Earache, Doozers, Arrays by Mike Hickman

Wembley Fraggle watched from the pillow end of the bed as the boy unfolded the tissue-thin paper. The print was tiny and a bitten fingernail tracked along a particularly fine polysyllabic word. The boy mouthed it to himself in precisely the way that would have had Mrs Stone down on him for his insolence. 

This had nothing to do with her, though. 

Whatever she or the rest of the class might come to believe. 

The [very] small print read, the boy carefully slid the blister packs out of the box. Popping the first of the blisters, the boy thought of bubble wrap and he exchanged glances with Wembley. Meant to be good for anxiety, Wembley told him. Although the boy had no idea where the Fraggle would have got that idea from. You could give it a go, Wembley told him. Just pop them. Maybe that would be enough. 

The boy popped the second of the blisters, then the third. There was, it was true, a certain release to be had from popping what needed to be popped. Although there was always the additional anxiety that he’d be caught in the act. He’d released three days’ worth already. They couldn’t be easily returned to the pack and sellotaping over the holes wasn’t going to convince anyone. God help him if he needed another prescription. If he wanted an appointment made, he’d been told he could damn well call the surgery himself. 

This situation wasn’t going to be solved by popping blisters, he told Wembley. Neither did he think the Doozers could come by and tidy things. It wasn’t as if the tiny builders could make much of a wall out of the pills, even if he popped all three of the blister packs. Which, in the silence of the room, with Wembley watching under the sick yellow of the bare bulb, he was very close to achieving. 

18 in each one. Three packs in total. Wembley helped with the maths. 54. Maybe enough, then, for a moderate-sized Doozer wall. Six nines, the boy told Wembley, rearranging them on the Star Wars duvet now that they were all free of their packaging. Did it sound more or less that way? 

Whichever way you looked at it, Wembley said, it was a lot. Especially without water. 

Arranging things can be good, the Fraggle suggested. Something to keep the hands and the mind busy. They’d got 18 x 3 and 9 x 6. Perhaps there were other arrays? The boy was good at that sort of thing. Even Mrs Stone had said so in his report. And maybe she’d have said so at Parents’ Evening, too. If anyone had been interested enough to hear it. 

Floorboards digging into his knees, the boy adjusted himself on the floor before finally finding a spot free of nail heads or knot-holes. The carpet had come up for the woodworm treatment in 1986 and never gone down again. This was a thing that he and Wembley knew but which Mrs Stone hadn’t believed when he’d mentioned it. So he’d stopped mentioning it. 

Things we know, the boy might have said to Wembley. 54 into 18 and then 54 into 9. What the array of pills looked like spread across the faded bedclothes. How silent the house would be at 3 in the morning after 9 hours of cranked up music from downstairs. How difficult it would have been to get across the creaking landing to the bathroom for the water he would have to do without. 

How little anyone would care if he did this. 

And then, of course, there was the question of how long it would be before they knew, because the person responsible for the cranked up music from downstairs wouldn’t be awake until at least midday. 

Things we also know, Wembley might have told him. There’s no guarantee that this will work. Last time, you ended up sleeping until 10. And then, when you did get into school, you were bollocked by Mr Cotterill, before floating your way through double science and nearly getting run over on the dual carriageway coming home. 

Do you want to risk that humiliation again? For a phone call? When it’s an appointment that you need and she doesn’t care enough to ring herself? Oh yes, she’ll let you “run up the bill” this once because she’s frightened that the school will think badly of her if the call isn’t made. Because you need the help and she wants to look like she cares. But it is only one phone call, and you making it doesn’t mean that you’re not unwell. Or that she is right. 

But the boy couldn’t make the call. And Wembley had known that. 

It took him three hours to take the pills. More than long enough for the Doozers to build their wall. 

And the result? 

“She rang again, Simon, left another message. She sounds really pissed this time – rattling on about you always having problems with the phone.” 

Mathilde had never known Simon to have problems with the phone. 

Although her husband’s thing for stuffed Jim Henson toys – she had to allow him that eccentricity. 

Simon put the yellow Fraggle down on the bookcase where he watched over proceedings. 

‘Problems with the phone?’ he said, wryly, rubbing his ear and remembering the pain that had persisted for three days. He’d read every one of the likely side effects and even the unlikely ones. They’d made no mention of what the overdose might do to his ear. Or that it would continue all the way into adulthood. 

If it helped him to believe it was Wembley and the Doozers’ doing, making his arrays less lethal, then he was going to believe it, wasn’t he? 

“She says you were always scared of it,” Mathilde told him. 

Simon shook his head, wincing only slightly. “Mum knows I don’t have problems with the phone,” he said. “She just gives me earache, that’s all.” 

Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review. 

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