tugged it back down, but a sharp “No!” from Jaimie stopped her in her tracks. Frozen, just like that, vulnerable and confused like she hadn’t been since she heard her parents f*cking each other in their room as a child, Linda waited like a stunned puppy.

‘Now lean back, and be kind enough as to show everyone. We’ve shown ours. Don’t be so rude.’

Giving Jaimie a sardonic, I’ll-get-you-later-for-this kind of stare, which came out more as a pathetic look of submission, Linda slowly leaned back and pulled her shirt up past her ribcage. She was hatefully aware of the night air breezing across her bare skin that should never have been exposed. It belonged under clothes. ‘Fine then,’ she said flatly, hoping she sounded angry. ‘Here it is then. Are you happy?’ Not looking down at herself, she stared at them as they stared at her belly, in whatever shape it might’ve been, however big, round, or pale. Who knew. Who cared.

What Jaimie and Valeria saw was a ballooned-shaped stomach, skin tight, navel pressed flat. They nodded with appreciative smirks. ‘Thank you for showing us,’ Jaimie said, then laughed.

Linda withdrew. She tossed a half-assed sneer of contempt at Jaimie, then turned aside to brood.

The night went on.

 

*

 

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