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‘They are of the People, and return again to mix with the People, having no more durable preeminence than the different Grains of Sand in an Hourglass…’

-          Benjamin Franklin, letter to George Whatley, May 23, 1785.

 

 Madison fingered her belly, adjusted her glasses and skimmed the front page of the Boston Herald. Her face beamed back, glowing and resplendent, though she scowled at the sight of the tiniest roll that had appeared under her chin in the picture of her shaking a pig farmer’s hand. The headline was ‘THE BIG V’ – BOSTON MAYORAL RACE HEATS UP AT EASTERN STATES EXPOSITION. 

 The rest of the words were unimportant to her. She was keenly aware that in this election, image was everything. It could make or break her victory. Her opponent, Moira Dixon, was the hardened heir of a Boston Brahmin, himself the scion of a longstanding political dynasty, with a string of distinguished ancestors moulding and shaping their power base in New England ever since the end of the Civil War. Madison lacked such a pedigree – though her senator father could offer her a trove of political connections, his home state was California. She grew up on the West Coast, not the East.

 As such, despite a decade spent first at MIT and then around various local councils she still felt that she was struggling to convince people she belonged. Her bronzed skin, long blonde locks and undeniably sensual hourglass figure were the traits of a pin-up girl, not a politician. Madison knew she had to work not just to promote her vision, but to promote an image that would not be a detriment to her chances. Thus her campaign team made clear she was Madison, rather than Maddie. She was not ‘in her twenties’; she was twenty-eight years old. She was mature, she was driven, and she was the future of the city.

 But for people to believe in her, sacrifices unfortunately had to be made. She swapped her prescription contact lenses back for her bifocals, which she’d not worn since high school, but which her campaign manager Isabella insisted encapsulated an authoritative look. Before her first rally Madison had relented to having the waves straightened out of her golden hair, an inch (but no more) taken off the ends and the colour itself dyed to a sharp jet black. Changes, again not voluntary ones, were also being forced upon the body she’d honed through years of swimming and diving.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of campaigning, Madison was proud, even a little bit surprised, that she’d kept herself under one hundred and thirty pounds. The social gormandizing – drinking in Irish pubs, a barbecue at the NAACP meet, pizza at several Italian-American restaurants – was pushing her closer and closer, she knew, but her campaign manager Isabella was keeping her fighting fit with a string of carefully chosen appointments at Boston’s basketball arenas, ballparks and football stadiums, where she’d inevitably be called upon to get in the game. It had taken time, practice and a select few cuss words, but Madison had surprised her team by sinking a free throw on her first attempt at TD Gardens in front of eighteen thousand people.

 The cheer she got had been the highlight of a long, dragging start to the year. The late night snacking was a little bothersome. But it was the late nights themselves that were taking their toll.  

Backstage, Lillian dabbed the little bags under Madison’s eyes with eye cream and concealer.

“You’re a lifesaver.” Madison mumbled. She tried to glance one more time at the additions Isabella had made to her stump speech.

“Keep looking at me,” said Lillian, pressing a finger on the side of her temple. “There. Just a little more. Perfect, you’re done.”

She returned the makeup to her handy carry case.

“And no, I don’t save lives. For you I barely have to. You’re beautiful. Remember that when you’re out there.”

“Thanks. Urghh…how long do I have?”

“You’re on in one.” said Scott, her pollster and math man. 

“One hour?” said Madison, smiling sweetly. She warmed at the thought of a nap when all of this was over.

“Fifty seconds and counting” said Isabella. “Now Madison, focus. Those questions are going to be coming thick and fast this time next week, from all corners. This right here is going to be a breeze, but don’t let your guard down. Who are you?”

“Umm…Madison Greene…” 

“I said who are you?”

“Madison Greene!” she said with a little more vigour.

“What do you want?”

 Food…Sleep...

“A better future for Boston!”

“Fantastic. Now where are you?”

Madison blinked.  

“Umm….err…”

She tried to peer out of the window. Isabella put a palm to her face.

“The harbor. It’s called the harbor.”

“I knew that!” Madison protested. “I just thought it had a special name or something, like…”

“Boston Harbor?” offered Scott.

“Yeah. I mean…no…” 

“And what happened in Boston Harbor two hundred and forty two years ago?”  asked Lillian.

 Madison groaned again. Her personal stylist slash makeup artist had majored in History and rarely let her forget it.

“Something important?”

“Hell yeah, something important. It begins with a B. B…Buh-”

Buh…Bubbunut Doughnuts. Oh god yes.

“On in twenty.” said Scott. Madison suddenly stopped daydreaming.

“- Boston…” Lillian drew out.

“Boston…” Madison murmured.

“Boston T…T…”

“…twerking?”

Lillian gave her a puzzled look. The she nearly doubled over laughing.

“Are you serious? The Boston Twerking Party?”

“Oh…oh right. I get it now.” said Madison. “That thing where the patriots…”

“…got together and threw their asses out into the harbour. Okay, get that image out of your head.” said Isabella sharply. “You’re on now. Ready?”

“Ready.”

 Isabella lifted the curtain and Madison strode out into the bracing air of the bay. A healthy crowd had formed around the stage set up next to the USS Constitution, and they applauded warmly as she strode to the veiled object on the table in the centre.

 The President of the Boston Nautical Heritage Society, a seventy year-old man dressed in full colonial naval regalia, shook her hand and took to the microphone, offered his greetings and thanks to the crowd and to Madison.

“And without further ado, I’ll unveil what you’ve all come here to see!” he shouted. He hobbled over to the table and with a flourished whipped away the veil.

 Beneath it was an hourglass, vast and gleaming. A mound of shining sand, glittering like a mountain of gold, lay at the bottom chamber while the sun’s rays dazzled out of the top. The frame was beautifully carved mahogany - the ocean waves were cut into the grooves, where angels and mermaids linked hands.

“After last year’s unfortunate incident, I hope you’re all as glad as I am to see the Franklin Hourglass again.” the president said to more applause. “Over the past nine months, our experts at the society, with help from the Sandwich Glass Museum and the late Folger Meadows, one of Boston’s last traditional whittlers, have painstakingly restored this prized artefact to its former glory.”

His wrinkly hands lifted the hourglass up.  

“It gives me great pleasure to present this masterpiece in Mister Meadow’s memory to Madison Greene, so that she may have the honour of returning to the captain’s quarters of the USS Constitution, the very place Benjamin Franklin intended it to occupy when he created it two hundred and twenty six years ago.” 

Madison held out her hands and he passed it over. Her foot shot forward in her high-heeled shoes – it was a lot heavier than she’d thought. She gripped it by the side, with a hand on the top and bottom to manage the weight, then smiled at the crowd though inside her lungs were straining. She let the hourglass rest on the table a moment before she spoke.

“Thank you Mister President. And thank you the citizens of Boston, for joining me on this lovely day to return this beautiful hourglass to its home aboard the – oh SHIT!”

 Madison’s mouth hung open as she saw the hourglass teeter on the edge the table. Having laid it on its side, she hadn’t seen it slowly roll away whilst she was speaking. She made a lunging grab for it but it tumbled off the edge, bounced, then fell off the stage. She dashed to the front, just in time to see it roll to the end of the harbour. She cringed as a splosh echoed across an audience that had fallen deathly silent.

“Uhhh…” Madison mumbled. The eyes of the crowd were turning back to her once the antique had sunk to the ocean floor. The Boston Nautical Heritage president looked utterly shell-shocked.

She snatched a pleading glance at Isabella backstage, behind the curtain. Her campaign manager held out her hands and mouthed ‘Don’t…move…’. She said some other things but Madison couldn’t read her lips. All she knew was that the worst thing she could do at this point was run away.

Madison looked at the crowd. She had to say something.

“Well, maybe I’m not the best person to handle Boston’s past…” she exclaimed to a slight titter. “But does the past always have to matter? I’m sure we as freedom-loving people don’t want to forever be trapped by the past and the mistakes we might have made.  Maybe you put an odd pair of socks on this morning. Maybe you parked your car too close to an intersection when you came here. Maybe you just dropped a priceless hourglass into the ocean…”

Some people started laughing. Madison smiled.

“But, it doesn’t have to mean anything if you don’t want it to. You don’t have to be confined by your past, and neither should this city. It’s time we started looking forward. It’s time we started looking to the future. It’s time we started looking for a better future for Boston!”

She raised a triumphant hand, and to her amazement, the audience began to applaud. She left the stage, more than happy to leave the still stunned president to handle the rest of the ceremony.

“I don’t know how you pulled that off, but you did.” Isabella whispered as she descended the stairs. “Good job. Now let’s get in the car and get out of here” She eyed the audience. “Before they ask us about paying for salvage.”

 

 When they made it back to the downtown campaign office, the team agreed a good rest was in all of their best interests. They took the rest of the afternoon off, scheduling to meet up again the next morning.

“Somebody please tell me my chances didn’t sink with that hourglass yesterday…” Madison said the moment she walked in. The memory still made her feel sick to her stomach – her stomach itself had given her no end of trouble in groaning and rumbling.  

“Nothing’s unsalvageable.” said Isabella, skimming through another edition of the Boston Herald.

“How’s the social media?”

“Well, the older generation think you’re a clutz, especially the WASPs” said Scott. “But there’s not many of them on Facebook. And on the plus side. the eighteen to twenty five demographic is finding it hilarious.”

He showed her a picture on Facebook that had been doing the rounds on the rest of the internet – already it had accrued over 135k of likes. It was Nathaniel Currer’s old-timey painting of the Boston Tea Party, albeit with her image photoshopped in between the men dressed as Native Americans, holding a hand out while the Franklin Hourglass fell beneath her into the water. ‘Oh Shit!’ was the caption.

“It isn’t important,” said Isabella. “The papers are having a field day, but you’re still closing the gap on Moira. That’s what matters. We’re going to build on that ahead of the debate, starting at the creamery tomorrow.”

Madison licked her lips. Finally, now came the event she’d been looking forward to the most.       

“You’ve been taking it ok, right?” Lillian asked her.

“Yeah” Madison shrugged. “Why?”

“You’re looking a little…fed up.”

“What?” said Madison, her hand nervously covering her tummy. “Literally or figuratively?”

Lillian stared at her again.

“Both, I guess. Have you been eating okay?”

“Yeah…I’ve just been feeling a little bloated. That’s all.”

 Madison put her hand to her stomach again. Strangely, it was curving out. She was perplexed to find that even after skipping her usual morning frappuccino, the bloatedness did not subside. She pursued an answer at the office restroom, where she found an old spring scale by the cleaning supplies. She took off her heels and stepped on.  

Her eyebrows rose. She was one hundred and forty-nine pounds.

She stepped on again. The arrow pointed to the same place, a dash just shy of 150.

She gave herself a puzzled look in the mirror. She could no longer see her ribs, nor feel them as she smoothed a hand down her side. Her face was a little rounder, her waist a little wider, her breasts a tad bigger than she remembered.

Where did all that come from? I weighed myself a month ago. I was one twenty-nine, wasn’t I?

She wondered if she had been kidding herself all this time. Had she really been seeing a four as the middle number, rather than a two? Madison wiggled her hips. Clearly she’d lost her youthful metabolism. She made a silent resolution to start watching what she ate.

“Stating at the creamery tomorrow,” she told herself in the mirror. “Or maybe later…”

She’d allow herself an ice cream. She had to, of course, to make it look like she was enjoying her time there. One ice cream couldn’t do her any harm. It wouldn’t take her to one-hundred and fifty pounds.

“Wouldn’t that be a disaster?” Madison grimaced, thinking about the press. She found the paper and checked the latest political reports, casting a keen eye over Moira. She smiled when she remembered where her opponent would be tomorrow – not at the creamery, but at a waste treatment plant.

She was glad to have Isabella on her team. No matter what happened, she’d always pick the long straws.

The thought made her crave a sundae. So she had one. Just a little one.  

 

The creamery ice cream, in fact, did not take her to one-hundred and fifty pounds. She learned she had passed that point, and then some, long before she even arrived at the creamery.

“No, I’m not ok,” she said to Lillian before she could ask. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Madison glared at herself in her hand mirror while they stood by her car. She looked chubby. Primped, poised, and chubby.    

“It’s fine,” her stylist said. She felt a sharp tug down her shoulders as she tried to pull down the hem of her jacket. “Nothing I can’t fix.”

Madison got Isabella on the phone and told her she was going to be later than she’d thought. She’d lost fifteen minutes already that morning, taking a lot more time than she was used to squeezing herself into her skirt. She bust a bra trying to secure the button, and her eventual success left her curiously disappointed when she found her jacket wouldn’t cover up a jelly roll of hers that hung over the edge. 

Lillian worked tirelessly to tie a matching coloured girdle under her shirt and jacket, around the areas of exposed flesh that stuck out at the bottom.

“This is ridiculous.” Madison said, to no-one in particular.

“You’re just having a fat day. It happens to everybody.”

“Not like this. There’s a difference between having a fat day and waking up fat.”

“You’re not fat.”

“I’m one hundred and seventy pounds. I gained twenty pounds in less than a day. And that’s on top of the twenty pounds I think I gained before the last time I saw you. I literally got huge overnight. I went to bed and woke up with these...

Madison cupped her soft, fleshy, bigger boobs.

“And this.

She gripped the nascent thickness on her sides.

“Love handles, Lillian. You don’t get love handles from being bloated.”

“Just hold your hands up a mo…”

 Madison grunted as Lillian pulled the strings tight. She felt her boobs mushroom out the top of the girdle. She tied them together at the back then offered Madison her jacket. She grit her teeth in discomfort as she twisted to put it over her shoulders. She brushed her hair over her back then looked at herself again in the hand mirror. Her slim figure had returned – she was her normal self again, save for the slight slither of fat beneath her chin.

“Seriously, you’re a lifesaver” Madison told her stylist.

“I wouldn’t recommend bending” Lillian said quietly. “And be careful when you sit down. The strings might snap.”

“That’s fine. I can still eat, right? This thing won’t burst off?”

“Yeah. A small ice cream won’t hurt.”

“Great” she sighed. The taste would help take her mind off the painful pressure on her ribs, and her steady, yet sudden and wildly speedy weight gain. At least for a little while. 

A whiff of rich milk drifted to her nose. Her taste buds titillated.

“All done?” Madison asked Lillian. “Oooh!”

Lillian tightened the last string. “Yeah, all done.”

Madison checked her handbag and the two of them walked together through the creamery car park. The smell of sweet ices grew and grew. Madison widened her strides.  

Suddenly, she heard a giant scratch. She felt a light breeze, and the gentle easing of pressure. Her hands zipped to her derriere.

“We’re leaving” said Madison, mortified. “I’m getting out of here before anyone sees me.”

“But they’re expecting you” said Lillian. “I can fix it, I’ve got safety pins…”

Madison ignored her as she shimmied back to her car. The tear on the seat of her skirt rippled and grew.

“Please!” Lillian shouted “The show has to go on!”

Madison bustled in and started the ignition. She reversed out of her spot and wound down the window.

“Tell them I’m sick or something. Tell them anything. Tell them I’m sorry. But don’t tell them what just happened.”

She wound the window back up and sped away, cringing. Her tummy brushed the bottom of the steering wheel as she reached the freeway.

What’s happening to me? she wondered, desperately.

 

 The next day at 2:00pm, after a very light lunch, Madison reluctantly turned to the campaign office after receiving Isabella’s thirtieth text message. Her campaign manager was uncharacteristically ruffled. She rattled off her questions as soon as her candidate opened the door.

“Why didn’t you show yesterday? We’ve been calling you all morning, where have you been? What have you been doing?”

“Growing…” said Madison. Her voice was low, and strained, like the stitches on her shirt. Ovals of pale, soft fat peeked out between each button, from the bottom of her shirt up to her breasts, where she’d had to leave them undone. Her boobs overflowed from the tops of their cups. Her campaign manager was visibly shocked.  

“Do you wanna hear the latest poll figures?” said Scott, cheerfully trying to break the silence. He forced a smile when Madison looked his way.

“Scott, none of that bullshit matters now,” she huffed. “Do you have idea how much I weigh?”

“Err…it’s not a big deal…”

“Two hundred pounds. It is a big deal.” Madison muttered as she slumped on her chair. She had been unable to cram herself back into her girdle than morning – thus every pound showed. The chair groaned in complaint as she twisted around to face Isabella.

“You remember how I made a sugary drinks tax a cornerstone of my health policy?”

Isabella numbly nodded. Madison let her fingers trace the creases in the thick rolls of fat that formed around her middle as she sat. Her shirt buttons stretched.

“How am I supposed to lecture people on the obesity crisis, looking like this?” Her voice drew quieter as she gripped her pot belly tightly. “I am the obesity crisis. Either we find a way to work around this, or I can’t keep campaigning.”

There was more silence. Isabella broke it this time.

“Maybe it doesn’t feel good, but it’s a little late to change your platform now. You’ve gotta keep fighting. You’ve got to remember being a mayor is not about what you look like. It’s about what you do, and what you say.”

“But I’ll never get to be the mayor looking like this. They’ll say I’m lazy, that I can’t control myself.” Madison insisted. “I’ve got to lose this weight.”

 She got out of her chair and left the office in a hurry, leaving her team to the rest of the work. She drove back to her house, pinged off the super tight buttons of her shirt and pants then changed into some stretchy leggings and a vest. She found her long forgotten exercise bike in a cupboard, brushed off the dust and cobwebs and set it up in front of her television.

Madison worked out forty minutes on, twenty minutes off for the rest of the day, right up till ten pm. Her belly bunched up and slapped her thighs as they rotated. Sweat poured off her chubbier cheeks. To keep her going she drank only water, and ate just some leftover celery from the fridge and the apples and pears in her fruit bowl. When they ran out, she ate nothing at all.

By ten her legs felt like jelly. She staggered off the bike to her bathroom and showered. The burst of cool water made her calves seize up. She had to roll off the side of her bathtub to get out, and crawl to her bedroom. She was too weak to even step on a scale. She collapsed into her bed and nursed out the cramping knots in her muscles.

 Madison’s belly woke her up the next morning with an unsatisfied rumble. She ignored it, changed from her pyjamas into a fresh pair of leggings and a vest and got back on her bike. She found herself tiring more easily, and put it down to her lack of food and her efforts yesterday. She’d noticed her belly had stopped slapping her thighs – by the afternoon it was rubbing along the top, itching her as it sweated even as she leaned back to give her chubby rolls more fresh air.

After working herself to the point of crumbling again, Madison eased herself off the bike. She took another long shower, dried herself, then found her scale. She dropped her towel and stepped on.

“Five pounds,” she told herself. “At least five pounds…come on…”

She tensed up as the reading flickered. She tensed up even more at the figure it came up with.

She was two hundred and thirty pounds.

“That’s impossible!” she screamed. She kicked her scale back into the cabinet. “I’ve done nothing but work out, all day! How am I bigger?!”       

 Her legs were giving way, and her stomach was roaring for food. Teeth bared, she gave in to what her body was craving. She cleared out her cupboard, fridge and freezer of what she wanted, piled her living room table with cookies, potato chips, chocolate and ice cream, then dropped on the couch, turned on the TV, and stuffed herself relentlessly. When her snacks were gone she pulled her clothes back on and ordered pizza. She ate and ate, till her stomach was as painfully tight as her leggings.

“What the hell?” she shouted through a mouthful of food, when they started to split down the outside of her thigh. She swore viciously and ripped the tear open herself, dumbstruck by the vast expanse of doughy fat, wobbling freely.

 She found herself a giant Hershey bar donated a while ago by a kindly supporter, and ate late into the night.

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Madison did not know what time it was when she heard the knock on her door. She prised herself off the couch.

“I’ll be a minute!” she slurred, her mouth still sticky with chocolate. She pawed through her wardrobe to find a suitable replacement for the ruined leggings. Digging deep, she finally found a sweatsuit which she hurriedly wrestled on.

 She opened the door and greeted her team. They smiled, trying their best not to look shocked at her appearance. It was plainly clear that she’d piled more weight on.

“Madison, we’ve been talking.” said Isabella. “You need to see a specialist.”

Madison sighed.

“I can’t let anyone see me like this. People talk. If it gets around that I’m two-hundred and thirty pounds they’ll stop asking me about social care and taxes. They’ll start asking if I’m fit enough to run for office.”

 She noticed Scott had flinched when she told him her weight. He tried to offer her a comforting smile, though she could feel him nervously running the numbers through his head. A hundred and one pounds since Sunday?  Twenty-five pounds, four ounces of fat put on every single day? Yeah, that was it. Madison listlessly thought of tomorrow, expanding even more to tip the scales at two-fifty plus. When would it end?

“Listen to me. It’s not over.” said Isabella. “There have been mayors of Boston who weigh more than you do.”

“Yeah, six-foot tall men.” Madison retorted. “Not women who are five foot four, on a good day.”  

“I’m just saying it’s not impossible.”

Madison scoffed.

“I will never lose all this weight before the election.”

“I mean to win.”

“And you can still see a doctor,” added Scott. “They might know what’s wrong with you.”

“But what if they don’t? Or what if they refuse to treat me because they’re backing Moira?”

“They would never do that.” Isabella insisted. “Doctors have to swear a Hippocratic oath.”

“Yeah. It sounds sorta crude, but they didn’t have political correctness in ancient Greece. They’re legally obliged to treat seriously overweight people.” said Scott.

“That’s err… that’s not quite what it means.” said Lillian. She coughed to stifle an infectious chuckle. “It’s Hippo as in…Hippocrates.”

“Seriously…screw you guys.” Madison huffed.

“Sorry” said Scott.

“Yeah, we’re sorry.” said Lillian. “But the point still stands. You need to go to a doctor.”

“But I can’t go out like this.” said Madison. She gestured to where the seams on her sweatsuit were whining the most – around her engorged boobs, across her upper back. “I’ve outgrown all my clothes. I’ve got a set of pyjamas, literally that’s it. And these sweats aren’t even mine – they’re my dad’s from when he was training to run the Boston Marathon.”

 She remembered they were the first pair he’d bought in his drive to lose a few pounds chasing a long held dream, five years ago. Who knew that five years on she’d be making them stretch? They couldn’t even cover all of her.

“Do you think maybe we could call someone here?” Isabella suggested.

“That’d be a good idea.” said Scott, taking out his phone. “There’s got to be someone who travels around somewhere.” He hit search on Google. “Here we go – you can sit back and relax, I’ll give him a call.”

 Madison groaned and returned to the couch. Her team followed her inside. Lillian switched on the TV while Isabella commandeered her home coffee maker. Madison mumbled her thanks as she was passed a latte, while the screen settled on a repeat episode of Frasier.

Don’t I get a say anymore? Madison thought to herself. She took a big gulp of coffee and rubbed her stomach.  She felt sucky. She felt fat. She felt like she was losing control of everything.

 What she didn’t feel like was seeing anybody. Madison just wanted to be left alone like last night, with a bottle of wine, a chick-flick and a half gallon tub of ice cream. Something to take her mind off her body, and the painful pinching of her clothes.

 Just half an hour later, a white van appeared on the driveway. The faded lettering of a different owner – ‘Shrubbery Logistical Solutions’ – could still be seen beneath the hard-stamped letters of a new name – ‘Pihl’s Walk-in Doctor’s and Drugstore’.

“You’re sure that’s the doctor?”  Madison asked her team.

“Yes, he said he drives a mobile clinic,” said Scott. “You just walk right in”

“Umm, okay.” said Madison.

 She struggled up from the couch, left her house through the front door and waddled into the back of the van. Dr Pihl was sat in an office chair, watching a collection of screens while sipping on a Mountain Dew.

“Hello!” he chimed cheerily, whirling around on his seat. He stopped in front of Madison, pausing to take her in. “You’re Miss Greene, right?”

“Yeah. Call me Madison, it’s fine. I need you to just do something about this, ok?”

 She jiggled her belly. Without his prompting she shifted to a tall black chair on a pole driven in to the floor. She lifted her ass and dropped it, feeling the seat sag beneath her. Something beeped, and a number flashed up behind Pihl. Madison realised the chair was connected to a scale.

“Two hundred and fifty one pounds,” said Pihl, scanning one of the monitors. He saw Madison flinch.

“Err…was that news to you?” he asked her.  

“I can’t stop getting fatter,” said Madison. “I was under one hundred and thirty a week ago. I’ve doubled my weight out of nowhere. I wondered if it was my water retention, or bloating, or some metabolism upset – it’s not food. I couldn’t possibly have eaten enough food for this to happen.”  

“No…if you say so, I guess that’s completely impossible.”

 She took a deep breath. The air in Pihl’s van was musty and thick. It had a taste of something she knew, but couldn’t quite place.

“We’ll start simple. If you could take your sweater off, I need to measure you.”

 Madison reluctantly obliged. Pihl produced a tape from his shirt pocket and started with the widest parts of her first. The sounds of her new measurements – 53-41-47 – were like punches to her gut. But the measuring didn’t stop there. Madison squirmed as she felt the tape wind around other thicker places. She got off her chair and spread her wobbly thighs to let it pass below the bulge of her belly, looking away as Pihl tapped a number into his computer system. It came around her softer arms, her rounder wrists, even her fingers.

 Madison balked. She hadn’t noticed her lithe pretty fingers were gone, and a bunch of fat digits were in their place. She spread them to see the shrinking gaps, closed them, clenched them tight to try and squeeze them thin again. These weren’t hands for holding political papers. They were hands that were missing a slice of pizza. They were soft and chubby.

It ended with a set of callipers seizing her stomach; two metal teeth sunk into a great glob of her rising tummy fat. Pihl was keen to stress that was what it was. Pure fat. Not water weight. He gave her blubbery paunch a squeeze through the metal holds.

“Funny how it’s still so tense.”

 Madison grunted. She put it down to the rate she’d packed it on. Her skin simply hadn’t had time to stretch and accommodate the added pounds. The sheer volume of her squish gave it a deeper firmness.

“So, what’s wrong? Any ideas?” she trialled him.

“I’ve got a couple theories. One’s a little off the wall, but it might load that magic bullet you’re looking for. Would you mind eating this?”

The doctor produced a sprig of celery from his pocket. Madison gave him a strange look. It wasn’t too dry. She chewed and swallowed.

“Cool. Now try this.”

He took a chocolate brownie out of his desk drawer. Madison might have declined had her gaze not already belied her. She was hungry after all. With a smidge of reluctance, she accepted the chocolatey treat and took a bite.

Pihl eyed her softly heaving belly button as he listened to her chest.

“Hmmm…this doesn’t look related to what you’re eating. Or eating in general – probably rules out Hav Fives, and it’s a little slow for Prestige. Then again, probably too fast for Axell-Crowne Syndrome…”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.” said Pihl. “Just hyperventilating about this…or hypothesising, one of the two - I don’t know which is which. Anyway, we’re not done. If you wanna slip your sweater back on, we’re gonna get you ready to start shedding the pounds right now…”

“Great.” said Madison, with a smile.

“…the old-fashioned way.”

 Pihl pulled back a sheet to show a treadmill. Madison’s smile vanished.

“This is to see how your body handles stress. Take all the time you want to work yourself out. We’ll re-weigh you – naturally you should be a tiny bit lighter – then compare that to the calories the machine says you’ve burned for our result.”

 Madison grit her teeth and waddled to the treadmill. Pihl raised an eyebrow when she input the time she desired, then rolled in his seat back to his monitors. He fished out a DVD

 For an hour and a half, the mayoral candidate strained and sweated.  She switched her focus after the first kilometre, when her chafing forced her to crank down the speed. Madison’s soft shell of blubber fought her from every angle. But Madison fought back. She was determined that she would not face a repeat of yesterday. She puffed and plodded, and ramped up the speed for the final kilometre. Aching from her feet to her head, her knee gave way as the ninetieth minute ended, and the conveyor slid to a halt.

“Can I…Can I take ten before I have to do something else? Please?” Madison wheezed from the floor.

“Yeah.”

“Hnghh…ughh….thanks.”

 Madison coughed as she got to her knees. She reached a hand for the weigh-scale chair, heaved herself on and let her tired legs dangle. She sunk down again, and she caught sight of Pihl gawping at the reader.

 It read two hundred and fifty three pounds. Madison shut her eyes, wincing in defeat, shame, anger and draining fatigue. She raised her arms with a strained effort, and slapped her sweaty, slightly wider sides.

“Now…now do you see?” she sighed.

“You’ve gained two pounds in two hours,” said Pihl. “Wow. I know maybe the brownie wasn’t the most appropriate thing, but I swear this doesn’t normally happen. Not after that display. You really went for it.”

“It’s been…It’s been happening nearly a whole week.” gasped Madison. “Please, just tell me what I have to do.”

“Beats me,” Pihl shrugged. “There’s nothing I can prescribe. Clearly whatever’s gotten into you hasn’t finished with you yet. Best I can recommend is a muumuu and a heavy-duty chaise-longue. You’re gonna have to sit this one out.”

Madison opened her mouth, but no words would come.

 “Hey – if it helps, you’re not the first person I’ve seen this happen to,” said Pihl. Maybe not this exact experience, but she was a skinny girl who got pretty fat too. Her name was Beth and everything turned out fine eventually.”

“You mean she got skinny again?”

“Well, no...not quite. She went from the shape of her life to nearly four hundred pounds and lost her job along the way…”

What?”

“Hey, hey, it wasn’t a total disaster. Her boyfriend stuck with her, they got married last year and she even found a job at his place – admittedly she did have to leave because she couldn’t fit in her cube any more, but I later heard a baking company took her on in their IT department. Bubbunut Bakery. She’s really happy there now.”

“Look,” said Madison, clenching her fists. “Wonderful as that all might seem to you, I’m not prepared to just sit out my life while I turn into a tub of lard. I’m running for political office for crying out loud! I am not giving up on that to get some office job shipping fricking sugared doughnuts!”

She pulled at the thickest of her jelly rolls, then buried her face in her hands as she thought of her future.

“Did…did she really get that fat? Four hundred pounds?”

“Yeah.”

“And you…you couldn’t do anything about it?”

“Pfft, I doubt Beth’s beau would’ve given me the chance. It was half my fault anyway.”

Madison parted her fingers. She gave him an evil look.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Nah. He came in looking for a pick-me-up for his bride-to-be, I gave him what I thought he wanted, but when she tripled in size we kinda figured out something got lost in translation…”

“That’s it. I’m leaving.”

Madison hopped off the chair with a thud.

“No, no, wait…wait, wait.  I can still help you find a cause. Have you upset a gypsy grandmother recently?”

“Seriously? You’ve got to be the worst doctor ever.”

Pihl shrugged.

“Hey, I’m a pharmacist. Dr Pihl’s just my trail name. I don’t even have a doctorate…heck I never even studied medicine...”

 Madison rolled her eyes. She bid Pihl a terse goodbye then waddled back out the van to her front door. Scott opened it and shifted to let her through.

“Next time you book an appointment for me, please do some digging.” she muttered to him as she squeezed past. “At least enough to prove they’re not a pothead dropout who thinks curses are real.”

“Oh.” said Scott. “Sorry…”

 “If he wants money give him whatever. Just get him out of here. I’m going for a shower…oh no…” Madison mumbled weakly. She lifted an arm and watched a rip widen over her uppermost roll. Hurriedly she peeled the shirt off herself as she shimmied to her bathroom, before the gap could grow any bigger. She kicked her way out of her sweatpants; the underside of her hefty thighs swung as she stepped in the bathtub.

 Madison gave herself a cold shower on the harshest nozzle setting. She seethed and shivered as the freezing water penetrated the warmth of her fat. Needing to reach beneath her awkward girth, she took the showerhead off the hook. Her stretched skin reddened as she sprayed the sweat off her bulges, wishing she could wish both away. She stumbled out the bathtub, found her glasses and wrapped herself in a deluxe white towel.

Swaddled up, she returned to the couch. Physically, mentally, she felt exhausted.

“Aren’t you…aren’t you gonna change?” asked Lillian.

“Why bother?” Madison screamed. “My glasses are the only thing that fucking fit me!”

 Madison whipped her glasses off and threw them down to the floor, quaking in pointless, furious anger. Her body quivered with her under the towel – layers of soft flab bounced around her waist, jiggled under her chin, making her seethe even more. She couldn’t even be angry without looking fat.

 “Careful with those, they’re bifocals,” said Isabella. “Not easy to order.”

“Bifocals,” Lillian echoed. “Bifocals…why is that ringing a bell?”

Madison wasn’t listening. Who cares? she thought mournfully. What’s the point in even trying anymore?

 With nothing to hold it back her hair tumbled into her face, and she left it there, letting it mask the tears that had crept into the corners of her eyes. She didn’t want her team to hear her start crying, so she reached over for the cheesecake on the table and crammed a comforting handful into her mouth.

Mmmpphh….doesn’t that feel better?

She reached for some more and inhaled another mouthful. Her towel rolled off her huge breasts, which she lamely tried to cover up.  

Mmmm…delicious…

 Madison licked the bunched crumbs and sticky icing off her fingers. Two big globs of yellow buttercream dropped out of her hands and plopped on her belly. She stuck a finger in one to lick it up, smearing the rest over her jelly roll. She turned back to the cake. She didn’t care how she looked any more. She was a fat mess, the cake was instant satisfaction. She chewed and swallowed, and grabbed another handful.

“Oh yeah, I remember,” said Lillian. “Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals.” 

Madison paused mid-bite.

When was the last time I heard that name?

“And lightning rods – little useless fact…” said Scott.

“And that hourglass we mishandled last Sunday.” said Isabella.

Oh yeah…the hourglass. Another reason not to leave the house…

 She crammed the rest of the delicious slice into her mouth. Her cheeks bulged. Her eyes bulged. Her stomach bulged more.

“The hourglass…” Lillian echoed again. She ran a hand through her hair. Scott meanwhile, chewed on his little finger, as he did whenever he was in deep thought.

“Madison,” he asked. “When did you last weigh yourself?”

Madison rolled her eyes.

“I don’t know, like, last night?”

“What time?”

Madison pondered. She remembered it was after she got off the bike, but before her massive binge and the three glasses of wine she’d drunk miserably before she went to bed early. She remembered getting off the scale, turning on the TV and crashing down on the couch with her mountain of food to watch The Notebook. When was that on?   

“Err…I think it was about seven or eight o’clock. Maybe eight o’clock…yeah that was it.”

 Scott took out his pocket notepad and slipped a pen out from the little patch of material under his tie. He wrote down some numbers, then glanced at his watch.

“Okay Madison, this is going to sound crazy, but I think that quack doctor was nearly on to something. We need to weigh you.”

Madison cocked her head.

“Again? Seriously?”

“Yes. Please, this is important for all of us – I really think we’re on to something here.”

Sighing, she relented. Madison licked the cake off her fingers then struggled to lift herself off the couch. Her rising weight had thrown her fitness level into a tailspin, but even simple acts like getting up and going to the bathroom now required a lot more effort.

Her embarrassment was niggling at her more. She felt like a farm animal, fattened up, prepped to be judged for the state fair like the one she’d been to a week ago.

Thank goodness that wasn’t this week… she said to herself. The humiliation of the photographs would finish her for sure. Shaking hands with that pig farmer, meeting his blue-ribbon winning produce – a caption by the photo in the Boston Herald, ‘Madison Greene takes selfie with Salty

’.  

She put it out of her mind. She opened the bathroom door and walked in. She turned to close it and found both Scott and Lillian had followed her down the corridor.

“Guys, really…would you mind if I had some privacy?”

“Oh, err…sorry. Not at all.” said Scott.

She shut the door.

“But I do need to know the number.” he said from the other side.

 Madison groaned. She dropped the towel, then opened the cabinet under the bathroom sink and found her slightly dented digital scale. Her belly creased into rolls as she laid it on the floor. She pressed the switch and stood on top.

The machine took time to come up with an answer.

“It’s saying two hundred and fifty-four.” said Madison.

“You’re sure, right?” asked Scott.

“Yes…ughh. One hundred and fourteen kilos, whatever…” Madison mumbled. She heard Scott scribble some more from outside the bathroom. She fumbled for the towel and wrapped it tight around her chubby shoulders. Then she opened the door.

Scott stood there, his hands raised in a eureka moment, with a pen in one and his paper in the other. His face was pale.

“Madison,” he said, calmly and clearly. “Ever since you knocked that hourglass into the harbour, you’ve been gaining precisely one pound, every hour.”

“What?” she almost shouted.

“It literally all adds up. You were at that ceremony at three on Sunday afternoon and now it’s nearly eight on Friday evening. That’s one hundred and twenty-three hours. And working off what Lillian told me about you being roughly one hundred and twenty-nine pounds when all this started, that mean you’ve gained eight stone eleven since. One hundred and twenty-three pounds.”

“How is that even possible?” said Madison, putting her hands on her hips. “There’s no way I could gain that much. I didn’t even eat anything on Wednesday.”

“It’s nothing natural.” said Lillian. “It’s the Franklin Hourglass. That’s what’s doing this to you.”

“What?” Madison said again.

“You knocked it off the harbour at three on Sunday, and you’ve been gaining ever since. There has to be some sort of curse on it. You were the last person to touch it, so the curse has settled on you.” she explained.

“What kind of curse is this?” said Madison, gripping her belly. “Do I just get fatter and fatter until I can’t move? What gripe has Franklin got against me?”

“Well, you did drop the last thing he ever invented into the ocean – he’s bound to be a little upset…”

“Great. So we believe in ghosts now? Founding father ghosts with stupid fattening super powers, taking vengeance on future mayoral candidates?”

“That’s not the full picture. I mean, I’m pretty sure Franklin wasn’t a vengeful sort of guy…”  

 “But he was a still a scientist, a methodical man,” Scott said. “There has to be some sort of critical thinking behind this.”

Isabella and Madison looked baffled, but Lillian nodded in agreement.

“Yeah. If the curse was to just make you really huge, it would have happened the moment the hourglass hit the water,” she puzzled out. “But it’s not. It’s being drawn out in a slow controlled way, just like –“ 

“– just like the sand in the hourglass.” Isabella realised.

“Of course!” said Scott. “It’s a nautical hourglass. Even though it’s in the ocean, it probably isn’t broke. It’ll still be going as we speak.”

Madison pictured the shining sand, glowing at the bottom of the sea.

“Then we need to find a way to flip it over.” said Isabella. “Reverse all…this…”

 She left her words hanging as she gestured over Madison’s rounder figure.

“I know a way,” said Scott. “One of my buddies from Yale formed a start-up specialising in underwater drones. If I can get a hold of his prototype, we should be able to use it to find the hourglass.”

“Call him.” said Isabella.  

“It’s a her, actually…” said Scott. “And there’s a slight difficulty – I don’t…have her number…”

“You were buddies but you don’t have her number?”

“We communicated entirely through our work email. I couldn’t ask her for her number, it’d be like…you know…asking her for her number…”

Isabella groaned.

“Fine. Then email her.”

“Sure, I’ll get on it.”

Scott whipped out his phone and brought up Microsoft Outlook.

“But it’s Friday night,” said Madison. “You won’t get an answer on Friday night, she’ll be at home. And people don’t normally check their job email on weekends. It could be Monday lunch before she gets the message. I could be like, three hundred pounds by then if this crappy curse bullshit is real.” 

“Three hundred and eighteen.”

“Yeah,” Madison slapped her belly and looked Scott dead in the eyes. “Thanks.”

“Madison, it’s not his fault,” said Isabella. “We’re doing all we can.”

“I know, I know – it’s just…no matter what happens, I’m going to get fatter. There’s nothing I can do but I really need it to stop…”

 Her belly had slipped out and was jiggling while she tried to express herself. Madison pouted and pulled her towel tighter.

“I’m always in control of everything – I just feel so helpless and…fat. I have never been so fat…

“Look for the silver lining,” Lillian said. “You know you’ll be fatter tomorrow, there’s nothing you can do about that. There’s no point stressing about it, right?”

“Right.”

“So just relax. I’ll stay with you tomorrow, Scott and Isabella will take care of everything.”   

 

 Gabriella, the name that Lillian finally coerced out of Scott after a cab ride’s worth of cooing and prodding, turned out to be pretty reliable after all. She offered Scott her pet project no questions asked after she checked her emails the very next morning. She had it shipped on a same-day delivery from her company’s office in Reston VA, and it arrived at the campaign office primed and ready to go at quarter to one.

 It was three when Scott made it to the little house in Chestnut Hill. He’d picked up Isabella en route in his battered Volvo and parked alongside Madison’s pristine looking blue Chrysler 200. No sooner had they opened the doors when Lillian arrived on her Vespa.  

“Thought you guys would have made it here sooner.” she said, prising off her helmet and shaking out her hair. “You did say it arrived at lunch, right?”

“Sure did, but we had to put in the harbour first.” said Scott.

“Oh, you mean it’s there already?”

“Yeah. This remote has a range of fifty kilometres.”

He produced the white controller from his pocket and showed it to her.

“That’s good. I thought we were all going to drive there – she kinda said she doesn’t want to go outside today...”

 “You’ve been here all day?” said Isabella.

“Yeah – I came to check on her this morning. Just thought I’d go out for a quick lunch run.”

Lillian opened up her backpack.

“Lunch?” said Isabella. She eyed the brown paper bag she took out, with the unmistakeable golden arches. “It’s two minutes past three.”

“Yeah, I know…we’ve been having lunch for a while…”

Isabella moved to knock on the door but found it was already open. The house was filled with the scent of chips and chocolate. She stiffened when she saw her candidate, lying down on the couch in the living room.

 Madison looked a completely different person from the woman they had seen the previous night, and not just from the twenty extra pounds that had settled on her hips, thighs and her belly. That belly was fully bared from her dad’s ripped sweater – which had ridden up to run under her heaving boobs – and now hung drum-tight and stuffed between her thighs as she sprawled over her couch, a little higher than she was used to thanks to her swelling bottom. Her fingers, salty and stained by cheesy potato chips, clawed in the direction of Lillian’s bag of McDonald’s, her eyes unflinching from the TV.  Isabella coughed, and Madison turned her head.

“Oh, hi guys. Heh, didn’t see you there.”

She tried to sit up.

“Oooff…”

Her flabby middle restricted her movement, so she rolled to the side. As she swung her fat thighs she dislodged the mountain of chocolate wrappers that had piled up beside her on the couch.

“Looks like you’re feeling cheerier now,” Isabella noted, not without a hint of disapproval. Madison flashed her huge muffin top as she struggled to her feet.  

“Yeah, well I knew there was no way I’d be getting thinner today…so I thought...what the hell.” She patted her soft, bulging belly. “Might as well eat the bullet before I get my body back. Live large and all.”

“It’s bite the bullet,” said Lillian. “And we’re working with a wild theory here. We can’t give you any guarantees.”

“But it all makes sense, I’m sure it’ll work.” She looked at Lillian. “Did you bring my McDonalds?”

“Yeah, here you go.” said Lillian, putting the bag in Madison’s outstretched hand. She sat back down on the couch again and soon was filling her mouth with beef and cheese, sauces and salty fries.

Scott tinkered with a little blue box by her television. He threaded some wires around to the ports on the sides.

“If I plug this optical receiver into your TV, we get a live feed,” he told them. He produced a remote from his pocket and extended the antenna. “We’ll be able to guide the drone from your living room.”

“Awesome.” said Madison, munching up her burger.

The television beamed back a picture of the Boston skyline. The camera twisted to the sun, then around to the waves of the ocean. Then under, to the blackness of the depths.

“Looks like we’re live.” said Isabella.

“It’s just like the movies.” said Madison. “Like that scene at the end of Titanic.”

Lillian sat next to her, finding she had to cosy up close to make more room for Isabella. Scott found a seat on a stool with his feet, his eyes firmly fixed on the picture onscreen. He made the drone submerge and guided it through the water. It skirted around the barnacled hull of the USS Constitution, scanning the seabed. It was equipped with two powerful searchlights, giving the team a crystal clear view of every rock and pebble.

It took ten minutes of combing the coastline before Madison saw a faint glow in the dark.

“Go back, go back. Did you see that?”

“What?”

“That light…”

Scott spun the drone around, over to a miniature forest of thick seaweed. He steered it through slowly, careful not to let the propellers get tangled up.

The picture grew clearer, and they soon saw an object that didn’t belong. Scott shined the torches over the top, and saw a reflection.

“Got it” said Scott. It was the hourglass, half buried in silt, but otherwise intact. The team cheered.

“It’s almost over.” said Isabella.

“Thank god…” Madison groaned, lifting her stomach. “I feel so heavy.”

Scott pushed a button for the drone to hover. The seaweed was blown back by the propellers as he increased the intensity.

 I still don’t get why…fat…” Madison squeezed her love handles. “Why couldn’t it make me taller? That would help. Or cuter?”

Lillian smiled.

“Then it wouldn’t be a curse, silly.”

Madison pondered as her hands gravitated to her belly button.

“Older, maybe?”

 She thought of Moira Dixon. One thing Moira held over her was the years of experience in she had in the political sphere, a point put out every morning by the local political news channels by the polling figures, her aging battle-worn visage would inevitably appear onscreen with Madison’s youthful complexion.

“Hourglasses don’t need a curse to make you older.” said Isabella. “That’s how hourglasses work, if you think about it.”

“Oh yeah.”

The drone straightened up over its quarry.   

“It won’t be strong enough to raise it to the surface, but I think I can still flip it over,” said Scott. “If the battery lasts, that is.”

 Past the wavy strands of seaweed the hourglass glimmered in the murky depths. She watched the little grains of sand gradually slide from the top half to the bottom and thought of her waistline, slowly filling up her pants. She could feel it now – the tightness of her skin as fat pumped into her hips and thighs, the soft droopiness of her arms and her belly as it found places to rest in her growing bulges and curves. 

“Do it,” Madison urged Scott. “Turn it around.”

 The drone extended its appendage, and a little rubbery mitt gripped the edge of the hourglass. Scott nudged another button. The drone began to rise gently. A swirl of mud shrouded the screen as the hourglass lifted from its silty perch. He spun the drone around one hundred and eighty degrees. The sand began to shift. Madison closed her eyes.

“Nearly…nearly”

“You’re losing battery.” said Isabella.

“I know. I know. Just a little shove…there…”

Scott licked his lips as he brought the drone down again, with the hourglass inverted. He tapped in the prompt for it to let go of the hourglass. It did so, and the artefact remained steady on the seabed.

“Done.”

Everyone looked at Madison. She opened her eyes and looked down her body.

No, still fat... 

The weight had very much not been lifted off her shoulders.

“Could you give it a shake?” she asked, watching the sand edge grain by measly grain from bottom to top again. Scott fiddled with the controls. The machine wobbled the hourglass with its arm. The sand moved no less slowly.

“Perhaps you’ll lose the weight at the same rate you put it on?” Isabella suggested.

 It made sense. Madison quickly did the maths.

“Even if I start losing weight at a pound every hour, I might not be slim enough in time for the debate.” she said in a low voice.

“It’s no biggie,” said Lillian, holding her hand. “If you can drop fifty pounds, maybe, I can fix you up in some black stripes. Just keep talking, try not to bend over and you won’t have mention a thing, I promise. Give me a call any time tomorrow. You’ll be ok tonight, right?”

“Sure. Thanks for stopping over.”

“See you at the debate, sweetie.” said Isabella.

 Scott unhooked his box and said goodbye, then the three of them left. Madison threw her packaging in the bin and sighed. It had been her first McDonalds in about four years, and her last for a long time to come. It was time to go back to salads and diet sodas – maybe even the gym, heaven forbid, to speed her weight loss up.

She had a discomforting thought. What if the hourglass kept slimming her, past her old weight, past what she’d be comfortable with? What if it left her with just skin and bones?

Duhh. Just get Scott to turn it over again. Put the weight back on. Then flip it before you get too fat.

 Suddenly, Madison realised something. If they were right about the whole thing, she had absolute control over her weight. She could get to one hundred and twenty pounds and stay there, nearabounce. It just meant they’d have to keep flipping that hourglass.

I could eat whatever, whenever I wanted to, she realised. I could always stay skinny.

 She could barely contain her glee as she changed into her pyjamas. The pants were digging into her sides and she was spilling over the top, but she didn’t mind. She wouldn’t be fat forever. Soon, she’d be the master of herself again.

Soon, she’d have everything her way.

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 Madison woke in the morning to a faceful of her own meaty boobs, like nearly every other morning that week. She pushed back her hair and put her head back on the pillow, then sat up, slowly pressing against the headboard. She felt weak and sluggish. She leant over and checked her phone to see it was 11:00 am. She hadn’t slept in so late since college.

 She pulled her bedsheets off herself and swung her hefty thighs off the edge of the bed. She pushed her hair back again and felt her stomach flop into her lap.

“Ufff…glad I won’t have to put up with you for much longer…” Madison said with a weak smile. She lifted up her belly and let it drop, scowling as she watched it ripple. She put her feet on the ground and felt her ass wobble as she stood up. She’d expected she’d remain fat. She’d put on so much weight after all. But she could still count on having shed twenty pounds since Scott had rotated the hourglass.

Madison drowsily waddled into the bathroom and pulled off her pyjamas. She wrested her pants off her fat hips and noticed with some bemusement that she didn’t appear to be wearing panties. Something tickled the back of her knee. She reached into her pyjama pant leg and found the panties, torn along the waistband. Apparently, her body had ripped them off in her sleep.

“And I was just starting to get slim again…” she mumbled sadly. Wondering just how much slimmer she was now, she bent under the bathroom sink to get the scale. She laid it flat, pressed the on switch with a chubby toe and stepped on.

“Huh?” Madison mumbled, when she saw it read two-hundred and ninety-four pounds. She rubbed her eyes, but the number was still there. She stepped off the scale, then got on back again. Two-hundred ninety-four.

Clearly she was still dreaming. She got off then hopped on again. The numbers flickered between two ninety-four and two ninety-five. Her belly jiggled as she jostled off the scale, then jumped back on.

There was a sharp splitting noise, and the screen blinked off.

Madison glared down at the crack she’d made in the plastic shell. The thought that she’d broken her scale barely registered – she was still in shock at the last number it had shown her.

“But that…that mean’s I’ve gained weight…” she said in horror to her reflection. She noticed her cheeks were just a hint more chubby, her arms a little thicker, her waist a little more bulging. She tentatively put one hand on her belly, another on her wide bottom, and pushed on them. Soft fat blossomed between her pudgy fingers. She was at her widest yet. 

And still she felt the tug of her stretched skin on her fleshy sides where her love handles were quivering…growing…

She had no time to waste. Still barely clothed, she ran from the bathroom to get her phone. Her breasts jiggled as she threw one chafing leg in front of another, waddling as fast as she could. Springs squealed as she launched herself onto the bed, stretched for her phone and punched in Isabella’s number.

“Isabella…” she gasped. The little run had left her desperate for breath. “It’s me…”

“Madison, you ok?” said her campaign manager.

“I’m…fine…just give me a moment…”

She paused to wipe off the beads of sweat that had formed on her brow. Her breasts pinched against her bra as she breathed deeply, her lungs aching. All this, just from running to the bedroom? 

She needed more air. Madison rolled onto her back and fumbled with the clasp on her bra.

“Hnnghh…nnnghh…”

With a deep breath in she unhooked it. The cups practically flew away. Her huge jugs rolled off a little to her sides. She cradled them with her forearm and gave her right one a stressful squeeze.

“Did you lose any weight last night?” Isabella asked, her voice tinted with concern.

“No…I put more on…I’m fatter than ever…” Madison huffed. Her tummy began to grumble for its breakfast. She grimaced at the noise it made.

“…Yeah, she’s still gaining weight. Right, ok.” Madison heard her mumble. “Ok, sorry. I’m just going to hand this over to Scott. He really wants to talk to you. He says he knows what’s going on.”

She heard her pass the receiver over.

“Madison,” she heard his squeaky voice say. “This is going to sound crazy, but I think I’ve figured it out. We were wrong about the hourglass.”

“No shit.” she muttered. Her belly sloshed as she rolled to one side, letting her warm sweat slip off it onto the bed.

“No, I mean we’ve been looking at it the wrong way. It’s the key to everything.”

“It can’t be,” Madison said. “I’m fatter than when we turned it over yesterday. That hourglass was a dud.”

“It’s not,” Scott insisted. “Lillian and I were just talking about it now. It’s hard to explain, it’ll be easier if we help you figure it out for yourself. Ok? Which American politician said that time is money?” 

“Why’s that important?” said Madison, baffled.

“It is,” said Scott. “Trust me, it is.”

“Ugh…ok. Benjamin Franklin.”  

“And whom did that hourglass first belong to?”

“Same again.” she said.

“Great. It’s his property. And because you’re the one who lost it, you’re the one who’s having to pay for it. Pound by pound. The unit of currency and the unit of weight – the curse is meshing them together. It was never about the sand inside, it was about the whole thing. We were missing the bigger picture.”

“I still don’t see it.” said Madison. “It’s stupid. They’re just a couple of words spelt the same way.”

“But words have power.” Scott said. “Think about it, they’re all that curses are – just a string of words. And you’ve gotta remember Franklin was an author, a printer, a librarian, a publisher and one heck of a diplomat. He had a way with words.”

“Ughh…this is just weird.”

“I know, but Lillian agrees with me – she told me nearly all of this stuff. I swear we’ve on the money here.”

“Yeah, about the money…” said Madison. “Something doesn’t make sense. This is America. This is Boston. We spend dollars. We don’t use pounds as money.”

“But in Franklin’s day, they did.” Scott said slowly. “The currency of colonial Boston was the Massachusetts Pound. And I’m willing to bet however many Massachusetts Pounds there ever were that right now you’re paying the price, literally, of that precious hourglass you dropped in the harbour.”

Madison shivered. She ran the numbers through her head again.

“What, like, a hundred and sixty-five pounds?”

“Probably more. You’re still gaining weight, right?”

“Yeah,” Madison rolled over and rested a hand on her flabby belly. “But this is ridiculous. An hourglass couldn’t have cost that much in the eighteenth century. Didn’t money go a lot further back then?”

Her belly’s rumble was becoming impossible to ignore. She rolled off the bed again, wrapped herself in a gown and shuffled to the kitchen. She felt her thighs rub, her belly bounce softly onto them, her ass softly push against the fluffy material with every step.

“Is he charging me interest?” she asked, as she briefly stared at her vast frame in the hall mirror.

“He doesn’t have to.” said Scott. “That hourglass was made in 1789, a few years after the revolution. The currency collapsed during the fighting and never recovered – by the end of the war it had completely bombed. I don’t know how it measured up, I only know it got so low they wound up phasing it out in favour of the dollar in 1793.”

Madison’s eyes opened a little wider. It was beginning to make more sense to her now. She found her peanut butter and jelly. She searched in the kitchen’s lower cupboards for bread.  

“So how much was that hourglass worth?” she asked.

“That’s where we hit a snag. We have no idea.”

Madison shivered again.

“I’m not sure if I want to find out.” she said, picking out four thick slices from the packet in the corner.  “I’ve got to get that hourglass back.”

“I’ve returned the drone.” said Scott. “They’re going to rewire it, give it some more juice…”

“No. It has to be me.” said Madison. “I got myself into this mess, it’s time I took back control. I just need you to sort a few things for me.”

“Anything. Go on.”

 Madison relayed the list of things she needed, the list she’d plotted out jokingly in her head when she learned the drone mission had failed to alleviate the steady increase of fat on her figure. Now she knew it was her only chance.  

 She finished making her sandwiches, knowing she’d need lots of energy. She took a bite out of her first and gulped. Then she told him to tell Isabella, call Lillian, and say the three of them were to meet at 3:00pm in Boston Harbour, by the USS Constitution.  

 

On the journey over, Madison swiftly discovered she had a harder time dealing with her newfound weight than other women her size, or even larger. She’d changed so quickly that her body simply wasn’t prepared to carry so much added bulk. Her skinny muscles, fast being sunken deeper and deeper under new layers of jiggling fat, were doing little but ache and throb as she jostled her way off the bus. Her ass, which had taken up two seats much to her chagrin, was embarrassing her some more as it nudged the standing passengers. It brushed the door as she hopped off, and wobbled as she descended the step. It was clear for her to see where the four pounds she had gained since waking up in the morning had gone.  

Madison pulled her trench coat tight over her body and slowly made her way to the harbour. There was still a gap of an inch where the buttons wouldn’t join up – beneath lay pale, bulging belly flesh, uncovered by her washed, but ripped and painfully tight sweats from the day before. She hung her head low, letting her loose hair blow over her face – to boost her covertness she hadn’t re-dyed it, allowing her dark roots and streaks to show.  

Even her campaign team stood alone by the ship didn’t recognise her, until she got their attention.

“Guys, over here!” She pointed off the harbour to a space in the water. “This is where I think I dropped it. Did you bring everything?”

“Sure.” Scott shrugged off a backpack. “Wetsuit, flippers, mask, oxygen tanks – it’s all here.”

“I brought the towels.” said Lillian.

“And I’ve got the waterproof torch – but Madison, seriously. You really don’t look in the right shape for this.” Isabella cautioned.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m the only one who can do this,” Madison repeated herself. “It’s the only way to be sure this curse will be lifted. And I’ve done some diving before.”

She did not tell them it had been competitive diving, on a board over a pool, and way back in her high school days. Her new size had no doubt drastically reduced the number of moves she could make, and for that she was glad it was underwater diving she was about to do now. Pulling her tight suit over the jelly belly that flooded over her once chiselled abs, she knew well that her lack of experience would not be her chief concern.

 Madison took Scott’s bag and found a public restroom to change in. Putting on the wetsuit was a tiresome battle, but they were difficult to put on anyway. She was happy to find that at least it fit her - she’d told Scott to find her the largest size available, and though she was forced to crease up the arms and legs for her short limbs she was pleased to find ample room for her ever more ample chest. She slung the heavy oxygen canisters over her shoulders and fixed up her mask – she didn’t quite know the right way to do it, but she could do anything she put her mind to. Then she slipped on her flippers and waddled out.  

“Everything ready?” asked Isabella.

Madison nodded. She thought it was, at least. She wanted to ask Isabella to check her tanks were all hooked up correctly but she couldn’t talk through the mask. Her campaign manager helped her up to the balustrade, facing backwards so as to keep her dive equipment all in order upon entry to the water. Gingerly, she lowered herself down onto the railing. Her ass settled on the cool metal, sticking out over the water.

She looked to Isabella and remembered what she’d said the last time they were here.

The Boston Twerking Party…where the patriots threw their asses out into the harbour…

Madison smiled to herself. Who knew that six days on she’d be doing the same?

Or that my ass would get so big…

She braced herself, closed her eyes and tumbled into the water. She hit the surface with a massive splash, then sunk down and down. She rolled around, kicked her flippers, and began her descent.

A pang of coldness struck her first. Black water clouded her goggles. She switched on her torch. Her body, as she expected, protested her every move. She started a slow breast stroke but her arms soon grew tired. She switched to a doggy paddle, pressing her boobs together to stop them bobbing in her suit. She felt her legs chafe again as she resumed a slow kick. The tight pull of her suit on dry land was replaced by the push of the depths - the rising pressure was keenly felt by her squishy body.

Madison shifted the funnel of light the torch provided her with around, seeing nothing but bubbles, rocks and clumps of seaweed. She kicked herself deeper, gliding over a trove of beer bottles and a disposable barbecue. She let out a yelp as a striped bass swam past her, and tried not to think about the other bigger fish in the sea.

A glint of light reflected back at her from where she’d swung the torch in surprise. It came from a little seaweed forest – a dirty, deep green, just like the one in the drone video. She grabbed hold of the seaweed strands and used them to pull herself lower, down to the seabed.

Past the waving tendrils the hourglass lay tranquil, softly glowing.

“Gotcha!” she mumbled through her mask.

She stretched out a hand and pulled the hourglass loose from its silt trap. She peeled off the seaweed that had wrapped around the woodwork. She moved to swim away, but just as it had been above the water, the hourglass was awkward and heavy. She was forced to drop the torch to get a better grip on it. Pressing her flippers against the seabed, she kicked herself up, swimming the direction of the sunlight.

 For the first time in days she felt light and lithe again. The pressure eased away as she rose up and up. She lifted the hourglass to her chest and hugged it tight, determined not to let it slip away.

She saw her tube end float in front of her, and realised to her horror that she’d snagged it on the hourglass. Her gasp quickly took the last of her air away. Knowing she couldn’t twist to slot it back into her oxygen tank, she desperately kicked her way up the last twenty feet.  

Madison wondered her team expected her to break the surface like a mermaid – graceful, beautiful, poised slimness returned anew. Instead she broke it like a whale, heaving, splashing, and still just as blubbery as before.

“Hnnghh…” She pushed her oxygen mask off her mouth, flapping and bobbing. “Help!”

 Thinking on her feet, Isabella spotted a life ring along the harbour’s edge. She broke it out of the box and tossed it like a Frisbee. It sailed over Madison’s head, landing a few feet to her left. She clumsily paddled over and eased her body inside.   

Scott and Lillian helped pull the line to bring her back to the pontoon. She held out her arms. It took the four of them to heave her weighty body and the hourglass back out of the water, and the four of them again to squeeze her chubby waist out of the life ring. When it was done Madison shrugged off her oxygen tanks and rolled onto her back, gasping.

 If a genie said they’d make me mayor – no, President of the United States – if I would do that again, I would tell them exactly where to shove their lamp…she thought to herself. That was terrifying.

 Still, she knew it was at least half a success. The hourglass, a little mossy but otherwise unscathed by almost a week underwater, lay by her side. Whether her adventure would be any more of a success wasn’t clear to see. For the moment she knew by the pull of the wetsuit of her shoulders and the droplets of water rolling off her cheeks that she was still very fat. Nothing was certain, but the debate on taxes was still tomorrow. Would this be the body the pundits, the press barons and the undecided voters would see?

Isabella and Lillian got her back to her feet.

“How are you feeling?” her campaign manager asked.

“Fine” Madison answered. “Hungry” she added. The dive had drained her energy, and in her haste to get ready for it she’d skipped the rest of her breakfast after the peanut butter jelly sandwiches. She’d had little more than a mini pack of cookies on the way over to the harbour for lunch.

“I can drive you to McDonalds?” Lillian offered.

“Thanks,” Madison laughed. “But I’m not sure if your Vespa would agree with both of us at the same time.”

 Riding two up, she could only imagine the rear wheel burning a streak along the tarmac, or buckling under the pressure of her weight. Or if not, her huge ass sliding off the seat when they hit the gas. Or Lillian, fighting to steer while being swamped from behind by her bulging fat. Madison gave her soft tummy a rub. It’d be warm and comfortable, but really awkward, and probably dangerous too.

“Maybe I could drive you?” said Scott.

“Actually, I was thinking of heading to that place.”

 She pointed down the sidewalk to The Captain’s Table, a restaurant fronted by a vast blue neon sign proclaiming an all-you-can-eat buffet.

“You could drive me home though. Oooh, maybe Lane Bryant first, for some jeans and a tee – I kinda don’t have any clothes any more…”

“Wait” said Isabella. “We can’t go to a buffet, surely.”

“It’s fine” Madison shrugged. “So long as we don’t talk politics at the table they’re not going to recognise who we are. I’m twice as heavy as I used to be…”

“But it’ll only make you heavier. If the curse is broken, surely now’s the time to start cutting back?”

Madison shrugged again.

“One meal isn’t going to make a difference. Either we’ve broken the curse and I’ll wake up skinny tomorrow, or we still haven’t, and I won’t.”

She no longer cared. She only cared for ribs, steaks, burgers, sausages – hot, salty, succulent delicious food. Anything just to take her mind off the debate.

 

 The next morning, she called Lillian and arrived at her designer’s studio. She kept her notes to hand as her stylist worked around her body with a measuring tape, devising a pretty outfit for the debate. After a long hour they settled on a cut and shape they both liked, and Lillian got to work making it. Within three more hours, Madison’s new clothes were ready.

They met again outside the auditorium, mere moments before the debate was due to begin. Madison clasped her hand tightly as they found their assigned lounge backstage. Her manager and pollster were waiting.

“Did it work?” Isabella asked her. “Did you lose any weight?”

“I don’t know, I kinda broke my scale yesterday.” Madison said with a nervous smile. She looked down past her generous cleavage, over the swell of her stomach to her feet, wrapped in a stunning pair of black heels.   

“But you don’t look any bigger since last time we saw you,” Scott said. Isabella nodded in agreement. “You’re looking great, actually…” he added, bashfully.

“Thanks Scott,” Madison smiled softly. “I wish I could tell you you’re right. But I think I put on weight anyway from the buffet last night and…urpp…maybe breakfast this morning. Excuse me…I really went overboard…ufff...”

 She let out another little burp and dabbed her plump lips with a hankie, being careful not to smudge her lipstick. Beyond that she was wearing no more makeup, feeling it best to let her true face shine through. Her dress strategy had proceeded similarly – at the wardrobe with Lillian, Madison had seen little point in making any effort to cover up her figure’s excesses, deciding that she could only embrace them.

 Thus she wore a strapless boho print dress, with a light blue blazer over the top. Her wavy blonde hair was down by her shoulders rather than in up in a beehive, and her bifocals remained over her eyes so the crowds could at least know it was still her.

“We’re on in one.” said Isabella.

One year? Madison wished. It would probably take her even longer to shift so much weight. But there was nothing she could do about it now. People would whisper, people would gape, she knew, but eventually people would have to accept the new her.

“Time to face the music.” she said to herself. She took a deep breath.

“Good luck.” Isabella whispered.

Madison smiled, passed the curtain and walked the steps up to the stage, with Moira on the other side. The auditiorium was packed out. There was no giant, collective gasp, no bouts of mocking laughter. But there were plenty of wide eyes, not least from the chairperson. He calmly straightened his tie and maintained his air of professionalism as he swiftly started the proceedings for the debate. He asked the candidates to be seated, then explained the rules. Moira, by virtue of her surname being first in the alphabet, would speak first for thirty minutes. Madison would then be invited to speak for forty-five. Moira would then offer her counterpoints and her closing statement in twenty-five minutes, with Madison to close the debate in the remaining ten.

Madison grew hotter. She took another deep breath, closed her eyes, then removed her jacket. This time, she swore she heard whispers. Moira smiled wolfishly at the sight, her thin lips curling up as she watched her opponent wiggle and wobble. She crinkled her notes in her fingers, formulating her plot.

“Ms Dixon, you have forty-five minutes, please begin.” the chair said.

Moira turned to the audience and planted her grey gloved hands on her podium. 

“I’d like to start by noting we have an elephant in the room here.” she began.

Madison bit her lip. Instantly she felt soft and vulnerable. Was exposing all of herself so soon really such a good idea? She crossed her chubby legs over, and she tried to smile as the plump flesh of her arms quivered for all to see. But her smile quickly faded, and soon she was grinding her teeth as Moira continued to attack with steadily decreasing subtlety.  She spoke about her plans to tackle “the bloated public sector”, how she’d re-evaluate the jail network to stop it “bursting at the seams”, how her opponent’s tax proposals were “formless” and “flabby.” She reserved her sharpest barbs for her segment on healthcare. Madison was shaking with impotent rage waiting for Moira’s time to run out. Just before it did, she stuck out a finger, guiding the audience’s eyes back to Madison’s body.

“It’s time to decide what you want Boston’s future to look like, and the answer as I’m sure you’ll agree, is neat and tidy. It is plain to see that Miss Greene can offer neither of those things to our city. These past few days have exposed her for what she truly is. There is only one word fit to describe the travesty of her health policy, her campaign and most crucially, herself. Hippo…critical!” 

She returned to her seat to silence. Madison, meanwhile, had passed her boiling point.

“Thank you Ms Dixon,” the chairperson said. He flicked a button on a stopwatch. “Miss Greene, your response. You have thirty minutes, do proceed.”      

Madison slowly stood up. She knew exactly what to do. She placed her hands on her notes, and looked at the audience. But rather than finding her first page she pushed them all together, and removed them from the lectern.

“I don’t feel that tirade is worthy of an answer.” she said, quietly. Then she sat back down.

To her immense surprise, the audience erupted in frenzied applause. She’d won them over by barely saying a word. The clapping gripped the hall for close to a minute. Moira, whose colour had drained from her face, soon recognised that she’d shot herself in the foot, badly. Someone nobody noticed took the podium, whispered in her ear, and together they left.  

 The next day, Scott estimated that the polls had swung thirty percent in her favour. She maintained her comfortable lead right up to the day of the election, which she won by a healthy margin of fifteen thousand votes. Madison was flabbergasted. Her father was amongst the first to congratulate her through a text message.

 Boston has a beautiful new mayor! Well done Maddie, I’m so proud of you. Facing down Moira in that fat suit was genius. You lead her right into your trap! Hugs and kisses, I’ll see you Sunday.

 Madison was more than a little apprehensive about those hugs and kisses, during which her dad would doubtless discover that her ‘fat suit’ was in fact, real. Her dramatic new look was still a hot topic in the tabloids, though only the most sensationalist of them printed that it was the result of a unprecedented massive blowout rather than a cleverly designed costume, the belief in which most of the audience had clung to after the debate had finished early. Madison Greene plus-size was a sight many struggled to imagine. But Madison Greene twice her size? Madison Greene one hundred and sixty pounds overweight? That was beyond belief.      

 It was certainly beyond the belief of the president of the Boston Nautical Heritage Society, to whom she paid a visit the day after her glorious victory to return the Franklin Hourglass. His surprise was threefold; at the sight of his precious exhibit returned, at the sight of the woman carrying it, and at the sudden genesis of her doughy, jiggly body, which he would have sworn on his great-grandson’s life had been small and slight a week and a day before.  He was even more surprised to hear her apologies, which he quickly brushed off.

“I dropped it and pretty much said it didn’t matter, right in front of you and all those people…then I just left you there to handle it all – I’m so sorry…” said Madison, handing the hourglass over.

“Miss Greene, it’s we are who are in your debt,” the old man insisted. “You’ve saved us a lot of money – we were about to book a frogman from Louisiana to go fetch it back, he was the only man who’d do it for less than five-hundred dollars. Now we don’t have to. And it’s so good to know it came out unscathed. And even for all you said about the past, the museum’s been busier than ever. There’s that picture of you that’s been on the Facebook…I think someone left a thing in the comments that takes people to our website. Thanks to you, all kinds of folk are coming to visit.”

He smiled, showing a banner of false and golden teeth, and Madison couldn’t help but smile back.

“We’d be delighted to give the new Mayor of Boston another ceremony. We’d like to invite you to return it to the ship again, if your schedule gives you the time. And if it’d make you happy, of course.”

“Yes” said Madison. “I’d love that.”

She made a mental note to keep a firm hand on it when she was addressing the crowd this time.

“Wonderful.”

The old president placed the hourglass in a glass case in his office, decorated like a pirate captain’s map room.

“Well, so much for lost time never being found again.” he laughed. “Never known Old Ben to be wrong before.”

Madison raised an eyebrow.

“That’s another one of his quotes, right?”

“It most certainly is. Are you familiar with them?”

“Well, I’ve certainly become familiar with one…” she smiled, giving her tummy a rub. 

 Madison left with her head filled with wonder. Maybe the hourglass hadn’t been cursed after all. Maybe it had come as a blessing, offering a new perspective on life to those who were in need of one most. Maybe she had been a little too fussy about keeping under one-hundred and thirty pounds. She was the Mayor now – she knew there were more important things in life.

 Madison could say she was getting used to her new size. She noticed she was still gaining weight – though no longer at a supernatural rate now the curse had been lifted – but now at least her confidence was growing with her. She was gradually getting used to hearing couches sigh when she sat on them, and she was beginning to enjoy soaping herself up in the shower, feeling her every new inch, letting the water run over her cushy, tempting curves. Her strength was growing too, as she learned how to put her best foot forward. Her slow waddle was shifting into a buxom sashay. Once again she could swing her hips this way and that, bat her eyelashes, roll her head back, flip her golden hair away from her generous bosom and make the world her oyster.  First she had gotten fat. Now she had gotten voluptuous.

A quick hop on her new bathroom scale before she headed out for a celebratory meal told her she weighed three hundred and seven pounds. She could put the vast bulk of it down to the hourglass, but not all of it – she knew that her cake stuffings and her splurges on McDonalds over the last week had added eight pounds of her own.

 She’d have to start a diet tomorrow, she resolved, as she bought drinks for her team and paid for five all-you-can-eat meals at the Captain’s Buffet. Lillian had invited Gabriella behind Scott’s back, and she’d said yes, much to his surprise when they met up at the door. Madison opened her purse, took out a $100 bill and smiled at the person pictured on the obverse. The president was right – he really was everywhere.

And still making me fatter… Madison thought to herself with a grin, as she ordered herself a triple-chocolate fudge cake dessert for later. She skirted around the stands and their dishes of seafood and meat, choosing whatever took her fancy.

She returned to her table with a plate piled full and high. She eased herself into her seat, took her cutlery and carved herself a slice of hot steak, dripping with gravy. She bit into it, slowly.

Mmmmm…maybe the diet can wait a little longer…   

The Mayor of Boston eased off the button of her skirt under the table, letting her belly free. She smiled at her team, then her meal, then got stuck in. 

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