The brown paper bag had been folded over twice, quite neatly – hemmed almost. Bethany stroked the smooth paper edges where the fold almost shone with tightness. Her finger tips tingled in exquisite anticipation but she squeezed the seal even more firmly together testing her will. The bag rested on her lap and its warmth invaded her loins insinuating into the taut nylon of her jogger bottoms. Bethany squirmed towards the slow spread of heat. She stole a glimpse down and saw the grease stain begin its remorseless progress; the fat on her sides and thighs quivered. Her fingers traced the seam, half prising the bag’s lips apart, exploring the crease, daring herself not to look. Fingers, moist with perspiration from excitement and heat, slowly turned first one and then the next fold. And as she knew it would with the opening exposed, the warm contents gave off their full aroma: a musky, meaty all-consuming waft of sweet grease and warm bun. She inhaled deeply and as she did a bead of saliva abseiled from the corner of her mouth into the bag.
Almost there, yet she still slowed her hand’s decent into the dark recess, fingers responding blindly to the warmth. There it was. She found then stroked the edge of the grease proof paper that enfolded the first of her cheese burgers. Grease from the meat or perhaps the cheese had seeped through the paper and she massaged its wonderful stickiness between her thumb and forefinger. Then, shaking and salivating, she pulled her hand from the bag and held her fingers just below her nose. Ever so gently she licked their tips.
Brian had been watching Bethany over his right shoulder for the past four minutes, transfixed. He felt like a voyeur: dirty but unable to look away. The huge woman seemed to fill the entire width of her hatchback. All space taken by Bethany James and the junk food wrappers and empty coffee cups wedged between the windscreen and the dashboard. He watched her suck her fingers before tearing his eyes away to the phone’s touch screen. He typed ‘Suspect still in the carpark’.
Bethany pulled out the first burger, ripped off the paper and in two bites she finished. She moaned as she felt the barely chewed burger slide down her gullet easing the ravenous craving torment that was her stomach. Within a minute she had finished all four burgers and hated herself for not ordering fries.
Near sated she adjusted the rear view mirror leaving another layer of greasy thumb prints on the glass. She considered her face. Bethany had once been pretty. Now she had become one of the fat androgynous whose life style and looks merge into the one pursuit: feeding. Only her eyes still held the promise of beauty, of a redemption. She noticed a streak of congealing orange cheese lodged in the corner of her mouth, whose end had become trapped in the fold between her chins. She pulled it free, slowly so as not to tear it. Its cooled texture was like spaghetti. Controlling the speed with practiced skill she sucked it into her mouth luxuriating in its smooth elasticity. She reached for the wipes under the armrest to remove the grease from her face. With the grease came the make-up and she stared at the suture marks along the top of her lip as if for the first time. Hurriedly she scrabbled for the touch up cream in her bag and then the lipstick deftly hiding the neat rows of white stitches that lined her mouth like a picket fence around a sink hole.
It was as she finished with the lipstick that she noticed the man in the car one row in front, slightly to her left. He was twisted in his seat staring at her. ‘Not very covert’, thought Bethany. But at least he was cute, if a little scrawny. Had he seen her scars? Not from over there. Her mother had promised her that blanket stitches were the best for the job and that the scars would be minimal. But like in so many other ways her mother had been wrong.
Bethany’s mother had been a seamstress making her living from an internet business of needlepoint artwork and in mending and adjusting clothing and curtains. She was very skilled but there had never been much money in it but it just about paid their bills. Anorexically thin, her mother’s real passion was cookery and having little appetite herself, she had fed her only child as a wren feeds a cuckoo. ‘Little Cuckoo’ was her name for Bethany. And Bethany had thrived.
Then came the forced diets, the gastric bands, the interminable interviews with social services and when Bethany could no longer walk to school, the unofficial home-schooling. The school, where Bethany had been happy, had called the police and interviews followed in which Bethany followed her mother’s scripts to the letter. But even so, in the car on the way home her mother would scream at her, ‘You humiliated me, today’ and punish her with strict diets or even stricter feeding. Even after Bethany had left home to work for an old school friend, paying minimal rent for a bedsit, the food parcels arrived every day, sometimes twice. So she had invited her mother to dinner.
Slowly she had got herself together. Her obesity was checked; for nearly three weeks she had not put on any weight. Today’s visit to McDonalds was a celebration, a last hurrah and again she regretted the no fries. Now she could look forward to meagre rations for at least a couple of years, perhaps more. Unfortunately her mother’s well documented dysfunction would not help, but two years would be enough. Three healthy square meals a day, not a chance of treats or over or under feeding.
Time to go. Bethany pushed open the door slid the seat back to the limit and squeezed herself out using the steering wheel as a brace. The car next to her was too close and she had to side herself along generating static electricity in her joggers that rippled along the side of the shiny Audi like a body dropped into a pond. She opened the boot and lifted out her mother’s desiccated corpse, stick thin and light as small child. She carried her gently and waddled down the other side of the car. Then easily shifting her grip and holding her like a ventriloquist’s dummy, she waved her mother’s hand to the cute policeman in his car.