Not To Mention by Vivian De Klerk tells the story of Katy Ferreira, who has not left her bedroom for close on two years. In fact, she has not left her bed – at 360 kilogrammes, she simply can’t. This excerpt is published by permission.
Do you remember that catchy song by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young that goes ‘Our house, is a very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard’? I used to hum along, feeling kind of happy in my corner of the world, in the sand-pit under the lucky-bean tree. And here we are still, in our very, very, very fine house, the same one, on the western side of the river at the corner of Masonic and West streets, in the flat area behind all the posh houses on Riverside Drive which get the lovely views. No view for us at all, unless you call the neighbours’ small bungalows with their wilted gardens complete with faded gnomes a ‘view’. I guess you were pleased and proud when dad bought it, with its two modest bedrooms and cosy little lounge, ideal for the happy little family of four three we never turned out to be.
Our house – or your house, to be more accurate, since you must have inherited it when he died. I’ve never liked it, with its curved galvanised iron veranda and filigree wooden lacework along the edges: mournful eyebrows casting gloomy shadows with a brooding air. I haven’t seen it from the outside for well over a year now, since I took up residence on the reinforced bed in my room, still trying to lose weight. But things can’t have changed much. Still the same orangey-ochre face-brick up to the windows, creamish plaster above, the paint of the faded red corrugated-iron roof no doubt peeling off faster and the patches of rust growing bigger. I can hear the leaks drip when it rains.
Metal makes interesting noises: the croink on hot days, as the sheets slowly push and nudge each other in the heat, pinging and clicking, shoving insistently against each other to find room, and the shriek when it cools down at the end of the day and retracts in shrinking agony, allowing the wooden rafters below to ease back into their accustomed positions. The best is when it rains. I lie and listen to the drops, tentative at first, just a light pitter-patter and then an occasional heavier splash, slowly gathering momentum, getting harder, louder and more thunderous until eventually – if it hails – the harsh clattering can be simply breath-taking. The smell of the rain on the hot metal and dry-baked soil is so refreshing, cleaning the air, sluicing out the dust and grime. And then the earthy intoxicating whiff of petrichor. Mrs Davis taught me that word during a thunderstorm after school: ‘constructed from the Greek “petra” for stone, and “ichor”, the fluid in the veins of the Greek mythical gods’. Apparently humans appreciate the smell because our ancestors relied on rainy weather for survival. I love breathing it in – that hot-rock flinty smell of hope.
There’s a leak above my room, and the persistent dripping when it rains has stained the ceiling a brownish yellow. I don’t think you ever look up there when you come in, but if you did you’d see the place: swollen, beginning to sag slightly, especially straight after it’s rained, when it gets quite soggy and heavy. One day it’ll crash down, but hopefully I will be up and about by then. Anyway, it’s not directly above my bed – it’s in the corner, more or less above Granny’s wee stain: one small stain begets another. The shape of the blotch changes imperceptibly each time it rains, growing like an ever-expanding amoeba, the new brown outlines encircling the earlier ones, reminding me unpleasantly of the way I get bigger, leaving the faint tracery of stretch lines on my skin.
I wish I could walk into the kitchen again and make myself some toast, run my hands along the cupboards (which were getting a little bit rickety last time I saw them), open the slouching, humming fridge and devour whatever’s in there. Maybe some milk tart sprinkled with cinnamon, or some cold leftover lasagne. Is the knife with the yellow handle still there in the kitchen drawer?
There was always a damp musty smell when you opened the cupboards – something to do with a leaky plumbing joint in the sump under the sink – which must be a lot worse by now, because your home maintenance plan has been a bit lacking ever since you hid me away here out of the public gaze. The square green Marley tiles were beginning to peel back and break off in places, especially on the corners, but at least they don’t have to cope with my shuffling around anymore – that should help. The parquet floors – your pride and joy – in the rest of the house are likely to last even longer. Neat rectangular blocks set in alternating patterns, three strips making a twelve-inch square, creating such a pleasing sense of symmetry. A bit like a crossword grid.
I quite like them, especially when it’s full moon, and the light floods the room and reflects in the warm glow of the wood, shifting slowly, bright on some while others glow darkly in the shadows. There are twelve blocks on the window side of my room and sixteen the other way, which makes my world one hundred and ninety-two square feet in total. I prefer pounds and inches, because I can understand the full heft of my six or seven hundred pounds much more easily than three hundred and fifty kilograms, which is what I must weigh by now, I think. Fifty stones-worth of heaviness.
‘Life used to be so hard’, the song goes, and then ‘now everything is easy cos of you’. Not really, bringing my food every single morning before you go out to work, knowing you are sustaining my bulk and creating more waste. It’s frowned upon in obese circles apparently, this kind of feeding, but I must tell you I love the food. Today is Tuesday, so you’ve left me ten leftover meat pies – unsold since Friday (virtually free to staff as long as they don’t tell). Plus the loaf of pre-sliced bread, my usual cheese and butter, a packet of Vienna sausages, and a packet of sugared doughnuts. And four bottles of Coke, jumbo-sized, to keep me going. I’m not supposed to drink those kinds of sugary drink, you know, mother, but I can’t resist them, and after all I am supposed to keep my fluids up. But I daren’t drink any more today – I might over-fill my catheter bag and cause further stains on the parquet floor.
It’s raining gently again outside, and the noise of the raindrops on the roof and the water trickling down the drainpipe is soothing and familiar. It won’t be long before the drip-dripping on the ceiling starts.