“More tea, dear?”
“No thank you.”
The feigned politeness hid Steve’s anger; he still hadn’t calmed down from their argument the previous evening. He watched as Paula cleared the table and put the dirty dishes into the sink. She used to be beautiful. Now he could barely bring himself to look at her. The weight; how many rows had they had about Paula’s weight? Last night he’d sneaked into the bathroom while she was on the scales. When he saw the number he lost it; “Just look at you! How on earth can you weigh that?”
He’d gone too far. Too many nights had been spent like this in recent weeks – Steve in the spare room and both of them crying themselves to sleep. Something had to give.
Steve checked his watch; it was time to leave for work. He fetched his coat and scarf and walked over to Paula.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he said softly, holding her hands. “I just want things to be the way they were when we first met.”
“I am trying,” Paula replied. A tear escaped the corner of her eye.
“I know. Why don’t I knock off early tonight and take you out somewhere nice?”
Paula smiled. “I’d like that.”
They kissed and Steve left for work. He drove for a few minutes when a thought presented itself.
Steve crept up his driveway and opened the door. He pictured Paula’s beaming face when he revealed the dozen roses hidden behind his back. There was no sign of her downstairs. Maybe she’s gone back to bed, he thought. Can’t blame her after last night. As he tiptoed up the stairs, an unfamiliar voice came from the bedroom.
“That’s it, now bend down. More, come on I want to see more.”
Preparing himself for the worst, Steve crept to the top of the stairs, took a deep breath and flung the door open.
“Where is he?”
Panting from her exertions, a startled Paula turned to face Steve.
“Please, it’s not what you think,” she pleaded, arms spread in front of the wardrobe.
“Who’s in there?”
“Nobody,” Paula blushed.
A struggle ensued and it took Steve several attempts to push her aside. When he succeeded and opened the wardrobe, he gasped in shock. Paula threw herself onto the bed in floods of tears.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed.
“What the hell?”
Steve stared at the small television and DVD combination at the back of the wardrobe. It was playing a DVD.
“That’s it, work those thighs,” the aerobics instructor implored.
Underneath the television was a small fridge. Against its side rested a false panel removed from the back of the wardrobe. Steve opened the fridge. He stared, mouth agape, at the celery, Weight Watchers meals and fat-free yoghurts. The life drained from his body and he slumped onto the end of the bed.
“How could you?”
“I’m fat, Steve,” Paula replied, adjusting her pink leotard and wiping away the tears, “and I don’t want to be anymore. I want to be beautiful.”
“How dare you use the F word! Didn’t I always tell you how beautiful you were?”
Paula sighed and put her arm around Steve.
“I loved that you never cared about my size. It’s not enough anymore, though. I don’t love myself.”
“Is this really what you want?”
“Yes. Can you live with that? If you love me size shouldn’t matter.”
Steve cupped her cheeks and kissed her on the lips.
“It does, though.” And with that, he turned and left Paula, left her to her future of calorie counting and smaller dress sizes. He could never change; big was beautiful – and it always would be.