Fiction Friday | 'Not to Mention' by Vivian de Klerk
As her 21st birthday approaches, Katy Ferreira has not left her bedroom for close on two years. In fact, she has not left her bed – at 360kg, she simply can’t.
Characterised by an indomitable spirit, Katy tries to make the best of a bad situation. She does the crossword in the Herald newspaper her mother brings home, consumes the food she craves – biscuits, pies, doughnuts, litres of fizzy drinks – and waits in hope for insulin and a solution to her plight.
To pass the time she begins to compile her own crossword in one of the Croxley notebooks that have been unused since she dropped out of school. Within each cryptic clue is a message, an attempt to explain how it feels to be “the fat girl”, how taking comfort in sweet things as a grieving and lonely child escalated into a deadly relationship with food and a psychological and physical disease.
The process triggers splintered memories of dark family secrets and hints of culpability. As Katy finds her voice – quirky, macabre, devastatingly astute and viciously funny at times – the notebooks fill up.
Not to Mention is part diary, part memoir, part love-hate letter to the mother who fuelled her daughter’s addiction as steadily as the world ostracised her. The destructive power of shame and society’s harsh judgement of people who are “different” is matched by the immense courage of a young woman who is determined to be heard.
KATY’S CROSSWORDS I
4 October 1980
So now I’m going to start with your first clue:
3 down: A curious attire for a brief solo (7 letters)
The answer to this one is ‘arietta’. It’s an anagram of ‘a’ and ‘attire’ – the word ‘curious’ acts as an instruction to mix the letters up. Anarietta is a brief solo, and I like to think of this first big crossword as my brief solo: a chance to speak up and maybe be heard. It’s never over till the fat lady sings, and that’s where the Croxley books are going tocome into the picture. The fat lady was Brünnhilde in the Valkyrie, according to Brewer’s, and I love to picture her, looking rather buxom with her helmet and spear, singing ‘Götterdämmerung’ for twenty minutes at the end of Wagner’s opera. Well this is my song. It’s a nice clue to start with because, let’s face it, my attire, or lack of it, is rather curious, to say the least.
How did that go, mother? Did you get it without reading the answer? And did the explanation help? Don’t give up too soon if you found that one difficult – things get easier when there are a few letters written into the grid.
This clue naturally brings me to my attire: I’m completely naked here under the sewn-together sheet you cover me with every day for the sake of modesty. It’s easier that way, I know – no dressing or undressing required, making the cleaning quicker – I get it, but somehow it doesn’t feel right. A virtual prisoner for the last two years, reading and not to mention doing puzzles to keep myself busy, trying not to worry too much about this wretched diabetes. Trying to keep hopeful.
The Herald today is full of reports of unrest, with disruption and boycotting at 33 black schools. Pupils are being accused of intimidation under the Riotous Assemblies Act, and some are being held in detention without trial. But my detention is at home – and it’s been such a long time now, the days flicking by, hard to pinpoint, weeks, months and even years gone in an empty moment. The endless expanse between morning and evening is yawningly deep and breathtakingly boring. Here in bed, under the two sheets you sewed together, my layers of blubber keeping me warm, protecting me from feeling any hint of chill even on the coldest days, when the wind howls outside and the temperature dips below ten degrees – which fortunately doesn’t happen often here at the coast. Feeling warm: the only positive aspect of getting really fat.
I gaze down at my body, which seems so distant, so far away, my head like a peninsula overlooking a vast ocean of flesh, my legs ten times wider and thicker than normal legs, huge tree trunks of bluish white marbled meat with occasional meandering veins, like rivers, feeding the fat. My belly overflows and I can hardly see my feet at all, my toes just peeking out beyond the horizon. But in a strange way this corporeal mass is not really me: I only occupy the area above the neck, the bit that has been spared, that still feels familiar and in proportion.
The rest of my body has broken loose, and I need your help to rein it in and bring it back to me, so that I can stand up again and walk out of this room one day.
The writing might be quite good for me, I think – allow me the freedom to reflect, and to keep my mind off things while we wait for me to get better, and to get a few matters off my chest. My very own arietta – I quite like the idea. I’ve got so much to say about my life.
About feeling apologetic and about the eating, of course, all the eating.
- Extract provided by Pan Macmillan