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Chapter Ten: Luke Walker and the allergic reactions
Luke was hesitant. If he made a mistake now it could cost him the game. Janeway was a good card. She had a lot of Starfleet Authority and was also very cunning. But which to choose, that was the important question.
“Come ohn,” said Joe, “it’s borin’ when you just sit there. Choose one.”
“Okay, erm, I choose …” he hesitated again. He really needed to win this round. He took a deep breath, looked Joe in the eye and said, “Janeway. Cunning: 45.”
Joe looked at his next card and smiled.
“Worf. Cunning: 49.”
“Blast! I knew I should have chosen Starfleet Authority! What’s Worf’s Starfleet Authority?”
“I’m not telling you that!” said Joe, laughingly holding his cards close to his chest.
“Well, it can’t be higher than Janeway’s. She was Captain. Worf wasn’t captain was he?” Luke consoled himself with the notion that he would have won if Joe hadn’t rushed him. If he’d just been able to think about it for a bit longer he would certainly have chosen Starfleet Authority instead of Cunning. Joe really should learn not to rush people, it’s not sportsman-like. Luke had one card left. It was Joe’s turn to choose the statistic.
“Neelix. To Boldly Go: 20.”
“What?!” Luke looked at his card in disbelief. “Neelix can’t be better than Spock at boldly goin’!”
He sighed and handed it over.
“Spock. To Boldly Go: 15”
“Yesss! I have triumphed! The cards are mine, all mine, ha ha ha haaa,” Joe revelled in his rare victory.
“I’m hungry,” said Luke, pretending not to care.
“Me too,” his friend agreed and they took out their lunch boxes. Joe peeked apprehensively between the two slices of Hovis Best of Both which made up his sandwich. Sadly the peanut butter he’d hoped for was not present. Luke was adding crisps to his Marmite and beetroot sandwiches.
“The crunch makes ’em extra good,” he explained. Then, “uh oh, has she done it again?”
Joe nodded as he removed two slices of ham and bit into his plain bread and margarine.
“You’ve got to tell ‘er,” said Luke, tipping a few of his crisps into Joe’s lunch box.
“I have told her, she won’t listen!” Joe complained, “I said I’m not eatin’ meat or cheese no more and she said, ‘course you are!’ and that was that! She won’t listen. It’s okay, I just put it in the bin when she’s not lookin’.”
“What about your dad – you could tell ‘im to explain it to ‘er.”
“He won’t. He just says ‘ya mother knows best’ and ‘listen to ya mother!’. I’ll just have to be vegetarian in secret ’til I leave home.”
“That doesn’t sound like a good idea. It’ll be pretty borin’ jus’ livin’ on bread an’ marg..”
“That’s okay,” said Joe as he took another bite, “thanks for the crisps,” he added.
“That’s it! That’s what we’ll do! Outlaws have to help each other!”
“I’ll tell my mum I’m more hungry and I need a bigger packed lunch, with an extra sandwich an’ an extra bag o’crisps an’ an extra cake an’ an extra apple … then I can give half of it to you!”
Joe liked that idea.
“Yeah! Thanks Luke. D’you think she’ll do it?”
“No problem,” said Luke confidently.
Dinner was almost over and Jared was helping Mum clear the table.
“Hurry up Luke,” Jared was impatient to get to Youth Club and wasn’t allowed to go until he’d done the washing up.
“You want me to get indigestion I suppose!” said Luke, not really surprised that his brother would be so blasé about the dangers of rushing one’s food. He’d learned about them from the Rennie advert. “You want me to get acid an’ a burnin’ heart from eatin’ too fast do you?”
Truth be told, Luke was just full up. He really wanted that last roast potato but knew he couldn’t swallow another mouthful. He pushed his plate away.
“Go on then – take it,” he said, feigning self-sacrifice.
Mum ignored them both and went upstairs to run a bath. Luke followed her.
“Do you want your lavender bubble bath Mum?” he asked helpfully, “the one I got you for your birthday?”
Mrs Walker smiled.
“Yes please, it’s on my dressing table.”
Luke brought it to her.
“D’you want me to get your KT Tunstall CD? The one I gave you for Mother’s Day?”
“Wasn’t that from both of you?”
“Yeah, but it was me what chose it. Jared wanted to get you a set of tea towels but I said that wasn’t a relaxin’ present. I told ‘im Mother’s Day is for mothers to relax so it had to be a relaxin’ present.”
Mum nodded slowly.
“Is there something you want Luke?” she asked.
“No, you just have a nice bath. I’ll get the CD for you,” he volunteered.
“Wait,” said Mum, quiet but firm. “What do you want?”
“Oh nothin’ really,”
“Well it’s nothin’ much, jus’ thought I’d better mention that I’ve bin feelin’ hungrier at lunch times and I could really do with a bigger lunch.”
“Really?” She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, “since when?”
“Well, jus’ this week really, but I think I’ll be hungrier from now on coz I’m growin’ fast.”
“So, just how much extra food do you think you’ll need?”
“Prob’ly about twice as much I should think,” he said nonchalantly.
“Twice as much?” she exclaimed with exaggerated surprise, “So that would be two sandwiches, two bags of crisps, four pieces of fruit and two cakes?”
Mum shook her head.
“I’m sorry Luke, we just don’t have enough money in the budget to give you two lunches every day. I’m sorry if that means you’ll stop growing but we should be thankful that you’ve had a good spurt recently.”
Luke had a sneaking suspicion she was being facetious. He frowned. As he turned to leave she called him back.
“Don’t forget my CD,” she reminded him, smiling, “and tell Jared not to give the potato you didn’t have room for to Dudley or he’ll get the runs.”
The following morning Joe called for Luke and they walked to school together. When they reached the bins outside the Memorial Hall, Joe stopped and took out his sandwich. Egg mayonnaise. Before Luke could stop him he tossed the whole thing into the bin.
“So, what have we got for lunch today?” Joe smiled, enjoying the quiet rebellion. Luke felt awkward.
“Well, erm, …”
Joe’s smile faded.
“Couldn’t you get it?” he asked, disappointed.
“Well, it’s not that I couldn’t get it,” Luke didn’t want to admit defeat, “it’s just that I was thinkin’ a lot about it and I decided that actchally it’s not a good idea.”
“Why not?” said Joe, feeling hungry already.
“Well, if your mum still gives you meat and eggs and cheese and stuff, even though you don’t eat it, then it’s still bein’ bought for you, which means animals are still bein’ killed for you.”
“Oh. Yeah,” Joe agreed. He didn’t want that.
“So we’ve got to find a way to make your mum listen,” said Luke decisively.
Joe was not hopeful.
“She won’t listen.”
“She hasn’t listened yet,” Luke corrected him. He liked a challenge. “We’ve just got to tell ‘er in a way she can’t ignore.”
Joe sighed. He preferred to do things quietly. Secretly.
“But what will I eat today?” he asked, disheartened.
Luke was busy thinking.
“What? Oh, you can share mine,” he said generously, and they continued on to school.
As luck would have it they wouldn’t be short of food that day because class 4 was having a cookery lesson and that meant they’d all brought ingredients with them. They were making scones. Mrs Tebbut never allowed the boys to work together on these things and insisted on choosing their partners for them. As a result, Luke found himself sharing a table with Penelope Bittern. Penelope was very particular about doing things properly.
“Don’t put any of your stuff on my half of the table,” she instructed, “I can’t let it contaminate my stuff.”
Luke was affronted.
“There’s nothing wrong with my stuff,” he told her, “it’s clean. It’s new packets – haven’t even bin opened – look!”
She lifted her arm to shield her side of the table from the sealed bag of flour he thrust towards her.
“You can’t put that near my stuff!” she sounded panicked. “I might be allergic!”
“Allergic to what?”
“I’m allergic to raisins and kiwi fruit so …”
“I ‘aven’t got no raisins or kiwis!”
“Sooo, my mum said we’re playing it safe ’til they know for sure what else I’m allergic to. I’m having tests.”
“Well, you’ve got the same stuff as me,” Luke couldn’t abide hypochondriac drama queens, “flour, sugar, margarine – so if you’re allergic to mine you’re allergic to yours.”
“But my ingredients have been specially kept separate from things that might give me allergies – like milk, eggs, peanuts – and …”
“You can be allergic to milk?”
“Yes, lots of people are, which is why…”
“And what happens to you if you eat it, if you’re allergic?”
“Well, that depends,” she was gratified he was finally listening to her. “I think it’s different for different people. It depends how serious their allergy is.”
“It can be serious?”
“Yes. Some people die if they eat something they’re allergic to. Even just a tiny bit of it. Even if it’s so tiny you can’t hardly see it.”
“Okay, now I know you’re makin’ it up. No one’s dyin’ from a tiny bit of peanut! You’re just a ‘ttention seekin’ hypochondrian who’s makin’ stuff up to get the whole table to ‘erself!” That was disappointing. Luke went mentally back to the drawing board.
But Penelope wasn’t finished.
“They do! Their throat swells up so they can’t breathe! My mum told me and I think she should know ’cause her brother’s allergic to nuts and he has to carry a life-saver injection with him all the time in case he accidentally eats one.”
“Really?” That sounded real. Penelope didn’t have enough imagination to make up something as cool as that. “What other things might happen to someone who ate somethin’ they were allergic to?”
Penelope patiently answered Luke’s endless questions and he, in return, took great care to keep his ingredients away from her half of the table. By the end of the lesson Luke knew how to make Joe’s mum listen. The hard part, however, would be persuading Joe to do it.
Joe swallowed his last bite of overdone scone and made a face that suggested he wasn’t enjoying it.
“Not good?” asked Luke. His had been delicious.
“What? Oh, yeah, the scone’s good, it’s your idea I don’t like.”
“Drastic times, drastic scissors,” Luke reminded him, “I know it’s not very nice but it’ll be worth it won’t it? You need to make it look real or it won’t work.”
Joe was still reluctant.
“But I don’t see why I can’t just do the lentil hotpot thing. I could do that. And the not breathin’ thing – I can hold my breath longer ‘n most people.”
“You have to show you’re allergic to all three things – milk, eggs and meat – so you have to have three different allergic reactions to be convincin’. Jus’ think yourself lucky you’ve never liked fish, otherwise we’d have to come up with four reactions.”
Joe nodded and took the bag Luke handed him. Luke patted him on the back. It was important to give moral support to your soldiers.
“You can do it,” he said encouragingly.
Joe walked home from Luke’s house, dreading what he had to do, but determined to do it. Luke was right. It would be worth it.
For dinner his mum had cooked lamb chops. After getting to know Curly and Squirt, Joe couldn’t bring himself to actually bite into one but when no one was looking he cut a piece off and hid it in his pocket. Then he shoved some mashed potato in his mouth. After swallowing, he started making retching noises.
“Joe! Do you have to make that revolting noise?” his mum asked with disgust, “what’s the matter?”
Joe jumped up from the table and ran to the toilet. Mrs Currant was close behind so he had to be quick. He tipped the pre-opened tin of lentil hotpot, that he’d hidden behind the toilet, into the bowl and then leaned over it and made vomiting noises. Mrs Currant caught up.
“No,” he said pathetically, “I think I’m allergic to meat.” He bit his lip as he remembered Luke had told him not to tell her he was allergic, but to let her work it out for herself.
Mrs Currant looked in the toilet, saw the orange slop and thought with revulsion how different a person’s food looked when it came back up from how it looked when it went down, only moments before. She looked at her son, he did look pale.
“Okay, you go and lay down. I’ll bring you a glass of water and a bucket.”
“So far so good,” thought Joe and went to bed, hungry.
In the morning, he was even hungrier but knew he had to ditch one more meal. As it was Saturday, breakfast consisted not only of cereal, but also fried eggs on toast. First the cereal – Joe tipped the choco pops into his bowl and covered them with cows’ milk. He put a spoonful into his mouth and immediately spat it back and grabbed his throat. He gasped.
“I can’t breathe!” he whispered desperately as he bent his head to his knees and reached in his pyjama pocket for Luke’s mum’s blue eyeshadow. He rubbed his fingertip into the colour and smeared it across his lips before lifting up his head to reveal it to …. no one. The room was empty. His dad had taken his plate into the living room to watch the news and his mum had gone to get the paper from the front door. Joe continued to hold his breath, hoping his mum would return before he was forced to exhale. Just then the kitchen door opened and his older sister, Janet, walked in.
“That better not be my eyeshadow,” she warned him.
“It’s not,” he assured her, forgetting not to breathe just as Mrs Currant re-entered the kitchen.
“Mum, Joe’s messing up my eyeshadow.”
Mrs Currant looked at Joe then screwed up her face and shook her head.
“That’s not yours. Yours is more turquoise,” she said and sat at the table to read the paper.
Part two was a bust. Joe loaded his plate with eggs from the pan and toast from the rack before steeling himself to proceed with part three of the plan. He sat down and reached into his other pyjama pocket to get the stinging nettles hidden there. While his mum read her horoscope and Janet searched the fridge for jam, Joe quickly and bravely rubbed the nettles on his forearms and neck before hiding them again in his pocket. The pain was immediate. It stung a lot.
He chopped and mashed one of his eggs with his fork to make it look as if he’d eaten some of it. Then, as he noticed the white bumps starting to appear on his arms he said,
“Mum! Mum!” and rubbed his arms and neck furiously with the palms of both hands.
Mother and daughter both looked at him.
“How on earth did you get stung in here?” Janet said in high-pitched disbelief.
“I didn’t,” Joe argued, in genuine distress, “I’m allergic to eggs!”
“Stop rubbing it like that, silly boy!” Mrs Currant grabbed a tea towel from the drawer and ran it under the cold tap. “Here, put this over the bumps, keep them cool ’til they go down. And maybe have a look in the garden for a dock leaf to rub on it.”
“It’s not stingers,” Joe protested, “I’m allergic to eggs!”
“Honestly Joe,” said his mum, shaking her head and returning to the horoscopes, “only you could get stung at the breakfast table.”
“Boys,” said Janet derisively.
Joe had had enough. His skin was burning and itching and stinging – he was in real pain and they still didn’t listen.
“I’M A VEGETARIAN!” he shouted.
“Joseph Currant! How dare you raise your voice to me?!” said Mrs Currant, shocked by his impertinence.
“Keep the noise down in there! I’m trying to watch the news!” Mr Currant yelled from the living room.
“And now you’ve upset your father,” his mother went on.
Joe looked at his hands.
“I don’t want to eat meat no more,” he said quietly, “or eggs or fish or milk, or cheese,” he finished, getting quieter with every word.
“Oh, I get it,” Joe’s mum said, knowingly, “you want to be like your little friend don’t you?” she peered at him over the newspaper. “You don’t have to copy everything he does you know.”
“No, that’s not …” Joe tried to explain.
“I know what it’s like, it’s not that long since I was at school myself you know. Of course I was vegetarian, long before it was fashionable,” she boasted.
“Why’d you stop then?” Joe wondered.
“But then I married your father and you can’t imagine him giving up his sausages and his bacon can you? Ha! I’d like to see the woman who could pull that off!”
“Mm,” said Joe.
“Talking of which, I bet you haven’t thought this through, – if you do this you won’t be able to have fish fingers any more.”
“I never eat fish fingers. I don’t like …”
“And no more ice cream, or cake,”
“You can get special ice cream and …”
“Oh my boy, you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for!”
Joe looked at her, holding his breath.
“I know what you’re letting yourself in for – been there, done that!”
She studied him through squinting eyes. Joe said nothing. She seemed to be considering it. After a couple of minutes she made a decision.
“Well, alright. But I’m not making special meals just for you. You can have whatever we’re having with some extra vegetables instead of the meat. Is that acceptable Your Highness?”
Joe looked up and smiled.
“Yes,” he said, “thank you.”
His mum returned the smile and ruffled his hair.
“Boys,” she said, slowly shaking her head.
Joe pressed the damp tea towel against his throbbing skin and smiled. Janet scrunched up her nose and stuck out her tongue at him.
“I give it a month!” she whispered.
Joe just carried on smiling.
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