“What the fucking hell happened to you?”
Of all the people Ollie had wanted to avoid as he trekked across the schoolyard, Darren Malone was sitting not so pretty at the top of a lengthy list. Dazza, as he insisted on being called, (the daft twat), was the year’s resident big-mouthed bully. Like most bullies, Dazza liked to harass people based on his own insecurities – Dazza’s being his looks. A head shaped like an oversized rugby ball, and his features all curiously clustered around his bulbous nose. It gave him a cartoonist cast that would have been amusing if his cranium wasn’t the size of Sputnik and built like the proverbial you know what. Their paths had crossed occasionally. Being good at sports meant Ollie spent time in the company of people he’d rather ignore. Ollie liked his sports but would rather talk about books, movies or video games with the “geeks”. His tactic was to keep his head down, do what he had to do and get out. Not because he was afraid. Because he’d rather not interact with the preening cocks and their gushing teenage testosterone at the best of times.
This was not the best of times.
Ollie had missed the first month of what was his final year at high school. The big one. The one where it all counts. Or so Principle Fink had droned at an assembly before summer break. Fink was an all right principle, all things considered, but was incapable of anything other than boring students out of any thought of the teaching profession. Thankfully Ollie had missed that too, but had Ted, a kindred spirit, gave him the jist of it during the holidays. He had kept Ollie up to date with all the gossip that usually swirled around any place populated by teenagers. A natural storyteller, even he couldn’t make Finks proclamations anymore exciting than they were.
Ollie had been in hospital. It hadn’t been a surprise to him, in fact he’d been waiting for this operation since he was ten. Five years of dentist appointments, jaw moulds, braces, removed teeth and anxiety had led him to an operating theatre on a sweltering May morning in 1998. Never operated on before, Ollie had left his underwear on under his gown. The last thing he remembered, as the nurse had counted down from ten whilst they mixed the anesthetic into his bloodstream, was why did he have to be naked under a flimsy gown that revealed too much if they were working on his face?
Ollie had a recessive jaw. It’s common. What wasn’t so normal was just how recessive it was. If someone had a gap greater than two centimetres, an operation loomed. Ollie’s was 3.5cm and getting wider because of his developing body. He had been told at one of his many consultations that some parents insisted on the procedure if their child had a gap of a measly centimetre. For cosmetic reasons. ‘Eating’ through a straw, and having a bedpan for company on waking six hours later, Ollie had wanted to hunt down every one of those pitiful excuses for parents and do some reconstructive work of his own.
The jaw had been pulled forward as much as it could. Placed like the final piece of a demented jigsaw into the gaps where braces had manipulated Ollie’s teeth to accommodate the foreign invader. This meant that the jawbone needed breaking. With a hammer and chisel. In two places. Then bolted together with metal plates, wired up to resemble Fort Knox. There were two gaps at either side of Ollie’s bulldog grin so he could ‘eat’ liquid food. They hooked his left arm up to a drip that made sure he didn’t dehydrate, while the nurses attached his right arm to a machine that gave him sweet pain relief. His visitors asked him how he’d felt, but Ollie couldn’t say. He really couldn’t as it’s difficult to talk when you’re physically incapable of moving your mouth.
Truth be told, it wasn’t the best way to spend an unusually warm summer.
Ollie had been one of the shorter lads in the year, though years of playing football, rugby and Judo had lent him a sturdy physique. He looked like a dwarf from The Lord of the Rings, but less hairy. As fate would have it, puberty had decided that this was the summer to hit Ollie with everything it had. On top of the constant agony from his reconstructed face, downy hair had sprung out on his chin and top lip. As if the position his jaw had been in had held off the onset of fluffy manhood. He grew half a foot too. This would have been a very welcome change, as what boy doesn’t want to be taller? Unfortunately Ollie wasn’t able to eat solid food during his recovery, so what he gained in height, he lost in weight. He now resembled the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. With a jaw like Buzz Lightyear.
The jaw was unwired at the end of September, a few weeks earlier than planned, and for two good reasons. First, the smell. Ollie was in real danger of gagging on the putrid taste of it. Brushing his teeth was tricky, what with the sheet of metal and rubber bands covering them. Ollie could quite understand why people had stopped coming up to his stifling bedroom to visit him. Plus, he wasn’t much of a conversationalist.
Second, was the weight loss. It had been four months since Ollie had eaten real food. Had he known the wait would have been as long and tortuous as it had been, he would have had something more luxurious than a medium chicken McNugget meal with a banana milkshake on the afternoon before his operation. Post-op, his weight clocked in at just under seven stone. Now, this wouldn’t have as much of a problem if Ollie was still a tippy-toe over five foot tall. It was a problem because Ollie was now five foot eight and had been three and a half stone heavier. Ollie could think of a few people that would welcome that kind of weight loss, but for his consultants it was quite the drama.
Ollie had avoided mirrors over the summer. He bit the bullet the morning of his return to school. He only recognised his eyes glowering back. People had always said his eyes were pretty. At least he had them to fall back on. A summer in bed had turned him into a milk bottle. His dark hair, curling down to his shoulders and across his brow, exaggerated the pallor. Cheekbones so sharp they could have their own set at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The facial hair, that Ollie thought rather cool as teenage boys do, looked like someone had stuck the cuttings from a hairdressers floor haphazardly around his jawline to fool a weary liquor seller into selling eager teens some cheap booze.
That jawline. His eyes kept falling back to it. Buzz fucking Lightyear.
Ollie had dreaded that first day back. It was hard enough returning to school late, all the questions, the guarded looks, the open stares, the glorious rumours. He felt like a newborn horse, leggy and feeble, thrust into a world he didn’t want to be in. Unsure of what his new body could do. He looked like a different person, a strung-out Brit-pop reject desperately needing several hot dinners. It made a hard task even tougher. Ollie wasn’t sure he was up to the test.
“What the fucking hell happened to you?” cried Dazza, the daft twat, spotting him like an owl spying a scurrying mouse across a vast distance. Voice dripping with glee at the prospect of a fresh target. Someone to pour his teenage angst on. To burn the whole fucking thing down.
Ollie’s jaw ached. He was conscious of all the eyes on him. The whispers, the giggles, the pointing. It was hot. So fucking hot. He hadn’t been cool for what felt like eons. He thought about doing what he always did around Dazza. Keep his head down. Don’t engage. Ollie gave it great consideration, as empires rose and crumbled between the seconds.
“Go fuck yourself, you daft twat!” he screamed. Months of pent up aggression and fury unleashed, Ollie’s fist landed squarely on Dazza’s crunching, formerly bulbous nose.
David Green is a fiction writer based in Co Galway, Ireland, and has been published in North West Words, Nymphs, and will appear in forthcoming anthologies from Black Hare Press, Nocturnal Sirens and Iron Faerie. David is the host of ‘Off The Page’ a monthly open mic designed for aspiring writers to showcase their work.