When we were in the tenth grade, Jack and I fed a box of laxatives to a bully at school. The laxatives were called Brooklax and looked like chocolate. The bully was called Carl and looked like Jabba the Hutt. It was Carl’s third year in the tenth grade. He wasn’t slow but he seemed reluctant to move out into the world. Instead, he lingered in high school where he held sway over the rest of us. His favourite pastime was stealing our food. At break he took whatever lunch he fancied and ate it while we watched helplessly. He never took Jack’s food because Jack always had stale-looking sandwiches. Once, when Jack’s grandmother made fudge, Jack brought it to school and Carl promptly ate it.
“That was good,” he said and licked his lips. “We should have fudge more often.”
Jack wasn’t very possessive but he had an animal-like attachment to his food. Taking it was not a good idea.
“You’re going to be sorry,” he told Carl.
“I’m sorry already,” Carl replied and tossed Jack his empty lunch box. “It’s finished. Bring us some more.”
That afternoon Jack made chocolate brownies with a box of Brooklax and the next day I took them to school. At break, Carl grabbed the tupperware of brownies and ate them all.
“These are crap,” he said as he munched along. “Tell your mother I said so.”
After break, in English Grammar, the brownies hit.
“I’m going home,” Carl announced in a pinched voice and shuffled to the door.
“Sit down!” Mrs Foster commanded.
But Carl was gone and didn’t return for the rest of the week.
After that, no food was above suspicion. If we could do that to Carl it was only a matter of time before we did that to one another. Jack wouldn’t eat anything at my place unless I’d eaten it myself. He often insisted on a complicated scheme of swapping food, just to be sure. I didn’t touch anything he’d made without precautions, especially if it contained chocolate. Our mutual distrust grew into our twenties while nothing actually happened. We threatened retaliation and promised compliance, but all the while we hovered on the brink of war.
Then I came across Supertabs at the pharmacy. Supertabs were little red pills that looked like M&Ms. The label on the bottle promised relief from all constipation. The word all was underlined. Each pill contained as much phenolphthalein, the actual laxative, as four blocks of Brooklax. The label bore the ominous phrase USE WITH CAUTION and also a picture of a gaunt skull. I bought a bottle and put the pills into a small vial that used to contain vitamins. A few weeks later we spent the weekend at the beach house Jack’s parents owned. Before we drove back we went to an Indian restaurant. Jack had two orders of extra-hot Vindaloo and was sniffling.
“It looks like you’re getting the flu,” I said and pretended to swallow a Supertab.
“What’s that?” Jack asked.
“Vitamin C and zinc.”
“Give me one too,” he sniffed.
We set out at dark and Jack went to sleep on the back seat. An hour later he groaned and sat up slowly. In the rearview mirror he looked pale and haggard.
“Jeeeesuus,” he moaned.
He swayed back and forth like someone in a trance.
“I have the largest shit in human history,” he wheezed. “Pull over.”
“It’s that Vindaloo,” I said. “I told you not to have so much.”
“I can’t now. We’re in the pass and there’s fog.”
“Fuck the fog,” Jack croaked. “If you drive over another reflector I’m going to crap in your car. Pull over.”
I pulled over. Jack grabbed a towel that he’d used as a cushion and disappeared into the bushes. Ten minutes later he staggered back to the car.
“Where’s my towel?” I asked.
“Are you serious?” he said.
We drove on but we had to stop every now and then so that Jack could rush off into the darkness.
“My ass is burning,” he whimpered when I dropped him off at his house. “It can’t be the Vindaloo already, can it?”
The next morning he called me.
“You’re dead,” he growled.
“I’m pissing blue, asshole. That’s phenolphthalein. It was that pill, wasn’t it?”
“I didn’t know it was going to be so bad,” I admitted. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh no,” he said. “You’re not sorry. You’re going to be sorry.”
And I was. For two years after that Jack tried his best to slip me a laxative but it never worked out. He tried Brooklax and Supertabs and even considered aviation oil. He made a biryani and spiked it with Senokot, but I grew suspicious at the last moment. He fed some of it to the family dog who spent the next two days on the lawn, grazing grass and staring into the distance.
My punishment, in the end, was more mundane. I got the flu one weekend and took two Advils and went to bed. A while later I awoke from a fevered dream. I didn’t know where I was but I knew that I had to concentrate very, very hard. There’s no problem more pressing than a shit whose time has come. I barely made it to the bathroom. There, as I struggled to stay on the toilet, I took two more Advils. I felt like death—flu and a stomach bug at the same time.
In the morning I called Jack.
“You win,” I whispered. “I’ve taken four Supertabs by accident. I hid them in an Advil bottle and forgot about it.”
Strangely, Jack didn’t laugh. He came over. By then I was a bag of bones. I was dehydrated and my skin remained pulled when you pulled at it. The doctor at the clinic was a funny guy we knew from school. Pierre had just finished his studies and was doing his internship.
“Let me get this straight,” he said after I’d told him what had happened. “You two idiots have been feeding one another laxatives for years? Are you insane?”
“Only him,” Jack said dryly. “He did it to me, now to himself.”
Pierre struggled to keep a straight face as he inspected me.
“You look like shit man,” he said. “If you were a dog or something, we’d put you down.”
“Please do,” I whimpered.
“We’re going to give you a stopper and perhaps a drip to rehydrate you.”
“It better be a drip I can wheel around,” I said. “What’s a stopper?”
“Something costive, a pill that’ll plug you up.”
Pierre nodded as though he agreed with himself.
“Without it,” he added, “you’ll keep shitting.”
“It feels like I’ve got a hole in my ass,” I said.
“If you take four Supertabs,” he said, “you’re going to shit things you never ate.”
“It’s worse than that,” I said. “This morning I tried to eat an apple and it came straight out.”
Pierre smiled while he wrote on his clipboard.
“You never thought you’d see that, did you?” Jack remarked.
“A turd with bite marks.”