The Unopened Bar of Chocolate

by Steve Campbell

I keep an unopened bar of chocolate under my bed. I take it out every now and again—usually after Mom’s given me a telling off—and run my fingers along the wrapper, but I haven’t opened it. Not yet.

I probably should explain.

There are three rules: I have to be given the item, I can’t just take it. Then I have to eat it—food and drink work best but as long as I can swallow it, I can use it. And then I have to want whatever comes next to happen.

The first time was an accident. I wanted to play football and Dad wanted me to finish my supper. He always did the cooking. I shoved the flakes of fish around my plate and grumbled under my breath. I wished he would leave me alone.

Dad didn’t come home from work the next day. Mom said he was shacked up with some slag he worked with. When I realised what I’d done I tried to put things back to how they were, but it was too late.

I was more careful after that. There were almost no more accidents.

During science class, Mr Stanley launched a piece of chalk at me from the front of the class. “QUIET!” he spat. “You’re not here to talk. You’re here to listen.” The chalk bounced off the side of my face and landed on the floor by my feet. The laughter in the classroom stung as much as the mark on my cheek. I slipped the chalk into my pocket when the bell rang for breaktime.

At home, I crunched the chalk with the back of a teaspoon and stirred the powder into a glass of milk.

During assembly the next morning there was one seat in the hall that didn’t have a teacher in it. The headmaster kept looking over at it while we screeched our way through the hymns.

I practised on some of my classmates while Mr Stanley was away. I got better at it. He came back to school the next term. He explained to us what asthma was, and about how his doctor had discovered an allergy to chalk. “After all these years of teaching and writing on blackboards, who’d have guessed it?” He said in a hoarse voice.

Last week, me and Mom were on holiday. Mom’s new boyfriend, Ray, came with us. It was the first time we’d been back to the caravan without Dad. Mom said she wanted me to be good, that she was thinking of letting Ray move in with us. The holiday was a practice run, she said.

Ray swayed in his seat as he waved his pint glass at me. Splashes of beer landed on the table.

“Make yourself scarce, there’s a good lad,” Ray grunted. His tongue was like a pink slug, poking out over teeth that were the colour of piss. “Unless you wanna drink?” He cackled. The spit at the corners of his mouth stretched between his lips.

We’d come to the caravan park clubhouse every night since we’d been here. I usually had a packet of crisps and a lemonade. Mom and Ray drank beer while we listened to a man dressed as a woman singing Dolly Parton songs.

“Leave him be, Ray. He’s only a boy.” Mom’s eyes were half-closed but she managed a smile in my direction.

“Never did me any harm.” Ray snorted. “Make a man of him. Put hair on his chest.” The last word came out as chesss.

When Ray pawed at Mom’s hair and lapped at her ear, she threw her head back and squealed. I couldn’t hear what Ray was muttering over the chorus from ‘9 to 5’.

“Go on then.” I nodded at Ray’s glass. “I’ll have a drink.”

“Cheeky git!” He pushed his drink across the table, “Here, finish this. I ‘aint buying you a full one.” I peered down the glass, past the rings of foam gathered around the inside, to the murky liquid in the bottom. “Now go and find something to do,” he said.

Mom tutted as I get up.

Why don’t you find something to do, I wanted to say. I didn’t though. But I wanted to.

I took the drink back to our caravan and sat on the steps with it. The beer smelt like garden but tasted like soap. I shuddered as I gulped down the first mouthful, then I belched. The taste came back up and swirled around inside my mouth. I took another swig. And then another. When the glass was empty, I rested it against the steps and kicked my heel through it. I hid the shards in the space below the caravan, where Dad used to keep his fishing rods.

Then I went inside to wait.

I must have nodded off because it was dark when Mom woke me up. Her eyes looked sad and she had matted hair stuck to her face.

“It’s Ray,” she said. “There was trouble at the club. Oh, God.” She started crying. There was blood on her hands and arms.

The next morning, before we left to visit Ray in hospital, Mom bought a teddy bear holding a pink heart, and a bar of chocolate from the caravan park shop. When I sat down next to Ray’s bed, and saw the mass of bandages where his face used to be, I wondered how long it would be before he could eat something other than soup again. The bandages were covered in red patches where blood had leaked through. Red slug juice.

Mom looked from the bandages to the chocolate and then back to the bandages. “You have this, love,” she said, handing me the chocolate.

I didn’t say anything. I smiled a thank you and dropped it into my pocket. I put it under my bed when I got home.

I haven’t opened the chocolate. Not yet.

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