“We were definitely playing with them.”
She says this to herself, or to me. I’m looking at the empty cage, all my enthusiasm for the search gone.
“Definitely.” She says again. Sighs and puts her head in her hands.
“My hands even smell like gerbil.” Her voice comes out muffled from between her fingers.
The cage is made of plastic. The top half clear, the bottom part hot pink. It is, or was, the home of Lisbeth – one of the more recent additions. It was my turn to pick a name so I went with a character from the book I was reading at the time.
Claire looks pained which surprises me. Lisbeth was her least favourite from the last litter, not that she’d admit that. Then I notice the empty pill packet in her hand.
“We’re out.” I thought so anyway, we’ve probably been out for a while. I have the beginnings of a headache which will only get worse, and my body feels exhausted although my mind is still whirring.
Perdidazine is our drug of choice at the moment. Cheap blue and off-white capsules that can be ordered online with no hassle. A stimulant – it took us a while to decide – with some hallucinogenic properties. The unpleasant effects: skull-splitting headaches accompanied by a whirring noise that comes from inside your head. I usually picture a chainsaw slicing into my brain during this. Claire sometimes gets heart palpitations. Short term memory loss too; which isn’t unpleasant in itself but makes life a bit more complicated and disorganised. The positives include time speeding up and these long, summer days with too much heat and too much boredom skipping by. Euphoria, which is always nice, and confidence. If we were ever inclined to leave the house while high, we’d be social chameleons, knowing just what to be and when to be it.
Claire’s face is haunted now, and that’s fuck all to do with our gerbils or lack of. I know I should be more concerned at how panicky she gets when we run out, but I’m too bored. Bored of looking for Lisbeth, bored of this headache, bored of Claire’s complaining even before she’s started. I need to be in my room for a while.
I spent most of the next day watching my ceiling from my bed, my duvet pulled over my shoulders. I lie down, roll onto my side and watch my fish swim about for a while. I have two, just standard goldfish. I don’t really care about them but whenever they die I replace them and keep the names. I feed them and change their water regularly, but every few months they die anyway. I go back to watching the ceiling. The palm on my right hand is really scratched, which I probably did in my sleep. It hurt. It’s annoying.
Claire comes in for a while and talks at me. Asks me if I ordered more perd. I tell her to fuck off. She watches the fish for a while with me, or just stares at my wall through the tank, I don’t know which. Eventually she goes away.
She wakes me up at seven in the morning. Her eyes are puffy from crying, which knocks me wide awake. I’m starting to worry she’s getting really dependent on this new stuff. But it’s Lisbeth she’s upset about. I help her look again for almost two hours, mostly in the study: behind the computer, the bookshelf, we look in the garden too although we’re certain we never left the back door open. We give up the search. Probably for good this time. After dumping more food in all the occupied cages we watch daytime television until I fall asleep on the sofa.
Sometime after waking up again I feel like writing in my diary which I haven’t done for at least a month. It’s in the middle of my bookcase, with my camcorder on top of it and a half smoked joint on top of that. I write in it for a while, updating it with my thoughts, feelings, activities, things it might be nice to remember at some point. Even Lisbeth gets a mention. I go to Claire’s room and try to shake her awake but she’s either been at Dad’s valium or something else that she hasn’t bothered to share with me – and won’t be waking up for a while. I smoke the rest of the joint I found out of her window, poke a couple of her cuddly toys then leave. I find the camcorder cable in my desk and start recharging it. I’d assumed the battery was dead, and was right. I decide to film my fish swimming for a few hours because I’m not going to buy any more if they die on me again. I write ‘Film them’ on a piece of paper torn from a notepad and sellotape it to their tank.
I was woken up by the camcorder beeping. Means it’s recharged. I go back to sleep.
When I get up none of my cereal is in the cereal cupboard which really annoys me. I have a cigarette in the garden and take one of two perd. capsules I have in my desk drawer I ring dad who claims he bought it, then wake up Claire and ask her if she’s eaten it, although I know she hates cereal. I wake her up again half an hour later and ask if she moved it to punish me for losing Lisbeth, or maybe for not finding her. She screams at me to fuck off. After a few minutes sat at the dining table I go and look in the same cupboard. It was next to the crunchy nut but at an angle that made it impossible to see. I pour myself a bowl, pour milk on, take one mouthful and realise I’m not even a bit hungry. I spit it out of the window.
When I go to feed my fish one of them is dead. She gets flushed down the toilet after I slightly mummify her in wet toilet paper to make sure she goes down properly. There’s also a bit of scrap paper stuck on to the tank which says ‘film them’. My handwriting. I rip it off and go tell Claire if she goes and buys me another goldfish I’ll order more perdidazine. She agrees on the condition that I take pictures of the latest batch of gerbils and write up an advert on gumtree to sell them. Deal. I look for my phone but can’t find it, and it goes straight to voicemail when I ring from the house phone. I think the camcorder can take stills anyway.
The camcorder belonged to dad before I asked for it. I found it in the cellar. I was bored at the time and was getting stoned every day, I wanted distractions. I found a lot of other junk too but it was the camcorder I wanted. I scanned through the tape in it, there was footage of me and Claire laughing and hitting a beach ball that was almost the same size as we were back and forth between us; as well as what looked like a party with a lot of old people sitting around in it. I recognised one or two. As I didn’t think it was likely I could still get the tapes for it I asked dad if he minded me taping over it.
I type out the advert. Gerbils, four pounds each. Loving homes wanted, please no vivisectionists. Simple.
As I’m taking the camcorder downstairs I start to wonder how I’ll get the photos online – the camcorder predates USB ports- but I’ll deal with that later. I want to see if there’s anything left of the beach ball video first, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Nostalgia isn’t my thing, but the drugs drag it to the surface.
After watching for a few minutes I turn it off, bring it to my room and dump it on my bookcase. The gerbils remain unphotographed. I put on some Soundgarden and rifle through Dad’s room for some of his valium or thorazine but it’s been moved, or ran out, or otherwise gone.
I stay in my room for some time with one fish and a chainsaw headache.
Claire isn’t in her room although her window’s open. I throw the camcorder onto her bed with a note on it saying ‘Watch this’ I smoke a cigarette out of her window before deciding to pour out my last capsule and snort the contents. The last pill isn’t in my desk though, which means I’ve probably already had that idea and already done it. It makes sense, as my headache’s eased up. And things are okay. Not great, but not bad.
Halfway down the stairs i stop, confused as to why my mind’s so clear. I assume I’ve taken some perdidazine – a drug me and Claire have been taking. It causes some problems with memories. And I can’t remember why I’m going down the stairs. I want to talk to Claire. I want to swop neuroses with her, have a deep conversation about whatever, whatever she wants, if we had a beach ball we could go in the garden and play volleyball with it, or something. Anything she wants to do really. But she isn’t in her room, although the window’s open. My camcorder is on her bed with a note attached. I take it back to my room and put it on my bookshelf where it belongs.
My room. The camcorder is on my lap. On my desk, the laptop is still open, halfway through typing that gerbil advert. My fish (plural) are swimming around the tank (thanks Claire) my chainsaw headache is revving, revving. Claire is next to me, watching the camcorder with me.
The room full of old people are laughing, sitting in our living room, but with different chairs. They’re boring, and I’m about to fast forward when it begins and the view changes to a lopsided view of my bed, desk, and fishtank – a bookcases-eye-view. My voice can be heard from outside in the hall, muffled. It’s my second time watching this and Claire’s first but honestly, my recollection is hazy. It’s mostly new to us both.
On the screen I walk in holding Lisbeth the gerbil by the base of her tail. I see myself look just to the left of the lens, and my eyes are blank, empty. Although I couldn’t say what it is, some feature of my eyes are lost. Especially compared with Lisbeth’s which are very much alive, big, black, and frightened. her paws are flapping at nothing, there’s nothing to cling onto for her. We watch me make a fist around her, open the aquarium lid with my other hand and plunge her in. In the now Claire has started to scream at me, things like what the fuck am I doing and what the fuck am I showing her. A lot of ‘fucks’.
I tell her to shut up but she doesn’t until she appears on screen and I grab her face and twist her at the screen so she sees herself. On screen, I don’t look up, I’m just staring at my submerged fist -and I guess those were gerbil bites and scratches on my hand- and Claire doesn’t look at me while I drown Lisbeth, but she plunges in her own arm, coiled around mine like a snake, and puts her hand over my closed fist.
One or both of us is squeezing. Because red ribbons of blood are starting to trail upwards from between our fingers. She puts her other hand on my waist and slowly moves it up and down, under my t shirt, stroking, in a way few people have touched me and in a way my sister never has. We’re both grinning now, but the smiles seem painted on. It’s not something that feels real. I can’t see our eyes, but I know how blank and devoid of anything they are, I just know. More crimson streams waft out of our interlocked hands, and the fish swim strictly in the corner of their tank, well away from us.
At this point Claire runs from the room. I watch for another few minutes before turning it off.
I knock on her door but she just starts to scream at me again. I shout over her that we need more perd. and she gets louder, screaming ‘fuck you’ over and over but eventually quiets down and soon after slides Dad’s debit card under the door.
I listen to Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs with the volume quite low so I can hear if the letterbox is rattled and when it is, me and Claire are both at the door in seconds. She rips open the small brown package with her teeth, same with the plastic wrapper and tips the capsules into her hand. She starts dividing them into two piles in her palm.
“Maybe in an hour or two we could look for Lisbeth again, if you want.”I say.
She pauses, then gets back to rationing. One for you, one for me.
“Maybe try the study again?” She stops again.
“And we could change her bedding so it’s nice for her when we find her.” She does look up at me this time, with an expression like gratitude.
I think she’s going to hug me but her hands are full of pills and packaging. So she doesn’t.