ME, MICHAEL AND BEN, AND JANET AND SANDRA AND LEE

 

The support group was for people that had been “upset” by Michael Jackson, but not in the way you’d think. Mine wasn’t a phobia as such, but it was the closest thing, and you had to give things a name if you wanted to treat them. Most of us there had similar stories, but a few had some very specific incidents that I didn’t think our assigned counsellor was really equipped to deal with. In the next room the people with Cher phobias were being encouraged to touch wigs and speak into a vocoder.

I just never got my monkey, Lee said.

It was a chimp, I pointed out.

What made you think you would get one? Janet, the counsellor, asked

Because I got everything I wanted, but not the monkey.

It was a chimp, I said again.

I mean I got a pony, but I wanted the chimp.

He repeated chimp again in my direction just so I knew he wasn’t stupid. I had to do everything in my power not to start oohing and swinging my arms and lolloping over to him to pick a flea off his shoulder, just for kicks. But I had been warned by Janet before about inappropriate behaviour and how this was a safe place. I wasn’t allowed to pick any imaginary fleas off anyway, so I pretended a sprinkle on my stale donut was a flea and popped it in my mouth. Maybe I had bigger problems than the Michael Jackson thing. It wasn’t even that big a deal, but my mum had seen the poster on the noticeboard when she was at her group for people scared of raisins.

They just upset me, she said.

I was just glad it wasn’t me that upset her or dad. Poor old dad. Never was he allowed the simple pleasure of raisin bran or oatmeal raisin cookies or good old raisins and peanuts. He had to do his snacking in private mostly. Or outside the house.

But this isn’t about my mother and her raisin issues. This is about me and my Michael Jackson thing, but right now it’s about Lee and the chimp he never got.

Every session was the same. Lee would list all the things he got just to show us how he got everything he ever wanted, everything but the chimp. I was always surprised no one followed him home and robbed him. He had some pretty sweet stuff by the sound of it. And on the plus side he definitely didn’t have a crazy chimp on guard ready to bite your face off.

None of us knew how to help him, least of all Janet, whose job it was to help him or at least fob him off with some breathing technique he could use when he wasn’t there so he wasn’t always thinking about that chimp. Short of getting him a goddamn chimp we were all at a loss as to what to do. I thought that maybe we should tell him how Bubbles spent his final years cooped up in some cage and maybe that would make him sad, but Sandra, the girl with the white glove fetish, pointed out that he seemed a little dead inside and it probably wouldn’t have the desired effect.

Touché Sandra, I will forgive you for confusing your fetish for a phobia and wasting all our time. I’d give anything to just have a cute glove thing rather than the burning eyes of hell inside my head every time I shut my eyes.

I suggested that maybe we could get Lee’s parents in and ask them why he never got the chimp, but I suspected they would just say that they didn’t want their son’s face bitten off and who could argue with that, even though he was a brat and deserved his face bitten off a little. An ear at least.

I also half suspected his parents had been killed in a suspicious boating or skiing accident. He gave off that vibe.

With no solution in sight I almost suggested we get him the chimp, just to shut him up. Give someone else the floor. If he wasn’t coming to meetings anymore, it didn’t matter if he was having his face bitten off somewhere. But I held my tongue. I already had a warning from Janet.

I had my own reasons for being there anyway and tried to focus attention back to myself. It was hard with people like Lee emulating Verruca Salt.

Hi, I’m Laura, and I’ve seen Michael Jackson’s eyes from Thriller every time I shut my eyes when I go to sleep since I was seven.

Hi, Laura, they said in unison.

Tell us how it happened, Janet said.

I had the floor so I did my act

I was seven. Seven! I don’t know why no one was watching me. I just walked in on them, and there they all were my brother and my cousins, all watching it. It was that bit, you know, when he transforms. I didn’t know what I was watching till it was too late. Those eyes! I ran out of there as fast as I could, but I never forgot those eyes. Every night when I go to sleep, there they are. I tried sleeping with the lights on, but it didn’t help.

Another girl was crying now and nodding

Same exact thing, she said through the tears. Only it was my dad.

More people came forward after that. It seemed Thriller was the reason most of us were there.

Why wasn’t this video banned? I wanted to yell.

Maybe Lee had John Landis’s number and I could demand answers.

Thankfully, Janet was schooled in the art of undoing the damage Thriller had done. It was her specialist subject. Us she could help. Chimp boy and glove girl would prove more difficult, but she was up for the challenge.

When I was particularly upset one session I accused her of being insensitive for having the name Janet and suggested she consider changing it if she wanted to be truly successful in her chosen profession.

That summer we learned the Thriller dance. That summer she introduced us to Ben. How could we be scared of Michael Jackson after that? That boy and his rat, man. It was powerful stuff.

By the end of the six weeks we were cured.

Janet wanted to commemorate our achievement. She arranged a field trip to the nearest wax museum, where we would all have our photos taken with a statue of the Man Himself.

I secretly thought she just wanted to creep us out and give herself more work, but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. And in her defence, it wasn’t as crummy as some of the wax work places I had to endure as a child with my deluded parents.

How was poor Janet to know that on that very day the museum had switched the statues with real people?

Well, I can tell you that Janet should have known, and that Janet was incompetent and it later emerged that she was in fact unqualified and had gotten the gig when no one else wanted it. Turns out no one wants to spend their Thursday evenings with a bunch of weirdos who are scared of other weirdos. She had wanted the Cher gig because that phobia she understood after a childhood of having her parents dress up as Sonny and Cher every Halloween and insisting on making out in front of her friends. It was for the horror, she told herself. They were being festive.

So it didn’t go well. Her little outing idea. If we didn’t have genuine phobias before, we did now. Not just of wax works but people in general.

So we went there and were all in good spirits, even chimp boy, who had  just gotten a new car he wanted. The Michael Jackson they had was really good. It was when he was really white and wore a lot of gold. There was no sign of Bubbles, so Lee was fine. No unwanted memories were stirred. He was too busy twiddling his car keys and telling everyone about his alloy wheels to really notice anyway.

I was having my photo taken with the statue when the statue moved. Instead of just screaming and shitting myself, I started beating him with my backpack. Janet had to pull me off him and the whole group was hysterical.

You guys are messed up, chimp boy said, and sped off in his new wheels, leaving us to explain ourselves. What a dick.

Poor Janet was beside herself. She really had no idea what was going on and didn’t know how she’d get over fucking up so royally. Me and Sandra had calmed down by that point. Enough to tell her it was okay. That it was normal to be scared of both wax works and creepy people pretending to be wax works and we’d be okay.

Janet, on the other hand, wasn’t sure if she’d be okay.

We took her for coffee across the road because I thought it would be better if her heart was beating for a more a normal reason, like caffeine, rather than whatever had just happened.

I was afraid that Janet would become afraid of people that were afraid of Michael Jackson, so decided it would be better if I could get her to be afraid of something more typical. Not being good with normal, though, I remembered by mother.

Do you like raisins? I asked her

She was still a bit weepy, but managed to say no, she didn’t really like raisins, why are there raisins in my coffee? She looked panicked and started swirling her mug around.

Yes, yes, Janet I had them put raisins in your coffee because that’s a thing now and I really wanted to screw with you, I wanted to say but didn’t.

Could you get to hating them? I asked.

She looked confused, rightly, and Sandra was also now confused and had put a napkin over her half eaten oatmeal raisin cookie in case it caused any more upset.

I told them about my mother and her group, and Janet seemed to understand where I was going with this and said she would give it a go.

She took to hating raisins like a duck to water and was soon teaching the class. It later emerged she had a secret passion for baking, and she decided to combine her two loves to help those in recovery from a raisin phobia fall back in love with the dried fruit through the power and healing of baked goods. It was ground-breaking in the therapy world. She even baked us cookies in the shape of Michael Jackson, with little raisin eyes.

Because we kept in touch. We met up once a month to talk about what a dick Lee was and scour the papers hoping to hear he did finally get his chimp and get his face bitten off .

We’re still waiting because people like that rarely get what they deserve. I don’t see those eyes anymore when I go so sleep. I instead see Lee getting his face bitten off by a chimp, but it’s oddly comforting. I hear “I Got You, Babe” as it’s happening.


English with German roots, Lucie Britsch says her writing career peaked when she won a poop scoop slogan as a kid. She debuted in Barrelhouse earlier this year and has since been published in Volume1brooklyn and has words in The Millions, Catapult Story, and Tincture Journal forthcoming. She says she's working on some books like everyone but mostly reading other people’s, feeling shitty about her own poor attempts.