Long before first ever meeting Fat Alan I knew all about him, right down to his most intimate details. For example, I knew that he was from Manchester; that he owned the Pig & Whistle pub in Latimer Road; that he weighed 504lbs; that he had a penis no bigger than a seven year old; that mum had to ward his belly away with one hand while she wanked him off with the other; that he broke wind as he came; that he'd sometimes shit himself just to procure a strip down wash; that he was so fat his arms weren't long enough to wash his own hair; that he had his underpants specially made; that he wore a towel nappy to bed; that his toilet had been reinforced, that the u-bend was twice non-standard size to accommodate his colossal spill; that he drove a car that had had the passenger seat removed, the dashboard modified and the driver's seat doubled in size; that he was 43 but had already had two heart attacks; that he'd started binge eating while nursing his beloved mother through the last stages of terminal cancer; that he'd been charged but not convicted of molesting young girls; that he kept promising to write Mum into his will but never did. Each time mum returned, two or three evenings a week, she'd tell me all about him, screwing her face up in disgust as if trying to wring the memory right out of her skin.
God, and he's got these disgusting sores on his arse where he sits all day, she said. And the same things are now beginning to appear under his arms and chin. It's the moisture and friction or something. The fucking pig. I'd love to just empty his fucking till and make off... but he watches that thing like one of them hawks.
Far from despise Alan, Mum's stories made me pity him. Not his obesity or handicap, but imagining that he must have harboured genuine hopes that mum liked him, or at least cared about him as a person who was probably living out the last days of his life. Sometimes I'd almost bring myself to tears pretending I was him, overhearing Mum gross herself out on the vile details of her visit and making fun of everything from his laboured breathing to the hairs which sprouted out his toes. After all, he was not only supplying Mum in free booze but was also paying for her services as nurse, cleaner, and part-time barmaid. On top of that he had to suffer her alcoholism and bizarre personality shifts, hold his tongue as she raged, screaming through his bar that he was a pedophile, and put up with her various indiscretions with the punters, listening as she got flash-fucked in his own bedroom, on his own bed. My heart kinda went out to him. And then I met him.
I only knew it was human and not a stalagmite of waste from a liposuction clinic as it had ears and arms. It sat spilled over a tiny wooden barstool in the kitchen, a hideous blancmange of fat and skin, preparing the pub-grub for the orders below. Arranged in a semi-circle around him was everything he needed: fridge, microwave, knife draw, crockery, sink, chopping board, cooker, bin, etc. From this layered blob a pair of arms were shooting out this way and that, furiously multitasking: cutting, peeling, chopping, dicing, rattling pans into flames, dumping things into pots, checking the grill, slamming it back, adding milk, boiling water, prodding steaks, cracking eggs, opening cupboards, grating cheese, emptying tins, binning rubbish, turning sausages, turning dials, pressing buttons, taking plates, dollop of mash, spoon of peas, ladle of gravy, pushed along, shouting: NO: 21 SHEPHERDS PIE AND CHIPS! All of that while still having the time to acknowledge me and toss me a can of Coke from nowhere, his mouth breaking into a delicious grin when I missed the catch, his way of showing he could still catch people off guard and beat them to the draw. I watched this thing curiously, the head sank into the mound of neck, the neck furrowed out onto the shoulders, a huge filthy, grimy wifebeater vest containing his main bulk, curtains of fat and skin draping down off his arms, his elbow pads somewhere along his forearm, his groin lost beneath a huge flab of gut, the legs in black cotton pants, and finishing him of, a pair of bare, swollen feet that kept lifting off the floor and struggling about as he wobbled and reached from side to side. Just them Mum appeared at the door. Knowing I was watching her she looked over towards Alan, pulled a look of repulsion and shook her head in disgust. Then she waggled a curled finger and mouthed for me to follow – she had something to show me.
Out in the garden mum put a hand over her mouth and doubled up and staggered about in hysterical laughter as a pair of Alan's pants hung on the line and billowed in the breeze. They were pegged up from either side of the waist. Me, Mum and both the barmen could have comfortably fitted in them. Mum pulled at them and showed me the undercarriage of the crutch, the horrible brown stains that not even an intensive 90 degree wash could remove. Now we both staggered around laughing, grunts and squeals escaping from us as Alan screamed out a finished order from upstairs. Mum looked up to the kitchen window and said something about the fat cunt taking the order down himself. She snatched my can of Cola from me and going back over to the washing line poured a good spill of coke in the seat of the pants, turning to me laughing as it leaked out the underside like watery shit. She was a good few drinks down, right on the cusp of wild humour turning into meanness.
He'll notice, I said.
He won't fucking notice! Who d'ya think hung 'em there, coz it weren't fucking 'im. Anyway, when I put them on him he has to lay on his back with his legs off the bed. He can't even see me over his chins and guts!
After being shown the handicap toilet, the modified car, the special banister rail and the small two floor platform lift that got Alan from bar to kitchen to bed, we rejoined Alan in the kitchen. Mum went over and stood near him. His fat hand squeezed her bottom and he made a comical beeping sound. Mum tensed and straightened and jumped back just out of reach. She asked if she could do anything to help but Alan said, Nah, yer alright luv, just yer presence is help enough... ain't nothing like a beautiful woman to make the rigours of work worthwhile, int that right lad? his words floating over to me. Int that right, ya Ma's a beautiful woman?
I didn't answer.
He's shy that one, Mum said.
Aye, yer did say so. I do remember yer saying t'same.
From declining any help it wasn't long before it had quickly turned into Alan relentlessly asking for things, and saying stuff like would ya be a doll and would ya help a sick man out and pass us that there Luvvy, etc. Soon Mum was in constant demand. Not in the way of the cooking of the food but fetching stuff, taking it away, clearing the work space, sent downstairs to deliver messages to the barmen, loading the dishwasher, tying off binbags – all the while having to dodge Alan's hands from groping or slapping her backside. As Alan gave out orders and talked as he cooked it became apparent that he had a bitter contempt towards the mobile, forever calling them lazy cunts and suspecting them of doing nothing, cursing the bar staff and threatening to sack the incompetent and skiving cleaning lady. A few times his bitterness even carried over my way, joking that I'd been put on pause and asking if it was nice to watch yer mam run off her feet? There was something very selfish in Alan, him even getting worked up over the quality of ingredients he had been shopped. At one point he ordered the head barman up and showing him a butcher's bag of mincemeat screamed how was he expected to serve that tripe to his customers? He hurled the bag of raw mince into the landing where it burst and spewed out into a meaty mess over the carpet. The barman silently turned his back, cleared up the mess, soaped the carpet and left. I saw him pacing around out in the garden, smoking furiously while shaking down his right arm and gripping and ungripping his fist.
I hadn't been in Alan's presence for more than two hours and already I despised him. He had that slippery, fat fingered, bureaucratic way about him – something sadistic and hating of the life sat at his mercy before him. Then another thing came up. Every time Mum was reluctant to carry out a certain chore Alan would turn to his wallet, offering to pay Mum an extra few quid for this and that. He went so far as to lay a ten pound note on the top of a tray of chicken innards and told mum it was hers if she'd clear them away and go and dump them in the park around the back for the dogs. Mum took the money, flung the innards out into the garden and stood down in the bar drinking for ten minutes instead. Other times, on occasion, Alan would raise an arm and look at mum and she had to run a towel over, dry the pit and apply some cream. In the afternoon he began harking on constantly about his feet and ankles hurting and how they could do with a rub and a soak. He seemed to be joking at first, but after an hour of this he then had mum crouched down on the floor fondling and squeezing his feet, cracking the bones in his toes. Mum looked at me while she did it, now drunk through and putting on an exaggerated face of hate.
At just gone five, when the last of the grub had been done and all the plates and cutlery returned, Mum helped Alan tidy the kitchen and load the dishwasher. Once finished, like he did every evening, Alan put an hour in behind the bar. He never really did anything, just stood up at the end, held up on crutches, scrutinizing everyone with suspicion, watching every order taken and making sure there wasn't a pack of peanuts or a double measure given away or pinched. Sometimes, for no reason, he'd waddle over to a table and demand a pint of beer back from someone, saying that they'd paid for beer and not froth. He'd empty the pint away and pull a new one, reprimanding one of the barmen and making him watch how to pull a pint before waddling back over and giving the client an exact replica of what he'd just taken away. If a child was in the bar, even if it was 14, he'd pull beastly faces at it as you would do a baby. With a huge fake smile and loud voice he'd repeat how he loved 'people' and 'family'. Whenever the young hawkers came in the bar selling their stolen goods he'd call them over and give them the Five Minute Green Light but made it clear he'd not tolerate drugs being pushed on his premises. He was too stupid to realize these were junkies and not the dealers – the only 'pusher' of misery around was him and his beer pumps, it eventually being pissed away into some of the sorriest homes in the area.
The takings of the bar caused more bad will and suspicion than anything else. With Alan not physically able to be downstairs all day he was permanently paranoid at what was going on with the tills and if there were scams being pulled. To deal with this he'd send down for the till receipts and all the paper money three times a day. Not that that would stop any small time scams, but it would stop scams in the hundreds (or find out about them immediately). It was over the till takings that real sadistic side of Alan came out. He had this habit of after having received the receipts to have Mum go down and bring the money up. He seemed to take a perverse delight in putting her in that position, knowing that she'd probably never handled that much cash in her life, that it was her instinct to run or pocket a note or two but she couldn't as he had the receipts and the tally. At the same place where earlier he'd chopped up food Mum now placed the money down in front of him, his beady eyes on her all the while, almost as if it made him hungry watching. Mum would lay the money down, another little dream gone with each pile. When it was all down Alan would kind of cup his fat hand and push a fifty Mum's way. As she took it he'd tap her hand as if that was love and they were to say nothing more about it. But that wasn't love; it was paying for love; it was business. It was what allowed for the pretence of love, the pretence of having someone in this world who actually cared a damn.
With love paid for upfront and the till takings locked away in a strongbox under the sink it was time for Mum to turn her real tricks. Before the evenings entertainment got underway she'd disappear down the corridor for a few dulling slogs of vodka that'd hopefully get her through the ordeal, may even give her some sadistic pleasure in carrying it out.
Ok chuck, me an yer mam ah gonna go make ourselves scarce now fer a bit... get the ol' blood flowing in me fer t'morrow. Y'help yerself to Cokes an theres them crisps and peanuts up there. There's TV in main room, videos an' all... and, er, do mind them naughtier ones at back o' cab'nit, hey, like a good lad. Alan looked at Mum as if to get some assurance that what he'd said would suffice.
Come on, she said, drunk and cold, lets get this over with! Mum eased Alan down the landing, up two steps and then stood with him as he caught his breath before ushering him into the bedroom.
In the front room I sat not watching TV but waiting for the time to pass and mum to return so we could go home. There was a weird smell in this place, something like a public changing room at the swimming baths. Music and drunken laughs and celebration floated up from the bar downstairs and carried something of a wartime depression with them. From the bedroom I could hear Alan had gotten all angry about something, telling mum that she had to remove them gradually. Mum came out, went into the bathroom, filled a basin with water and returned. Now imagining Alan, laid out naked on the bed with a pathetic little hard on, his arms not even long enough to touch himself until his mistress arrived, his bulk didn't seem comical enough and in no way pitiful or sad. In a way it felt like the right punishment for the right man, and that for all his meanness and bitterness and contempt a fitting turn of events that he was the real invalid at the whim of another who had everything he wanted.
There was no noise that came from the sex, after all it was a pinch wank and maybe a finger up the arse. It was all one way traffic with no stop lights, Alan's pressurized little balls choking up their contents within minutes. It was doubtful as to whether he could physically penetrate someone anyway, and even if he did he'd not have the energy or acrobatics to do much more than that. After twenty minutes Mum would come out in a dressing holding the basin of water. She'd empty it and shower and then we'd be getting ready to catch the last bus home. It was always the same when I went there, the same routine that eased Alan into the last days of his life.
In the same year of the affair, one morning while being helped down to the bar by the cleaner, Alan had a third and fatal heart attack. He died holding onto the special handrail he'd had fitted. As we didn't have a telephone Mum arrived at the bar that evening, alone, to the news of his passing. The barman had kept the pub open thinking Mum may know what to do and what would happen with jobs, salaries and the like. But Mum was as much in the dark about these things as anyone. Between the three of them they sold out the last evenings drinks and divided the takings evenly. Mum left with a crate of vodka, some stray bottles of whisky, a gold watch, a carton of cigarettes and a box of Monster Munch crisps. She arrived home that night in a taxi, drunk and sad.
Alan's dead, she said strangely, the fat cunt just keeled over and died this morning. She wasn't being mean or heartless, those were just her words and how she used them. Somewhere inside her something still had gone, even if it was only an easy ride. I helped her in with the booze and crisps and in the dark she sat and smoked, the clinking of the bottle against the glass, like a rattling ghost, through another lonely night.