When I go swimming I lie facing upwards and rest on the water. My belly, a buoy, keeps me up. I am an otter on its back. In this way, part submerged, my belly is unthreatening.
If I was growing a baby, making a child in my big skin it would be different. People think that often, they ask, often – faces excited like I contain another universe under my ribs. Sometimes it is easier to say that I am so they can leave gently holding an image of future me picking daisies with my perfect child, laughing in a non-invasive sun.
Some days when I am not a liar the best I can muster is, ‘sorry this is just my body’. No one really likes that, my body that is – the apology doing little to soften the blow. One time when I told the truth to a woman in a supermarket queue she looked at me like I had just fucked her husband and put her basket down and walked off. With no possibility to say anything into this void me and my imaginary baby had to simply pay and leave, kicking her basket under the conveyor as we passed.
Once at a party I got carried away on a riptide of carpet and flesh, much like everyone else.
I’d had a specific kind of day, one which left me with holes in my brain that needed to be topped up with wine and the body heat of others. That morning we had been taken by our art programme to a morgue where we could look at dead bodies. The day went up in severity and you could opt-out at each stage.
The stages were as follows:
Stage 0 – Introductory talk, no body.
Stage 1 – limb, in this case arm – on its own with a sheet over the cut
Stage 2 – full body under a sheet with sheet removed to expose bits of the body
Break – ten mins
Stage 3 – Full body no sheet
The process took five hours. A long windowless day foggy with chloride. The bodies, we were told, had given their explicit permission to be displayed to us, back when air warmed the inside of them.
Stage 0 – We sat in a wooden frame lecture theatre clotted with dust, the skin of past academics speckling our clothes. We shuffled around on the worn benches trying to hold focus while we were shown pictures of dead bodies and told in detail what would happen later in the day. We were told how the bodies would feel - waxy and cold in a way that would make them seem wet – not soaking but a sheen of something, which actually wasn’t there. We were warned how they would smell – not great, but a smell you would surprisingly recognise instantly. We were also told what to do if we were going to throw up, how to hold it in, how to breathe into the nervous system. How to stop the bile rising long enough to get out of the room.
Stage 1 – The hand, we were allowed to touch it they said, gently they said, no grabbing. I thought about how these people, these bodies didn’t know it would be me leaning across the stainless steel gurney. My pudgy pink fingers thrilled with blood, touching, stroking them gently, gently. We all said this felt like good training next time any of us would see a dead body, which, for most of us, would be a loved one.
Stage 2 – A complex system of hide and reveal, shoulders, thighs, a renaissance of draping. Flashes of parts and a merry go round of medical terminology. No one threw up.
Stage 3 – The full experience. They never showed you the face of the final body, We got furtive glimpses into the hollow of the throat, its corridors no longer echoing. But no ‘identifiable’ features. I think about all the people that have touched my body, and how they could find identifiable features in the hairs on arms or the scar on my left breast. The freckle constellation on my leg in the shape of a big dipper, the gap between my big toe and my other toes which is large enough to put a hand in (and so on).
After a day like that, there is no real procedure for what to do next. There is an expectation of spiritual revelation. To feel like you have kissed the stone feet of a statue of Jesus and been enlightened by its cold toes in your mouth.
In reality, the whole experience acted as a brain wipe, not in the restorative sense, more doors slamming shut. We all seemed to be huddled in this cavernous lobby, unable to leave the group, peeling off might mean we ended up in the slipstream of an existential crisis, unable to come back to before; the unremarkable before.
We ended up at a party full of people we knew, peers, friends of a friend and conceivable hookups – the energy flirty and potential. We slinked around the morgue group, alcohol relaxing us slightly into the day’s events. We had a knowing about us, and a slight glitter of celebrity. People kept asking us what ‘it’ was like and each retelling, each drink brought more and more out of us, our little captivating tale.
We hung around the kitchen, leaning cottiquetish on the work surfaces, bolder by experience. My socked foot traced the door of the washing machine as I talked, I leaned into a stranger, the space between my mouth and their ear became so small I could map the subtle indents of piercings abandoned and overgrown along their pink glowing ear lobes. All the while trying to work out if it was worth it, if they were worth it, as I regaled one more time how I had spent the morning with a severed hand.
When pulling back to smoke (I feel it’s rude to smoke into someone’s face – it really negates any choice they have in the situation) I took them in more holistically. Is this the first person I kiss after seeing a dead body? I didn’t think so. It wasn’t their fault but on a day so charged it felt appropriate to have an exceptional overriding connection with someone, something equally heightend.
My morgue friends were beginning to gather in the living room and languish on the sofas with the energy of teenagers who had just had their first kiss or smoked their first cigarette. Pouty half grins abound. They were getting a little grandiose perhaps, and after making a furtive attempt at dancing far too early (I should have known better) I slunk in to join them with my new party partner crawling alongside. The group was growing and I ended up stuck in a spiraling, bone numbingly dull conversation with a friend’s partner. I was looking for a way out when she put her hand on my leg, her creepy fingers leaving morbid little caves in my jeans. She used this unconsented pressure, this invasive palm to haul her spidery frame across the majority of my body, her body making a barrier between me and the room, turning to face me she looked me dead in the eye.
‘I can help you lose weight if you want, I can draw you up a meal plan and an exercise plan. But I’m not going to do it if you don’t take it seriously, I will absolutely not waste my time on you.’
No context, No request, perhaps she just felt this was the right time to breathe it into the air, expecting me to swallow.
I will never know and I will never ask. Because why should I?
The person, with the glowing earlobes who thought we were perhaps still going to sleep together, slithered off. No excuse, no getting a drink or a lighter, just an emergency exit, the parachute pulled. It’s unclear if they hadn’t noticed I was fat until it had been pointed out by someone else or if it was only an issue when it had been noticed by someone else. I never got the chance to ask them as they grabbed their ugly coat and snuck out the front door, closing it gently as if leaving would cause such a hole in the party it would need to stop immediately.
I rolled away, leaving her on a cursed Thank You. Moving to lie next to my friends, with my back to her carnage while we talked about the fabulousness of flesh in its multitude of states. We autopsied the day in fine detail until our recollections ran their course. Drinking and smoking through each retold moment.
Fatness is always about death, about scaffolding the worry of others, about being seen as a grave. I know this. I know when my corpse is finally in its morgue I will get less pity because of it. My body a shame, a cry to sins of gluttony, its joys only a small herald.
Lisette is an artist and writer based in Glasgow.
The body, proximity, and place can be far-reaching and boundless—this series intends to question these complex questions through different experiments with language, art, cultural phenomena, and writing as practice, and is led by editor-in-residence Hatty Nestor.