August 7, 2010

Short Story: By Golly By Gum ©

Following is another of the short stories that I've written. I hope you enjoy it:

“High Court Challenge Over Gum Tragedy” May 4, 2004 in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

I read the newspaper article with dismay. Another poor child was going through what I had been through fifteen years earlier. My heart felt pity for the boy and I could clearly remember the horror of that period of my childhood.

Casting my mind back, I recalled the year I had turned nine. Up till that point in time, I’d had a normal childhood. My parents both worked and like most of my contemporaries, I often arrived home to an empty house at the end of my school day.

My younger brother George was mad keen on sports and spent most of his afternoons playing with his friends. George was ok, but tended to show off when his mates were around.

Patrina, my older sister, was quite an embarrassment to me and played the euphonium in the school band. She was also heavily into writing poetry and was involved with a website called Often she chortled with laughter when she read entries in something called “Bad to the Bone”. Shaking my head, I’d click my tongue in disgust.

It was while I was in class one morning, listening to my teacher, Mr Drummond, droning on about some fat king in England, that I first noticed something amiss. There was a round, pink spot on my right arm that looked a little like a blister. I poked at it with my finger and it felt kind of sticky. I thought nothing more about it until lunch-time when I noticed that it had grown and the top of the blister was more raised. “Weird,” I thought to myself. When I touched it again, it popped and deflated.

Two weeks later, another blister came up, but this time it was on my left ankle. It was larger than the earlier one, and I poked at it until it burst. It didn’t hurt and so I was not too concerned. Three days later, another one came up on my face, and by afternoon, one was growing on my left hand. Embarrassed, I popped them quickly and hoped no-one saw them. No kid wants to be teased about being diseased.

The following day, eight more blisters arose on my skin during the course of the day, and I had some trouble concealing them from my school friends. By Friday, when I arrived at school, I was covered in them from head to toe. No matter how fast I popped the blisters, more erupted. Mr Drummond, my teacher, took several hasty steps back when I entered the classroom. In a disgusted voice, he pointed towards the administration block and said, “Go and see the nurse, Gill.”

My classmates looked at me in fascinated horror. Whispering, several pointed and grinned, and one girl turned very pale. I felt so humiliated. For the first time in my life I understood the expression about wanting the floor to open up and swallow you. My shoulders slumped, I picked up my schoolbag and shuffled off to the first-aid office.

“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed the nurse when she spied me, “Looks like you have a bad case of chicken pox. I’ll call your parents.”

For two weeks I had a temporary reprieve from the teasing at school, as my parents made me stay at home until I recovered. By the end of two weeks though, I was no better. If anything, my condition had worsened. Taking another day off from work, my mother took me along to see Dr Theophilus. I liked him. He always talked to me like I was an intelligent human being.

After Dr Theophilus examined me, he took a scraping from one of the blisters. “Mmmmm,” he said thoughtfully, his wiry brows knitted together in consternation, “This is the strangest case of chicken pox I’ve ever seen in my life. To be honest, Gill, I don’t think it’s chicken pox at all. It may well be a new form of some old disease like cow pox or smallpox that scientists thought had practically been eliminated.”

My mother gulped and asked, “How dangerous is it?”

“I don’t know,” Dr Theo replied, “To be safe, I think we’ll have to quarantine you and your whole family, as well as Gill’s school-mates.”

“Oh no!” I thought. I realised that upon my return to school, I would be teased mercilessly. I fervently hoped that my disease was serious enough to kill me. My imagination took off and I imagined my family and classmates sobbing as they placed my coffin into the ground.

“Once we get the results back from the tests, we’ll have to determine a course of action,” Dr Theo said, bringing me back to reality. “Meantime, don’t leave the house, and try to avoid contact with other people.”

The next day, my parents and my siblings and I, remained at home under the conditions of the quarantine. Somehow, the local newspaper had gotten hold of the story, and my disease became the talk of the town. Several reporters camped out near our front door. Some of them wore surgical masks and gloves. We eventually had to leave the phone off the hook because of the constant phone interruptions.

George and Patrina refused to speak to me for the first day. Patrina even wrote some daft poem about being a “Sister to the Mister Blister”, or some such nonsense. I think George would have punched me, if he hadn’t been so afraid of catching my disease.

The whole experience was so mortifying, that I wished the disease would hurry up and kill me, to put me out of my misery. Instead, my blisters got worse. I also began to smell. It wasn’t some horrible odour that was wafting from my body. In fact, I began to smell rather sweet, like lollies.

The fourth day of our quarantine, I had joined the rest of the family for breakfast when my nose began to itch. Absently I rubbed at it, but the more I rubbed at it, the itchier it got.

Suddenly my sister yelled out, “Holy baloney! What’s that coming out of his nose?”

All eyes turned to look at me, and I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Crossing my eyes, I spied an enormous blister, the size of a grape growing from my nose. Desperately I leaped up from my chair, in some strange desire to take myself as far away from it as possible. I heard a strange noise and realised it was coming from me. 

“Urrgh, arrgha! Whackle! Gromitorrffmee! Yuggeeyoo!” I was saying. But no matter how far I backed away, the bubble came with me. It continued to grow and I wondered whether my brains would come sliding out of my nasal passages when it burst.

At that moment, the front doorbell rang, and my father started and squealed in terror.

Stunned at the spectacle in front of them, my family remained open-mouthed, staring at me.

“It’s Dr Theophilus,” came a voice from the front door, “I’ve got the results of the tests.”

My mother rose from her chair, dashed to the front door and let Dr Theo in.

Looking across at my siblings and my father, I noticed a string of drool hanging from the corner of George’s mouth. The three of them sat spellbound and didn’t even blink.

“Come in Dr Theo,” my mother urged, relief apparent in her voice, “Gill has something horrible growing out of his nose. It’s quite, quite disgusting.”

Dr Theo came into the dining room, and my family began to relax at his presence.

“I’ve been trying to phone you since last evening, but your phone seems to be off the hook,” Dr Theophilus said, “But I’m sure, you’ll be pleased to hear that I have the results from the tests, and they’ve all come back negative. Gill does not have some nasty, deadly disease.”

There were audible sighs of relief from my parents. The look my brother cast in my direction indicated that he was going to thump me at the first opportunity, for causing him such trouble.

“So what’s wrong with the weirdo, then?” Patrina asked lovingly.

“It appears that what is coming out of Gill’s body is actually chewing gum,” Dr Theo stated.
“What do you mean doctor?” asked my father, “Is he smearing it onto his skin or something?”

“No, not at all,” assured Dr Theo, 
“It’s exuding through his skin, from inside his body. It’s actually quite a medical marvel really, and has all of the medical community abuzz!”

Reaching up I popped the bubble protruding out of my nostril. Now that he mentioned it, it did smell a lot like chewing gum.

“But how is that possible?” my mother asked.

Turning to me the doctor asked, “Do you enjoy chewing gum?”

“Oh yes,” I replied, “I LOVE chewing gum. I eat it all the time.”

“And when you’ve finished chewing it, do you swallow it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I responded, happy at last that there was a reason for my strange condition, “I never believed those silly stories saying you shouldn’t swallow chewing gum.”

“In your case Gill, it’s best that you DO stop swallowing gum,” he said, “You are the first human being in history, that absorbs chewing gum directly into your body. Because of the quantity that you’ve been ingesting and absorbing, it is now coming out of the pores of your skin, and by the looks, also out of your nose. I wouldn’t be surprised if you start getting some bubbles coming out of your ears, or even out of your …. er, um …. out of your bottom.”

The blood drained from my face, and Patrina and George burst into laughter.

“Do you mean, when Gill farts,” sniggered George, “he’ll get bubble gum bubbles out of his bum?”

Patrina fell off the chair. She was almost screaming in hysterical laughter. Both mum and dad covered their mouths with their hands, but I could tell by the way that their eyes crinkled up that they were trying desperately not to laugh.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” confirmed Dr Theo.

Suddenly I felt that I didn’t quite like him so much anymore. Anyone who brought that kind of news has got to go down several notches in the “friend” stakes.

“So what can be done for him?” my dad muttered.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for him,” the doctor said, “But the medical associates with whom I have been speaking, have asked if Gill would be available for medical research.”

So that was it then. That was the point at which my childhood ended. Then began several years of poking and prodding by numerous scientists, along with a great deal of sniggering. Numerous scientific papers were written, and a conference was held in Sweden.

Although my parents had obtained the services of a good lawyer, our claim against Wrigley’s and other well known chewing-gum companies failed. The claims were simply laughed out of court. Unfortunately the media had gotten hold of the story and my case made headlines in all major newspapers in the world. Even television stations broadcast news reports and my life was forever changed.

When I reached legal age, I changed my name in the hopes that people would give me some peace and to my relief, the furore eventually died down. Fortunately with time, my condition improved.

And now, as I read the newspaper headlines “High Court Challenge Over Gum Tragedy”, I find that there is another boy in Australia, going through the same hell that had plagued my childhood. Unfortunately this boy had lost his hearing as well as his ability to speak, because of the wads of gum clogging them up.  His parents had managed to take the case as far as the high courts.

Silently, I sent up a silent prayer for the poor kid. I sent one up for myself as well, asking that there be no bubbles inadvertently appearing out of my nose or my ear at inconvenient times, which had occurred during the board meeting earlier today. I wondered if it was time to go looking for a new job, or would I be forever known as “Gill the Gooey Gum Guy”. Whatever way you looked at it, it was a sticky situation. I figured I’d chew on the idea some more.  

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