One of the best things about spending time in Chips’ Dad’s house is the sensation that I am an enormous and powerful animal. I nearly fill the corridors. I can jump-touch the ceilings. We can sit on Chips’ bedroom floor and – without raising our voices – hold a conversation with his Dad who is frying things in the kitchen below us.
I ring the doorbell. Chips always answers the door in his house. I tell him that I’ve brought my Biology revision guide.
He says: “Yo.”
I have met Chips’ Dad a few times. He is stocky, stooped and named Carl.
We go up to Chips’ room. The stairs are so steep that I go up on my hands and knees. Humans are bi-pedal mammals.
“Are humans bi-pedal mammals?” I ask him.
“Yes,” he says as we enter his room.
The curtains are closed.
“Correct. What do plants need to photosynthesise?”
The smell is a thick, damp pollution – the result of Chips own ecosystem: pizza crusts on plates, socks stiff with cum and sweat, a Lilt bottle half full with piss in a corner and the reek of Lynx Africa.
“Carbon dioxide, sunlight…”
He looks blankly. I mime the breast stroke.
“Water,” he says.
I make learning fun.
The overhead bulb is missing so the room is lit by his bedside lamp. This is not the ideal revision environment. I watch the dust and skin perform Brownian motion in the air. I am doing triple science but Chips is only doing single. So there is no point in me making this observation.
“What is a habitat?”
“It’s like the place where an animal lives.”
I try and give Chips something he understands: “Yes, like a school pond,” I say.
When you have been in his room for a few minutes, the smell seems to disappear. This is another example of the human body’s frightening propensity for delusion.
“What is the respiratory system?”
“What are the bits of the lungs that look like broccoli?”
“I don’t know.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“What’s the word that refers to light going through a prism?”
“Yes. Well done.”
“I’ve got something to show you,” Chips says.
He gets on to his knees and starts rummaging around in the bottom of his wardrobe. He brings out a round metal case and cracks it open like a biscuit tin. Inside is a film reel. There are a selection of single frames scattered on top.
“These ones are my favourite shots.”
He holds up one of the cut-out negatives to his bedside lamp. In the oily rainbow colours, I make out what looks like a leafy vegetable.
“What is that?” I say.
Then he holds up a length of four frames against the light. They capture the exact moment of a penis ejaculating.
I tell myself that, technically, this is still revision.
He shows me a frame of a woman’s face as she pretends to enjoy herself. Then one of a woman seeming to be in pain. But all in these slick, underwater colours. As if you are seeing a porn film through the eyes of Predator.
“Wow, Chips. Where did you find these?”
“They’re my Dads. You can pick your favourite frame and take it home with you,” he says.
“It’s one step closer to actually being there,” he says.
“Shall we start with the reproductive system?” I say, trying to angle us back towards work.
“Okay,” he says.
“What’s a zygote?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s an ovary?”
“I don’t know.”
“Chips – I think that you should do some more revision.”
“I’m going to fail these exams,” he says.
“You will fail some of them.”
“I don’t care,” says Chips.
“Focus on the subjects you like. Focus on five subjects.”
“Five. Why five?”
“Because then you get to do A-levels.”
He flicks through the revision guide and stops on a page where I have written my own notes at the side, in pencil.
“I don’t want to know how much you know,” he says.
“I’m not learning anything by just talking about it.”
“You are,” I tell him, “you’re learning.”
“It won’t stay in,” he says.
It’s true, it won’t, because he needs to be writing this stuff down and making notes and perhaps some wall charts. Just listening to me won’t help him. On the other hand, it is useful for me to ask Chips questions and, when he answers incorrectly, supply the solution; it gives me confidence in my already substantial knowledge base.
“You’re just making me realise that I’m fucked,” he says.
“You could learn this stuff no problem.”
I’m lying to him.
“I might as well go fishing.”
“Nah, you’ll be alright.”
“You think I can still do it?”
“I know you can.”
I’m deluding him. I want him to be happy in the short term. This is the last summer before he realises that his life is not going anywhere. I am expected to get all A to C grades in my exams. Chips is stupid, I’ve come to realise. He really doesn’t know anything.
We probably won’t be friends in a couple of years time.
His Mum thinks he is a genius. That just goes to show.