Oct/Nov 2003  •   Fiction

The Banana Breakfast

by John Gray

Photo-Art by Tara Gilbert-Brever

Photo-Art by Tara Gilbert-Brever

When Mike went mad, I took to diving. When Jung compared his patient's messy written work to James Joyce's insane ramblings he said they were falling whereas Joyce is diving. I see I was falling. The swimming attendant told me so as he walked me to the changing room. A line of children's heads bobbed up and down at the deep end, their faces a mixture of jealousy and defeat.

When Mike went mad I took to driving. At night on time-worn country lanes. I never crashed. I did go bumper to bumper with a small sports car once, driven by a tiny man with unexcited hair. I followed him into town until he stopped outside a police station. I would like to have seen his face, but you cannot drive after people and expect to see anything more than the back of their mouldy heads.

When Mike went mad I took up divining. Moisture at first, then insanity. My little stick led me to the bathroom where the taps were always left running. It seems demons are in the pipes and need to be washed out. They were washed out all right. I turned the taps off after a maximum of two weeks and followed my stick to the Tulip Wing.

When Mike went mad I took to placing a hyphen in the word "flame-thrower." Then a colleague of mine said he thought a hyphenated "flame-thrower" was the standard, so I removed the hyphen and placed it in the word "head-less."

When Mike went mad I started to sit at the back of buses and make machine gun sounds with my mouth. This led people to reposition themselves throughout the journey, away from me it seems. Once, a young hoodlum, humming himself, and covered in blood-blue tattoos, had the balls to tell me to stop. So I stopped. But as he left the bus I imitated the sound of a bazooka going off at the back of his ugly neck.

When Mike went mad I accelerated and decelerated time. For instance, someone at work might say "Is it four o'clock already!" or, at the other end of the spectrum, someone might say "It's been a really long day." This was because I had made it so. Some people's days lasted six hours, others' eight hours plus. I'm thinking of making someone's day last for nine years. It takes a while to work out if you hate someone that much. I want to do the right thing.

When Mike went mad I started to attend premières. I'd stand outside with the fans and celebrate as the stars arrived in the rain. But I soon noticed some celebrities didn't stay for the film, they just went straight out the backdoor. So I stood outside the exits and keened loudly upon each escape. Bodyguards moved in bewildered silence, jamming heads into cars, tending to their ears with the delicate touch of the first and second finger—too many rings. Curious as to why these people did not wish to see their own films, I went to the local megaplex where I watched a popular movie about four weddings. This was meant to be a comedy but I did not see the funny side. I did laugh once: when the fat man keeled over at the ceilidh and died. I laughed so loudly, the beam of an usherette's torch passed momentarily over my sweating brow. I was forced to use the exit.

When Mike went mad I started to invent names for planes, bombs and the towns those bombs would be dropped upon. I was inspired by the names Enola Gay, Little Boy and Hiroshima, and the lesser known sequence of Bockscar, Fat Man and Nagasaki. Whatever you may think about these bombings, you cannot deny their nomenclature. But try as I might, my names seemed off-key. They were willowy, convoluted and did not have the range I felt would make them real. I just could not think of new names for evil.

When Mike went mad I started to test myself. Whenever I passed a reflective surface—usually a shiny black car—I'd suddenly turn and look in order to catch myself out. I wanted to see the unofficial me, not the one presented to the world with that fake fat smile on his fake tanned face, but the one that could not hide his shame, could not password protect his guilt. But the fake me always knew when I was about to take a peak, was always ready, and so I did not get to see behind the biscuit mask.

When Mike went mad I took his medication. It tasted of hairspray. It tasted of banana. Aside from the constipation it had no effect whatsoever.

When Mike went mad I started to buy sheet music, which I could not read. I got a friend to read it for me. He played the pieces to me on the piano. I was not entirely happy with some of Wagner's compositions. Bach, too. So I suggested corrections—cutting out the passages that were the most monotonous. I reduced the Goldberg Variations to fifteen minutes. I hope one day my version will become the accepted one.

When Mike went mad I told stories to people again and again. Some people told me to shut up, saying "You've told me this before" or "Change the record!" but others were not so forthcoming. They suffered the same tale repeated three or four times. They suffered this repetition because they did not have the heart to tell me they had heard it all before. One young lady smiled when she first heard a childhood story of mine in which I fainted during a woodwork lesson on a hot summer's day. The same young lady smiled again when the story was repeated to her (word for word) for a second time. The third time she was told this tale her face began to show signs of fatigue: her smile made her look backward; her eyebrows went up in the middle and stayed there; and her ears began to twitch—a scary spectacle for any storyteller. I think she came to dread the hot weather that summer for it was a hot summer sort of story and so any sign of sunshine meant I might go into my account of how my eleven year old head cracked open when it hit one of the work surfaces—"here, this is the scar." During a particularly humid period towards the end of July I told the story a further three times. The fourth airing of my story saw her laugh like an abattoir (there was something amusing in this version?); at the fifth she looked confused, disorientated even, and I asked her "Are you all right?" "Yes, fine" she squeaked, but I could tell she was failing; at the sixth, a sour expression transformed her pretty face—some bile had found its way up into her mouth—and I asked again "Are you all right?" She nodded silently, held her hand up to her mouth in order to cover up a future burp and waited until I walked away. I could not quite believe someone would not just say "Please, enough, don't tell me again what I have heard a hundred times before," but it seems sometimes people will do anything not to break the social code. I did not dare any more direct approaches with this story of tapping out at school because I felt if there was ever a line drawn in the sand then I had crossed it long ago; I had crossed it in my flip-flops, built a castle with toothless battlements and a finely executed portcullis, then smashed it all in with a running barefooted kick. I cannot help myself, and so one day, during a brief talk to a colleague in the corridor, I saw the girl coming towards us, returning from the canteen with a tub of ice-cream (banana ripple?) and a wooden spoon. Immediately I started to tell my colleague the story of the hot day, the stuffy woodwork room and the crash. I could see the girl knew exactly what I was saying even though she was almost out of earshot. She had got only a few steps into this over-familiar story when she too felt faint and crashed to the floor. She soon recovered to see a small crowd of concerned shirkers standing back to give her air. I told each of these newcomers it was understandable she had fainted; it was a hot day. When she heard me mention the words "hot day" her eyes rolled back inside her head, and I felt it was time to leave her before I did her any permanent damage.

When Mike went mad I had bananas for breakfast. For lunch, also. And tea. I read somewhere there is something in bananas that makes you feel good, and as we all want to feel good I started to eat bananas at an alarming rate—alarming only to those who had never felt good their entire lives. I had nine bananas at breakfast, in various forms: bananas milkshake; slices mixed with cereal; dipped in coffee. For my morning snack I had a further two. At the office no one was allowed to see inside my case, which held prisoner a further fourteen pieces of golden joy. For lunch: three more. Afternoon—and here I really did need a coffee to wash it all down—the bananas assembled for my consumption totalled seven: I believe it is here colleagues started to notice my plan for happiness. They were banana green with envy. For tea and supper I took my foot off the banana accelerator and coped with only 14 more pieces. There was some improvement in my wellbeing.

When Mike went mad I went out to the Tulip Wing to sit at his beside. He did not seem to be in any kind of disarray. It must have been his new medication, the one I had yet to try. He stirred only from his drowsy state to slide off the bed and visit the toilet. I talked for a while to one of the attendants, who was at that moment wheeling around a trolley load of drugs. We were laughing about something unrelated to madness when Mike returned to the room. He looked at us as if we were against him. I wanted to explain our laughter was in no way directed at him. When he lay down again he was given more pills. His eyes looked like watery sacks. Another patient entered the room and lay down on the bed opposite. After a moment he sat up and called to me. "Mike! Mike!" He said as if he had an urgent secret he wanted to share with me. I ignored him as I was told to by the Nurse I had seen earlier that morning. Her name was Nurse Sarrow. I considered this for the name of one of my bombs. I am shattered now. I hold Mike's hand and hope he will be well again. I hope the Fat Man opposite does not startle or disturb us. My blood has been like lead recently. I only hope I can come again, when Mike is feeling better. These places are hell on earth. There are some people here are who are clearly insane, and no amount of fresh fruit is going to change that.