Ivanic’s van was parked right at the other end of the one main street that runs through Combourg. Not a long enough walk to properly plan a getaway (his mental fighting had rattled me) but long enough away to make me think, why the fuck park so far away? Ivanic sang, using his shoebox as a percussion instrument. He was out of shape and I could have ran away no problem but I had nowhere to go and it was freezing. My nose is big and it gets cold.
I didn’t mind Ivanic banging the box like a drum but it was him shaking it like an instrument you shake vigorously that really put me on edge. “You’ll bruise them.” I told him. I hoped as a chef (baker) he would respond to that and treat his ingredients with respect like Michel Roux Jnr suggests but really I just don’t like cruelty to animals. I’ve seen loads of footage from WWII but the only scene that shocked me was a horse and cart getting rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tated by an airplane’s machine gun. There were people getting shot in the same footage but it’s tough to care about people in black and white. Horses I don’t like in real life but seeing one riddled with bullets got me right there. Not there, there.
“Bruise them?” He parroted.
“Yeah, bruise them. The frogs.”
“Bruise the frogs?” He asked. He didn’t know what bruise was and I was too cold to explain. I was thinking about how one of those woolly hat things Christians put on a hard boiled egg would feel pretty good on my nose.
“What is bruise?”
“It’s… you know. Erm.” This was a tough one. I knew another word for a bruise was a contusion but my massive vocab was no help here. “Apples? Pommes? When you… fuck it. Forget it. What are you going to do with the frogs?”
“Frogs?” He asked. I looked at him to see if he was joking. He didn’t seem to be.
“The things in the box.” Jesus Christ, he could speak English a minute ago. Ivanic held out the box and looked at it like it was the first time he’d seen it – the box he’d filled with frogs just a couple of hours earlier.
“Frogs!” He said. He was fucked. I put my hood on to separate myself from him further but I took it down when I saw what passed for his van. It was one of those grey corrugated sheds on wheels like they have in films. I marvelled at its hard lines and brutal styling, it looked like an ice cream van crossed with a stealth bomber made of roofing material by a psychopath from the olden days. It was awesome. I got to go in it.
The heater worked, as did the stereo. The windscreen wipers? Not so much but the sleet wasn’t too heavy and he assured me that it wasn’t far. The roads were deserted anyway and he wasn’t very drunk. We were both just drunk enough. We trundled along with Ivanic pointing at his stereo and looking at me for a reaction every time a different song came on and a different song came on every 40 seconds, or so it seemed. I was going to have to tell him that despite being British I wasn’t an integral part of the punk movement – the last CD I bought was probably Bjork – but at least the noise coming out of the speakers meant we didn’t have to talk.
After only 15 minutes a sign announced we’d arrived at Dol de Bretagne and it was a very grim looking place. Combourg is nice, it’s got a lake and flowers and a big castle but the town of Dol looked like it was modelled from slabs of grey clay by Russia’s glummest stop-motion studio.
We pulled up outside Ivanic’s bakery and it was a proper bakery. A proper French bakery like you read about in travel books. He got his frogs and proudly pointed at the big sign above the shuttered front which read HOUSE OF PAIN. I got it instantly and it was pretty good so I slapped his waiting hand and then he opened a door and we went up a dark narrow staircase.
His living room was normal with a telly and places to sit, so that was good. He placed the box on the coffee table and then made us both a coffee. I looked around the room and saw one wall was covered with album sleeves. When Ivanic returned he went to talk me through what I was looking at.
“Yeah, I’m not interested,” I told him, taking the cup he was holding and sitting on a chair. He put the telly on. French telly is shit but we watched it for a bit. I was feeling anxious and that feeling grew much worse when Pampers and Silver arrived.
Pampers and Silver were Ivanic’s friends. They were nice enough guys but I hadn’t been warned more people were coming so I was a bit pissed off. Silver was stocky with short hair and Pampers was thin. They spoke good English. I asked why they were called what they were called.
Silver, who was the boss of the two, said it was because of school – like that explained everything! In my mind I decided Silver was named Silver because he was a bit like a silverback gorilla. Pampers, well, he must wear a nappy or something. Like I said, they were nice guys.
Ivanic produced the shoe box and opened it. The other two ‘ooh and ahhed’ at the sight of shitty looking amphibians. Ivanic looked proud. Pampers squeezed a couple and nodded appreciatively. The frogs looked very depressed. At this stage I still thought they were going to cook and eat them. Even when Pampers put the head of one particularly fat frog in his mouth and sucked it like it was an ice lolly I wasn’t that shocked. These people were French
“Wow!” Exclaimed Pampers, mud around his mouth. They babbled to each other in French and then Silver and Ivanic each took a frog and sucked on the heads.
“Why are you doing that?” I asked.
“Oh wow!” Replied Ivanic. He picked up a frog and offered it to me.
“Yeah, but why?” I asked again, not quite as lightly as the first time.
“It is a… drug. A high!” He replied.
“Really?” I’m no animal scientist but I’m pretty sure that it’s only exotic toads from South America which might have a kick to them. I took the frog, it was freezing. I touched its head with the tip of my tongue.
“Go, go!” Urged Silver and so as not to look stupid in front of these people whose respect I craved I licked the frog’s head thoroughly. It was fine, a bit muddy but then I don’t wash mushrooms before cooking them, mud holds no fear for me.
They all looked at me, waiting for me to do something. I shrugged putting the frog back in the box. “I don’t…” I said looking innocent. I tried to make my eyes go glazed.
“Okay but now…” Silver produced a massive spliff drug from his pocket. Lit it and inhaled. Noticing his frog was close to the edge of the table he picked it up and threw it in the box. It landed upside down but didn’t try to right itself.
The drug spliff got to me and I took a big drag and whammo. I felt that. “Wow!” I exclaimed already feeling gravity trying to crush me into a singularity.
“Good?” Asked Ivanic. I nodded bigly and took another drag and then with some effort passed it on.
“What was the frog for?” I coughed. The other three looked at each other then to me. They were amused and so was I. I was giggling. I giggle like a dick if I have drugs. But the frog didn’t do anything, why not just have the drugs? This is what I was trying to express but I couldn’t say it. I’d try talking and fail.
“But the frogs…” I’d manage then be unable to get any further. I would pause and the other three would crack up laughing. And then I’d have to start again. “But the frogs” – Pause – Laughter “But the frogs” – Pause – Laughter. That, for God knows how long.
When the spliff drug got to me for the 4th time I declined. I was fucked up. I weighed about 700 kilograms. For a while I just stared at the other three. Studying each one’s face for some time before moving my head to look at the next. They’d lost interest in me. I breathed deeply.
“But the frogs!” I shouted. I took a few very deep slow breaths. “I thought you were going to chop them up.” I think I fell asleep then. Later, maybe only minutes, perhaps hours I was woken. The table in front was clear apart from one frog and a knife.
“Okay?” Asked Ivanic. I nodded. Ivanic put the frog near me on the table then took up the knife. “Okay?” He asked again.
“Yep!” I shouted in reply. My mouth was very dry. Ivanic took the knife and sliced the frog across its forehead. Pampers and Silver were watching too. I looked at them and gave them a thumbs up, it was all I could do, my legs were very cold.
“Look!” demanded Ivanic. I looked at the frog. Ivanic deftly pinched the frog’s bum. The frog then literally jumped out of its skin leaving Ivanic holding the empty epidermis. The skinned frog was on the floor. Pampers lifted his legs off the floor, giggling and screaming like a girl.
“Nah!” I said and fell asleep again. I only opened my eyes once more that night and I saw Pampers and Silver smoking more drugs except they were doing something fucked up. Pampers had the spliff drug in his mouth and Silver was covering the other end of it with his mouth, like those dogs eating spaghetti. They weren’t kissing but it was too close for comfort. Their mouths were inches away from each others. “Queers!” I shouted. Ivanic jumped into my view.
“Where?” He asked, fists ready. I closed my eyes and that was me until the next morning. I woke at 6am and found the dark stairs and felt my way down with my shoulder against the wall. Out on the street I saw the shutters were up, The pavement was lit by light from House of Pain. Ivanic was in there in a white apron. He was baking up a storm. I tapped on the glass and shouted, “I’m going home!”
“Bye!” He shouted back.