by Swordfish

"What's that you're drinking, Jackie?"

Two brown eyes tried to come into focus in the middle of a slim, attractive face framed by short auburn hair.

"It's a vodka espresso, and it's my fourth." The words were slurred. The head started to droop. By the time it hit the table, she was giggling.

Jackie didn't usually get so drunk. But today was special. She'd received word that she'd got the job she interviewed for just two days' before, Arts Reporter for the London Bullet, the trendiest newspaper in town. You didn't take that kind of news lying down. You celebrated noisily with friends, progressing from one Soho watering hole to another, knocking back the cocktails, whooping it up, thinking of the money and glamour to come.

"It looks God-awful," Geri squawked, peering at the glass.

"I feel God-awful!" Jackie's voice was huskier than usual, though the slight upper-class drawl, handed down from her parents and perfected in boarding school, remained. She put a hand on her stomach, taut enough to the touch underneath her black top, but performing somersaults inside.

"You'd better get used to it," said Roz, Jackie's best friend. "Won't your new job take you to the smartest places around? You'll spend all your time painting the town red!" Themselves, they were all painted black: tight black trousers, black tops or jackets, black accessories. Geri even had black lipstick. In the gloomy lighting of the Rock Lab, it was hard to separate them from the walls.

"I suppose I will." Jackie's eyes glazed over. The alcohol, partly. But she was also

thinking of her father, the captain of industry with his Rolls Royce and double-barrelled surname, Tindall-Smith, voicing disapproval in la-di-da tones. She could imagine the phone conversation now. "Oh Jackie," he'd say, "when are you going to do something really useful? It's all bright lights with you. Someone's got to do a serious job of work in the country." She'd heard it all before.

"You'll need some new clothes, I guess."

The word 'clothes' yanked Jackie out of her reverie. She loved clothes. Wearing them. Shopping for them. Paying for them? Not such a thrill, though her father's allowance did make life easier. On Saturday mornings she liked nothing better than to meet up with Roz in the West End and cruise the stores, Top Girl, Gap. Maybe they wouldn't buy anything; but they'd enjoy being young, urban, chic, and thin.

"Press conferences, gallery openings, charity functions with a minor royal. You need to look smart, girl. Hey, maybe you'll appear on breakfast TV!"

Was Geri making mockery or not? It was hard enough to tell when Jackie was sober; impossible when she was not.

"It's not going to be all glitter," Jackie countered. "There's hard work too. I'll have to use my brains. I might have to write about Jackson Pollock, or Michelangelo..." She strung the last name out, uncertain whether her tongue would get to the end in one piece.

"Oh Pollocks," Geri shouted. "Let's go on to the Ratcatcher."

But Jackie knew when enough was enough. "I've got a boyfriend waiting. I've got an aspirin to take. I'd better go home. Coming, Roz?"

Jackie scooped herself up, found her balance, slung her handbag over her shoulders, pecked a few cheeks, and tottered towards the exit.

"Oh Jeez!" she cried, slamming straight into a homeless youth squatting outside, stubble on his chin, emptiness in his eyes, three coins in his begging bowl. "You couldn't be homeless somewhere else, could you?" Before he could fight back or launch into his pitch Jackie and Roz were three doors away down the street, sounding off loudly.

"I do wish the homeless would go away," Jackie said. "They're just so grungy. And many of them are impostors."

Roz attempted a little human kindness. "Wouldn't it be horrible to be homeless?"

"I guess. It would also be horrible to be old. Old people should be banned. Poor people should be banned. Fat people should be banned."

They laughed at their outrageousness all the way to the Underground station at Leicester Square.

As she turned the key, slowly, clumsily, in the door of her Chelsea flat, Jackie heard the sound of the television: men's voices, laughter. She could guess the scene that would greet her: Hugo, her boyfriend, sprawled on the sofa, can of lager in one hand, remote control in the other. He was a sports reporter for Be There, one of the lesser London listings magazine, where she once worked herself as a dogsbody. Since then Jackie had moved on to what she considered higher things, like the free magazine Girl Talk, usually found discarded on public transport or littering street corners. Hugo, handsome, amiable, less ambitious, had stayed put. They'd been living together for three years.

"That you, Jackie?" He was sprawled on the sofa, can of lager in one hand. The remote control was somewhere else.

"Uh-hu." She leant forward, bestowed a quick kiss, and cast a frosty eye on the comedy show blasting out of the TV. Three young men in t-shirts and shorts were sprawled on another sofa, canned drinks in their hands, looking about to puke. One of them then did, down his own legs. Jackie winced. She knew this show, "Men Behaving Badly".

"You've been out with the ghouls?"

"Girls, not ghouls," she said with a sigh, slumping down beside him. "I've been out with the girls. Why do you watch such rubbish?"

"I was waiting for my loved one's return. I have to do something, Jackie."

"I had a lot to celebrate."

"It's alright. Are you hungry?" Reaching under his backside, he found the remote and turned down the volume.

She said no. She rarely was. And the thought of food entering her system, working its way through her tubes to meet the vodka espressos churning inside was not a pretty one. Suddenly she sensed something on the move, shooting up, hot and sticky, smelling foul. She dashed to the bathroom.

"Touché!" Hugo cried.

Five minutes later Jackie emerged, bedraggled but clean, with an embarrassed grin, her olive complexion a little whitened, the hollows of her cheeks wider than usual. She slunk low beside him. Hugo smiled. "I love you," he said.

No response. She had fallen asleep.


It was a big question. She wanted to match the Bullet's image. Cutting edge. On the button. Forget the hours she'd have to spend tapping out her stories on a computer. She wanted to dress for show.

She'd gone with Roz to cruise the shops, credit cards primed. They'd had a ball in Top Girl, touring the designer clothes, picking up slinky black things in silk and leather, whisking them into the changing rooms under the admiring eyes of a chubby young supervisor -- "In your dreams, fat girl," Jackie had muttered -- trying them on, posing before the mirrors, sullen and pouting, as though they were fashion models. Jackie had staggered home with a tight leather number, almost a catsuit, a hideously expensive Armani two-piece outfit perfectly tailored for her slim frame, even a sprinkling of new underwear.

Now it was Monday. Her first day at work. Hugo was still asleep. She rifled through her wardrobe, new and old, ran her fingers down the leather catsuit, decided against it, and moved on to the Armani. On went the pants, clinging tight round her bottom -- "as sweet as two cherries", an old boyfriend had once said. On went the jacket, her breasts tucked away neatly inside. Hands perched on her hips, she swayed left and right before the full-length mirror, lowered her eyes, puckered her lips, and did her best to look haughty. She loved acting the model; since adolescence, once she'd abandoned her dream of being a ballerina, being a model was all she ever wanted to be.

"Is this too much?" For a moment, just a moment, she took a step back in her thoughts, and saw herself in the mirror, trapped in a game, looking hard and shallow, her better instincts blotted out. Hugo stirred, she blinked, the moment passed, and the game continued. There was breakfast to make -- black coffee, two dry pieces of toast, no butter, no jam. No wonder her weight had scarcely moved beyond 116 pounds in years; no wonder excess fat had been last seen in puberty, piled up during her boarding school years and shed immediately after. A brisk shower got her cleaned and perfumed. And then on with the Armani, on with the shoes, handbag poised jauntily, eyes burning bright.

"How do I look?"

"Stunning. Quite stunning."

"I knew it!" A hug, a kiss, good luck words: and then she was out the door.


She sat on the Tube train tunnelling under London, packed with commuters and a few early-bird tourists trekking into the West End. Was she overdressed? Now she started to worry, and sized up the wardrobe of the other passengers, their heads buried in the morning's newspapers. She was smarter than some. Smarter than most. Thinner, too.

By 9.30 she was outside the Bullet offices, recently installed in a new development in a once-forlorn district on the edge of the East End. Office blocks had sprouted; a few wine bars had taken root, and the young and successful were moving in. The perfect home for the Bullet, born over a hundred years ago as a sober broadsheet called the London Bulletin, but now reborn with a snazzier name, a tabloid format, and a new editor, Kirkhope Martin, determined to make it the newspaper of choice for the young urban hordes.

Jackie quivered before the revolving door. She had glimpsed the staff when she went for interview -- they seemed young, fashion-conscious, just like herself -- but realised they couldn't all be like that. There must be some old trouts somewhere, who would probably hate her on sight. Jackie was accustomed to be liked. But as she moved to her desk in the open-plan maze, all she saw was her own mirror image. Beanpole girls in designer clothes; men with sharp suits, no ties, hair shaved down to the scalp. On arriving as editor, Martin had swept through the staff with a scythe: this was the result.

There seemed so many hands to shake, and introductions to make. Katrina, the Fashion Editor, had the opposite desk. "Haven't I met you somewhere before?" she said brightly.

Jackie reeled off a list of clubs and bars. Katrina had been to them all. Their friendship became further cemented when a trolley groaning with little snacks, muffins, chocolate bars, and sandwiches, trundled down the aisle. Neither wanted anything.

"I don't know why they bother with that," Katrina told her. "No-one takes any of it, except perhaps the old duffers in Accounts." Without saying a word, they both gave thanks for their restraint and cast admiring glances at each others' physique.

"Oh well, on with my work!" Kirhope had already given Jackie a list of preliminary assignments.

There was so much to cover: press conferences, exhibition openings, the financial headaches of the Royal Opera House, the rumour that yet another Rembrandt in the National Gallery was a fake. Not every event generated a story worth reporting, but Jackie enjoyed plunging into the media whirpool, signing in at the press desk with a flourish, gearing herself up for schmoozing with nibbles and a drink, and striking poses meant to indicate that she was someone worth talking to. Dexterity was needed to balance the plate of sandwiches, the glass of white wine, and the press kit tucked under the arm, but by observing others she learned the knack. Back in the office, she'd write up her articles, check she was spelling 'Renaissance' correctly, see her stories onto the pages, and fly into Soho for a drink or a movie with pals, or Hugo.

But for Jackie the best evening's entertainment was attending another press event, the kind you had to RSVP to, with glamorous attendees. At the Rock Lab one night she had waved about an invitation to an exhibit at the Commonwealth Institute, "The Inuit: Life and Art". Roz sounded perplexed.

"They were called Eskimos when I was at school. Now they're called Inuit."

Geri performed a mock yawn.

Jackie went with Roz, who was amused to see her friend in action, arming herself with a glass of Chardonnay and the nibbles ("Ah, prawns!" she cried, "First time this week!") before darting into the fray. Jackie chatted gaily to the great and good, and introduced Roz with five words guaranteed to stop any conversation: "She works in milk marketing." Unfortunately it was true.

After about half an hour, they turned themselves to the art on display: small figures of seals, polar bears, and shamans, miniature igloos, photos of the Inuit's working life, men crouching over a hole in the ice or speeding along in snowmobiles, women skinning the day's catch or cradling their young. Jackie gave the sculptures short shrift, but something in the photos kept her riveted.

"These women, they're all so -- fat!" One photo after another showed a round, smiling female face and a round body below, well wrapped in caribou fur against the cold but clearly carrying almost as much blubber as the seals their menfolk hunted. "My God, is no-one slim? And when did they last go to a hair salon?"

Suddenly she found an Inuit expert at her shoulder, a balding chap with an identity badge, bad photo glaring out at the world. "It's in the genes. All the women turn plump by the time they're 30. Just like the creatures of the ice and the sea, they need their fat for insulation, and for nurturing their young. It's not as if they have central heating." He smiled, and moved on.

"They can't buy Armani suits, either. My God, Roz, it's a different world. Fancy turning fat, just like that." They both shuddered. Jackie returned to replenish her plate.

In the office the next day, Jackie struggled to turn her Inuit exhibition into an article worth printing. But she couldn't find an angle. There was no funding crisis at the Institute. Nothing controversial going on. The Chardonnay and the prawns were great, but what reader would be interested in that?

"I drew a blank with the Inuit thing," she told Kirkhope as she arrived for the Editor's morning conference. She caught his eyes wandering up and down her body; she was finally wearing the leather catsuit.

"Not to worry. This will generate lots of copy." He was waving a piece of paper. "The Cannes Film Festival in May. Go there. Be seen. Get all the stories you can."

She let out a whoop of joy. Now this was the high life! Her mind started racing. A slinky dress: she would need a new one to mingle with Tom and Nicole, Brad and Jennifer. Maybe Katrina could advise. Hugo would probably be jealous, but work was work.

Back at her desk, she told Katrina at once. Just then the snacks trolley made its morning progress. Heads were shaken throughout the office, except Jackie's. "Do you have any chocolate muffins?" Katrina raised her eyebrows.

"I'm just celebrating," she said.


May couldn't come soon enough. She had difficulties choosing an especially stunning dress -- so many to choose from -- but eventually emerged from a newly-opened boutique, Girl On the Make, with a nifty black number that plunged at the front and back and hugged the figure until just above the knees.

Hugo was miffed that he couldn't come too. Jackie said she'd send him a postcard, and with a hug and kiss she was off.

Cannes was less glamorous than she imagined. Some days it rained hard: rain with windy kick in it. "Ah, the mistral!" an old-timer told her. "Remember that from your geography lessons?" "Aha!" said Jackie. She didn't.

And no matter what you wore, it was hard being glamorous in a crowd of 500 fighting to squeeze into a 100-seater cinema. She used her elbows to jab others out of the way; no different, she thought, from getting into a winter sale or a crowded Soho bar. She soon learned to save her finery for the evening dinners, or the interviews where she wanted to look as beautiful as the star she was interviewing.

Not that Jackie was falling over celebrities. At one dinner, dressed to kill in her new acquisition, the place card by the adjoining seat told her she was sitting next to Christian Bale.

"Who's Christian Bale?" she whispered to her mistral informant on her left.

"Child star of Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun", now grown up. Very boring. The kind of actor who gets cast in films only because better actors aren't available."

She would make an assault, Jackie decided, but she didn't know quite how to begin. "Do you -- come here often?" she said, hoping to sound ironic.

"I have been to the Cannes festival five times before," Christian Bale replied in a wooden voice.

"My God," Jackie thought, "he really is boring. I'm more interesting than he is. This food is more interesting than he is." She decided to concentrate on it and, turning back with a polite smile, buckled down to her Salade Nicoise, strewn with tuna and olives, her guinea fowl roasted on a bed of potatoes, and the orange cheesecake that she somehow could not refuse.

"You enjoy eating, I can tell," said the mistral man, a Swedish journalist called Erik.

"Not really, no. Really I don't. I hate it. Do very little of it."

On rainy days Jackie usually went to the British Pavilion for lunch, picking up gossip and phone messages, along with a large ciabatta, ingredients tumbling out of the sides -- far preferable, she found, to the Pavilion's slabs of microwave-heated lasagne. That had been a big mistake. When the sun shone, she often tried for one of the beach restaurants -- excellent pasta and pancakes -- then lay on the sand, summer blouse removed to reveal her black bra, black pants snugly framing her midriff and the long slender thighs and legs that stretched towards the blue waves lapping a few feet away.

Films? She saw fewer than expected, but it did not matter. Colleagues told her how to interview someone whose movie you had not seen. Sometimes all you needed to do was switch on the recorder and let them burble. Like Kenneth Branagh: once she'd said the word Shakespeare he was off and away, leaving her ample time to sit back, sup her drink, and observe with surprise, beneath her white cotton trousers, the slightest suggestion of a tummy bulge. It was obviously caused by the way she was sitting. Of course it was. She pulled herself upright, and the bulge disappeared. Nothing to worry about. Now what was the bore Branagh saying?

Walking back to her hotel she felt her waistband pinching a little, a sensation she realised had been growing. She fancifully thought her trousers had shrunk when she became caught in that rainstorm over the weekend. Or maybe it was the immediate effect of her lunch. "Could I have gained a tiny bit of weight? Impossible. I never gain weight. I'd die if I did. It's a fluke. A freak effect. Nothing to worry about." She decided against examining her midriff. What was the point?


It was time to come home. She packed her bags, and stocked up in the Nice airport duty-free shop with her favourite perfumes. As soon as her plane touched down, she thought London looked dull. No beaches. No palm trees. And a large patch of bad weather: grey skies merging into the grey of the paving stones and the grey of the concrete office blocks. The typical British summer.

Some rough moments with Hugo didn't help. "Thanks for the postcard you didn't send. Thanks for the phone calls you didn't make."

"I was busy. I was working".

"You can be so thoughtless, you know that?"

She tried to win him over with a hand round his shoulders, a sex-kitten pout, and a lingering kiss, but Hugo's ruffled feathers could only be smoothed by the promise of a holiday later in the year, somewhere exotic, like Bali, or the beaches of India.

She dived into the social swim with extra vigour. No matter what the function -- the screening of a new Belgian film, a British Museum fossil display -- Jackie would be there, sausage rolls at hand, chatting merrily. Her work duties done, she would often link up with Hugo for a meal. Restaurants she once had no interest in now drew her like a magnet. "It's research material," she told Hugo, casting her eyes down yet another menu at The Devil's Kitchen, a trendy cavern with overhead lighting concealed behind skulls. "I need to know what's what."

"You should be a restaurant critic. You seem to be eating much more these days. You're not afraid of putting on weight?"

"With my metabolism? Impossible."

But whatever she said herself, it was getting obvious to others that something was happening to Jackie's shape. One Friday in June, high temperatures were forecast and actually arrived. Jackie tied her hair in a little pony tail to stop it dangling round her face, and strutted off to work in tight white pants and a black top: simple but stunning, she thought. After work she met up with Roz, forsaking the Rock Lab gloom for a pavement seat at the Top Tipple wine bar. Roz noticed Jackie's cheeks, fuller than before, their roundness emphasised by the hair swept away from her face. She saw how the top clung to her stomach, and she spotted a definite swell on her belly.

"You're not been putting on weight, have you?" Roz asked, tentatively.

"No way".

"It looks as though you have, just a bit."

"A trick of the light."

She was in serious denial. Her body might be telling her, by its altering contours and softer feel, that she was starting to gain, but her mind was not ready to accept it, least of all when sitting in public with a friend as thin as a corkscrew. In Jackie's circle putting on weight was against the law. And punishment for the crime was intense. You got snide comments from friends. You looked older than 28. You would not be able to fit into designer clothes. You were disgusting. Excluded from life.

Of course she realised her food intake had increased: there was the nibbling at functions, the office snacks, the bigger meals with Hugo. But she had lazily thought that being young and thin her body could cope. There would be no consequences. There couldn't be.

Since returning from Cannes, Jackie had tucked away the bathroom scales under the sink. When bathing or showering, she tried to restrict her gaze, running the soap over her tummy with the lightest of touches, afraid of confronting the layer of fat she suspected must be lurking. Choosing her wardrobe, she never now looked at her profile: she didn't want to be forced to admit that her breasts were a fraction bigger, that her bottom was jutting out a jot, and a little pot was starting in front, making the buttoning and zipping process not quite as easy as before.

With Roz, at the wine bar, she managed to change the subject. With Hugo, she was not so lucky. Their holiday in Goa, on the west coast of India, was booked for September; they were back on good terms. They were playful together, and lingered long in bed. Hugo had tumbled upon a new game to play before sex, diving under the sheets and exploring her body with a miniature torch. He called it 'going coalmining'. There was much talk of seams and shafts.

"I'm at the north-east seam now," he said one night, shining the torch into her left armpit.

"Anything worth mining?" She giggled.

"Absolutely not. But down here --." He moved down her torso, over her breasts, shining the torch onto her navel, nestling now a little way inside the fat building up on her midriff. "Hey, you've been gaining a bit of weight!"

Jackie sighed inwardly. "No I've not."

"But I'm looking at the fat right now! Don't worry, it's kind of nice, wrapped round your middle." He pushed a finger in, gently.

There was no escape, Jackie realised. "Oh that!" she said, airily. "My body mass has shifted a bit, that's all."

"Kind of slipped, has it?"


"Rubbish. You've been eating more than usual and you've put on weight. It's very simple."

"You don't have to be so blunt about it. It's different for a guy. I've always been so thin. A girl needs to be thin." She had tensed up. She was almost crying.

"It's only a little bit of flab, Jackie, and it looks fine."

"Are you sure?" He smothered her midriff with kisses.

"You'd better kiss my breasts then. I think they've got bigger too." He obliged. "And my ass. I'm not like a mountain, am I?"

Her fears, suppressed for weeks, tumbled out as Hugo kissed her bottom's expanded cheeks. "I don't know what's been happening. I've not been eating that much more. Maybe my metabolism is slowing down. What a drag that would be. I can't turn into an Inuit woman, I won't, I can't."

"Jackie," Hugo said softly, "shut up! I want to make love."

Next morning, she woke to a cocktail of emotions. She felt upset that her gain was out in the open. She almost expected to see it reported in the newspaper, under the banner "METROPOLITAN FASHION-PLATE PUTS ON WEIGHT: SEE PAGES 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7". But she felt relieved that she could stop pretending. She was also mollified by Hugo's reaction. He still seemed to think she looked young and sexy. She hadn't turned into an old bag overnight.

Standing in the shower, she finally felt able to inspect her body. She ran her hands down, brushing against the buds on her breasts (rounder now, without a doubt), following her chest to the layer of fat surrounding her waist that swelled out even further towards her crotch, curving towards her thighs. Part of her was shocked; another part felt awe and a sensuous tingle at her extra pounds. "So this is what it's like to gain weight," she thought. "It really feels bizarre".

Soaped, scrubbed, hair shampooed, she rubbed and patted herself dry with a towel, and took the next plunge. Out came the bathroom scales. She peered down nervously, heart beating fast. It was worse than she thought. It was much worse than she thought. She was 126 pounds: a gain of ten pounds. She'd banked on five.

She considered her options. Could she manage a diet? That required discipline. But she'd never been on one since adolescence. She decided against it. She could eat a little less; that she would do. She could also increase her smoking, good for dulling the appetite. That she would do, too.

But obstacles kept arising. At home, Hugo frowned on her lighting up. He didn't like the smell, or the ash stains on the carpet. At the Bullet, smoking was forbidden, so she had to take her puffs outside, where she usually found several other girls, with tummy bulges of their own, huddled silently, outcasts together, getting their nicotine fix. This wasn't fun.

Within a few weeks, all notions about cutting back had been put to one side. This was a lazy summer, and her job went quiet. Often she sat twiddling her thumbs, flicking through the pages of Katrina's fashion magazines or the showbusiness papers, crunching her teeth from time to time on goodies from the trolley, or licking an ice cream fetched from the Baskin-Robbins one street away.

"What's this?" she said one day. "Christian Bale is to star in "American Psycho" as a stockbroker serial killer?"

"Who's Christian Bale?" Katrina piped up

"He's that dolt who sat next to me at Cannes one time. Boring as hell."

"Oh I don't think hell would be boring, Jackie, as you'll probably find out."

Jackie stuck out her tongue. "He couldn't possibly play a psycho. The most he could appear in would be some film called --" -- she rummaged in her head -- "oh, I don't know, "American Cyclist"."

"Who'd see a film called "American Cyclist"?

"Just as many who'd turn out to see Christian Bale in "American Psycho". About five."

So the days passed. And slowly but steadily, week by week, fat was creeping over her body like the advancing rays of the dawn sun, turning her skin soft and velvet, settling in gently under her chin, blanketing her cheekbones, thickening her waist, gradually transforming her bottom from two sweet cherries into two sweet plums, building up her tummy into a beautiful bulge that loomed larger than her breasts.

In her summer daze, Jackie appeared oblivious. Until one day. Black Tuesday, she called it. She had gone to work -- this was her mistake -- in blue cotton trousers so tight round the waist that she needed to leave the button and zipper loose at the top. A white t-shirt with an igloo design, a freebie from the Inuit exhibit, fitted snugly over her chest and hung over her trousers just far enough to cover her waist. Except when she raised her arms. Then trouble started. When she raised her arms, or even yawned, her breasts thrust forward, stretching the igloo design to its limit, and her unzipped zipper and midriff roll were laid open for all to see.

During the morning there was an Arts Council financial report she needed to photocopy: deadly dull stuff, but there it was. She was having a hard time. The ink was low. The paper jammed. The tray needed filling. Suddenly she had company. Joybelle, one of the paper's sub-editors, long and sassy, perennially welded into cowboy boots, stood beside her, waving a document, chafing at the bit. Then Brenda, Kirkhope's secretary, started hovering, just to pass the time. Jackie reached up to get more paper, and all eyes fixed on her waistline.

"I didn't know you were pregnant, Jackie! Congratulations!"

"I'm not pregnant, Joybelle," she said, colouring.

"Oh. Oh. Sorry." A mischievous glint was in her eyes.

"Maybe it's your period bloat?" Brenda chimed in. Had they rehearsed this double-act?

"My period was last week, not this."

"Oh. Oh. Sorry."

"I've put on a bit of weight, OK? Is it a crime?" She hated being needled.

Joybelle made soothing noises. "No, no. It's just -- unusual. You're such a stylish young thing. Usually."

At that moment, Jackie bent down to place the new paper in the tray, revealing a flash of soft flesh at the back, and placing visible strain on the trousers.

"Did you hear the sound of a seam splitting, Brenda?"

By the time Jackie stood upright, her eyes were daggers. "You're both so horrible," she snarled, and stormed off, leaving her photocopying undone.

The afternoon wasn't any improvement. Arts funding stories were the worst ones to write about: there was no colour to them, and Jackie had a poor head for statistics. She felt bad-tempered and tired. Hungry too; hungry enough to start in on the chocolate muffin she'd bought at lunchtime and was planning to enjoy in private after work.

"Jackie, what are you doing?" It was Katrina, looking up from laying out photos of a controversial fashion show with emaciated models and a concentration camp motif.

"I'm eating a muffin."

"I can see that. I can see the effects of it too. Look at your tummy. Ever since you've come here you've been putting on weight."

"Isn't that my business?"

"Take my advice. If you're going to get fat, for God's sake don't wear tight clothes. It gives high fashion a bad image. And how many people are living in that igloo?"

Jackie looked down at her chest for a moment, then trained her eyes coldly on Katrina. "I thought you were a friend. All I've got today is criticism. And now I can't eat a muffin in peace?"

Sweeping papers off her desk, she picked up her handbag, and dashed through the office, bashing into several people en route, through the reception area, stubbing a toe on a potted plant, and stumbling over a homeless beggar just outside the revolving doors.

"Spare a --"

"Get lost," she cried, and kicked him.

"You heartless --"

"You scum!"

It was not an attractive scene.

As soon as Hugo got home from his football fixture he knew something serious was up. Jackie was lying on the sofa in her nightdress, crisp packets strewn over the floor, hair bedraggled, eyes mournful, her Inuit t-shirt flung into a waste basket, and a paperback, "How to Diet Without Dieting", resting on her stomach. She started in immediately.

"Be honest, Hugo. Do you think I'm getting fat? I had a couple of run-ins at work." She shifted the book and put her hands on her belly, round and beautiful as a bell.

"Well you've put on weight, that's for certain, but to me you're just about right, so long as you don't put on any more. What happened?"

She sketched in the details, omitting the collision with the beggar. "God, people can be so unkind," she said.

Hugo's eyes widened slightly, and he smiled. "Is the boot starting to shift to the other foot?"

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing." He stroked her hair. He didn't want to give her a hard time.

Jackie hoisted herself upright. "I need to diet. It's getting so hard to fit into my damn clothes. I hate that."

"Buy some new ones. You love buying clothes."

She paused for thought, unbuttoned her nightdress, and began fingering her soft belly and the two little rolls of flesh stacked up above between breasts and navel. Her fat felt so warm and comforting. She could still see the marks round her waist where her trousers had dug into her flesh. "I wish you could get fat without getting fat, if you see what I mean." She sounded wistful.

"Sorry, I don't."

Jackie sighed. "You're a guy. You wouldn't understand. I'll weigh myself in the morning." She sighed again, and shuffled off to bed.

This time she felt no trepidation standing on the scales. Wherever the needle came to rest, she decided beforehand, it was going to be too high. She was resigned to that. 137 pounds. Nine stone eleven. Eleven pounds more than before. It was too much. It was much too much.

Returning to the bedroom, she searched through her wardrobe for clothes less likely to attract comment than her disastrous choices of the day before. The leather catsuit hung on its hanger, taunting her. The Armani suit was still a possibility, but her tummy bulge really showed on the trousers, as Geri had gleefully told her last week. A cream cotton pair were also possible, though the material buckled so much stretching over her belly that even those were far from ideal. Why had she gone for such tight-fitting clothes when she went on that shopping spree? Couldn't she have allowed even a little space for expansion in the future?

She pulled out some purple cotton pants, scarcely worn. She hated the colour, but the loose cut at least made room for her gut and the extra padding on her behind. A lime green blouse that had been one size too big, a gift from her father, now fitted neatly across the breasts and hung down almost to the crotch. She felt a complete fashion disaster; but at least she felt safe.

Hugo found her at the breakfast table, looking forlorn, pushing half a slice of toast around on her plate. "Buck up, Jackie! We have Goa coming up, remember. That'll shake the dust off your feet."

"Uh-hu," she said. She wasn't convinced.


Within two weeks she was in India, lying on a golden beach, surveying the Arabian Sea, coconut palms swaying in the breeze, a mango juice by her side. The ten-hour plane journey had been cramped and noisy -- they were on a package deal -- but they had managed to ease some of the discomfort watching the in-flight movies, looking forward to lazy days in the sun, and bickering pleasantly about which of them had the larger world view.

Tongue slightly in cheek, Hugo considered that Jackie only knew the inside of chic Soho bars and the food tables at press receptions; as he said this his eyes glanced at her spare tyre moving up and down gently as she breathed. Jackie said that was unfair. Her job gave her a window onto the world -- Inuits, fossils, fake Rembrandts, the works. All Hugo's did was give him hairy male legs to stare at as they kicked a ball round a field. Hugo thought that unfair too: "Some of the players come from foreign countries." "That doesn't count," Jackie said.

Hugo had been right. Goa was the tonic Jackie needed. There was no-one here to make carping comments. She had nothing to do except relax, sun herself, do a little swimming and sight-seeing. After Black Tuesday she had instituted a diet and lost five pounds; good preparation, she thought, for the spartan food regime she was sure she'd follow in Goa. She'd read about some of the local cuisine: piled high with garlic and a horrible kind of vinegar, it seemed. Definitely not for her.

But in this she was disappointed. Their hotel mixed palatable Indian dishes with European fare. There was plenty to eat and drink: lamb steaks, tiger prawns almost as big as her feet, coconut rice with chicken, the heavenly melon and kiwi milkshakes.

Her good intentions were also undermined by a phenomenon she never expected to encounter. None of the local women -- young, middle-aged and older -- were thin. If they weren't robustly fat, they were pleasantly plump. If they weren't plump, they were nicely rounded. Yet whatever their size they appeared attractive and self-confident. Jackie had never seen so many belly rolls, on open display or poking helplessly out of blouses. One of the hotel waitresses had a beauty, love handles wobbling on either side as she moved down the restaurant carrying her trays.

Jackie was awestruck. "My God, it's a different world," she said, surveying the parade from the beach. "No-one seems under any pressure to be thin. They just let it all hang out."

"Maybe you should move here."

"You're right." She smiled. She was feeling more at ease with herself. "These people have never heard of anorexia, have they? It's in the culture, I suppose. Maybe in the genes. You never see a thin Buddha. Nor a thin elephant. Big country, big people."

"Gandhi wasn't big."

Jackie brushed this aside. "He was different. Do you think I could have another coconut ice-cream?"

Every day as she smeared sun protection cream over her body she felt her own fat, soft enough, but small compared to the amount women in Goa were carrying. She had grown familiar with her new body now. She knew the little bulges that formed around her bra; she knew the exact curve of her belly and the depth of the rolls nestled above when she sat upright. Away from London, away from the fashion magazines and the beady glances of Katrina, Roz and company, she did not look so hideous, did she?

Even in the black lycra swimsuit that spotlit her belly and dug into the flesh on her thighs she thought she looked shapely enough. It was just a different kind of shape. On beach days she would change in the hotel, perhaps linger in the lobby, chatting pleasantly with the receptionist, holding open a door for a bell boy with luggage or an elderly guest, and then make her way to the sand.

They were in Goa for three weeks. By the last week Jackie knew full well that all the weight she had lost in London had now been put back, with more besides. She seemed to be spreading sideways; her midriff was building into a big swathe, the love handles spilling over at the sides. Her thighs and upper arms looked a little chunkier every day. Even her face, as Hugo noticed, was spreading out, the jawline now blurred, the smooth flesh creasing into a double chin with every yawn or downward movement of the head. She had gone to Goa pleasantly rounded in certain parts; she was leaving it chubby all over.

The night before they were due to fly back, they had an early dinner at the hotel restaurant. Jackie tried the curried goat stew, and was pleasantly surprised. Then lovemaking called, and it was during those passionate hours that Hugo realised the full extent of Jackie's physical changes. Clutching her body in times past had meant clutching not much more than a skeleton, very lightly padded. Now he was pressing down on a pillow: the bones, the ribcage, the pelvis, all covered in flesh that moved this way and that with his own body.

Penetration done, caressing her face, he fingered her cheeks and the fat gathering round her chin. Before he had able to be quite mattter-of-fact about Jackie gaining weight. But now, in bed with his beloved, the power of his sensual response was undeniable. He liked the fat. He loved the fat. Where were these feelings coming from? Whatever their origin, he felt embarrassed. He felt guilty. Watching hairy male legs kick balls around had not prepared him for feelings like this.

In the morning, Jackie knew that the holiday spirit was already starting to evaporate. She lingered in the shower longer than usual, weighing her breasts in her hands, fingering the bulges at her side and her tummy, now bigger than ever.

"I've got too fat, haven't I?" she said. Her voice was rueful.

Hugo stopped assembling his clothes ready for packing. He took a deep breath. Gazing at her now, naked except for a towel on her shoulder, her whole outline smudged with her extra pounds, Hugo felt the same sensuous charge that had struck him hard the previous night. He loved her heavier. But he couldn't bring his feelings into the open. He wanted so much to say something admiring -- he had done so, mildly, in the past -- but now the words wouldn't come. Shame and confusion covered them up.

He found himself saying what he thought Jackie wanted to hear. "Perhaps. Just a bit. But only a bit. Don't worry about it. I don't want you to get hung up about your weight. It's not worth it."

"I won't." She smiled faintly, and got dressed.

But she was already hung up. On the journey back, apprehension grew about what lay ahead in the viper's nest of London. Most of the passengers and crew were European; compared to herself, Jackie realised, they all looked so goddamned thin. None of them had tummies that hung out of their clothes, Buddha-like. None of them had hips and behinds rounded enough to block the aisle as they squeezed past the queue by the toilets. But she did.

"Here's your meal!" The stewardess, thin as a rake, was beaming. Everything appeared white: the chicken meat, the potato and coleslaw, the pot of yogurt, the plastic tray and cutlery. "This is disgusting," Jackie cried. She was actually relieved.

Then came the in-flight movie. Here Jackie found more cause for anguish. It was "The Deep End of the Ocean", soap-opera stuff with Michelle Pfeiffer. The plot failed to grip, and she slipped off her headphones. But she kept watching, narrowing her eyes and staring hard at the star's chiselled face, cheekbones gleaming, chin razor-sharp. Hugo shot her a quizzical glance.

"I'm trying to imagine what Michelle Pfeiffer would be like 30 pounds heavier."

"Wasted effort. It will never happen."

"At her age she's earned the right to gain. But she never does. Look at her collarbones! They're like clothes hangers. My collarbones have vanished completely. Have you noticed?"

Hugo found this a strange conversation. Was Jackie envious of Michelle Pfeiffer or not? Was Pfeiffer a vision of beauty to her, or a scrawny beast? He couldn't tell.

Neither could Jackie. She stopped squinting at the screen, gave a look to Hugo that said "Help me!", received no response, and drifted off to asleep.


Rain. Cold. It was early October, but in London winter had arrived. A newspaper picked up at the airport filled her in on what had been happening in the world behind her back. Stalemate in Northern Ireland. Some big Mafioso in Italy had been murdered. A dinosaur bone shaped like a loofah had been dug up in Australia. Tony Bennett had turned 75. Nothing had happened, really.

Back home, there was sleep to catch up on, food shopping to do, her parents to phone ("Wonderful time. Lots of sun and food. I think I ate a bit too much."). And then, the next morning, the slow march to the executioner's block: the bathroom scales. Jackie had moved beyond dread. Her fate was her fate. Her fat was her fat. Almost numb, she watched the needle scoot past the old familiar markings, ricochet back and forth and come to rest in unknown territory. 149 pounds. Inside of three weeks she had gained 17 pounds; that was over a stone.

Slipping her nightdress back on, she went to the kitchen, peered inside the fridge, looked at the small loaf of bread, the chicken breast pieces, the low-fat yogurt, the vegetables and salad ingredients glistening inside. She was already on a diet. She'd started in the supermarket, passing up the frozen foods aisle where the ice cream and gateaux winked at her, scrutinising every carton of milk to estimate its fat content. Her own fat content had to be reduced. There was no other way.

Hugo feared the worst. "Whatever makes you happy," he had said, as Jackie informed him about her new regime. But would dieting make Jackie happy? Or himself? There were too many unexplored feelings for him to know.

For all her commitment to her diet, Jackie was equally unsure. But one thing was clear. The vipers were going to be out in force when she went back to work.

"Don't," she said to Katrina. "Don't. Don't say a word. I'm on a diet."

"I was only going to say it looks like you had a great time."

"In a heavily ironic tone, of course." Still, Katrina's restraint was welcome. She felt other colleagues at the Bullet inspecting her contours. But nothing was said. They had expected her to come back fatter, and she did.

Her friends outside work, though, were something else. Even in the murk of the Rock Lab, Jackie's new pounds stood out clearly. She could hear jaws dropping. Geri, her tight little chest fitted into a red t-shirt with the slogan "I'm Busy. You're Ugly. Have a Nice Day", went into attack straight away.

"Now I know what to get you for Christmas!"

"What?" Jackie sounded wary.

"The Elvis Presley Cook Book." Sound of cackling from Roz and Geri. Stony silence from Jackie.

"I don't find that funny. I know I've gained some more weight. I'm now on a diet, alright? Give a girl a chance. Haven't you ever put on a pound yourself?"

"No. Never have."

Roz tried to conciliate. "It's just not you, Jackie. You used to so thin, so cutting edge. But since you got the job at the Bullet all you've done is balloon. What does Hugo think?"

A good question. Jackie was unsure. In any case, she was in no mood to answer after Geri kicked in. "Yeah. He shacks up with a pencil and ends up with a big fat pear. Think of it from his point of view."

"What about me? What about giving me some support here? Do you think this is easy? Don't you think I have feelings?" She was shrieking. Heads turned. She marched out, yelling across the room, "Call me when you've found a civil tongue in your head. Not before."

Roz and Geri exchanged glances, and their hearts skipped a beat.

Jackie's temper was shortening, along with her concentration. She could feel it. Was it sugar deficiency from her diet? Perhaps, in part. But she felt so much under siege, pulled this way and that by different impulses. She wanted to reclaim the shape she once had; she wanted to fit into her designer clothes, become a slim mannequin again and rejoin the crowd.

Yet as the pounds fell off a few at a time -- her thighs were already trimmer -- she also felt a sense of regret. She had actually grown to like her larger shape. She had enjoyed feeling the soft cushion of fat as she perched her hands on her waist, or the tightness of her clothes as they rubbed against her thighs and belly. She had felt luxurious, well taken care of, feminine in a way she had never experienced before. What was so great about being thin and having a body as hard as a board? She didn't know. All she knew was that thinness was the goal and the expectation, and she hadn't the strength to swim against the tide.

At press receptions, she now cut a wistful figure. Her tipple had changed from wine to mineral water. The plate once piled with sausage rolls contained a few olives, or nothing at all. Her diary was as packed as ever: gallery openings, architectural redevelopment plans, London Film Festival screenings. But her lust for life was definitely reduced.

Before the press screening of a Brazilian film -- its title translated very badly as "Tequila Misfortune" -- she sat in a corner, eyeing the hordes sampling the exotic delicacies, and talking to the barman Joe, a burly guy, a regular at these events.

"I don't like seeing these people eat. It makes me want to dive right in."

"Have you put on weight?" He was being polite.

She nodded, and cast her eyes down to the belly on her lap. Shifting that was proving very hard.

"Did you put on the weight on holiday?"

"Partly. I've put on 30 pounds since this time last year." She looked so sad, so defeated.

Joe polished his glasses and tried to soothe. "Maybe it's a sign of contentment."

"Oh, I don't know," she sighed. "Perhaps. It's my stomach that's really annoying. It sticks out so much." She touched it lightly, almost fondly.

"Maybe it's just middle-age spread."

"But I'm not middle aged. It's alright for you," she said, eyeing his beer belly, hanging riotously over his trousers, "you've got the build for it."

"Cheer up. There's worse things in life than putting on weight."

"I can't think of one at the moment." The film was about to start. After draining her mineral water she perused her press kit. "Christian Bale isn't in this, is he?"

"Who's Christian Bale?"

"Oh, just an actor I sat next to at Cannes. I wouldn't want him to see me fat, that's all." She gave him a wry smile, and joined the others trooping into the dark.


""THIS BRAZILIAN MOVIE IS NUTS. A special report by Jacqueline Tindall-Smith, Arts Reporter.""

Jackie wriggled nervously in her seat. Some drivel she'd tapped into her computer off the top of her head had found its way by mistake onto the Bullet page proofs, and Kirkhope was reading it, voice dipped in mockery.

""I had the misfortune to see "Tequila Misfortune" -- that bit's OK, Jackie -- "especially unfortunate as I couldn't eat anything beforehand as I'm on this blasted diet. If this is a sample of the Brazilian cinema's renaissance" -- God, when will you learn to spell that word? -- "then I'm a monkey's uncle. There were lots of palm trees, coconuts and subtitles, and I didn't know what it was about. Christian Bale wasn't in it.""

He peered at the author over his spectacles. "Shall I go on?"

She was the colour of beetroot. "It was a mistake, Kirkhope. It got in by mistake. It wasn't meant to get onto the page. I just letting off steam."

Kirkhope looked stern. "Of course it was a mistake. But I pay you to report, not write utter nonsense. Get a grip, will you?"

She crawled out of his office. This wasn't her first reprimand. The week before she'd consistently arrived late for the morning conferences. Her work, she'd been told, was getting sloppy. She'd disgraced herself by falling asleep during an important interview with Hugh Grant -- Kirkhope had the tape with her snoring, locked up in a drawer as evidence. And now she'd filed a piece of garbage instead of a proper report, leaving the page with a gaping hole. It was only the late arrival of an advertisement for Cindy Crawford's latest workout video that saved the sub-editors from having to rework the page from scratch. Jackie was not popular with Kirkhope.

It was all due to her diet, of course. She was eating nothing, sleeping more during the day than at night, and spiralling towards despair. The needle was creeping down the scales -- 140 pounds, 135, 131. Some bulk remained on her breasts and tummy, but she could already wear a few clothes previously given up for lost. Yet she seemed to take little pleasure in it. One day she spotted the fashion magazine Go Girl lying on Katrina's desk. Instead of reading it with the kind of reverence that suggested she was holding the Deep Sea Scrolls, she grabbed her pen and starting defacing every thin model depicted within. Naomi Campbell grew devils' horns and a bottom the size of a cartwheel. Over a picture of Kate Moss, she scrawled the words 'Fascist Pig', then had second thoughts, crossed out 'Pig', and put 'Scarecrow'. And into her mind's eye, day after day, came the women of Goa, sauntering proudly along the beach, flesh bared to the world.

She soon patched things up with Geri and Roz, yet felt less in need of their company. She was tired, she said. She had work to do. There were many excuses. She found even more after a grisly night with them at the movies. The latest cult film was in town, "Killer Bimbos Go Bananas", a spoof action movie. Blonde anorexics in black leather suits spent most of the footage looking surly, talking curt, and kicking male asses.

Roz, Geri and most of the audience thought it hilarious; Jackie might have done so six months before, but now she winced. This was childish. This was cold. This was cruel. She told them so after the movie, as they sat in a bar, striking attitudes, cigarettes dangling. Roz and Geri squawked at her in disbelief. They disagreed so much, they said. They also said Jackie was growing old.

To make her feel better, they added that she was also growing thinner. Jackie gave another grimace.

She felt on a treadmill with her diet. She wanted to jump off, but was unable to make a move, and no-one was giving her a helping hand. Not even Hugo. They were not communicating well. Jackie would return home frazzled, eat a dainty turkey risotto or a salmon fillet, and pick some quarrel about nothing at all. There was the way he left off the toothpaste cap; the mess of his shirts, hung on the back of the bedroom door. And the lager cans! Clear up those bloody lager cans, will you? It's like living in a pig sty.

Hugo found his own reasons to get irritated, though he tried not to lash out. She was smoking more, which he hated. When she wasn't sniping, she was sullen, sitting at the dining table marooned in silence, scarcely raising her head. And there never seemed anything to eat in the place. Every time he suggested a meal that might zap the taste buds, out came a tart retort. "No, I can't eat that. What are you trying to do, make me get fat again?"

This was difficult to answer. He wanted Jackie to be happy, and he knew she wasn't; the only time he thought she had really relaxed recently was on holiday in Goa. If only she hadn't been hounded so much by her friends over her weight. If only he had given her more support. If only he'd said outright what he'd felt in his heart but couldn't bring forth, scared of his own embarrassment and of hurting the person he loved. If only, if only.

Christmas brought little relief from the pressures, though at least Jackie was spared an enforced visit to the family hearth. Her parents had gone on a Caribbean cruise: they would not be back until the New Year. Over the holiday, Jackie allowed herself to eat a little more and gained back three pounds. But January and February found her much as before: undernourished, falling apart.

For Hugo, the thought of winter boxed in with each other's frustrations brought a chill to the bones. The solution stared him in the face. The Winter Games in Switzerland were coming up; perhaps he could do some reporting if he twisted his magazine's arm. An old college friend in Montreux had urged him to visit. Business and pleasure could be combined. He would be away for several weeks; back in London, he could stay awhile with his parents, who were not in good health. "It wouldn't be a separation, Jackie, just a breathing space."

"That's OK," Jackie had said. "Maybe the break would do us both good."

The atmosphere remained tense right up until Hugo's departure. They sat having breakfast: three toast slices and muesli for him, black coffee for her. He decided to have one more go at tackling the issue of her weight, in a roundabout way. He hated the thought of Jackie starving to death while he was away. "I wish you wouldn't skip breakfast. Nutritionists say it's the day's most important meal."

Jackie glared at him. "Don't start. The last thing I need just before you leave is a sermon."

He sighed, gathered his thoughts for a few seconds, took a deep breath, and plunged in. "Look. There's nothing wrong with having some meat on your bones. I -- I kind of liked it. It was sexy. And, you know, some people are just meant to be fat. Maybe you're --"

"SOME PEOPLE ARE MEANT TO BE FAT?" She was screaming the place down. "Is that me, then? Fat old Jackie with a double chin but no willpower? You want me to hand my life over to my fat cels, just like that? People are not meant to be anything. They are what they want to be."

"Do you really know what you want? Truly, honestly?" His voice was gentle, beseeching; he was almost whispering.

Jackie's eyes were on fire. "I know I don't want to listen to this." She suddenly stood up, banged the kitchen door shut, flung on her jacket, yelled "Have a good trip", and hurtled out the flat. This was one day when she'd be early for work.

There was no place to sit on the train. Crammed into a corner by the door, she spent her time scowling, jabbing her elbows into the pin-striped City gent alongside, more out of devilment than anything else. In a daze at the station, she had bought a chocolate and nut bar at the newsagents' stand. A crazy impulse. She slipped her fingers into the pocket, and felt the bar's gnarled surface under the wrapper. No, no, no. She wouldn't eat it. But then why did she buy it? "This is such a rat race," she said to herself. "And all the rats are thin."

She was still scowling when she got to the Bullet. She scowled even more when she looked at her day planner and found she had an art exhibit opening at Tate Modern in the evening. Something important. She had to attend. Anything at the Tate Gallery's new showcase was news. Who was the artist? Jacko somebody. Giacometti. A big name in modern sculpture, apparently. She had banked on a night in, smoking.

The day passed. She stomped around, had a carrot for lunch, slammed a door in Kirkhope's face by mistake, had a fight with the photocopying machine, was told by Joybelle that she looked thinner but still had a fat tummy, lost some vital copy in cyberspace, and tripped over the cleaner's mop and bucket outside the rest rooms. A terrible day.

As she approached London's newest, most glamorous art space, a converted power station by the Thames, her hand brushed against the chocolate bar, still in her pocket, and by now about ready to melt. Should she throw it away or eat it? She chose the latter, but felt the operation needed secrecy. The gallery's gaunt brick pile gave her no obvious place to hide. Damn it! She darted round a side street, found a large refuse bin and crouched behind it as though she were a drug addict getting her fix. She ripped off the wrapper, and her teeth pounced. She felt sinful. She felt dirty. And, she decided, she'd probably vomit the stuff up half an hour later.

Once inside the exhibition, her eyes caught sight of the hospitality tables, arrayed with wine glasses, a pitcher of orange juice, mineral water, the silver platters of sandwiches, fried chicken breasts, and multiple things on sticks. Would she be tempted? She didn't know. She collected a glass of water, felt her fingers heading off in the fried chicken direction, but then swiftly pulled back.

She had just noticed the art on display. They were sculptures, clay cast in bronze, some two feet high, some four. They were very thin scultpures. Sculptures of men and women, just skin and bone, elongated, arms stretched down towards thighs and legs no thicker than a twig. Breasts? Just the tiniest bump half-way up the chest. Bottoms? You must be joking. The room was full of them, a forest of anorexic figures. Giacometti appeared to make nothing else. And each figure said to Jackie, "Don't you dare eat! Don't you dare put on a single pound!"

Horrified and fascinated both at once, Jackie put down her glass and moved through the crowd to take a closer look at the nearest group of spindly figures. What on earth were these things called? She looked for labels, and eventually found them on an adjacent wall. "Standing Woman". Well that tells you a lot. "Woman of Venice XII". God, what were the other eleven like? "Tall Woman". "Nude Woman."

The impersonal titles increased the unsettling experience. It wasn't she who was looking at the sculptures. They were looking at her. They were intruding into her personal space, mentally undressing her down to her own skin and bone, noting the residue of fat round her waist and tummy, the touch of plumpness in the breasts and bottom, the ghost of a double chin. They were soldiers, they were the thought police, and they were going to extract punishment.

A sudden commotion yanked Jackie out of her reverie. Women, large women, were shouting behind her and pressing forward, scattering leaflets and waving banners previously secreted inside their baggy clothes. "It's My Tummy and I'll Get Fat If I Want To," one of them read. Another one -- Jackie couldn't believe this -- said "Say Yes to Cellulite".

It was the Fat Liberation Army, London's newest protest group, recently in the news for chaining themselves to the railings outside the model agency Calista World. Now they were turning their anger on Alberto Giacometti for being a "shape fascist" -- that's what they were shouting, over and over. True, he'd been dead for over 30 years, but for the Army the sculptures lived on to wreak incalculable damage on the minds of young females the world over.

"Giacometti fosters anorexia!" a cheerfully plump woman yelled next to Jackie's ear.

"That's it, Vivienne!" another one urged, "Down with the cult of the thin!"

On top of the shouting, another noise sounded. Security alarms had been set off. A few of the Army were grasping the skeletal sculptures, trying to wrench them from their plinths. By now burly gallery guards had materialised. They were trying to haul the demonstrators back. But the Army outweighed them by several hundred pounds and plunged forwards, pulling Jackie along in their wake, tumbling inexorably onto the sculptures.

There was a crash. There were screams and the sound of things breaking. Photographers' flashbulbs lit up the air. Jackie found herself on the floor, breath almost squashed out of her by a punkish, 250-pound woman with flaming red hair who had tumbled on top, a broken Giacometti sculpture by their side. "Shape fascist! Shape fascist!" she kept on shouting.

The gallery guards moved in, grabbing the demonstrators' arms, Jackie's included, heaving them up, penning them in before the arrival of the police.

"OK, you've made your point. Come along quietly," one of the guards said. The Army happily complied. Their point had been made. They had secured publicity. Photos had been taken. Damage to the art works had not been in the original plan; the heat of the moment just does things to people.

"But I'm not part of them!" Jackie was bleating.

"You were the first one on the floor," the guard said. "You probably broke that sculpture."

"I was pushed! I was pushed!"

He was not amused. "Tell that to the police."


An hour later, she was sitting in the local police station, in a room the police called the Holding Pen. She was ashamed and embarrassed, but also curious about the people who'd suddenly swept into her life. Besides the other young women sitting around her, smiles on their faces, hands resting on bellies, Jackie looked like a Giacometti sculpture herself. Where had these large women been hiding? Even the women in Goa carried less bulk than some of these.

"Wasn't that fun?" said Vivienne, the strikingly plump woman who had yelled about anorexia in Jackie's ear. She was the Army's Media Liaison Officer, current weight 225 pounds, face wreathed in a double chin, belly and general radiance suggesting the approaching end of a pregnancy. "Though it's a pity one of the sculptures got broken."

"Deena just got carried away," a voice behind them cried. Deena, the red-haired woman, smiled. "Sorry if I crushed you," she said to Jackie. "Not intended; not intended at all."

"Still, Giacometti always made multiples," Vivienne continued. "You know there are twenty-three Women of Venice. Well, actually twenty-two now."

"And they're all the same? All so thin?" Jackie was amazed; horrified too.

"Thinner than Calista Flockhart. Giacometti had his reasons, I know. Existential angst. An artist's desire to make his art with the least amount of raw material. It's an interesting idea, but --"

Jackie's mind was whirling. You could hear the sound of closed doors being opened.

" -- but -- what about you?" Vivienne changed tack, and looked at her kindly. "Were you there as a reporter, or a critic?"

"I'm an arts reporter. For the Bullet. But --" -- she hesitated, then went for it -- "I suppose I have a personal interest too. I was always thin, thin and fashionable. Then I grew fat. Then I got thinner. Now I don't know what I am. I'm not happy, I know that. It's as though I want to get fat without getting fat. Does that make sense?"

"Perfect sense. It happened to me." Vivienne was rummaging through her pockets. "Look I'll give you my number. Phone me any time if you need to talk."

She was searching for a piece of paper. Apart from a leaflet about the Mozambique Flood Relief Fund, which she needed to keep, she could only find a chocolate bar wrapper, the same kind Jackie had bought earlier. "Drat this pen!" she said, struggling to write on the back of the shiny paper. "Can you read this?"

It was just about legible. Jackie mumbled her thanks, then looked down at her shoes, worried.

"You'll be alright. We'll be hauled off to the Magistrate's court to be fined. Maybe even charged. You'll walk free, you'll see."

And so she did. The gallery's security video came to her rescue. The concealed cameras had caught it all: Jackie eyeing the silver platters, Jackie moving forward, Jackie caught in the rush, Deena attacking the Woman of Venice, Jackie crushed on the floor. She was let off with a caution.

She arrived home late to an empty flat. She had Hugo's number in Montreux, but didn't want to phone. She was still angry with him, but even angrier with herself for reasons she didn't fully comprehend. All she knew was that everything in her life was going wrong, thanks to him, thanks to her, thanks to her diet.

As she opened their newspaper the next morning, Jackie realised there would be more trouble ahead once she reached work. There she was on page three, clearly visible in one of the photographers' snaps, sprawled on the floor, a red-haired mountain on top of her. "BULLET REPORTER IN PRO-FAT FRACAS," ran the headline. "SCULPTURE DAMAGED BY OVERWEIGHT WOMEN," ran the sub-heading. She peered closer at the picture. There she was, identified by name; and, damn it, you could see the remains of her double chin.

She didn't wait to be summoned into Kirkhope's office. She went in straight away, found him at his desk, fumes rising, peering at the morning's newspapers, tabloids and broadsheets, all of them carrying similar photos.

"Jackie, Jackie." He shook his head. "You're supposed to report the news, not make it. Least of all in a way that makes the Bullet look ridiculous. And it's all emerged before we've had time to come out at lunchtime with our own version of the story."

"It was an accident. I was pushed into the firing line. I'm terribly sorry. I'm terribly terribly sorry."

He was sure she was, he said. But. There were so many buts. Her work had been deteriorating fast. She had grown seriously unreliable. She was cracking under stress. Someone else was writing up the fiasco: the crime reporter, no less, chap called Ben Turpitude. Kirkhope was not going to fire her, but he was going to suspend her, to give her time to sort herself.

"Time to hire a replacement, more like," Jackie thought as she trudged away from his office, face drooping.

Katrina was sympathetic. "You'll be back!" she said as Jackie started to clear her desk of personal possessions -- diary, CDs, a teddy-bear key ring she was strangely fond of, a forgotten slice of chocolate fudge cake from the days of happy snacking. They seemed far away.

"I'm not so sure," Jackie said with a sigh. She spent the whole day sighing. Back at home by evening she sighed some more, smoked, peered into the fridge (almost empty), stood on the scales (132 pounds), looked at the clothing in her wardrobe, lay on her bed, and cried long and loud.

The phone rang. She thought it might be Hugo, calling from Montreux. It was not. It was her mother, back from the Caribbean and not seen in months. Just what she didn't need. "Jacqueline, what's been happening? You're picture's in the paper."

She told her briefly what had happened, and what had been the result. "But that's terrible, you poor darling. I'm sure the suspension is just temporary. Your father will be very concerned." Jackie thought of several sarcastic remarks, but kept silent.

"But the photo, Jackie. You look a little chubby in it."

"No I'm actually thinner."

"You've been fatter than this?" She sounded incredulous.

"I told you so, mother, remember? I gained quite a bit last year."

"But that's terrible, that's really terrible. But you're dieting now?"

"Yes, mother, I'm dieting." She imagined her mother, 110 bony pounds, perched on a sofa in her cocktail dress. "I'm doing just what you want."

"Oh it's not what I want that counts, Jackie." And then in a flurry her mother was gone -- her guests were arriving. "Bye!" she snapped. No words of love. Jackie held the phone in hand: it felt cold, heavy, and dead.

The phone rang again. Wouldn't anyone let her cry in peace? It was Roz. Jackie spilled out her gripes, mostly directed towards herself and the ways of the world. "This wouldn't have happened if I hadn't got hung up about my weight. Now I'm a laughing stock, I've lost my job, and my double chin's plastered over the world's press."

"It's just the angle of the photo, Jackie. You don't have one really. Not any more."

"I'm feeling it, Roz, I'm feeling it now." With her spare hand she was stroking under her chin, feeling the modest residue of fat that she felt was waiting to humiliate her.

"You need a break. Being with animals is marvellous therapy. Tomorrow's Saturday, why don't we go to that city farm in Islington? I've been curious about it. Then we could go for a meal -- a small one. There's lots of super-trendy restaurants up there."

What city farm? It was news to Jackie. Disused land near the railway lines had been taken over by the local council and turned into a mini zoo and working farm, complete with goats, cows, sheep, pigs, donkeys and ducks. An article in the Bullet had called it 'cool'. Jackie was sceptical, but said yes. She wanted company. And it would make a change from the animals at the Rock Lab.

The farm, Freightliners, took a little finding, though it was close enough to Upper Street, Islington's restaurant row, filled with some of the choicest eating places in north London. You had to weave through dilapidated streets, the rows of peeling 19th terraces interrupted by surviving marks of bomb damage from the Second World War: an ugly block of municipal housing here, a boarded-up plot of land there. And then suddenly, there was Freightliners, walls painted bright green and red to attract families and kids.

A board stood by the entrance. Was it going to say the place was closed? Jackie, wrapped in doom and gloom, half expected it.

"I don't believe it. Do you believe it?" She stared slack-mouthed, reading the notice pinned to the board. "All our animals," it declared, "are on diets. They have gained too much weight over Christmas and their feed is now being strictly monitored by the staff. Please help them get back to health and fitness by not feeding them yourselves." Jackie was almost shrieking. "Zoo animals now are on a diet? Can't anyone get fat in this world?"

"You can still stroke them, Jackie. They're still cute. Come on, stop obsessing."

"I'm obsessed? It's not me, it's this crazy world."

She swept into the farm. The animals were her kin, she decided. They were fellow sufferers. A few plump geese, almost bursting out of their feathers, were waddling round a small pond cut into a concrete maze. Beyond were chicken coops, sheds, a field with sheep. They went to the sheds. Two goats were in the first stall, golden brown, full bellies shining. The goats trotted over immediately, heads nestling on the top of the fence, eager for pellets, scraps, anything, even the fingers of a glove. To Jackie they looked inexpressibly beautiful and sad, their eyes bright and friendly, forever hopeful that food would be offered in the hand, forever disappointed.

"It seems so cruel not to feed them."

"Stroke them, Jackie. Feel their pain."

"I am, I am. And look at this --" She'd caught sight of the pig in the neighbouring stall, as long and round as a big rolled-up carpet, tufted ears flopping over, snout encrusted with mud, snuffling the ground, searching for a speck of something tasty or even something foul.

Roz found the whole thing amusing. "What diet are these animals following? The Hip and Thigh? The Beverly Hills? The Jane Fonda Post-Christmas Blitz?"

"Don't mock. It's amazing. These animals have no concept of fat or thin. They don't know the meaning of the words 'weight problem'.

"Jackie, they don't know what any words mean."

"If left to themselves they would eat and eat and never worry a bit."

"Until they couldn't move, I guess."

Jackie was transfixed. "These creatures," she said, "are so beautiful."

Roz gave her a curious look and led her by the hand out into the field outside. "Maybe some fresh air will help your sanity."

There were two cows, black and white, another brown goat, two donkeys, all well padded. Beyond, in a separate paddock, were sheep, grazing the grass, heads bobbing up briefly to take note of the humans watching from the gravel path. Jackie remained in a daze: "These sheep -- they eat all day. That's all they do."

"Do you want to change places with them?" Freightliners was not having the effect she had expected. She thought Jackie would be soothed by the animals, not act as though struck by lightning.

They lingered in the fields, briefly looked at the chickens, the ostriches, then bought a tea towel in the gift shop. Jackie fished out some small change for the farm's begging bowl by the exit -- as always, council funding was inadequate. Roz did not.

"Are you ready for something to eat?" Roz said, slightly hesitant.

"I'm starving."

On Upper Street there was a wide range of places to choose from. Logged On, a minimalist wine bar. Hungarian, Greek, and Vietnamese restaurants. The Happy Hooker, a chic fish restaurant. Tummy's, a fast food outlet, supposedly better than most. Mexican Spitfire, food to blacken your tongue.

They went to Logged On. Jackie had felt like eating something big -- the animals, she knew, would have wanted her to. But with Roz along, she felt inhibited. The food was minimalist, just like the decor, just like the seating. Service too: the youth who came to take their order -- two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, a toasted chicken baguette, tuna on rye -- was impenetrably surly. Roz growled back and picked a quarrel over what she decided were dirty marks in the wine glasses. The pair were almost shouting. Jackie stayed out of it. The food and drink done, Roz settled the bill with a defiant flourish -- "No tip for that rude jerk" -- and marched out noisily, pushing the door into the face of another customer attempting to come in. There were sharp words about that too.

"Don't mope around all day in your flat, will you?" Roz said. "Phone me up. We'll hit the town."

But Jackie was not in the mood. She wanted a low profile. She had simmered down enough to phone Hugo and tell him about the whole thing -- the fracas at the exhibition, the police station, the suspension. Even down the phone she could see his eybrows shooting upwards in disbelief. "Keep cool," he told her. "Things will be OK. But tell me about this Fat Liberation Army..."

As the working week started -- for others, not Jackie -- she knew instinctively what she had to do. She went back to Freightliners. The same board was outside, with the same diet notice. She stood with the animals for almost an hour, watching them, stroking them, talking to them gently, noticing the curve of their bellies, the large pleading eyes.

She came the next day too, this time with a bag of food pellets, bought in a pet shop en route. The goats were her favourites. She thrust a handful of pellets at them in turn, then without thinking popped some of the pellets into her own mouth. Crunchy. Dog-food smell. Not unpleasant. A farm worker hosing down another part of the shed saw the food in her hand. "Oi, you're not supposed to do that miss. Can't you read the signs?"

"Sorry, sorry." She moved on outside to the fields, found the donkeys, and dipped into her goodie bag again. All the animals looked so grateful.

She left the farm exhilarated, walking on air. The pellets had left a bitter taste in the mouth; maybe a drink and a tiny snack would rub it out. Reaching Upper Street she surveyed the choices. Logging On was definitely off, after all that bad behaviour. From the others, there seemed little competition. It had to be Tummy's.

She hadn't been in a fast food restaurant in months, not since before her holiday in Goa. She surveyed the buns, the French fries, the salad fixings, and other ingredients gleaming through the plastic counter. She looked at the menu, displayed in bright colours with fancy calligraphy. These people cared, obviously. "Jacket potatoes," she read, "with your choice of filling". Filling. She'd like something filling.

She stood silently, took a deep breath, held it in, and then spoke. "What I'd really like -- really like -- is a jacket potato filled with hot chocolate sauce. You don't do that, do you?"

"Even Tummy's does not offer that combination, madam. I'm sorry." The man sounded genuinely contrite.

"Oh well," she said, "can't blame a girl for trying." She consulted the menu further.

"Would an ice cream filling hit the spot? We could do that. Chocolate ice cream?"

Jackie's eyes began to sparkle. "Yes, yes. Definitely. And a strawberry milkshake. Oh, and a side salad. Must have a salad."

She sat in her booth with her small mountain of calories. She was still walking on air, but she knew what she was doing. She had given up her diet. She was going to gain weight. She needed to do it, for herself, for the animals, even for the world. She had reached the end of the line. There was more to life, she now realised, than being thin, brittle, and à la mode. Before she'd been like one of those Giacometti sculptures, and now she'd snapped just like that Woman of Venice.

"Can I have the same again?" she said, back at the counter.

"With the salad?"

"No. Not this time."

Every day for the rest of the week she went back to Freightliners, slipped the animals some pellets or bread crumbs, and moved on to Tummy's for lunch. She wouldn't binge, she decided; she'd methodically work through the menu, slowly and sensibly, giving the food the attention it deserved. Triple burgers dripping with melted blue cheese. Heaping pasta bowls, delicately flavoured. And for dessert? Blueberry cheesecake, a chocolate log swimming in cherry sauce, infinite varieties of ice cream. Tummy's ran the fast food gamut, from high to low.

By the end of the week, Jackie didn't need to stand on the scales to know she had already gained weight. She could see the extra fat cushioning her tummy. Her pants and trousers were pinching again; the bra straps needed to stretch further to be clasped round the back. As she thinned out in the months after Goa she'd felt herself getting drained of sexual feelings; now sensual pleasures were returning as she touched her own body, fingers running over her tummy, willing it to grow bigger.

She kept up her visits to Freightliners, communing with the animals, who were now visibly thinner, as she gently rubbed her own expanding stomach. She made Tummy's her regular lunch date, and spent the evenings enjoying the fruits of her labours over the microwave and oven. Without work at the moment, and without Hugo, she had time on her hands for cooking. Meat loaf. Hungarian stew. Four-minute fudge (four to make, one to consume).

Was she lonely? Less than she expected. Jackie had always been wary of living alone, just with her own shadow, but after the past turmoil she found solitude relaxing. She had her food. She had her body to watch as it grew softer and chunkier. And she had her thoughts, more than she'd ever entertained before, about herself, her shape, and those of others. She thought about Goa, the Giacometti sculptures, and the remark of Hugo's that had hurt her so much. Some people are meant to be fat. Did that really include her? Maybe it did.

And work. She thought a lot about work. Even if Kirkhope agreed to take her back she might not want to return. She'd been burning herself to a cinder, she realised: and not just because her body had been starved of fuel. Her mind had been withering. Her sensitivity had shrunk to zero. She thought back to the times, the many times, when she'd gone shopping with Roz or Geri, posing like haughty models in the changing rooms, or cruising the supermarkets pouring scorn on the low-grade items in other customers' trolleys.

At the end of two weeks she had put back fifteen pounds, the new weight settling in more firmly than before. Before, her extra pounds had looked like excess; now they were getting to seem a natural part of her body. She ran through her wardrobe and pulled out items she felt she would never again fit into. Her belly made the catsuit impossible. She would give it to Roz. The Armani suit? That was still wearable, though the time might soon come when the buttons would hold no more. Katrina might like that. The new clothes she wore in the future, she realised, would be partly governed by what job she had. But what job?

Hugo called after another week. He was back in the country, staying with his aged parents in Sevenoaks, just outside London. And how was Jackie, he asked. He sounded apprehensive. Would she be skin and bone? Or would she have realised the error of her ways? He certainly had. He was ready to be upfront. He liked her fat. He wanted her fat.

And he wanted to tell her.

She had two things to tell him. "I've decided not to go back to the Bullet. I want to do something else, I don't know what."

"You'll get something, I know. You're bright, you're fun, a definite asset. And you've got lots of untapped potential."

"And I've put on some weight. I've put on 20 pounds."

"I'll be right over." He paused. "If you want me."

"Of course I do. But I want no criticism about my weight, Hugo. I think this is permanent. I think I'm going to be fatter now."

"I was hoping for this, but I daredn't say anything. We have a lot to talk about. Shall I see you tomorrow?"

"OK. You haven't bought any Swiss chocolate back with you, have you?"


"Lower your head just a little, Jackie, so the double chin shows. That's great." Rosa's camera clicked. "And again. Great. And again. Lovely! Now turn slightly to the side, hands on those curving hips."

Jackie swivelled on her stool, round face beaming, planting her hands on either side of her upholstered body, billowing out of the purple low-cut satin dress she was currently modelling for Young Chub magazine.

She had never been happier. She had never been heavier. In the six months since she had left the Bullet her weight had steadily moved upward, partly through indolence, partly through her addiction to Tummy's, mostly by desire. "I'm getting so fat!" she would say with mock horror, patting her stomach, a smile not far from her lips. "You're getting so beautiful," Hugo would reply, stroking her, kissing her. Growing fatter had not been a goal as such: she had simply been curious about where her instincts would take her if left to themselves, free from fashion and the herd instinct. They took her, so far, to 179 pounds.

Vivienne had told her about Young Chub, a new, struggling venture set up in a garret in a crumbling building close to King's Cross, an area rich in transient hotels, prostitutes and drug addicts on the prowl. The only plus factor in the location was another branch of Tummy's three blocks away. The magazine aimed at positive coverage of the larger female form and counteracting the media blitz customarily given to waifish celebrities. Distribution was patchy, the circulation small. There was no real money in working for Young Chub. But there was hope, and there was self-respect.

Vivienne wrote an agony aunt column, offering encouraging advice on weight issues. Articles and fashion lay-outs showcased the beauties of chubbiness, plumpness and beyond, and made a feature of clothing specially designed for those in an expanding mood. The satin dress was one in a 'flexi-waist' range, tucks, clasps and Velcro enabling the waist to expand or contract as measurements changed. Jackie had come to Young Chub requesting a job as a journalist, but once the Fashion and Picture Editor, saw her in profile, tummy swelling upwards towards breasts large and sweet as watermelons, the whole body glowing with health and beauty, she was told she'd be wasted sitting all day at a computer. Had she ever thought of modelling?

Modelling? It had only been Jackie's greatest ambition. When she first joined Young Chub she felt inhibited. Even though she had burned her boats and given half her wardrobe to Roz and Katrina she still had reservations about making her new body public. Rosa helped build her confidence. She had a natural grace, Jackie was told. She had a face and body meant to be well padded. Even the heavy thighs and the midriff rolls were things of real beauty. Just imagine you're pregnant, Rosa said; you're ripening, you're glowing, and proud of it. You're just not going to have the inconvenience of a baby.

"OK, Jackie. God, you're looking good. Now turn to your left, give me your cheeky expression, resting your right hand under your chin -- that's it -- clenching the fingers, extending the forefinger into your cheek, with the thumb extended under the chin, almost horizontal." Jackie's forefinger dug deep into the fat on her cheeks.

"Like this?"

"You're a natural, Jackie, always said so."

Jackie beamed. For the first time in her adult life, she felt fulfilled. She was being herself. She was not playing games, or following the pack. She didn't miss the bright lights at all: Rosa's spotlights in these tawdry offices gave her all she required. The socialising? Well, yes, that she missed; but she had made new friends, probably better friends, and had begun to spend time in the evenings actually learning about the paintings, the Brazilian films and the other art that she had brushed against as the Bullet's Arts Reporter. That job was now being done by Ben Turpitude, Arts and Crime Reporter. Cost-cutting.

And Jackie had found her own size. Comfortably plump, she called it, but with plenty of room for expansion. She loved stroking her arms and feeling fat not bone. She liked the extra meat on her calves. And she had filled out now in so many odd places. She never before imagined you could put on weight in your toes. She looked back on her past with wonder. How could she have marched with the thin brigade for so long? A skeleton wasn't the body beautiful. This was: this rounded, velvet-smooth body curving in and out (out, mostly), always soft, comforting and warm.

She had tried to explain this to her father when she visited and told them about her new job. She had little success. She had got far too fat, she was told. The job, she was told, was even less useful than the last one, and the pay was beyond atrocious. And don't look to your allowance to make ends meet, he said; that's coming to an end. Time to stand on your own feet. Time you shaped up. I have shaped up, Jackie said, and this is my shape. But everyone is so thin now (this from her mother). No they're not, look around you; go to Greenland, go to India, look at the people travelling on the Tube. Her mother had shuddered; she never used public transport.

"Now we've just time to do some pictures for 'In a Tight Spot'." This was one of Jackie's favourite magazine features, meant to encourage the larger woman to stop wearing clothes that covered up what some wrongly called 'a multitude of sins'. Moving behind a screen, she slipped off the satin dress and eased her chest into a blue t-shirt carefully designed to encompass full breasts, bearing the message "It's OK to squeeze", extending down just above the navel to show off the midriff fat. Jackie had plenty of it. Another t-shirt had been provided, similarly shaped, but with the message "By invitation only". Yet another bore no message at all. A little spice, decorum, and lots of good sense: that's the mixture Young Cub was aiming at. Then on came the jeans, wide enough round the waist, hips and rear to take in ample curves, but with just enough tightness and lift around the crotch to make the wearer feel sexy. Rosa adjusted the lights, and inserted a new roll of film.

Jackie emerged, grinning. "How's this?"

Rosa burst into applause. "Oh Jackie, you look stunning."

"Can I take these home overnight? I'd love to model them for Hugo."

"Anything my top model wants." Jackie posed, the camera clicked, again and again. She never grew tired of modelling.

"Bye everybody!" Jackie said as the late afternoon session ended, and she wended her way through the small offices, still buzzing with activity. Vivienne waved from her desk as she worked through a pile of readers' letters.

Turning the street corner outside, Jackie successfully negotiated a pile of rubbish but almost tripped over a beggar, wrapped in a dirty sleeping bag, an empty bowl alongside. He looked hungry and miserable.

"Spare any change, miss?"

"Of course," she said, fishing inside her purse for large coins, and sprinkling them into the bowl.

She gave him a smile, and continued down the street, breasts and tummy bouncing with each step, the fat in her face quivering slightly. She was thinking of Hugo and the cosy evening ahead: the clothes modelling, the beef stew and cheesecake, the sex in bed. Then she stopped in her tracks, and turned round.

"You -- you wouldn't like to join me, would you? My treat. I was just going to Tummy's..."