Olga McNaulty was the fattest woman alive. At one thousand eighty-two pounds, standing six feet, three inches tall, she was the star of Caldini’s Freak Show. Never before had Caldini acquired such remarkable revenues from travelers far and wide who were both delighted and disgusted by the mass of skin and limbs that was the wonder, Olga the Oaf.
Olga had come along at such a perfect time, too, because the very day Caldini was on the train to Seraville to declare bankruptcy on his show, he spotted the enormous woman seated on a bench at Gerard Street Station. The bench was invisible beneath her giant parachute dress, which gave her the appearance of floating. Caldini decided to get off the train, approached the woman confidently, and completed the deal.
The deal was that Olga was to be his main act, that she would get paid handsomely and fed the most delectable meals one could imagine.
Olga was reluctant. The reason she was at the train station had not been to become a circus star, but to kill herself. However, when Caldini’s train had approached she could not even muster enough strength to get up from the bench, much less to hurl herself onto the tracks.
Caldini was warm-eyed with dazzling teeth, which he flashed at Olga in order to seal the deal. Seeing her soften, he shook her swollen paw and said, “I better call a tractor to haul you out of here.”
For one thing, Caldini was right about the meals. They were plentiful and delicious. Olga would get used to a diet of five greasy rotisserie chickens, three pounds of rich baked beans, ten cans of creamed corn, and for dessert, fifteen fresh strawberry-rhubarb pies.
Olga’s first appearance as “Olga the Oaf” was on a sticky Saturday night in August. Caldini had her dressed in a red and white gown that he had masterfully quilted from his extra supply of old curtains, tablecloths and circus tents. To Olga, who had never been so pampered in her life, the gown was beautiful enough to wear to the opera. Caldini put curlers in her hair and applied thick red lipstick to her puffy lips.
People from all over the United States and Europe had come to see Olga the Oaf as she lay, elbow propped and flab jiggling, eating handfuls of grapes and bushels of bananas on her extra-large chaise lounge. It was terrible at first, seeing the gawkers, the children. Olga had been in hiding her whole life, and now she was as on display as one could ever be. In her timidity that first night, she tried to be polite; not to belch, not to roll over in too unflattering a way, but Caldini coached her that the public didn’t want “polite.” They wanted to see Olga the Oaf, and Olga the Oaf they would get.
Olga’s reviews were astounding. Every paper had a picture of Olga on the front cover, with such headlines as “Caldini’s Back in Business, This Time with Heifers!” and “World’s Fattest Woman: Someone Give Her a Pie, or Ten.” Compared to what Olga was used to, these media insults were merely Grade One, and she took no offense by them. On the contrary, she was flattered by the existence of such sudden attention, and even more by the volume of it. Scientists came from the top universities to measure her dimensions, to give her blood tests, and sample her urine and DNA. Writers would sit in corners crafting stories about her. Artists would draw her, filmmakers would film her, musicians would serenade her. In return, Olga indulged them by posing with a giant Viennese sausage in her mouth, and they loved her. They whistled and they hollered for more. Olga thought that perhaps she had made the right choice after all. She would soon belch without hesitation, scratch herself and jiggle the fat of her arms freely. The audience roared in excitement. They loved the speckled white lines on her stomach and legs, her purpled dinosaur feet, her majestic flapping ears. And by the end of the first week, she thought that if it hadn’t been for Caldini, she might have made the foolish decision of killing herself.
Although the train incident had not been her first attempt at suicide. The first attempt was when Olga was twelve years old and told that she was not allowed to go on the field-trip to the hospital because there were no scrubs or lab coats large enough to fit her. At this point she had been a mere four hundred twenty-nine pounds. That night at home, she had fastened her belt around her neck and attached it to the ceiling fan in her bedroom, but upon descent, had only succeeded in ripping the ceiling fan out of the wall.
Olga’s lodgings at Caldini’s were modest, yet comfortable. She was housed with another of Caldini’s performers, Melvin the Miniature, in an extra-large tent. How they met was by Olga almost sitting on him after her initiation meal. She heard a voice small as tin screaming, “Don’t sit,” and they became instant friends.
Olga and Melvin exchanged their stories by candlelight. Olga told Melvin of the days of her merciless playground tortures at school, to which he could relate. How the kids would see in a test of strength who could push Olga over from a standing position. No one ever succeeded, even from a running start. Melvin’s torture came from being the designated fetcher of lost gymnasium equipment that had retreated to unreachable playground nooks. He was never allowed to play in the games. Olga told Melvin of sixth grade sex-ed, when Jerry Barnabie said, “I bet her vagina’s the size of a watermelon.” Melvin told Olga of his tryouts for the baseball team, when the Coach Carl said, “Are you trying out to be the ball?” They laughed together and they cried together. They both had no family left, and little hope for a family in the future. They also both had dreams.
Melvin had always wanted to be a doctor, fascinated by the wonders of the human body since an early age, when he would analyze the organs of dead animals his father brought back from hunts. Naturally, he took an interest to the never before seen bone structure and asymmetry of Olga’s body. He wondered how much her heart weighed, the fat content of her liver, the functionality of her reproductive system under the stress of gravity. He would scribble observations in his notebook while watching her from afar. Olga told him about her failed field- trip to the hospital and she became sullen. She said all she wanted was to have a legacy, and now it seemed for the first time, possible.
For three months Olga enjoyed her constant fame at Caldini’s. She was witty and found a profound pleasure in being looked at. She was invited to parties and conferences along with the other most incredible freaks of the world, among them Fern the Fertile (who gave birth to forty-two consecutive children) and Peter the Pin-Faced (who had stuck three-hundred forty-nine pins in his face). Yet Olga never ceased to charm the crowd. Special ten-course meals were served to her as she sat comfortably in her custom made chairs. She received constant letters and requests for autographs. Some even asked her to belch for them. Back in her tent, she would spend hours in front of the mirror puffing out her cheeks and tripling her chins, while Melvin would be curled on his miniature dog-bed around a book twice his size called Gray’s Anatomy. Melvin thought about Olga, and how she was the first woman who voluntarily talked to him. His first real friend, and not a sympathy friend, but one with genuine care. He remembered the night he swore he fell in love with her.
It had been after the mid-season festival, when both Olga and Melvin had been fully inebriated (Olga with forty-eight shots of whiskey and Melvin with half a glass of wine), and Olga had plopped on the bed and asked Melvin, “Do you ever dream of having children?”
“I think everyone does at some point. Don’t you?”
“I dream about it all the time. Just imagine, little fat cows running around the house! And they can all be their own stars one day, just like their momma.”
Melvin gave Olga a loving glance. “I wonder, Olga, if I may ask you a question. Do you know if you are...fertile?”
And to this she snapped up, jiggling, and smiled. “We could find out.”
Melvin was entranced in his reverie while he read Gray’s Anatomy beneath the warm amber glow of candlelight, peeking over at Olga’s nightly repetitions as he went to turn each page.
“I am the fattest woman alive,” Olga whispered to the mirror.
Until one day, she was no longer. The news came to Caldini on a Saturday in November. Another woman, Berenice the Behemoth, had just been discovered in Alabama, weighing in at one thousand, two hundred twelve pounds. At a full one hundred thirty pounds heavier than Olga, Berenice was the new fattest woman alive. And as soon as Caldini put down the phone confirming the news, Olga was stripped of her title, and plans were arranged for Berenice to be shipped in.
Olga was told that she was being let go, that Caldini didn’t need her anymore and that she should go back home and make something new of her life.
That afternoon, Olga stomped into her tent in a fury, causing Melvin to bounce up from his dog-bed, and his book to flutter to the floor with a thump.
“But I don’t want to make something new of my life!” She screamed.
Melvin gathered his book and laid it on the nightstand. “What is it, Olga? What are you talking about?”
In an attempt to cross her arms in fury, they only came, tragically, halfway around her stomach. “Have you heard of this Berenice the Behemoth?”
Olga plunged face down onto the bed, crying, making it creak and bounce loudly. Melvin jumped up next to her, bringing a hand to her hot, wet cheek. He couldn’t think of what to say to console her, so remained silent.
“No one cares about the second fattest woman alive!” She bellowed.
Olga attempted to turn herself around to see Melvin’s reaction, resembling a pot-bellied pig burrowing into a mud puddle. He looked contemplative.
Melvin had grown so close to Olga in these past few months that he hadn’t been prepared for such a hasty departure. But he also knew that Olga was going to die soon, that there was no human way her heart could support the stress of her massive body - an inevitability he purged defensively from his scientific mind. But this inevitability he had understood, nonetheless. Olga was against dieting. She thought it was a fad that was only for the obsessive teenage bullies of her youth. And every time that Melvin told her to watch what she ate, to limit the bad carbs and greasy fats, she had rolled her eyes at him, saying, “What’s another couple’a pounds?” He had been experimenting late at night with weight-loss potions and elixirs, and thought Olga was in a state helpless enough to agree to be his test subject.
“I have an idea,” Melvin said.
To be continued...