This was originally a chapter in my now defunct novel. I've reworked it as a short story. I hope you like it.
Joe was the token man at my Weightwatchers meeting.
All the slimmers fancied him, but I pretended we were just friends, hoping against hope that we’d become something more one day. We’d go for coffee and a cake sometimes after the meeting to celebrate our losses; mostly his; I hardly ever had any. He knew about my recent divorce and I knew about his wife dying five years before.
He walked into the meeting hall just ahead of me and held the inner door. He smiled and I melted. He looked like he’d lost more weight even since last week. He was the incredible shrinking man!
While waiting for my turn, I ran through the usual gamut of emotions. Firstly that there would be a miracle and that I’d actually have lost weight. Or, since that was completely far-fetched, that the scales might break down before it got to be my turn and that we'd all have to go home.
Where does Joe live? I mused, pulling my eyes away from surveying his ever-perter bum to look around the other slimmers. I stood on tiptoe to whisper in his ear.
‘Isn't it funny the way people wear the lightest clothes they have to Weightwatchers, hoping that their outfit won't affect their weight on the scales!'
He turned around and flashed me a smile. He had lovely teeth. My heart melted some more.
‘I wonder if anyone's ever turned up in a swimsuit in December.'
'Or maybe got to the top of the queue and stripped to their bra and knickers?'
We both sniggered. I was laughing so much, I overbalanced and had to grab his arm to stop myself from falling. I looked down at my feet and saw that I was wearing platform mules.
'Oh my God! My shoes must weigh five pounds on their own! I wonder if Dympna would weigh me in my bare feet.'
Dympna Ryan was the Weightwatchers leader. I was sure that she was nice enough but I couldn't warm to her. Dympna was petite, blonde and extremely well groomed. Well groomed to a fault, in fact, in that she looked a bit like a Barbie doll. She was permanently beautifully made up, manicured and coifed. She always wore shoes that matched her suit. I sometimes wondered if she got them made or was there some shop in town that specialised in raspberry check court shoes.
'Doubt it', replied Joe matter-of-factly. 'She's very strict about wearing shoes. You know that weighing scales is her baby!
A nasty little voice spoke inside my head. 'After what you've eaten this week, do you think bare feet are going to save you? Besides, they have cork soles. I'm sure they're no heavier than the ones you wore last week'
I quietly started to panic. As the queue was getting shorter my heart rate was increasing. Maybe I should just walk out of the hall. Maybe if I just dieted by myself for a while, I could get back on track. When I got to my target weight, I could come back to the meeting, and Joe, trailing clouds of glory. Cop onto yourself, I thought forcefully, then looked around to see if I’d said it out loud.
Joe was near to the top of the queue. I watched Dympna doing her stuff. You could tell the poor woman before him had had a bad week. Dympna was stage whispering and patting her pityingly on the arm. God, she was annoying.
Joe stood on the scales.
‘Oh well done’, Dympna shrieked. ‘You’ve made it to goal.’
She hugged him and held on far too long. She must fancy him too, I thought and she’s almost old enough to be his mother.
‘A round of applause for Joe please,’ Dympna cooed still with her arm around him. Disgusting!
I started arguing with the nasty little voice.
'You can't tell me that Dreary Dympna was ever fat'.
'She must have been. You have to have lost weight successfully before you can become a leader.'
'She can't have been properly fat. She never has anything to say that has any relevance to me. She doesn't go out like me, she doesn't eat like me.'
'Well, I don't want to be mean, honey,’ as Joe freed himself and went to sit down, ‘but that's probably why she looks like she does and you look like you do. Now shut up and get on the scales.’ With this parting shot, the voice subsided.
I was now feeling really sick. Why had I had that bacon and sausage roll this morning, and that box of doughnuts this afternoon? I stepped forward.
Dympna smiled and asked how I was. Forget the small talk, I thought. Let's cut to the chase. I stepped up. The scales seemed to take an eternity to decide. The numbers wobbled up and down. When they stopped, I looked at the small digital readout in disbelief. 'Six pounds up!'
My own scales had said four pounds up last night but I’d decided that was a blip, due to age, misuse and old analogue technology. Six pounds! I was officially half a stone heavier than when I’d started. Why was I doing this? Why was I paying money every week for this humiliation? I could feel tears pricking my eyes and a crimson blush breaking out over my face, yet again. I caught Joe’s eye and I was sure he was looking at me pityingly with the rest. Dympna was speaking but I hadn't heard a word.
'Sorry', I said. 'I didn't get that'.
'Annie, dear', Dympna said, briskly. 'Do you really understand the programme? Because you don't seem to be making the progress that I would hope.'
Understand? What was to understand? Why couldn't I do this? I’m an intelligent woman. This diet lark is not rocket science. Surely it can't be beyond me to do it properly.
Dympna was speaking again.
'Have you been writing down everything you eat every day?'
'Well…', I hesitated.
'Because you can't hope to succeed if you don't follow the programme exactly. Perhaps you could bring your food diary in next week and show me how you've got on. Or perhaps portion control is your difficulty.'
Putting my hand on my heart, I couldn't agree that portion control was my problem. Too many portions was my problem.
'Are you drinking at least eight glasses of water a day?'
'Do people really do that?' I asked, stunned. 'I thought that was a joke when I read it in the handbook. I couldn't do it. I'd never be out of the loo…'
'I do', said Dympna proudly. 'Sometimes more. It's very good for your complexion, too'
I could have sworn she was eyeing up my red face.
'I have a special weekly diet sheet here', Dympna continued inexorably. 'It's been developed especially for struggling ladies. Why don't you try it?'
I opened my mouth to give Dympna all the reasons why the diet sheet couldn't work: my work schedule; my social schedule; my doughnut schedule. It was impossible. Although…all of a sudden, the nasty voice was back.
‘Are you really giving this my best shot? Is there any harm in trying it?’
I had nothing to lose at this point. Not a shred of dignity was left to me. Joe would more likely ask Dympna out than me. I took the leaflet and thanked Dympna before sitting down beside the newly crowned skinny bastard for the talk.
To my surprise, he gave me a sympathetic hug. ‘Do you want to go out to dinner after the meeting?’ he whispered. Tears welled up again in my eyes.
'Don’t cry’ he said and gave me his hanky. I blew my nose and glanced at the sheet of paper that Dympna had given to me.
One medium portion of breakfast cereal with skimmed milk followed by one medium slice of wholemeal bread spread with Marmite. Medium, medium, medium. What was medium anyway? One small glass of orange juice. Well, you'd need that to wash down the taste of the Marmite.
The lunch suggestion was 5 oz baked potato with diet cottage cheese with accompaniment of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Did these people not recognise another salad vegetable?
Dinner was Grilled chicken breast with two small boiled potatoes and carrots. Pur-lease! I caught myself. I wasn't even giving it a chance. A line further down caught my eye. Treat: one digestive biscuit. Not half a bottle of Chardonnay then.
'I'll start immediately', I promised both myself and the little voice. 'Well, not tonight obviously…but tomorrow is another day.’