Fat Boy Swim
Author(s): Catherine Forde
Copyright holder(s): Catherine Forde: Reproduced with permission of Egmont Books
Fat Boy Fat
'Oi, boobsy. Move your fat butt! We're under pressure here.'
One rasp from Maddo McCormack in goals was enough to set Jimmy stumbling up the pitch, as though someone had given him a wedgie up the backside.
He only shuffled half a dozen steps, each one making his thick flesh judder. The impact of his foot hitting the ground had him wheezing like an old accordion.
It was hopeless. Pointless. Jimmy halted. Leaned forward, hands on knees.
Somewhere to his left he could hear the flat clack of hockey sticks as the girls played their interschool final. Voices rose through the heat and drifted across to the field where Jimmy panted.
He hated them.
This summer was off to a bad start. For Jimmy anyway.
Unlike most years it hadn't crept in: one wee glimpse of sun in April, followed by three weeks of rain and back on with the winter clothes, bit of snow in May, then a disappointing June.
First of May this year, a furnace-blast of sunshine had scorched the west of Scotland. Day after day after day of stifling heat. Night after sleepless stuffy night. Even the ice-cream vans struggled to chime through the thick air.
After two months of weather like this, Jimmy felt he was suffocating under his own sticky weight. Made worse because it was serious school sports season. No getting out of it.
At least today's match was the pay-off for eight weeks of peace.
Blow the whistle, Jimmy willed Hamblin, the ref. It had to be full-time, otherwise he'd never have been forced from the sanctuary of the subs' bench. Although St Jude's insisted that every pupil had a stint on the field, it was unspoken policy that Jimmy Kelly was only played in the dying moments of a game, and only then if St Jude's were winning.
They'd been 2-1 up when Jimmy went on.
Blow the whistle. Jimmy panted, lungs struggling to inhale enough air to let him straighten up, let alone move.
His name came hurtling towards him, screeched at maximum volume. A primitive chant. Carrying the threat - no, the promise - that he'd be ripped apart if he didn't snap to it.
He had to look up. Wasn't going to get away with playing the invisible hulk.
'Never mind them, moron. Get your eye on that ball! Kick it back up the pitch, Kelly. It's at your feet, man!'
GI Joe was level with Jimmy on the sideline, eyeballing him. His proximity didn't make him lower his voice any. He bawled as though his lungs would burst.
'Come on, big man. Chase that ball. Boot it up the field. He's on your back. Aaach!!! What you playing at?'
Jimmy's head went down. But that didn't matter. He could see what GI Joe was doing without looking. Swinging his whole body round from left to right in utter despair. Like he always did when he tried to get Jimmy to shift. Shaking his head in dismay was never enough. Every bit of him had to join in.
Jimmy knew GI Joe's face would be beetroot, wriggly veins bulging from his temples under the line where his bristly crewcut began. His forehead would throb visibly from the effort of screeching down the field at Jimmy.
Later, when GI Joe tried to speak at normal pitch, his voice would crack. If you didn't know what kind of bloke Coach was you might think he'd been bubbling.
Jimmy knew - again without having to look up - that even the charitable guys in defence were throwing him daggers over their shoulders as the play moved off up the field. Muttering curses under their breath. Wanting Jimmy taken off once and for all.
Others were more straightforward with their objections.
'What's the balloon up to? Ball right at him and he lets it past.'
'Blinkin' liability. Shouldnae let him on full stop.'
'Whales canny play fitba'.'
Jimmy stopped moving.
Might as well have been a universe away, the lot of them. He'd never catch up.
'Kick it back up. NAW. Up the way! UP the way!'
They were all at it now.
A dozen voices. Subs on the bench leaping up and down behind GI Joe. The rest of his side charging towards him. Circling like vultures.
'Here, big man.'
'Straight back up to me. Hurry.'
Flustered, Jimmy could barely tell one team from the other, the oppo just clones of his own side clad in different jerseys. All he knew was sweat on hungry faces, saliva stringing from open mouths as two thundering teams descended on him.
'KICK IT NOW KELLY!'
Even Jimmy couldn't ignore that voice scaling two octaves in his ear, or the clasped entreaty of GI Joe's Cumberland sausage fingers under his nostrils. He'd have to make contact with that football. After all, it was sauntering almost casually in his direction as though it was out for a wee stroll on the pitch.
All Jimmy had to do was...
He gulped. Straightened up, searching the panting faces in the closing semicircle before him.
There was Victor.
He'd aim for Victor.
Jimmy drew back his left foot, approximated a kick and - oof - was felled like an oak. His own defence had surged as one to tackle the nifty mover from the opposition who had sussed it would be tomorrow before Jimmy's boot touched that football. But it was too late. A superb slide kick shunted the ball just enough towards Maddo's goal mouth where the opposition striker was poised.
'Game over. Good effort lads. 'Way and congratulate the oppo now.'
Hamblin, ref duties over, spat his whistle at Jimmy. Almost reluctantly, he peeled back the scrum champing menacingly over the clammy flesh-mound lying winded on the grass.
Extending his long arms, Hamblin corralled the mob away, steering it towards the middle of the pitch. Beyond lynching distance of Jimmy.
Not once, however, did Hamblin check any of the insults his pupils hurled like clods over his shoulders in Jimmy's direction. Not even when Victor jooked round him and crowed, 'Fat Boy Fat', to an accompanying volley of gobs and laughter.
Hamblin was too busy scowling at Jimmy himself.
'Bloody cup lost on aggregate. Useless butterball shouldnae be allowed anywhere near a pitch.'
Jimmy waited behind on the pitch, wishing the grass could swallow him up, even for a while. Flat on his back, he stared at the blue, blue sky until he felt recovered enough to examine the mucky trench Victor Swift's stud had gouged in his shin after the final tackle.
That's for starters, fatso.
Best wait a bit.
Let the others get changed.
After all, he wouldn't be missed.
The PE block felt deserted as Jimmy entered. He allowed himself to relax a little.
Could have been worse, thought Jimmy. If it hadn't been a Friday afternoon, Hamblin might have been tempted to repeat last year's humiliation. Forcing Jimmy into the showers. Trying to compensate the rest of the team after Jimmy's crucial own goal.
'Everyone will sit quietly on the benches - quietly, I said, McCormack - until Kelly has showered and dressed. You'll all be dismissed when he's nice and clean for his mammy.'
A year on Jimmy still squirmed at the recollection. Having to shower naked. Whole team watching. Hearing their snorts and laughter over the running water. Maddo blowing up his cheeks. Victor slapping them flat with great farting noises that sent the other lads into hysterics.
'Sir, Kelly needs all they showers on. He's only wettin' one of his bum cheeks.'
'You missed a bit you canny see, fatso..."
'I didnae know you got red-haired whales...'
'Ah can see Kelly's tinky-winky...'
'Sir, this is putting me aff ma dinner..."
After the shower, the further indignity of having to towel off and dress. Then clamber into giant underpants, sweaty fingers fumbling to button the trousers and failing to so. Jimmy feeling the mass of his belly mash against the material.
Hamblin had leaned against the door of the changing room, tapping his whistle against his teeth in that annoying way of his. Whenever Jimmy glanced up he was trawling the reactions of the team with his hard blue eyes. Thin smile on his face.
Sorry about today, lads, but this'll cheer you up.
Only when Jimmy was struggling with his shoelaces, all the blood rushing up to his head as he bent over, Maddo poking him in the backside and going boingggg, had Hamblin let the others go.
'Show's over lads.'
Anything but that today, decided Jimmy.
And he had timed it well. All that was left of the team was the muck they'd trailed in from the pitch for the cleaners. Clumps of slimy mud with bits of grass sticking out like sparse hair pockmarked the floor. Empty cans and plastic bottles, none of them upright, littered the benches. Dods of chewing gum stuck to the walls. And then there was the smell. The fug of deodorant catching Jimmy's throat and irritating his chest couldn't mask it. Nor could the tang of the putrid pink carbolic Hamblin insisted the boys lather up with in the showers. Even the sweet echoes of the hair gel the lads used to get their fringes spiked up like the singer from the well-cool band they all liked wasn't camouflage enough.
What was the smell exactly? Earth, and sweat and dirt. A boy smell. A team smell. Shared activity. Belonging.
It was a smell that made Jimmy hungry.
Jimmy heard water running. He picked his way across the muddy floor to the showers. Sighed. One shower had been left on full, its jet angled just so to soak the clothes bundled underneath it. Jimmy's school socks were wedged into the shower drain, blocking it so that several inches of scummy water swirled between Jimmy and the shower tap. In that water, among floating islands of hair-balls and discarded sticking plasters, sailed the contents of Jimmy's schoolbag: textbooks, jotters, diary. And his shoes. The schoolbag itself dangled upside down from a high window ledge.
He was an expert by now, was Jimmy, at concentrating on the task in hand. That way he didn't allow himself to dwell on reasons why things happened. You focused on the moment and when it had passed, you forgot about it. Moved on. Aunt Pol taught him that. Said it worked for her.
Jimmy used this technique today, stepping into the blocked shower still wearing his football boots, and trying - at least - to save the textbooks from more damage. The jotters had already begun to shred in his hands, but luckily they were the ones he'd finished with this year. Mum liked to keep them.
But the books...
Jimmy laid them on the benches, wondering if they would dry out. They were for fourth year English. Mrs Hughes had handed them out today for holiday reading: Look after them, now.
His blazer was also for fourth year. And fifth. And sixth, gulped Jimmy, holding the dripping garment at arm's length and turning off the shower. Less than a month old, specially made because of the size. No way would Mum be able to fork out for another.
Jimmy forced himself not to think about these problems. They belonged to the future. For now he had to deal with getting himself and his drenched belongings home. His travel pass, somewhere in his blazer pocket, was pulped beyond recognition.
Awkward in studs, wet bundle leaving a trail behind him, Jimmy began the long walk home. He kept his head down when he passed the staffroom, praying he was invisible.
But he didn't slip past the staffroom unnoticed, although there was only one person left on such a fine Friday afternoon in June.
And GI Joe wasn't a proper teacher anyway.
Fired up for bingo, Mum didn't look twice at the sopping wet bundle that Jimmy dumped in the bath. However, she wasn't so keen to get out that she failed to clock Jimmy wearing his football gear. She tailed him from drawer to cupboard to bedside cabinet as he rummaged for the inhaler he needed when his chest felt extra tight.
'What you doing playing football in a heat wave, son? Look at the colour of your face. What d'you think that doctor's letter's for? And what're you looking for? Those? That?'
'This,' gasped Jimmy, sucking gratefully on the inhaler.
Just leave me, Mum, he wanted to blurt in her face. Let me get sorted. Empty my bag. Football's over till fourth year. No point thinking about it till then.
'Going out?' he asked her, as if he was daft. She went out every Friday. 'Look at you all dressed up.'
She wasn't, of course. All she'd done was remove her housecoat and run a comb through her hair.
'Och, away,' Mum smiled, primping at the attention. 'Bingo down St Jude's. Murder in this heat. Pol'll be here straight from work. You'll get something to eat?'
Halfway out of the front door, Mum hesitated.
'You take it easy, son. You can't overdo things like other folk.'
Bliss. Peace. Place to myself. Jimmy sighed, relaxing at last.
She meant well, Mum, but she was always fussing. Flapping around him like a nervous crow on amphetamines: Don't do this. Don't do that. You'd think he was a blinking invalid. Didn't she get it by now?
He was just fat.
'Don't start that again,' Jimmy warned himself aloud, but it was tough. Soon as he got thinking about it, he had a fight on his hands to stop his mind from scrolling down the litany of names for fat that he'd been called over the years. Must be hundreds of them, maybe even thousands.
'Just words. Ignore them. Switch off. Walk away,' Aunt Pol had taught Jimmy many years ago, and to a certain extent, he had learned to follow her advice. He shrugged off insults. Sticks and stones and all that.
But inside, deep inside, it blooming hurt. Every time.
Inside, Jimmy didn't feel like Smelly Kelly, Fat Boy Fat. Of course not. He was just - a teenager. Normal in every way. Apart from his size. His bedroom was a pit. His feet stank. He hated getting up on school mornings. If any of his classmates scratched away a layer or two of fat they'd find a teenage heart like theirs beating for Britney or Kylie or Pink or Shakira. If any of his classmates ever bothered to talk to him, instead of slagging him off, they'd find he was just as clued up as they were on films, on books, on telly, even on sport. And as for music...
Jimmy sighed. It was Friday night after all. Why dwell on things he couldn't change?
He flicked through the growing tower of CDs he was constructing under Aunt Pol's guidance. An edifice, she called it, combining the best of the old and new millennium.
'Try this. Try that,' she'd say.
Beatles at the foundation, naturally. Then Motown, soul, and glam, and blues, and ska, and punk, even country. A bit of everything, in fact. Not forgetting her Friday favourite: Abba.
How could Jimmy possibly dwell on the football fiasco or zero friend count when 'Dancing Queen' filled the flat? Aunt Pol's tune. He could see her already, catching the song's first jangling arpeggio from the bottom of the close, and dancing her way up three flights of stairs, arms waving above her head, lyrics tumbling from her big red mouth.
Just the thought of her, way over the top, grabbing Jimmy's hands and birling him into the middle of the hall, was enough to delete all the misery of the afternoon. Aunt Pol always made Jimmy feel good. For a while at least.
* * *
Everything was under control in the kitchen. Jimmy had crushed garlic, zested a lime, added some of his basil-infused olive oil and roasted the past-it peppers lying in the fridge.
He was just rolling out the pasta for his home-made feta ravioli, singing, in a painful falsetto, a descant to the descending chorus of 'The Winner Takes it All' (his favourite Abba track, although he kept quiet about that), when he heard Aunt Pol's familiar cry:
'What is that smell?'
The ritual never changed. Jimmy knew, without turning to look, that Aunt Pol was in the flat. A flurry of her scent flowered the kitchen before she reached it herself. Joy. Mum treated her to a new spray every Christmas. Jimmy loved it. Loved it so much that he'd slip out into the hall while Aunt Pol was busy poking and tasting the contents of every pot and pan on the cooker to fill his lungs from her sweet slipstream. He'd take his time, moving Aunt Pol's high heels from the front door where she always kicked them off, picking up her bag from where she always dropped it in her haste to see him. Then he'd serve up dinner.
Aunt Pol's reaction was part of the ritual, too.
'This food is just... I mean it's so...'
There was no need for Aunt Pol to struggle for an adjective to describe Jimmy's efforts.
Divine would do.
He knew, as sure as he was a plab on the pitch and a joke in the gym, that he was a star in the firmament of the kitchen. Jimmy just knew. Always had. How to cook. Brilliantly. When to go easy on the butter. When to add an extra egg white. When to stop stirring a sauce. How long to beat a batter.
Tablet - which Jimmy made every Friday night - was his pièce de résistance, but everything he made tasted like ambrosia. Not Ambrosia Creamed Rice, but ambrosia: food of the gods.
Aunt Pol mopped her plate with a slice of Jimmy's fennel bread. 'Betcha,' she said, 'folk are sitting in poncy restaurants right now paying through the nose for grub that doesn't come near what you make, Jim.'
She was the only person who ever called him that. Never Jimmy.
'I'm not too full. I'm not bloated. Flavours were magic and here, you just chucked this together from stuff lying around.'
Aunt Pol always analysed Jimmy's cooking. Only time she grew serious. Unless Jimmy was getting grief somewhere. Then she grew seriously serious.
When she discussed cooking with Jimmy, she did so with a mixture of admiration and incomprehension. Sometimes, Jimmy even thought she looked upset. As if she had something difficult to say, but choked her words back down.
'Can't believe you've been born with this talent,' she'd say. 'Certainly don't get it from me.'
'I'm good, amn't I?' Jimmy would reply, knowing that nothing gave him more pleasure than the sight of someone reduced to an inarticulate sigh because of his genius. Filled him better than any meal.
Made him feel right.
Made him feel happy.
Pity Jimmy's gift had to be kept top secret by Mum and Aunt Pol. Well. He could understand, especially now he was older, why it was best that his genius remained undiscovered. What would folks say, after all, if they discovered that:
Big blob Kelly
Had one special talent.
And it involved food?
God's sick joke that, sighed Jimmy, not for the first time.
Later, in the kitchen, pouring sugar into a pot to melt, Jimmy accepted it was probably best that people didn't know what he could do with food. He'd hate anything to put him off the skill he loved.
Not that he was a flipping martyr either. He was sick of the tablet fiends crowding him at every school fundraiser, never thinking for a minute that he was responsible for the biggest money-spinner on the cake and candy stall.
The urge to blurt out his secret could be overwhelming, especially when he had to watch the very people who accused him of being a lardy guzzler, scoffing several bars of his tablet at once. Ripping off the cling-film with greedy hands. Drooling their compliments: 'This stuff's the work of a genius.'
But Jimmy had to bite his tongue and watch the faces of all those who loved to make his life a misery twinkle with delight as he
back - he always did it
slowly for maximum effect - the lid of each plastic tablet-crammed tub.
No wonder he was tempted, when mouths usually twisted into sour jeers were drooling in anticipation for one draught of the sugary buttery magic that he had concocted and cut into neat, more-ish squares, to shout:
'Oi! I made all this. I'm not totally useless, am I?'
'Not totally useless,' Jimmy rasped aloud, the bitterness in his voice taking him by surprise. He shook his head clear of dark thoughts. Friday night, remember. He'd Aunt Pol to himself, Bowie on the CD, while his huge pot of tablet bubbled on the hob. He'd even sorted the soggy textbooks, having the brainwave of laying them out on the cooker using the dying heat from the oven and the low warmth radiating from the ring where his sugar was melting to dry them out. They'd be fine.
His blazer was another matter, decidedly drookit as it swung above him on the pulley like a giant shapeless bird.
But - ach - he'd the rest of the weekend to worry about it, Jimmy decided, adding condensed milk to his melted sugar and beating the mixture. His tablet would be just the way Father Patrick, the only other person in the world who knew Jimmy's secret, liked it. Still warm, with a soft bite. The old priest's pay-off for walking Mum home from bingo every Friday.
Mum was back early, which was strange in itself. Normally she never returned from bingo until Aunt Pol - who thought the sound, let alone the sight of Father Patrick gorging himself on the scrapings of Jimmy's tablet pot, revolting - had woken herself up during the credits of 'Frasier', and gone home.
Stranger, thought Jimmy from the kitchen, was the phoney Are you decent? We've got a visitor chime in Mum's voice. There was none of that kidmaleery with Father Patrick.
So Jimmy was caught way off-guard when he wandered into the hall, drying his hands on his t-shirt as if everything was normal.
'Heya, Mamma. You'va gotta to trya mya feta ravioli! Ita wasa magnifico..."
Jimmy's booming Italian greeting dwindled to a squeak. Father Patrick hadn't walked Mum home from the bingo tonight.
''Lo there,' said GI Joe. His voice sounding cracked and hoarse. As though he'd been yelling recently. Jimmy winced at the memory of the afternoon.
'Why would I want to see you?'
To torture me, thought Jimmy, his heart beating unhealthily fast at the mere sight of GI Joe.
He shrugged. Voice glum.
Extra training, he was thinking. Coach is gonna give me extra training.
'Well, I've been hearing all about you.' GI Joe jabbed at Jimmy with a squat index finger.
Hamblin, thought Jimmy. He's figured out some keep-fit punishment for me.
Behind GI Joe, Jimmy noticed Mum's eyes widen to a glare, her mouth ruching into a tight purse of disapproval. She was trying to tell him something.
He had answered, hadn't he?
'So what have I been hearing about you?'
'Dunno,' Jimmy repeated even more glumly. Looking at Mum's deepening frown he added:
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Cite this Document
Fat Boy Swim. 2022. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved August 2022, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=482.
"Fat Boy Swim." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2022. Web. August 2022. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=482.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "Fat Boy Swim," accessed August 2022, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=482.
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