The body

chapter 1

It was an accident or so they said. My name is Rebecca Sitwell and I died on the 25th of December 1898.

I sat in delighted anticipation before the feast like a child ready to unwrap its presents. My husband William sat at the head of the table, his handsome face somber and stern as ever even on a day dedicated to gaiety and good will. Cook had truly outdone herself this year: the table was practically groaning under the weight of an enormous golden goose, a fat, sticky ham and a brandy soaked Christmas pudding big as a cannonball.

Everything was so wonderful and abundant that I ate and ate until I felt as plump and stuffed as the goose in the centre of the table. I leaned back in my chair, trying to relieve some of the pressure in my overfed belly and felt my cheeks colour as I realised how unladylike my behaviour had been. My eyes darted towards William, expecting a reproachful look but instead he is holding out a box of Turkish Delights glimmering with sugar.

"Won't you have one, dear?" he asked. "I know how you adore them. I had Nicholas searching the market for them all Christmas Eve."

He offered me the box but the true gift is his smile, radiant and wonderful. Suddenly our entire marriage and all the times I have disappointed him seem to melt away and I am once more the girl at the ball who he chose above all others. What a relief to, even for a moment, not feel the cold eye of his disapproval.

I took one of the sweets and placed it in my greedy mouth but it was difficult to swallow. I felt ashamed. Had I truly gorged myself so much? Was I really so full that I literally couldn't eat another bite? As my panicked hand went to my throat I realised that I could not breath, nor could I dislodge the object. My eyes cried out silently to William for help but I could not utter a word.

He watched me with a curious stillness, I suppose he must have been in shock. By the time the servants sprung into action it was too late and when Dr Priest arrived all he could do was confirm my death.

The old adage that mother knows best always seems to ring true in the end. My mother had always warned me that sweets would be my undoing and perhaps if I had listened to her I would still be alive today. My father was a scholar of some note and his studies would often take him to Europe. He would always return with exquisite pastries from France or luxurious chocolates from Belgium quite unlike anything we had in England. It became such a ritual that I was often more eager to see what gift he had returned with than I was to see him. I was always a bossy and forthright child, often pushing my sister Mary aside to claim more than my fair share. I remember vividly my mother catching me clutching a bag of bonbons that I was supposed to share with Mary in my plump hands, my chubby cheeks were sticky and stained as I stuffed them full of as many sweets as I could. "Rebecca!" my mother had scolded me. "Do you think any man wants a greedy lump of a girl for a wife?"

While our great monarch was as fat and dumpy as a suet pudding the female body as a whole was shrinking ever inward. It seemed that every year our corsets must cinch us tighter and our waists must be ever more impossibly tiny. It was a curious contradiction of the era that it demanded women sit still as waxworks in their parlours yet they were expected not to grow plump and flabby with inertia. A task made all the more difficult by the constant rituals of afternoon tea and dinner parties that we were expected to partake in: the food so thick and heavy that we might as well have been pouring cement down our throats.

I used to starve myself before the beginning of every season so I could fit into whatever ridiculous dress was considered the height of fashion at that particular time. I would follow a strict diet of water, raw carrots and mouthfuls of oxtail soup that I would have Cook strain through muslin until it was a clear, fatless broth. It was barely enough for a child to subsist on and the hunger pangs that wracked me were terrible, but worse were the headaches and the dizziness. I remember gripping the railing of the stairs every time I descended for fear that I might swoon and one day my maid Louisa had to rouse me in my bath with smelling salts because I had fainted in the heat and slipped under the water. And what was my reward for my weeks of self flagellation? William would give me a tight lipped nod of approval and my mother would stay her critical tongue for a night. But perhaps you think me weak and foolish? After all, a little hunger seems like a small price to pay for beauty in an era where ladies slathered lead on their faces as if it was cold cream and took arsenic as if it was medicine.

There is no dignity in death. I look down sadly at the body I had no love for in life. My mouth gapes, my eyes are bulging with stupid surprise. You have to accept whatever rigor mortis does to you: all your fatty bits on display for even the servants to stare at. There is no chance to straighten your posture to hide unsightly rolls, cross your legs to get that flattering thigh angle or position your head just so to get rid of your double chin. Frankly, it's depressing.

I was raised in the Protestant faith and taught that in death the souls of the righteous are saved by our Lord while the wicked burn for all eternity in a fiery pit. And yet it is nothing like that at all. It is as if my soul has stepped out of my body only to dream.

When we were girls my sister used to buy hundreds of those trashy gothic novels for a penny and we would pass them back and forth late at night, shrieking and laughing at the horrors within so I think that I must know a thing or two about ghosts. In the days after my death William is restless, agitated and withdrawn. I try to embrace him but my arms pass through him. I expect him to shudder or gasp like in the stories but he cannot feel me at all. At night I kneel beside his bed, my incorporeal palm on his troubled brow and I whisper to him "I am here, my love." but he does not stir. It would seem that Matthew Lewis and Ann Radcliffe knew as little about the afterlife as Calvin and Luther. Father always did scold Mary and I for reading those silly stories.

William did not leave the house for days after my death but soon he must begin making arrangements for my funeral and attend to his business again. I follow him through the gates but as soon as I take a step outside our grounds a fog envelopes me, thick and foul as the great pea soupers that descend on the filthy London streets. When the fog clears from my eyes I realise that I am lying on the floor of our dining room in the exact place where I died. I realise that he might come and go as he pleases but I must always remain here. For the first time my life, or rather afterlife, seemed to stretch out before me like some vast, unimaginable desert and I wonder what am I to do?

While William is out I follow the servants around. One day Louisa the maid, the next day Nicholas the houseboy. As I witness their meagre existences and listen to them prattle on with their idle and dull gossip I am filled with a newfound admiration for Charles Dickens. The man's imagination is truly a wonder beyond compare if he can make the lives of the poor seem interesting and worth caring about.

I settle in the kitchen. Our Cook is a formidable woman, pink and plump as a great ham. I always admired the wonderful feasts that she was able to create in the dark, steaming machine of our kitchen and I enjoy having the opportunity to watch her work from firing up the ovens for the first loaves of bread in the morning to making great pots of stew for the servants at night. Yet as I lean over her broad shoulder to catch the aroma of the cooking pot I realise that not only can I niether taste nor touch, I cannot even smell. I leave the kitchen filled with only a vague sense of desolation. I regret every time in my life that I turned away food to please my husband or fit into a dress. If I could have grown fat on my pure desire for food alone I would have weighed over 500lbs rather than the paltry 180lbs that I was when i died.

As the winter fades to spring and the first daffodils begin to creep through the frost, I notice a change in William. He used to trudge around the house with a perpetual storm on his brow, always taking his ill temper out on the servants. Now he moves with a lightness of step that I haven't seen since the earliest days of our marriage. He whistles silly music hall songs, makes jokes with the man servants and has bought bright new suits that make him look quite the dandy.

"Don't you think all this is a tad unseemly," my sister Mary said when she called for tea one day. "The proper mourning period has not been observed and already you are strutting around like a peacock."

William only waved his hand dismissively. "Rebecca was a woman who heartily enjoyed all life's pleasures. I would do her no honour by depriving myself."

And so he went on and I saw him less and less. It felt like he was barely home before he was once again donning his top hat and cane and setting out to the opera or to drink and eat lavish meals in his gentleman's clubs.
10 chapters, created StoryListingCard.php 7 years , updated 2 years
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Shavip 1 year
This is great! Very well written and with an interesting twist now that it looks like Lucy may be more into the weight gain than Rebecca thought she would be.
Di905 3 years
What is there of the story can surely stand for itself but I still think the final touch is missing or that too much is left to us reader's imagination. It roams somewhere between masterpiece and the state of being abandoned. Some enligthenment would help
Girlcrisis 7 years
Thanks Nok. Really appreciate your comments. Hopefully you'll read and enjoy the story so far just as much.
Nok 7 years
Ho-ly FUCK! I only just finished chapter two, and that is phenomenal! Very well written characters, and viscerally emotive prose.
Girlcrisis 7 years
Hey, thanks for your continued enthusiasm for this story. There's definitely more to Rebecca and Lucy's tale to come but to be honest I'm nowhere close to posting another chapter.
Lurkymcduck 7 years
Hope to see an update soon.
Girlcrisis 7 years
Good to hear that you both still like it. I always enjoy writing from Rebecca's rather poisonous perspective.
Noarthereonl... 7 years
Bravo this is turning into a masterpiece!
Eponymous 7 years
This remains utterly excellent
Girlcrisis 7 years
Thank you. Great to hear that you enjoyed it so much.
Zoll2008 7 years
This really a joy to read. Well written.
Girlcrisis 7 years
Thanks, Jazzman. smiley
Jazzman 7 years
Masterful Writing. Imagery. Simply Amazing.
Noarthereonl... 7 years
Such great writing. You tell a compelling story.
Girlcrisis 7 years
Glad to hear you're enjoying the story. Next couple of chapters shouldn't be more than a week away.
Lurkymcduck 7 years
Eager for another chapter!
Fatlilboy 7 years
This gets better and better as she gets fatter and fatter
Lurkymcduck 7 years
Love this.hope you continue soon.
GhostPepper 7 years
This is such a creative and entertaining story! I'm really enjoying reading this and all of your other work. Keep up the good job!
Girlcrisis 7 years
There will certainly be more. Just need to find the time to channel my inner vengeful Victorian ghost. We've all been there, I'm sure.
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