11: Nerf Boy
Then, before I even have time to shut the notebook, there’s Dad, just in his undies, not a speck of fat on him, his face like a mass of angry snakes, and he’s shoving this bit of notepaper in my face. “And what the hell do you call this then, son? What do you call this?”
I take a quick look. It’s a small yellow square of paper. The handwriting looks like the writing in my notebook from Future Bastard, which is to say, it’s barely readable. It says, I can just barely make out, “Tell your doctor you want to see a psychiatrist and start on lithium.” I take a big gulping breath. I feel myself go cold all through. My balls pull up into my torso. I think, Oh shit.
Dad’s not finished. “Do you think you’re being a bit clever here, a bit smart? Smarter than your old man? ‘Cause you do think you’re smarter than me, dontcha? Yeah, you do, there’s no use trying to–no, look, it’s too late, mate. The game’s up. I know. I know you look down on your old man, I know it and you know it, and thanks, thanks very bloody MUCH for the support. You know we’re in a tight spot right now. Gotta sell the house, Christ, how we’re gonna do that, God only knows that, but yeah, and then this, eh? Lording it over your old man. Well, THANKS for the advice, MATE. Just thanks bloody loads.”
I don’t know what to say. I fumble the notebook closed. I can feel tears wanting to burst out of my face. My throat is tight. My eyes are burning. Dad is pacing in front of me, clutching his head, his breath loud and hard, extremely intense, rubbing his face, looking like murder. He looks like he’s listening to other people and those people are screaming at him. I try to think of what to say, but what squeaks out is, “It wasn’t me.”
“Sorry, what? What did you say?” He glares at me like I’ve interrupted him in the middle of trying to land a 747 full of terrified passengers, and he’s an out of work comedian who didn’t eat the fish meal. He’s clutching the note.
“Oh, sorry. Just, it wasn’t me.” Where am I going with this? I can’t tell him the truth.
He screws up the note, still in an extreme state. “Just get yourself ready for school, get on with it. Oh, and I’ll be taking this.”
And before I have time to react, let alone move, he’s snatched my notebook out of my hands. Quick as you like, executed with one strong, quick hand, and it’s gone. He starts flicking through it. “Every time I see you you’ve got your nose buried in this like you’re up to no good. Well, let’s find out. Your mum and me will have a little look.” He turns away from me, flicking pages this way and that. It occurs to me, feral cur that I am, desperate rogue that I am, to jump him, wrestle him to the ground, and get the notebook back. Because I have to get it back. But how? I am no fighter. I have no strength. I am Nerf Boy.
It’s the atom bomb. It’s everything. It’s my whole current life. I’ve been keeping these notebooks for years, and this is the current one. The rest are in a box under my bed at home, and I’m terrified of losing them. They are my life.
They could have just killed me and diced up the meat of my body for a casserole and done me less damage. This is as bad as bad gets. This is like getting caught in the middle of wanking. At the dinner table, in the middle of dinner.
I think about what’s in this particular notebook, how far back it goes. That first letter from Future Bastard is in there, I know that, and a couple of months of ordinary pre-Bastard, ordinary-torment teenage life where the worst I had to deal with was Mr Shit and out of control sweat glands. My notebooks keep me alive. They are my life. I write every chance I get. To the extent I have some grasp on what’s real and solid, it’s because I write. I’ve been writing in notebooks like that one for years. Every thought, idea, conversation, obsession, book I’ve read, movie I’ve seen. I think the only thing I don’t write about is wanking, because yuck. You do it but it’s disgusting, even to you. You wish you didn’t have to, the way you wish you could kind of pole-vault right over the whole of teenage life, from 12 to 21, and land with an elegant roll on the other side, with a university education, a decent job, and maybe a girlfriend.
Future Bastard was here last night. He wrote in the notebook. I just read what he wrote but can I remember a word that he said to me? Can I remember a single thing? I remember Dad in his smelly undies showing me that yellow square of notepaper, and that reminds me. Lithium. The Bastard said that Dad and I both need lithium, that we need to get our doctor to give us lithium. This rings bells now. I’m supposed to ask my doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist, so the psychiatrist can give me lithium. “You’ve got major clinical depression”, he said. Something like that. He said I was sick. Really sick. That’s why I felt so out of my own body, and just sat like a stone in my classes. I understood that. I recognised that.
All of which, yes, good, great, but now my life was no longer my own. Dad had the notebook. He would show it to Mum. I was still sitting on my bed. I had not moved from where I sat when Dad took the book from me.
I thought he was going to hit me. I think he thought he was going to hit me. Dad has never laid a hand on me.
I think he took my notebook to keep from hitting me.
Oh God. What do I do?
Dad was in the loo with the notebook. Sometimes he’d sit in there like it was his office.
Mum was getting ready for work. She heard Dad telling me off. I was guessing she knew about Future Bastard’s note. All she said to me, in passing, was, “How do you even know about lithium and psychiatrists?” And then she’d whirred off again to get her handbag and keys. I wanted to call after her that I don’t, or at least, not yet.
But what I really want, more even than I want my notebook back, I want Future Bastard to come here and sit down with all of us at the same time, and to bring absolute proof that he’s from the future, and that he’s telling the truth. That he’s me. That I turn into him. A lot of the problem at the moment is that he keeps popping in, doing these enigmatic little things, these tantalising gestures, and then he pisses off again. I just want him to stay long enough to have a proper conversation where I can ask a couple of questions. Because he writes these letters where he says things, but not the things that I want him to say, that I need him to say. Things that I can show Mum and Dad that will help.
Like, what happens with Zonk? Is she going to be okay? Because Zonk matters to me, even if not to anyone else. I don’t want to have to be “brave”, as Mum put it. I just want my dog back. I want her warmth, her smell, I want her cold nose against the back of my knee, the depth of her brown eyes, the sound of her tail slapping the sides of her own legs when she wags it hard. The way she romps toward you at top speed when she sees you’ve come home. Zonk had better be coming home.
And what happens with Mum and Dad? Are they going to be okay? Future Bastard said in his first message that in his time they’re old and still together and happy and content, more or less. But can I believe him? Should I believe him? Should I let him take me to see them? Can I trust him? Isn’t he really just a stranger of a particularly exotic sort? Don’t we get police officers at school all the time telling us to beware of strangers, especially those pretending to be family members? Stranger Danger, and all that?
That gives me a great deal of pause, thinking about that, because I know very well that that’s extremely serious business. Kids like me have come to bad ends this way. A great many ordinary kids are still missing. The missing kids haunt me, when on TV the police run promotional campaigns about them. Any information regarding the whereabouts of missing Bunbury boy, missing Boyup Brook girl, missing Quairading boy, missing Morley girl… These stories fill me with dread. Those kids might be dead, and they might be alive somewhere. They might be growing up with new names in new families, but only too aware their real families are out there, wondering what happened. Or who knows what lies they were told? It eats at me to think of them. You can’t trust strangers who seem friendly and who try to lure you in with illusions and trickery, like a stage magician. And hadn’t Future Bastard done exactly that to me?
I needed to read his messages again. I needed to see the Apple iPhone 7, not all wrapped up in that bubbly plastic, but the actual machine. I needed to know what to make of the guy. Every hopeful instinct I had wanted to believe his every word, that he was a man from a broken, doomed future, who’d come back to his own past to try and help his past self, and maybe prevent some of the trouble ahead. But I was enough of my parents’ child, and especially my mother’s child, to know that all that glisters is not gold. That when something seems too good to be true, that’s because it is too good to be true. That there are con artists abroad in the world looking for starry-eyed kids like me, doom-laden, broken-hearted, miserable kids, looking for a sign, any sign, a bit of hope.
The loo flushed. Dad burst out of the room, still wiry in his undies. He had the notebook. He pointed at me. “You, me, in the car, five minutes, or I burn this bloody thing right before your eyes, you got me?”
I heard. I had not believed it possible for one’s testicles to climb any higher inside one’s torso, but there they were.