SWEEPING UP • by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

In the airless space between thunder and a slash of lightning, the fat woman was there on one of my kitchen chairs. She heaved herself around to an easier position and stared at me. Stared isn’t the right word but nothing else fits better. It was kind of like a neutral focusing of attention on the matter at hand.

She was fat in a way that even in these obese times is not common — as though a waterbed became a person, with tides shifting under the skin.

That awful cliché, “but she had a pretty face,” was true. I couldn’t understand how, in all of that fatness, her features could be so carefully sculpted. She resembled that tender Picasso drawing done while he was still giving women their humanity.

Having just implored celestial intervention, I was less surprised than I might have been, but I was taken aback by her nakedness.

“They’re going to need a bigger pin,” I couldn’t stop myself thinking, and waited to be consumed by fire.

Her face took on the same patient look one sees on people in shabby waiting rooms, where low expectations preclude disappointment.

“Please make everything be okay,” I said after a moment or so when the vengeance of the Lord had not forthcome.

“Try for a little more clarity of expression,” she said.

It was the voice that confirmed her identity. She spoke in clear chiming echoing tones, quite unmistakable.

“Well, you know,” I said, and I could hear how peevish I sounded. At times like this you hope you’ll rise to the occasion. If only, I thought nervously, she’d hewn a little more to conventional representation.

“Those Renaissance boys,” she said, “always crazy for the Swedish girls. How they conceptualized the exotic. A surprising failure of imagination, really.”

I hadn’t been praying for a seminar on art theory.

“You know everything,” I said, and now I sounded like an escapee from a ’60s Hammer production, “can you not help me?”

This was going so badly, but she seemed in no hurry. I put the kettle on again and made myself a fresh mug of tea. It struck me that offering her one too would be a peculiar sort of denial of faith. She never stopped looking at me. She let me finish drinking my tea before saying, “A choice must be made.”

“I don’t know what to do,” I said, and the caffeine hadn’t eased my mood very much.

“Do what’s right.”

“Well — !” I said, with as much violence as I dared to express. Thought my usual forms of response might be tricky, under the circumstances. But I couldn’t stop anger from spilling over into the hot burning tears that might as well be brimstone, the way they scorch your face as they roll relentlessly down. “If I knew what that was — ”

She was just maddening. Not a hint! Even game show hosts waggle their eyebrows at you or something, to keep you from wandering onto treacherous ground. I squeezed my eyes hard shut for a moment — I would not fumble for a tissue — and then glared defiantly at her again.

Nothing but that awful patience, that doesn’t give you one single little handhold to haul yourself up by.

“It wasn’t fair!” I said. Maybe I shouted it. “How can someone get away with hurting someone else so much?” Perhaps it was silly, not using more specific pronouns, but the pain was already so terrible. She was all-seeing enough to color in the details, I thought in fury. And she still couldn’t come up with any advice?

“Then why are you here, if I have to do it all myself?”

“Company,” she said.

That silenced me. It was just so horribly logical. I couldn’t think of an argument against it, though damn me I tried. I tried to hold onto my indignation as it leaked all over the kitchen floor. What a futile mess, I thought to myself, and suddenly realized it was the anger I meant.

I knew I’d just had a revelation, but — in light of the weightiness of its catalyst — it seemed a ridiculously small one. “Is that a trick conclusion?” I blurted. But I could feel she wasn’t going to say any more.

Stillness entered me. It was a very pleasant feeling, more than I could have imagined. I got up awkwardly, as though I were moving in a different gravity, and staggered into her arms. She was really too large to embrace. She was soft and cool but had no other nameable attribute. After a moment — whether by my time or hers, I couldn’t tell — she was gone.


Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.


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 average 4.4 stars • 5 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I’m afraid I have little idea of what this story is about. There seems to be a lot of knowledge of art put into the piece, and the MC, who I figured all the way through was a woman, turned out to be a man – unless the sexuality of the MC was deliberately obscured.

  • Johanna Miklos

    I would like there to be a touch more conflict between the naked fat lady and the MC.

  • Jane Roop

    I had to read it twice but think I got it. There is much to like in the writing and insights. Maybe starting with the “having implored” would help the reader get oriented.

  • Very good rhythm in the writing.

  • Sarah, the lines about a waterbed turning into a person, and her imagination spilling onto the floor were perfect. I would live to use imagery like that.
    All of your stories, that I have read,are very well wrtittwn from that perspective.
    Unfortunately I have yet to have understood any of your stories… Perhaps I am missing something, but I have no idea what happened other than a brief, inconsequential conversation between a person and an obese person. The conversation itself was so cryptic I could not get anything out if it other than words.

    At first I thought it was a person painting a fat lady, unconventional, and the the tears, hugging, and vaporization of all that lard lost me in the folds of her back fat.

  • Joseph Kaufman

    @3 Interesting idea. I was thinking this could start at “They’re going to need a bigger pin,” as that is what ultimately clued me in to who this “fat lady” was.

    Still don’t have all the answers, but I like the way this one keeps washing over me, especially the simple embrace at the end that kinda-sorta makes things better. Everyone could use a hug.

  • Martha Globe

    You wrote lots of intriguing words, but I ended up confused at the end. I skipped entire paragraphs hoping to find the thread that would eventually lead me to understand this piece. Then I went back over them in an attempt to figure out if I missed the thread there too. In the end, I’m still unclear what was going on in this story. You have a great grasp of imagery, but it’s important not to lose your reader while you’re painting a picture with words.

  • kathy k

    Huh? Nice writing but I don’t have a clue about content.

  • The MC suffers a failed relationship and asks the gods for some help in coping with the aftermath. The celestial fat lady appears and tells her to, “Do what’s right.” The MC objects, saying if that’s all the advice she has then what’s the point. The fat lady say, “Company”. The conclusion being that sometimes all we need to do to get through adversity is express our anger to a non-involved third party and move on.

    Good advice, I think. Four plus stars for me….+

  • Beautiful but mystifying. Joseph – what’s the pin thing about?

  • Joanne

    Angels dancing on the head of a pin, the old saying…she’s fat, so they’re going to need a bigger pin. It was early enough in the story, right after the mention of imploring celestial intervention, so that part wasn’t difficult to figure out. I missed the obscured sexuality mentioned in #1, though.

  • Like others I felt more than a little lost after finishing this piece. I enjoyed the imagery and premise, but had to do a little too much detective work to really get into it. Granted I may just be a bit too dense for stories like this!

  • Lovely story. I couldn’t understand it, but I don’t see that as an obstacle to enjoyment. I think of enjoyment as an emotional, not an intellectual, activity.
    I liked ‘as though a waterbed became a person, with tides shifting under the skin’. I didn’t like ‘She resembled that tender Picasso drawing done while he was still giving women their humanity’. Picasso did lots of sketches which show tremendous warmth, before his interest in technique replaced passion, so you shouldn’t just say ‘that’. But a minor nit-pick in such a well written conversational piece

  • A fascinating subject. And very artfully written. But that’s just the problem. It seemed to be trying just a little too hard to be artful, which detracted from the story itself. Overall I thought it had the air of a technical exercise. A technical exercise brilliantly executed, but one that nevertheless seemed somehow a little abstract and academic.

  • Thanks, Joanne – wouldn’t have got the angel/pin connection in a month of Sundays!

  • aaj kal ki jawan nasal ke mobiles or cuerotmps me Mure hain Nargas ke Deedar ke or Naseebo Lal jesi behoda awaz.Song me sex na ho to koi sunta nai ye mayar ho giya hai 2011 ka.70s or 80s hassen logo ka hassen zamana tha khushyan hi khusiyan thi har taraf Pakistan me.ab na cricket ke ground sm ematches hain or nai hi Waheed Murad,Noor Jahan,Munawar Zareef,Rangeela jese log .Intai bure waqt se hum quzar rahe hain

  • A story which starts “In the airless space between thunder and a slash of lightning” has a seductive quality to me. Not a sexual seduction, but sensual.

    I would have preferred that the angelic identity of her visitor was made clearer early on – its ambiguity was a distraction.

    Once I got going, understanding the story line, it was a delight to read. Your use of language is both artful and inspiring.

    If I may pull a line of suggestion from the story, in your own words, “Try for a little more clarity of expression”

    4 stars

  • A story which starts “In the airless space between thunder and a slash of lightning” has a seductive quality to me. Not a sexual seduction, but sensual.

    I would have preferred that the angelic identity of her visitor was made clearer early on – its ambiguity was a distraction.

    Once I got going, understanding the story line, it was a delight to read. Your use of language is both artful and inspiring.

    If I may pull a line of suggestion from the story, in your own words, “Try for a little more clarity of expression”

    4 stars

  • S Conroy

    A lovely read. Thanks for the story, Sarah.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      I was so glad to find your comment here, S.