Extract from BED By David Whitehouse, submitted by Cathryn Summerhayes at William Morris Endeavor.
Asleep he sounded like a pig hunting truffles in soot. It was disgusting. Awake it was more as though he was fetching a wet sock from his throat with a stick, but thankfully those milky little eyes of his were only open for a few hours a day. It wasn’t snoring, it was more of a death rattle. But for that it was a quiet morning, the morning of Day Seven Thousand Four Hundred and Eighty Three, according to the display on the wall.
The peace was punctuated only by a crow who, bored as you would be with flying, landing and eating worms if that was all you ever did, decided to laminate the patio door in his own insides with considerable aplomb. This almighty clatter didn’t wake Mal, who continued to produce great sleeping growls from deep within his chest that would echo around the entire room and reverberate in my ears like the sonar conversations between dolphins and submarines.
Mal weighed 100 stone at the last count. That’s big. That’s over half a ton. Those photographs you see sometimes of whales who’ve beached and exploded due to the build up of gases inside of them, the thick coating of blubber that blankets the sand, that’s what Mal’s fat looked like. And he was even heavier than that now. As he’d grown and swelled and spread across the bed, two kingsize and a single tied together, there had been no way of knowing just how heavy he was, no way of lifting him onto any kind of measuring device. He had spread out so far from the nucleus of his skeleton he was an enormous meat duvet.
It has taken him 20 years to become this big. He wasn’t even the colour of skin anymore. Peppered with burst capillaries he looked more like a truck-sized block of sausage meat packed hastily into a pair of cheap tights. The fat had claimed his toe and fingernails, his nipples had stretched to the span of an average female hand and only something with the tenacity for getting into strange places of a biscuit crumb would be able to meander through the folds of his tummy in search of his belly button. There must be enough for a full packet of biscuits in there by now. There was more life on him than there was in him. In 20 years Mal had become a planet. He even had his own uncharted territories. And those people that watched him all day from the garden and from all over the world, I guess those people were his moons, caught in his orbit just as I had been and Lou had been and mum had been and dad had been.
Some said he was the fattest person in the world. He was definitely the most famous of the fattest, that’s for sure. And all he was doing was laying in bed next to me and I’d nothing to do but listen to the great honking rasps his lungs made as they worked their hardest to fart just a little more air from his mouth. Just the dull, constant drone of it, like having your ears packed with wet bread. Sometimes nothing would wake him at all.
Every rise and fall of his chest started a seismic shudder of motion though the room. The ripple of his flab sent waves across the puddle of his body and echoed in the springs of the bed. I rode them. I had no choice. I’d nothing to do but wait and stare out over Mal’s fleshy expanse, the enormous blistered coffin that trapped my brother inside, to the garden where I’d watch the birds hop to and fro, eat, fight, fly and occasionally indulge in kamikaze missions aimed directly at my only window to the world. Maybe they’d seen Mal through the glass as they flew by and mistook him for an enormous shimmering trifle.
20 years in bed, growing. Fatter and fatter. And no one had ever known why. Why, on that day, he decided to never get out of bed again. We just wanted the reason. All of us did. Everyone. But no one more than me.
Mal’s death was the only thing that could save this family because his life has been the only thing that could destroy it. And here I was, at the end, sharing this room with him. The room we began in. Or at least a fraction of it.
Dad told me once
“To love someone, to really, truly love someone, is to watch them die”.
I closed my eyes.