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Double Bubble

Alistair Fruish deals you the straight dope.

My Dad spiked me with a powerful mind-altering drug. He loved me and thought that it would make up for never helping with my homework. The homework he always insisted that I did. I didn’t get much help from Mum; she lives out of town and things get tricky when we see each other.

Maybe I could turn this into a comic. Start with a panel the size of a whole page. Uncle Vic hands over the electric blue smartie to Dad. It would be good if Vic were in a black military uniform with yellow rank markings. Dad all belly in his cheesy Hawaiian shirt, standing in the dark middle of The Firs. They’re the woods on the other side of what’s left of the Heath, in the direction of the planted Princess. I see sharp beams of sunlight like death-rays penetrating the dark pillars of pine around them. The pill in Vic’s hand’s a super glow-worm. It shines up on their faces and down on the millions of wood ants swarming at their feet. These ants march in step to spell out a title, which will be: The Straight Dope.

The panel would contain two balloons; one for speech and one for thought. The dialogue in the speech bubble is from Dad, saying, “Any side effects?” The thought bubble that hovers over Vic’s head contains five other thought bubbles, which also contain thought bubbles, and so on. And in each thought balloon would be a unique mark, like a hieroglyph.

It is very likely that it didn’t happen that way. (It would be a good way to start the comic though.) Dad was probably cotched in front of the TV drinking brew and burning weed. Vic wasn’t around very long and I didn’t see him. He never hung in these ends too long. Don’t blame him. My main memory of him is of a tall man, sullen looking. Muscle upon muscle. He didn’t pay attention to us kids at family dos and stuff. Dad said that what Vic did was secret, that I should maybe think about joining the army too. Perhaps he was trying to offer me a way out of the Estate, show it could be done without flitting off with a junkie to Welwyn Garden City, like Mum. He used to say that Vic was the only good example in our family, even though I knew he hated him. He dissed him to everyone else, except Gran. It was a bit of a mixed message. Dad’s good at those. I always thought that the so-called secret job probably meant Vic did something boring and was pretending to be more interesting than he was really up to. Seems I was wrong there. I was wrong about a lot of things back before Dad spiked me.

It was just a few weeks after the Olympics had finished in London; a couple of weeks after Vic had chipped from the Estate, and the day before I went back to school, when a couple of military police turned up looking for him. I wasn’t going to let them talk to me. I had a suspicion that it was about the smartie, and if they talked to me, they might figure something out.

I thought of Dad’s mantra: “Don’t bring beast to the yard!” Uncle Vic had gone and done it now. Dad nearly crapped himself trying to hide the weed before he let them in, but they weren’t bothered about a seedy old toker. They were very cagey about what they wanted Vic for. Tried to scare Dad by saying failure to tell them anything would be considered treason and that you can still be hung for that. Little did they know that talking to beast, even military beast, was a bigger treason to my old man. He wasn’t going to grass even if he hated his brother, though I was not so sure he did anymore. He acted like a dumb old stoner. Told them nothing. Why exactly his feelings had changed toward his brother I wasn’t sure until later. He really seemed proud when he spoke about him. I stayed out of the way. I left my mobile on audio record in the living room, then took off out the back and got a bus into town.

Northampton is about as far in England as you can get from the sea – should be OK here when the ice caps melt, innit? Can’t think of any other reason to live here. It’s the biggest town in Europe, but it only takes a quarter of an hour on a bus to get from the edge into the centre. The bus station exists to sap the remaining will of the people who use it. It resembles the docking bay of the Death Star as you’re mercilessly pulled into it on a tractor beam of boredom. Except I’d never felt so unbored. Strange intuitions, feelings about things that were not obviously connected, seemed to come to me. The air under pressure in the wheels of the bus, I thought about that for ages. I was struck by the beauty of valves, and figured out how to increase the power of an air-pistol I’d found in the attic at Gran’s the summer before. I thought about the wind and thought about the precious bubble of atmosphere that normally goes unnoticed as we swim in it. Like my own mind had been to me in the past. Air and mind, both invisible in a sense. We notice them more when they change. As soon as I got into town I got straight back on a bus and went home.

I was gone for about an hour. When I got back the cops had gone. I have the whole of Dad’s interrogation stored as a wav file: the best bit is at the beginning with Dad running around freaking out. I should post it on the net one day.

Before I swallowed the blue smartie, hidden out in the open, stuck on top of some Cornish ice cream that Dad gave me, I was certain about a lot of things. Now I am no longer certain. There seems to be a lot more in the way of possibilities and maybes. Yet in another way it all seems simple. Everything I feel or think about seems different now. Like there are these alternatives I wouldn’t have grasped before. I feel like they were probably always there, but I was closed off to them. Like when a fridge turns off, you become aware that it was humming all along, but you only notice it when it’s gone. It’s like these possibilities flicker in and out of existence in a way that makes me notice them. Words – they’re so interesting. Ra! How could I have not noticed that before? Somehow the smartie has changed me but left me the same. Well, to look at.

Earl and Darren started to notice once I got back to school. In a sense I suppose they became my victims, or maybe I was their saviour. I was still getting on with them like before, but Darren was starting to annoy me. When I asked him to lend me a tenner, he said only for double bubble. That pissed me off. A tenner to borrow a tenner! Tosser. This joker was supposed to be my spar, my brethren. I suppose that this planted some of the seeds of what was to follow.

Vic told my Dad that it would be permanent for him; but I’m a lot younger, so who knows? I didn’t realise anything was different to start off with. The drug zonked me. I slept for about a week. Thought I’d just got the lurgie. I think Dad was really worried that my brain might rot and I would be permanently crystallised in the quilt: comatose, sparko, a chrysalis of cotton and fever sweat. I’m glad he was worried. Serves him right. Dad’s never been too hot at the forward thinking. Probably just as well he didn’t call a doctor in. Still, what’s done is done. Sometimes you can make the right choice for the wrong reasons.

I have faint memories of him telling me stories as I recovered. He must have made them up: he’s not too hot at reading. It made me remember a time when he was away and he sent me a CD of tales he made up. There was one about a monster called a Grisilore. It would always want twice as much back as it gave out and kept the whole Kingdom poor. I guess that type of behaviour upset Dad too. I used to listen to that CD every night at Gran’s. I still have it somewhere.

All that wire and the dogs, it was kind of like school. I used to hate visiting him in that place, except on the days when he was freed. I’d bunk off to meet him at the gates, if I could get a bus out there. Help him carry his stuff in a bin liner. Then we’d hang out together for the whole day.

If I was going to tell this for Hollywood it’d be about the military accidentally developing pills that made you super attractive and irresistible. No one is interested in smarts. It’s all about being famous or getting respec’.

I can’t think of anyone who’s famous for having ideas that wasn’t some kind of businessman or politician. They seem like hypnotists to me now. It’s clear that the cleverest people are not in charge, or at least they’re not on TV much: but where are they? I need to read more. Perhaps I can find out. Now I can read a book in about half an hour and remember it all. I read more books yesterday than I read last year.

It wasn’t until I’d eaten Uncle Vic’s blue pill that I started to realise how angry I had been with Dad. Mum as well. I knew I was angry with her; but I didn’t know why. I’m working on that. It had a lot to do with Mum, what I did, I guess. If she hates me, the whole world might as well hate me. Realising I was angry with Dad was more of a surprise to me. It’s not as if Vic’s pill was a miracle that suddenly cured everything. I’d hidden a lot of it from myself. Took it out on others. Probably on Mum’s boyfriend the most, though he is a muppet. Various teachers and adults in general made me miserable so I’d piss them off by withdrawing. I must have taken a lot in during school, but I didn’t think I remembered much of it. Not until I woke up. Now I seem to have this fantastic memory bank full of all sorts of information that I can cross connect and get lost in. It’s like someone has opened the curtains and light has flooded in, making my dusty brain zing. So I’ve made a few mistakes. Just because I’ve taken a drug that’s made me smart doesn’t mean I don’t still make mistakes. It’s just that I tend to look at problems as something to face, more than I did before.

The government have supposedly banned smart drugs in schools until their long-term safety is known. This isn’t stopping the rich kids taking them. If you know who’s juggling them you can get them, but they’re pricey. I don’t know anyone who has ever taken any. The politicians are probably chucking them down so they can figure out how to screw everybody even more. It’s mostly just weed in my school though. No one is rich. Most of my crew want to be, and famous. When Dad was at school it was all sniffing glue. Back in the day he was the only one blazing, so he says. According to him, “It’s an improvement, the herb is sacred.” I guess that’s how he justifies supplying Earl. He gets uppity about the stronger shit, like crack and what-not. That’s probably got a lot to do with Mum. He wouldn’t like it if he knew that Darren was dabbling – but he wouldn’t be surprised: this is the Estate after all. One thing I seem to have lost interest in is weed. I suppose I never had much really; that’s Dad’s thing. The plant is interesting though, and beautiful. Maybe I’ll grow it one day.

I guess in his own daft way Dad just wanted to give me the same chances that the rich kids get. It seems that Uncle Vic’s blue pill was some kind of military dope. An ultra-smart drug. One hit, and if you survive, you’re massively more intelligent. I feel a bit vain putting it like that, but it seems that’s what’s happened. It’s not that I was thick before; it’s just that I have so many more choices now. But that’s OK. Despite what’s happened, I think everything is going to get better.

I first realised something was different when I went back to school, after being virtually unconscious for a week. Actually, as soon as I really woke up I knew something was different. But other people can be our mirrors sometimes, and they helped me to see it more clearly. I was in the bogs, hanging with Darren and Earl, talking about the Olympics that had been happening over the summer, discussing whether or not skateboarding was an Olympic sport and if they had an equivalent in ancient Greece. The school had got the drug dogs in again, and I spotted them out of the window. Darren and Earl wanted to flush the shit they got from Dad, but I wouldn’t let them. In the past Earl would’ve made the decisions. But in the space of two minutes I thought of hundreds of plans. Finally I got Darren to get out his blade. Then I got Earl to take out the in-soles from his trainers. I sliced through them width-wise like cutting up a roll. I ran Darren’s lighter flame gently over them for a few minutes then got an old condom out of my key-ring holder that I kept as a kind of charm to bring good luck in the shag department (it hadn’t worked). I rubbed the in-soles all over my body then my friends did, as they laughed and cussed me for cheesing up their threads. Then I wrapped up the weed in the Odour Eaters, pulled the condom over the parcel and tied up the end tight, folding the plastic back over on itself. Then I stuck it under the tap with loads of soap, washed everything, dried off the parcel, put my hands under the hand-blower and stuck the packet in my pocket. Earl and Darren thought I’d gone mental. I should just cork it, or flush it. I’d never behaved like this before. They didn’t know what to do. I told them to chill and wash their hands and faces, I’d take the fall if anything went down. I walked out onto the corridor, straight into the path of the dog, and nothing happened.

Uncle Vic had taken it himself as part of a government experiment. Top Secret, that’s what he told Dad. One of the effects of the drug was to make him realise that he should sort out his differences with Dad. So he stole some of the blue pills and the details of how to make them. Then he rocked up in Northampton and told Dad that he was going into the drug business, the army was no longer relevant. They could go to Hell, all war was pointless, and the ones we were fighting especially so. The only war worth fighting was the war against wars. His bosses were sitting on this stuff and he was going to let it out. The risk was worth taking. The entire world should have these smarties. He was going abroad. Expect some kind of message. He’d just walked out – went AWOL. I thought he sounded like a crusty, or a hedge monkey, and perhaps he’d gone a bit nuts. But Dad said it was something else. Something he’d never seen in him before. Sanity.

Vic told Dad that he was sorry for all that had gone down with them. That he loved him, and that he had something special for him: that he must take it and be prepared to stay in bed for a week. Dad was flabbergasted. But I guess I can see why the bastard gave it to me. It had radically transformed his meathead brother – what would it do to him? So being the small time drug-dealing scumbag that he is, he tested it out on me. The one that he hoped would not grow up to be like him, even though he enjoyed being him. He probably made the right choice. Still fair’s fair. If I get the chance and get hold of some more of those smarties, I would spike him right back.

The day before we did it we went for a walk after school and ended up out on the meadow. Earl and Darren were watching a stolen moped burn down by the railway line and talking the usual crap. I asked Darren what would be the best way to create more chances in our area and he said, “Move the red light district up here, innit?” There was some truth in that.

Black smoke from the burning bike drifted over the rails and across the fields towards the Firs. I wanted to carry on walking, but Earl was coming on all tough, rapping about how this was all Earl’s land, and that we should call him ‘The Earl’, and that we could go no further unless he allowed us to go on. It was indeed all the Earl’s land, but a different Earl.

I think Earl was finding the changes in my brain difficult to deal with. I was now a threat to his idea of himself as the boss and he was starting to throw his weight around a bit. I dared Earl in front of Darren knowing he’d have to say yes. I don’t know where it came from. He was bigging himself up as usual. It never used to bother me, but now it was starting to get on my nerves. I didn’t think. I just said it: “What’s the point in school? Let’s face it, we’re either going to end up unemployed, in prison, or working in Speedie-bake like everybody else. Let’s do something pucker, that’ll get us proper respect. You wanna be famous, right?” They agreed. So I continued, “Let’s just walk a couple of miles over there and dig up the body of the Princess. Then we’ll be famous and can ketch props and maybe make a raise.” I knew I was forcing Earl’s hand when I said, “I’ll do it myself if you’re not up to it.”

The main problem for Darren was there was no obvious money in it. He thought we should ransom her skull. I told him he was more likely to get his tunes played if we said it was a protest. I could see he was hesitating. Then I thought of what would swing him: “Bring your mobile and take some pictures. You can sell those on the internet.” He bought that.

“Ok,” he said, “let’s do it.” He was in.

Uncle Vic’s pill was connected to what I did. I would never have thought of it before. I certainly understand myself more and more since I took it. But you don’t understand yourself completely overnight, even with hardcore military aid. Darren and Earl hadn’t really thought about the consequences – they were too busy thinking about how to load the footage up onto the net. But I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know why. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it a lot, I feel I know some of the reasons. I was making myself pay twice. Bursting the bubble of my world again. Bringing the buried past into the present. I think that’s what a lot of crimes are – ways of repeating a pattern. Hurting yourself some more.

The next evening I cleaned the weed from Dad’s. Later I put it in his old hiding place in the woods as we walked through them on our mission with destiny. Dad would go mad when he got in, but he’d be glad if the beast kicked his door in later on. I got a spade, Darren’s brother’s inflatable dingy, and a torch. Then we checked out the location on Google Earth. We walked there easily enough, climbed the wall and headed for the lake.

© Alistair Fruish 2007

Alistair Fruish was born in Northampton where he writes and makes films. He lives a few miles from the lady in the lake. His work with prisoners has won a number of awards.

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