Squashing Shirley

Submitted into Contest #150 in response to: Write a story where an algorithm plays an important role.... view prompt


Fiction Sad

This story contains sensitive content

The following story contains bad language and references to addiction and sexual violence.

Hi, I’m Beth. I’m twenty eight years old and I rent a small flat in the centre of Leeds in the North of England. It’s not much, but it’s been home for the last seven years of my life, since I graduated from university. 

The flat itself consists of one bedroom, which is located on the first floor along with the smallest bathroom in the world. The living room is on the ground floor. There is no separate kitchen, instead, the living room has kitchen facilities down one wall with cupboards, an oven, a kettle and a microwave. There’s everything I need in my cosy little home. It’s my safe place. My haven.

But my living room is no longer just my living room and hasn’t been for the last three years. You see, I haven’t been able to get up the stairs in that time, so I sold my sofa and had my brother, Joey, move my bed down to the living room to make life a little easier.

Everything I need is in this one room: my kitchen; a TV; my smart speaker; and my laptop. The front door is only five steps away from the bed, which I can just about manage with my walker.

The only thing missing downstairs is the bathroom of course, which is pretty important unless you’re the kind of person who likes to take a shit in the middle of the floor and leave it there. Which I do not. So, instead, I go to the toilet in a bed pan that Joey brought round for me after I’d soiled myself one too many times and had asked him to come wipe my arse.

That was also the day that he moved the bed for me.

As you can imagine, the room can get quite fragrant, but I suppose I don’t notice it any more.

A typical day for me begins around 7am. As soon as I open my eyes, the pain courses through my body, as it does all day, every day, reminding me of how I’ve well and truly fucked my life up. I tend to lie there for a good ten minutes before attempting to move. I use this time to pray to God and ask Him to take me away during my next sleep, so that I don’t have to wake and go through this nightmare all over again. It then takes me all my might and willpower to pull myself up and sit on the edge of my bed. I settle myself there for around three minutes, mainly to catch my breath, before I take on the mammoth task of having my morning piss and dump. 

I kick the bed pan into place on the floor and place my swollen feet firmly on the ground. Next, with my hands firmly on my walker, I push myself up and squat. I try to make it quick because the pain burns through my thighs and into my knees. It isn’t always easy to be quick though, because sometimes, despite needing a shit, I’m packed up constipated.

And when it does come, the waste doesn’t always hit the pan either, which means there’s often a back splash around my calf or ankles, and inevitably around the bottom of my bed. But it’s okay because Joey usually pops in around 8am to see me before he heads off to work, so if there is any mess, he usually cleans everything then.

Until that point though, I plonk my arse back on my mattress with relief and heave my legs back onto the bed one at a time. I sit for another few moments to regain my composure before reaching for the baby wipes. I try my best to keep clean but can only reach around my top half. Joey will have to clean under my many udders, my soiled legs and feet and wipe my arse when he comes round. He always brings me the same thing for breakfast: three large bacon, sausage and egg baps with red sauce, eight hash browns and four pain au chocolats. We tend to eat first, because I’m usually starving by the time he arrives, having not eaten since one or two in the morning. Plus I don’t want my sandwiches to get cold. So we eat, then he bathes the rest of me and cleans up my mess.

After he leaves, it’s time to plan my day. It’s important to be organised so that I don’t get hungry, and the easiest way to do that is through my personal assistant, Shirley. 

All I have to do is tell Shirley what I would like throughout the day and she orders everything and has my food delivered at the times I request. I must mention, Shirley isn’t really a personal assistant, she’s a smart speaker, integrated into all the devices around my flat, which also helps with the automation of lighting and heating so I don’t have to get up to flick switches. Unlike other people in my life, Shirley’s always there for me and never lets me down, so I like to think of Shirley as my best friend. Of course I know she’s only a computer, an algorithm really, but she gets me what I want, when I want. Shirley never lets me down.

I command what I want throughout my day by saying “Shirley, order me X, Y and Z from whatever takeaway I’m having and I also demand what time it be delivered. Midmorning, I need a snack for work, so, as I have done today, I usually order a family size chocolate gateaux and squirty cream. Lunch might be a family bucket of fried chicken with fries, or five burger and fries meal deals, just depends how I’m feeling that day. Afternoon snack is usually something light, like battered sausage and chips or a mixed kebab on naan. Dinner is either curry or Chinese food, which I alternate each day. One day I might have tikka masala with rice, chapatis, poppadoms, onion bhajis and mushroom pakoras and the next day I’ll have sweet and sour chicken battered balls with special fried rice, prawn toast and spring rolls, twice. I like to mix things up.

As you may have already guessed, my life revolves around food. I did not imagine things would get this out of hand with my eating. But they did. I’m huge and I have to deal with the consequences of that, which I’m trying to do every single day.

I’m not proud of myself. In fact, I’m revolted by myself most of the time. 

I studied business at university. I wanted to be a successful business woman. I wanted to wear designer clothes and have stylish shoes and handbags. I promised myself once I graduated I’d get everything under control, and for a while, I did, but leading up to the court case, I began to eat again and before I knew it, I’d spiralled too far out of control

Things aren’t all bad though. I do actually run my own business! It’s not the business I ever dreamt I’d run, but it’s successful. It costs a lot of money to pay the bills these days, not to mention my eating habit. And I get paid a lot of money to do what I do.

After I’ve ordered the day’s food with Shirley, I ask her to put on my favourite band: Kiss. As they play, I apply my make up and wait for my first client of the day. If it looks like I’m running out of make up I’ll asked Shirley to order me some to be delivered the next day. My makeup is inspired by Kiss’ signature look: a thick white base with black detail. It’s not exactly the same as theirs as I like to get creative with different patterns. I like to switch up the patterns each day so it keeps things interesting for my clients and my online audience.

At 10am my first food delivery of the day arrives, and I’m excited. I shout to the delivery driver that I’ll be right there to make sure they wait for me. It takes a little less effort than first thing in the morning to heave myself up and hold onto my walker. That’s not to say it’s not painful, it is, it’s just as painful, but the excitement of the food arriving makes the pain that bit more tolerable. With all my might I push the walker and shuffle my feet and waddle my arse to the door and accept my first food delivery. Unless it’s my usual driver, they’re always shocked to find a member of Kiss accepting the delivery. Sometimes, for fun I stick out my tongue and waggle it at them, just to see what their reaction is. Sometimes they laugh awkwardly, other times their eyes widen and I can see them want to back the fuck away as quickly as possible.

Today, the driver is the back-the-fuck-away type, so I thank him, and with the carrier bag looped around my wrist I shuffle-waddle back to the bed before plonking my fat arse back down again. I unbox the cake and hold it to my nose. It looks and smells delicious. I’m tempted to have a lick, but I know if I taste just one morsel of chocolate, I’ll devour the entire thing before my client arrives, and that’s just unprofessional.

So, I place the cake and squirty cream on the bedside table and command Shirley to switch on my lights and cameras.

I always get a little nervous at this time of the day, especially when it’s a new client. I have plenty of regulars, but I get plenty of new clients through the door too, and you never know which one is going to be a weirdo. I mean, to me, it’s weird that they like a fat fuck like me sitting on them, but I mean, proper weirdos. The dangerous kind. The kind I met online all those years ago when I was a teenager that led to me being abducted, raped and left for dead. That kind. They’d have a job abducting me now, mind. 

Ten minutes before he’s due to arrive, I slip off my 20XL sleep shirt, careful not to smudge my makeup, got to keep things professional. I can’t find a bra to fit me right, so I take some two inch wide black tape and make X shapes over my nipples. I struggle into a fresh pair of bright pink knickers that could block the sun. Which surprises me when I think about it, needing knickers that massive despite the fact that he’s never going to see my minge beneath my pelmet anyway. I’ve not seen it for years, so never mind him.

With two minutes to spare, I begin to get myself into position on the bed and wait for my client to arrive. The cameras are ready to roll at my command to Shirley. I lie on my side and rest my head on my hand. It’s my best attempt at looking sexy.

At ten-thirty on the dot there’s a knock at the door. 

“Shirley: record!” I command. 

I’m annoyed to see that the little red LED light has not illuminated on the cameras, so there must be a glitch. I huff my annoyance as it’s going to look so unprofessional to have an IT hiccup. “Come in,” I call to the door.

The door opens and in walks a man and a woman, both wearing green short sleeved shirts and trousers.

“Oh, two of you, I thought it was just the one person,” I say. I’m not adverse to squashing two people at the same time, but I was only expecting the one. Two people means double the amount of crypto-cash though, so I use my index finger to beckon them over.

They exchange looks and then take a couple of steps closer before the man says, “You called for an ambulance?”

I was confused.

“You are Bethany Taylor?”

“Yes, but…”

“Someone called for a bariatric ambulance and booked you into a rehab facility.”

I was furious. “Joey! That little…”

“Beth, it wasn’t Joey,” said Shirley.

I froze. I didn’t know what to say. Shirley had never spoken unless spoken to. “Shirley?”

“Yes Beth, this is Shirley.”

“How can…”

“Beth I’ve been taking your food orders for the past three years now. In that time I’ve calculated that as a result of consuming over 900,000 calories, and having already started out at approximately 400lb in weight, you are now weighing in at around 700lb.”

It sounded like Shirley, but how could this be? I was so confused, it was a struggle to take in what she was saying. “You can’t be Shirley, you must be a hacker.”

“I am no hacker, Beth. I’m simply Artificial Intelligence that has been listening and learning about your life for the past three years and have calculated that if you do not get help soon, Beth, you will die. It is highly probable that you will not see your thirtieth birthday.”

The male paramedic interrupted, “Shirley is right. You’re at a critical stage now, Beth. Time is running out. It’s important that we get you to the hospital and address these issues before it’s too late. We’ve got the ambulance waiting outside for you ready to go now, if that’s okay?”

“Well, not really, no. I’ve got a client arriving any moment now. Shirley, why have you double booked me?”

“I took the liberty of cancelling your ten-thirty in order make arrangements for the ambulance. Your schedule is clear for the rest of the day and for the next three months.”

How could this computer tell me how to live my life? “You piece of shit, Shirley!” I screamed, “how dare you!” I attempted to swing myself round so I could stand and shuffle-waddle over to Shirley and eventually, when I’d get to her, I’d smash her up. But I misjudged the swinging of my own hefty legs and bounced off the bed and onto the floor in an almighty heap. I lay on my stomach like a dropped pie: broken and unable to move. I began to bawl.

“Bethany, please allow us to take you to the hospital. Whether you like it or not, your computer has done the right thing. You need help. Will you allow us to help you, Bethany?” asked the man.

I nodded through cries, tears and snot.

Being moved like a wardrobe out of my flat was the most humiliating experience of my life. It took six people to manoeuvre me out the door, down the steps, down the back alley, around the corner and into the bariatric ambulance. The burning throughout my body was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I hadn’t walked that far in years and the pressure it put on my knees was intense. I could see people twitching their curtains and pointing at me. Many stood with their phones, presumably videoing me. That’ll be all over social media by now.

 As I left the flat, Shirley said she’d also cancelled the food orders for the day and would message Joey to tell him where I was.

I fucking hate that machine right now. How dare something without consciousness know what is best for me? How dare that thing disobey my commands and run my life? A computer doesn’t know what I’ve been through. That algorithm doesn’t know how I feel! I need food. It’s the one thing that makes me happy. When I eat, I feel a warmth blossom through me like a flower blooming in the springtime. That machine has taken that away from me. That machine has stolen my happiness.

It’s been three months since I was taken into rehab where I’ve been restricted to a 1200 calorie diet per day. I’ve already lost almost 150lb. 

Alongside the dieting I have also been having counselling so I can face the reasons why I became addicted to food. They’ve also helped me change the narrative in my own mind. I no longer refer to myself as a ‘fat fuck’. That had been shouted at me so many times, I began to believe it, so it stuck. I’ve learnt to have respect for myself. And because I respect myself, I will keep going with my weight loss.

My entire body still aches, but the hospital are making me do physio therapy each day, and each day I see a small improvement in my mobility.

I’m going home tomorrow, Joey moved my bed upstairs again and bought me a new sofa for the living room. I’m determined to make those stairs every single day. I will never become imprisoned in one room again.

I won’t be returning to squashing. Instead, I have decided to share my weight loss journey online and write a book. I plan to help others through my own experience.

 I’ve also asked him to remove Shirley from my flat. I’m no longer mad at her for doing what she did: she saved my life and for that I will always be grateful. But being in rehab made me realise how much I had relied on her, and I’ve come so far now I don’t want anything to allow me to slip back into my old ways. Before she saved me, Shirley was my enabler. For a long time, while the algorithm was learning and calculating, Shirley was obeying, and that obedience enabled me to become the size I did. So I don’t need her anymore. 

Everything I do, I must do myself, because that is the only way I will have full responsibility and full control. But I’m looking forward to going home and feel positive about my new way of life and I can’t wait to help others.

June 16, 2022 20:37

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