By L.L. Ballack
It’s just a dream. Christ, it’s just a fucking dream! Mwaaaaah! Mwaaaah! Mwaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!
“Awwww, did someone have a nightmare. Awww, cuddle Mummy, cuddle Mummy.”
Yes, it’s a fucking nightmare. Her hands are peeling my trousers off and there isn’t an erection in sight. Mwaaaah! I’ve had a fucking stroke; I’ve been paralysed after a car crash; I’ve been struck down by some crippling virus that has wrecked my motor functions and robbed me of speech.
“Come on now. Don’t be silly. Let Mummy put some clean pants on you. That was a very big wee wee, wasn’t it?”
Mummy! Fucking MUMMY! Mwaaah! Mwaaaaaaah! Mwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!! No, this is a dream. This is a fucking dream.
“Will you stop rolling around like that? You’ll bang your…oh, you silly, silly little…stop, will you? Just stop! Mark! I think Jonjo’s ill. He’s very upset about something. I think he’s got a rash, he’s scratching all over the place.”
If I could just pinch myself, but these bloody fingers don’t have the sodding dexterity.
“He’s slapping his face now! Mark! Quickly, call the doctor!”
Oh, fucking, fuck me! Fucking fuckety fuck! Please! There’s been some horrendous, cosmic fuck-up.
“Mark! He’s really screaming! Can you hear it?”
No, no, no. Please, will you just fucking listen?
After coming round from sedation, I have been able to establish the following facts. My forename is Jonjo, I am two years and ten months old, and I have recently been diagnosed with a fever. My surname remains unclear due to the opaque marital status of my parents, an attractive, heterosexual couple apparently in their early forties called Andrea Foyle and Mark Hutchence. I live in a village called Butterworth, Hampshire, and was conceived after my aforementioned kin underwent nearly two years of IVF treatment. All of this vital yet, nonetheless, terrifying information was transmitted to me through Mark and Andrea’s conversation with one of the two Butterworth doctors: a portly man in his early fifties whom they referred to obsequiously as Dr Ledger, tactfully concealing their disappointment that ‘Jill’ (presumably the more amiable of the two practitioners) wasn’t available. Now, having stopped the screaming which accompanied the discovery of my changed circumstances, I am sitting quietly on Andrea’s knee sipping a moreish, aniseed flavoured liquid prescribed to me by the paedophobic Dr Ledger. Much to Andrea and Mark’s relief, I am being taken to see Jill sometime tomorrow, or whenever she’s got a slot free, which shouldn’t be too much trouble as nobody is ever ill on Tuesdays (a joke relayed to Andrea by Mark without irony sufficient enough to draw her out of her maternal neurosis, fearing as she is that I am on the verge of sudden infant death).
“You don’t know what it’s like, Mark. This is the first time he’s been ill. I mean properly ill,” said Andrea, tearfully.
“I know,” replied Mark, his emotions far too austere for Andrea’s liking.
“It’s worse than if it was happening to me.”
“Alright, chill out. It’s only a bit of a fever.”
This, predictably, wasn’t enough to assuage Andrea’s fears. I could feel her heart palpitations as my head nuzzled deeper into her breast. Despite her attractiveness and the age-defying buoyancy of her breasts (silicone enhanced, perhaps foreseeing the tribulations of pregnancy and childbirth?), my pre-sexual body feels nothing but a strange, distilled comfort, like a pillow on mornings when I come to and realise I don’t have to get up for work. Additionally, I had all but forgotten the delights of thumb-sucking, supposing the proximity of my tender, infant skin is close in texture to the recently forfeited maternal breast. Andrea pulled me in closer, her irrational instincts laying waste to logic.
“He’s not well, Mark. We have to be careful. It’s not like when we get ill.”
“Look, I know you’re worried.”
“Oh, and you’re not.”
“No, I am. Of course I am. It’s just, he’s got a slight fever. That’s all. You’re acting like he’s just been exposed to the Ebola virus.”
“It’s not funny, Mark.”
“I’m not trying to be funny.”
“Even when you are, it never fuc…it never effing works.”
But that was the last of Mark’s contribution to the argument. Andrea’s self-censorship, designed to shield my cub-like ears from corrupting profanities, caused a seismic shift in Mark’s mood, almost as though the Home Counties cleanliness of his partner’s tongue was an awful reminder of his terrible reluctance to put himself through the IVF horror in the first place. I sense, though admittedly I am still new to this household, that Mark isn’t too keen on his paternal duties and has sought solace outside the family hearth. I can say from experience that the onset of fatherhood leaves a bitter taste in the mouth best relieved by the sweetener of another woman. Although, despite my attempts to rationalise this, it never went down well with Zara. It also provided her with a very convenient excuse to have me ejected from the flat, giving her brother the longed for satisfaction of punching me in the face as my possessions lay strewn across the pavement.
“Come on now. Mummy cuddle. You’ll be fine now you’ve had that medicine. Was it nice? Did it taste nice? Was the medicine nice?”
Strangely amenable to my palate, the aniseed evoking memories of forgotten days downing bottles of Pernod from under the recently soiled sheets of girlfriends’ beds. It surges through my uncorrupted bloodstream and caresses my infant brain like the kind of substance that would cost more than a hundred quid for my adult body to enjoy.
“Nice. Medicine is nice. More medicine.”
“Don’t be silly. You don’t need more medicine. Dr Ledger said you only need one cupful.”
Ah, Dr Ledger. Already you have surpassed London’s finest in my pursuit of Junkydom. God knows what chocolate and E numbers are going to do to me, though I’m sure the puritanical Andrea will impose strict limits on everything I eat.
“More medicine. More medicine.”
“No more medicine. It’s time for bed. I think you need to sleep now. Okay? Time for bed.”
One more hit and I’ll be out like a light. I swear to God, just one more hit.
“More medicine. No bed. More medicine. Medicine first, then bed.”
“No, Jonjo! No! You can have more medicine tomorrow if you need it, but not now. It’s bedtime.”
I sense Andrea is destined to be the maternal equivalent of the Nazi concentration camp guard; the family home but Belsen with stair barriers and wet wipes.
“More medicine! More medicine! Still ill! Still ill! More medicine!”
With that, she scooped me up and plunged me under the Transformers covers, between a saliva-drenched panda and a robot with a missing leg. After a further minute of resistance, I felt the effects of the medicine take hold and I was out until Andrea woke me up with a beaker of warmed milk.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, clasping her hand onto my head. “Oooh, your fever’s gone down. Do you feel better?”
“No. Still ill. More medicine.”
“Oh, you cheeky little piggy,” she laughed. “You’re getting too clever, you know? I’m going to tell Daddy when he gets back from work. Oh, yes, I am! Oh, yes, I am! You’re far too clever!”
“Chocca,” I said, changing tack.
“No chocolate. You haven’t had your breakfast yet. You know you’re not allowed chocolate until after lunch.”
“No orange juice. Have your milk first.”
As comforting as it was, the milk was no substitute for a sugar rush. I wait for an opportunity to rummage through Andrea’s kitchen cupboards in search of a Mars Bar, though a few spoonfuls of sugar would probably suffice.
“We’re going to take you to see Dr Jill this morning. Do you remember Dr Jill? Yes? Dr Jill? You remember? She gave you a lollipop last time, didn’t she?”
A lollipop! I’ll be as high as a fucking weather balloon!
“See Dockajill. Want dockajill.”
Better, perhaps, to remain discreet about my desires. Andrea has shown herself to be highly attuned to even the slightest cunning on my part. The more I seem to yearn for something, the more inclined she is to keep it from me. No, better maintain an air of ignorance regarding the lollipop; the element of surprise and all that. Until I find out what the Hell I’m doing in Jonjo’s body, I suppose the sugar dragon is my only hope of coping with my fate. Chocolate cake and digestives may very well be my opiates now. Remarkable how, even at such a young age, awareness of one’s condition sets one on the road to hard drugs. There is nothing more terrible than being alive and transient relief now comes in the form of lollipops and cough medicine.
“Okay, now Mummy’s going to give you your breakfast, then you’re going to get dressed, then we’ll go in Mummy’s car, then–.”
“Want dockajill now. Get in Mummy’s car now. No breakfast.”
Sod the recital of the day’s events. Just get on with it, woman!
“Why are you such an impatient little thing, huh? Why is it always now, now, now?”
“Want dockajill.” Just take me to the source of sugar; give me E numbers. “Want dockajill now!”
“Oh, you silly little thing. Come on. Let’s get your cereal.”
Andrea has now shifted to DEFCON One. The twenty minute car journey to the doctor’s surgery brought on the most horrendous bought of motion sickness. I’m certain I’ve experienced nothing like it before. Within minutes of the engine starting up, my entire biological compass was shaken violently like a kaleidoscope; the bits of sprinkly glitter that had settled towards my equilibrium were thrown violently away from the centre, culminating in an almighty mass of regurgitated Coco Pops and yoghurt, which formed a crater of puke all over my lap. Andrea, distraught by the entire thing and doing little to assure me that happier times were afoot, pulled into a lay-by and added the acrid stench of panic to the already towering pong of sick. Arrested by fear, she failed to compliment me on the lengths I had gone to to prevent this geyser of vomit spreading further throughout the car. Having clasped my legs together to prevent a leakage into the footwell, I used my cupped hands as a breakwater to prevent flood damage to the upholstery. This was surely an act of damage limitation far beyond a child of my tender years, requiring the mental faculties of one well in advance of two and a half; though, Andrea’s debilitating fear overwhelmed any kind of maternal perceptiveness. Had she had her wits about her, she would probably have stopped traffic to declare me some kind of child genius; proof of my prodigiousness revealed in vomit: surprise recognition for years of alcoholic exertions trying to avoid treading sick into the carpets of friends’ wives.
Instead, I was whisked to the doctor’s surgery and flung dramatically through the front doors by the close-to-hysterical Andrea; my recently reorganised digestive system suffering immeasurably from the Hollywood nature of my entrance. The receptionist was informed that I was mortally ill; my wan visage a memento mori of Victorian infant mortality. After a minute of helpful reassurance, Andrea was persuaded that I wasn’t infected with the Ebola virus and that it was likely I had eaten too much breakfast, coupled with a car journey; a diagnosis I would have fully supported had I been able to formulate coherent sentences. Instead, I garbled a series of shredded vowels which were interpreted as a plea for liquids. Andrea was then ushered towards the waiting area where she appeared to have regained some of her composure and browsed sporadically through a home interiors magazine. I was given a beaker of water as well as a light green crayon and a colouring book by the receptionist, my only contributions to which could have been adding further to the abstract images under the names of various animals. A few moments later the surgery entrance swung outwards again and another woman of similar age to Andrea came in, accompanied by her sick child. I glanced up from the schizophrenic daubings in front of me, departing briefly from my free expression of inner psychosis, and looked at the imposing, five foot five inch silhouette.
“Zara,” squeaked Andrea. “Is Milly sick, too?”
Horror of horrors; I tried to call out, to utter some profanity that encapsulated the true awfulness of it all.
“Yeah, she’s a bit…God, is Jonjo okay? He sounds–.”
“Argh, he’s been like this since yesterday. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
“Waaaaahhhhhhh!!!!! Mwaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!! Fwaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!”
“Milly’s just here for her jabs. Measles and rubella. Sadly there’s no way of inoculating her against the effects of having a crap father.”
“Still no word from Pete?”
“He’s gone missing now.”
“A week-long bender I expect.”
“God, he’s really bawling. Are you sure he’s ok?”
No, my dear mother, I am not ok; I am anything but ok. I am, indeed, confronted by an existential crisis so complex, not even a collaboration of the greatest philosophical acumen in history could even begin to make sense of it. Alas, my dear Sartre, Hell is not simply other people: it is one’s five-year-old offspring given free rein to occupy one’s time according to her infantile whims.
“She’s gotten worse since Pete disappeared.”
“Have child support been onto him?”
“No point. No idea where he is. Probably fell down a manhole next to some strip club knowing him.”
“Well, maybe if she spends time with Jonjo that might have some kind of stabilising influence on her.”
Jesus Christ, no! Mercy, mercy, mercy!
“That’s sweet of you, Andrea, but I’d feel like a charity case.”
Yes, that’s right, Zara; you stick to your stubborn, individualist principles. Pay no heed to humane gestures of friendship.
“Honestly, I’d just be happy for Jonjo to have a playmate at home. I mean, he’s–.”
For fuck’s sake, woman! No, no, no!
“Well, if you’re sure. So long as you’re not just doing it to pity me.”
“Of course not.”
Me, alone with mother, daughter and ex-lover; traversing a wasteland of error.
“I hope it’ll all be ok. She got in trouble at school the other day for going at another kid with a pair of scissors.”
“She probably didn’t know what she was doing.”
“Oh, she did; that’s the worrying thing. She’d seen someone cut their hand on a pair earlier and then five minutes later she went at this kid.”
Andrea appeared ready to surrender her offer of kindliness in exchange for her son’s life, yet the repressions of bourgeois civilisation triumphed. As they turned away to interrogate the coffee machine, the infant Cassandra acquainted a drumstick with my eye. Her dislike of me was immediate, as though she had vainly prophesied that I was the augmenter of some appalling future. She kicked my tiny testicles and folded her arms indignantly as I screamed on the floor. The perennially vigilant Andrea was alert, rushing to the attendance of my balls as though they were the Elgin marbles pilfered by some master thief.
“Jesus Christ! Oh, my fucking Jesus!”
Fear trumped propriety; terror overawed good manners. A prim woman in her sixties looked up from Good Housekeeping and, trying to make sense of both Andrea’s profane hysterics and Milly’s testicular insurrection, muttered ‘dear me’; her chaotic bottom lip articulated her moral confusion more pithily. Andrea stripped me from the waist, assiduously inspecting my groin area.
“Milly!” said Zara, sternly. “What did we say about hitting people?” The despicable child harrumphed and turned away in defiance. “God, Andrea; I’m so sorry.”
Andrea had no time for apologies; my fertility was at stake.
“No, it’s alright,” she said, sincerity all frazzled. “I’m sure it’s fine.”
“What did I say, Milly? Huh? What did I say?”
Andrea overheard this childish refrain; her ravaged forehead struggled up a mountain of doubt. Mother, I was sure, would resist mother-of-child’s barbarous threats of a playmate. Yet despite Andrea’s efforts to protect me from the violence of the demon child, she could do nothing to repel the monster’s urge to throw building blocks at my head. Eventually, Andrea could tolerate no more and dragged me to the other side of the surgery. The daughter of Satan, undeterred, breathed fire towards my corner of the room, and Zara – somehow, I sensed she knew – became less determined in her efforts at restraint. She looked at me one last time before disappearing into the abyss of measles and rubella, and – I swear – she gave me the same look she had given when she discovered I’d fucked her sister: my existence, it seemed, was so squalid it was no better or worse than the realisation that she had been carrying dog shit around on the sole of her shoe.
“See you later, Andrea. I hope Jonjo’s okay.”
My howls indicated that this was a futile wish. Andrea’s freezing, clammy palms implied that she concurred. Perhaps, I thought, as I was planted like a withered sapling into Jill’s office, death would be a happier dominion. Andrea mumbled something about meningitis; Jill, skilled at dealing with parental neuroses, quickly allayed her concerns while exacerbating my own.
Despite the intensity of my will to self-destruction, there appeared little indication that I was to die soon; not at the whims of nature, anyhow. My own hand, it seemed, would be a surer way of guaranteeing my demise, but my tiny limbs hadn’t the motor abilities to run a knife across my throat or drag a razor blade across my wrists. I had tried, during one shopping plaza expedition, to break for the edge of the escalator and set about throwing myself down to the bottom. But cunt luck had it another way: my two and a half year-old legs could only scamper as far as the grille at the descending steps, before an agile grown-up shovelled me gently into Andrea’s panicked arms. She had no idea my sojourns with death were intentional acts of self-harm; instead, she would mildly gloat to others that I was a spirited, determined toddler with no sense of danger. Her ignorance was all that gave me hope. Were she ever to discover the reason behind my relentless binge of self-abnegation, a response unit of child psychologists would have stormed Butterworth, Hants, like some faux-sympathising, questionnaire-wielding Blitzkrieg.
My worst fear was not continued existence, though; it was re-acquaintance with my daughter. Andrea had been reluctant to leave me in Zara’s care, sensing both the child and mother posed a significant, if altogether different, threat to my safety.
“I mean, alright, so it’s not Zara’s fault Pete turned out to be a (prick),” she began over the dinner table, her instinct to self-censor as strong as my own desire to die. “But if you end up letting a guy like that impregnate you, then, well, there must be something not quite right.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” responded Mark, his defence almost certainly provoked by recent memories of his own reckless infidelities. His darker urges are not dissimilar to my own, I suspect. “You don’t know the details. I don’t think you should leap to judgements like that.”
“I’m not making judgements. Jeez…It’s not about morality, Mark; it’s about the interests of our son, in case you’d forgotten.”
Mark was about to protest, but, instead, violently stabbed at a mushroom in his beef stroganoff. Andrea glared indignantly and glanced in my direction, alerting Mark to the presence of impressionable innocence; as though an aggressively forked mushroom may be the precursor to a rampaging killing spree, for which he would be forced to accept some responsibility.
“Anyway, Zara’s nice. You can’t judge her on her choice of men. You don’t really know what this Pete bloke’s like, anyway.”
Mark was cowed slightly; awkward at the terms of the defence, as though afraid of revealing something.
“Oh, you’re sticking up for that miserable piece of…” She glanced in my direction again.
“I’m not sticking up for him; I’m sticking up for her. He could be, you know, some charming Casanova type; silver-tongued, that sort of thing.”
He sounded eerily complicit in my malfeasant seduction, and guiltily chomped on a strip of beef. Andrea was unconcerned by her partner’s reaction; her attentions since my birth had, I assumed, been focused solely on child. Mark’s philandering had completely escaped her attention.
“All I’m saying is: I’m not comfortable with Jonjo being left in her hands, especially with that God-awful child.”
“It’s not Zara’s fault. This all happened because–.”
“I know it’s not her fault; that’s not what I’m saying.”
“You really should stop being so judgemental.”
“I’m not being judgemental. I just don’t think it would be good for Jonjo if he was with–.”
“Just give Zara a break; she’s had it rough. Anyway, she’s offering us a favour.”
Andrea could take no more.
“Jesus Chr…Do you not care about your son?” she howled, banging her palms on the table.
They both looked in my direction, expecting wails of terrified confusion at the sudden demolition of equilibrium. Nonplussed, they reacted, foreheads quizzical, to my gormless display of indifference.
“Of course I care. I just don’t think you’re giving Zara a fair chance.”
“Fine, you can take him over there tomorrow then.”
“Alright, I will.”
“Great, sorted; so long as you’re happy.”
They ate the rest of the beef stroganoff in silence.
I was left in the playpen with the hideous child, while Mark and Zara disappeared upstairs and revelled in the coagulation of their bodily fluids. I could hear Zara reaching orgasm after about fifteen minutes. She pounded the sides of the bed, as she always does, causing the floorboards to reverberate in harmony. The ceiling light swayed a little; not enough to indicate a mesmeric fuck, but distinctly, so as to infer satisfaction had been had by at least one of them. I, however, was occupied by the spawn of my abysmal spermatozoa. Her infantile propensity for torture and domination seemed like a conflation of some terrible human urge to inflict suffering, and a volatile ego resonating in perpetuity across a continuum of time and being. She attacked me first with a plastic hammer, forcing me to seek refuge beneath an upturned toy box in her Wendy house. When my bunker proved unbreachable, she waited stealthily until I felt bold enough to emerge, before hurling an over-inflated basketball at the side of my head. The torture went on for perhaps ten minutes, a duration which seemed considerably more elastic than the hands on the clock permitted. Both time and my offspring had been warped beyond recognition, as events circled the edges of a black hole. Then, something truly dreadful happened; something far worse than physical torture alone.
“Pete’s a naughty boy; Pete’s a naughty boy; Pete’s a naughty boy. Pete has to sit in the naughty corner.”
I cried out, but Zara and Mark were too busy with their post-coital cigarettes. Though it wasn’t much comfort at the time, I felt I had secured a Pyrrhic victory over the mother of my child. Had it been me leaving my Satanic offspring to wreak unsupervised psychopathy on an infant in my care, I would doubtless be deserving of castration. But that was beside the point: the child, herself, was, indeed, not herself. She dragged me into the corner of the playpen and pushed me to the floor, forcing me into a sitting position by exerting tremendous pressure on my shoulders. Twice my age and height, she attacked me with a strength unfathomable to my adult self. It was like some mutant supervillain had turned on me with all its catastrophic power. I was paralysed by her immense strength. Again and again, she repeated my name; my name!
“Fwaaaaaahhh!! Fwaaaahhh!! Waahndaaaadiiiiieee!! Waaahndaaaadiiiiieee!!” I screamed with all my infant breath; recognising, despite the desperation of my predicament, that Mark was my only hope of escape.
His parental instinct, after all, ought to be attuned to high pitched shrieks of Daddy. Yet Daddy didn’t come. Terrifyingly, it seemed, Mark’s fatherly instincts were no more developed than my own. Indeed, there had been many times when I abandoned the infant Jezebel for the satisfaction of the crack pipe. Still, she persisted in taunting me.
“Pete has to be punished. Pete’s been a bad dad.” I thought my ears were conspiring in the horror. “Pete’s been a bad lad; Pete’s been a bad dad; Pete’s been a bad lad.”
I couldn’t tell; she was pummelling my shoulders so hard. For a moment, I thought she was going to kill me and, briefly, I gave up resistance, as the harvest of my deformed sperm-rapier sought my death. I closed my eyes and contented myself that soon my agony would be over. As I felt myself diminishing, I was brought to by the sound of the doorbell and the rushing of feet down the stairs. There was some commotion at the front door; raised voices and the sound of indignation. The ruckus distracted my gaoler momentarily, as she tried to climb out of the play pen and totter towards the source of the noise. I lay on my back and breathed deeply. I had been moments away from death, yet I had been reprieved; and for what?
“For fuck’s sake, you can’t just–.”
“I really think you should leave.”
I sat up and looked towards the three adult figures emerging through the doorway. My father and ex-lover I recognised first; the third figure was distorted by the silhouettes of Mark and Zara; his head concealed by theirs. But then he came forward and bent down at the edge of the playpen.
“Hello, Milly. Have you missed Daddy? Have you? Have you missed Daddy? Awww, come and give me a cuddle; give Daddy a cuddle.”
His saccharine words were matched by his cartoonishly horrifying grin, as though it had been painted onto a clown during an acid flashback. He picked his daughter up and swung her round; the malignant smile fixed immovably on his face. It was a face I recognised more than any other, but the expressions were obscure, like a halogen light beam emerging from the centre of a pervasive mist: there was a source somewhere; unidentifiable. But it was impossible to see as the brilliance of the light went through the prismatic separations of the mist. I didn’t recognise the texture of movements beneath the skin, like it was the surface of a familiar landscape suddenly disrupted by tectonic shifts: an earthquake beneath the flesh, violently distorting the familiar into something unrecognisably terrible.
“Are you alright, darling; are you alright? And who’s this then, huh? Who’s your little friend?”
She whispered into his ear and he remained expressionless for a moment. His eyes turned to me and he grinned, as though he knew something dreadful.
“Hello, Pete,” he whispered, crouching down towards me and ruffling my hair. “You’re a pretty boy, aren’t you? Oh, yes, you are. You almost look like a girl.”
He ran his fingers lasciviously under my chin, but they were unfamiliar and cold, like they were made from latex. His body was artificial; everything underneath was despicably real.