TAKE A TIP FROM US
by Eddie Own
Mrs Ansty had made Granny's clothes for years. She also made clothes for Carol's mum and for Carol. They were, quite literally, her biggest customers.
Mrs Ansty was a bird-like woman with black curly hair and a cigarette permanently in her mouth. It dangled now as she took the tape round Carol's waist. At the other end of the eight-foot long tape - since she was quite incapable of encircling Carol on her own - was Mrs Ansty's daughter, Pat.
“Sixty six inches, Carol,” said Mrs Ansty. “That's eight inches more than six months ago.”
“Hope your tape's long enough,” said Carol, lifting her belly so that Pat could reach underneath to run the tape round her.
“You can stop hoisting that up,” said Mrs Ansty. “We have to go round the lot if we are to get a fit.”
Carol lowered the ripples and rolls that flowed over the arms that held them. Another stretch and Mrs Ansty and Pat had encircled her with the tape.
“Eighty,” announced Mrs Ansty. “You're bigger than your granny now.”
Granny smiled. “You know, I think it's time you wore some brighter colours, Carol. Your mother's always trying to camouflage her weight with dark, drab colours, but then she's always on a diet and miserable with it. Far better to have something made for you than buying something shapeless.”
“Tell you what,” said Pat, “why don't I design you something? I've learned a lot from mum and I reckon I could.”
“Nothing like starting with something big,” said Carol with a laugh.
“Good your mother's not here,” said Granny. “She would not have approved.”
Pat got busy with other measurements while Mrs Ansty lit a cigarette from the butt of the one that had been in her mouth.
“Give her room to grow,” said Granny as Pat's tape tightened around the pink rolls of Carol's upper arm.
“I think I'd like to stop,” said Carol. “But I just can't resist all those titbits the readers bring into the library. Mrs Gregg brought me two bags of her crumbly butter biscuits yesterday and that was before Milly Stevens brought me a Victoria sponge.”
She did not tell Mrs Ansty and her daughter that she had eaten the 'titbits' before she left the library at four o'clock. By six she was tucking into her mother's roast followed by apple crumble, custard. At ten she had snacked on a pizza, then half a pound of cheese and a packet of biscuits before going to bed
Granny turned to Pat as they were leaving. “It's time we found her a man-someone who won't just mind her size but will revel in it. I should know. I've been married to such a man for thirty five years.”
Pat watched them waddle down the drive and squash themselves with some difficulty into Granddad's old Mercedes. Granny pushed and pulled her bulk into the front passenger seat which the local garage had strengthened five years back. Meanwhile, Carol was squeezing into the back seat. The car was well down on the springs by the time they had settled. Granddad who had been waiting patiently in the car during the dressmaking session, glanced across at his wife's stomach which was pushing gently against the dashboard. He reached across and patted it.
“Mrs Ansty fixed you two up with anything nice?” he asked as the car moved off.
“She's got her daughter working on it,” said Granny. “Could be a whole new us you'll be seeing.”
“New materials, too,” said Carol from the back. “No more of that drab stuff that mum wears.”
“Guilt complex,” said Granddad. “She's never acknowledged her weight. Always dieting, always unhappy.” He patted granny again.
“He used to pinch my knee when he was driving when we first got married,” said Gran. “Now he can't even see my legs.” She patted her own stomach, which undulated at her touch.
Granny strained to look at Carol in the back seat. “Take our tip, Carol. Live with it, enjoy it and have regular health check ups. If you're meant to be big - so be it.”
Carol could not be sure from her place in the back seat, but she was sure from the movement of Granddad's shoulder that he was stroking Granny's great dome of a belly and she was sure she heard him give a low growl of pleasure.
Two weeks later Carol was down for cataloguing duties at the library. It was something that no-one on the staff really enjoyed because it meant hours working alone in an airless first floor room listing books that had been damaged or getting others ready for the end of year sale to the public.
She avoided the stairs and took the lift to the gallery that round the library. The 'repair room' as the staff called it was one of several identical doors which led off the gallery.
She taken Mrs Gallagher's ginger cake and a pot of Penny Myett's marmalade to spread on it as provisions. This was in addition to the thick peanut butter sandwiches she carried in a plastic container. She had no intention of coming down until the shift ended at 4 o'clock.
The room was hot and sweat trickled as Carol worked away with a determination. She had developed a love for books. Reading was an act of independence and she touched and held books with obvious respect. Even relatively new books she handled like antiques, her pudgy fingers lightly stroking the glossy dust jacket whatever the contents. She took as much care with 'Concrete Structures of the World' by E. B. Willis as she did with 'Treasure Island.'
It was her diligence that probably prevented her smelling the smell of smoke and it was the intensity of her inspection of ripped pages and damaged spines that stopped her hearing someone shouting her name.
Outside on the gallery landing the fire had spread rapidly. Tinder dry books make good fuel. The two children, who had thought lighting crumpled paper in one of the boxes Carol had put outside her door was a bit of a giggle had run out in panic as the flames crackled through a heap of torn pages.
Mrs Balsam, the Chief Librarian had been putting up posters for 'Reading Week' on notice board in the library foyer. The children who ran past had not alerted her, especially as she was wrestling with an oversize florescent poster and was getting exasperated that the part time assistant, Mr Turner was proving quite useless at holding it straight.
It was not unusual for the library to be empty at three o clock on a Tuesday afternoon. The lunchtime regulars who came to thumb through books and use the coffee machine had gone. Schoolchildren were on holiday and reading did not have the appeal of Playstations or PC's .
When Mrs Balsam and Mr Turner got back into the main room, the fire was well alight. Mr Turner grabbed the phone and Mrs Balsam ran partly up the stairs. As she did so the flames ripped across the top of the flight and cut off her attempt to reach the gallery. She came back down and thumped the lift button. The lift started to come down.
“For God's sake don't use it,” shouted Mr Turner. “If it sticks you'll both be fried.”
Their attempts to use the two fire extinguishers positioned on the wall near the main desk proved futile. One jammed, the other squirted a thin jet of foam that splattered in a high arc and seemed to make no difference at all. All the time they were yelling to Carol. But Carol's door remained shut
The fire crew were there in less than five minutes.
“Anyone still inside?” demanded the senior officer. Five other firefighters were already putting on breathing apparatus.
“Carol Ricketts. She's in the room to the right at the top of the stairs. “We've shouted and shouted. The crew moved to the bottom of the stairs.
“She's a very big girl,” babbled Mrs Balsam. “If she's unconscious it could be very difficult.”
The crew disappeared into the smoke. Mrs Balsam and Mr Turner were hustled outside by another firefighter who'd arrived with a second crew.
Inside the Repair Room, Carol was trying not to panic. She had opened the door but shut rammed it shut as the flames roared at her, singeing her hair and eyebrows and drying her eyeballs so that it felt acid had been thrown in them.
Smoke was already pouring in. She put a tissue handkerchief to her face and tried not to breath but the acrid fumes were making her dizzy. She sat on the floor. “I must try to get as low as possible.” She thought she might have read that somewhere but the advice had not envisaged a five hundred pound person trying to flatten herself to the carpet. She closed her eyes. Her mouth felt dry .She could not even summon up any saliva. Dizzyness overcame her. The fire was crackling on the far side of the door, smoke was billowing underneath. Strangely, she remembered the local authority's maintenance man cutting off a half inch some months ago when the new carpet was fitted and the door would not shut.
The fire crew had battled up the stairs and shouldered the door open.
The room was already full of smoke and Carol was slumped on her side at the far side.
Green Watch were used to working as a team. They had practised rescuing colleagues from 'burning' buildings. Most of them could carry a 200 pound man or women a short distance on their shoulders, but from her bulk it was apparent that Carol weighed at least twice that.
“Fire blanket - quick,” yelled the firefighter who was attempting to turn Carol on her back. “She's still breathing. We'll get it under her and get her out that way.”
They laid the blanket on the floor and two of the men pushed hard against Carol's soft body. Their fingers were lost in the folds of flesh and they struggled to turn her.
“You like 'em this big, don't you Tim? “ said a grizzled veteran with a grunt. Your last one was about this size.”
If Tim hadn't been sweating in the heat and smoke, his colleagues would have seen him blush. A new recruit with his twentieth birthday only days away this was his first rescue.
“She's like a water bed,” said the veteran.
“Roll her onto the bloody blanket and stop the chat,” snapped the senior officer. Thirty seconds later four men were staggering with Carol on the blanket towards the door. Each had a corner of the blanket; each was dripping sweat. Carol bumped on the floor.
Reinforcements were waiting at the top of the stairs but despite the efforts of six men Carol was dragged unceremoniously through the flames and down the stairs. An oxygen mask was already on her face before the firefighters manhandled her to the bottom of the flight.
“Oh, thank God,” said Mrs Balsam. “Is she alright? She's such a big girl, I was worried about a heart attack.”
“I was worried my men were going to get one,” said the senior officer. “Now let's get her outside.”
Tha manhandling continued and Carol was laid on the grass. Tim looked down at her as she lay on the blanket. She was streaked with sweat, dirt and charcoal, but Tim was smitten.
Carol's eyes flickered open. Standing over her was a young, arrow slim firefighter. Was he real or from one of her books? Was this heaven or the front lawn of the library?
“Don't even move,” said the senior officer. “Tim, watch her until the ambulance gets here.”
Tim held her hand, rubbing the back of it as the paramedics got her ready for the prodigious lift onto a stretcher.
“She's too big for it,” said the older of the two paramedics. “The boys will have to lift her in on the blanket.”
Carol was coming too fast. “I think I could walk to the ambulance,” she said. The paramedic shook his head. “Too much strain on the heart,” he said looking at Carol's rolls of flesh.
“We'll get her in,” said Tim. He stroked her arm “Don't worry - it's a bit undignified, but it's the best way”
And so Carol, like a huge baby swaddled in a vast brown blanket was taken the extra few yards to the ambulance's hydraulic platform.
The paramedics took over and the doors were closed.
“Can you really fancy them that big?” said the senior officer as Tim looked after the disappearing ambulance. “She's squash you if she ever got on top.”
Tim's dreamy smile said he might already have imagined it…..