It was only a packet of chewing gum, but his mother acted like he’d stolen a car or was going on trial for murder.
“Jeremy Angus Lawrence!” his mother growled sternly, “we have brought you up to be an honest young man. Thou shalt not steal!” she bellowed.
“I’m sorry mum. I’ll never do it again. Sorry!” he said sheepishly.
“Sorry isn’t good enough Jeremy. When you’re father gets home he will most likely want to punish you. For now go to your room, I can barely look at you. You have brought shame to this family.”
Jeremy, looked at his mother, her eyes flickering with angry tears,
He was confused, but did as he was told. Jeremy sat on his bed, as still as a statue, contemplating his misdemeanours. Two hours past, when his eyes suddenly shot towards his bedroom door. He could hear his father downstairs, greeting his mother and younger sister.
“Jeremy!” his father called.
Jeremy didn’t hesitate; he got to his feet and ran down the stairs.
“Dad, I’m sorry. I made a bad decision, I won’t do it again. I truly am sorry.” He looked to the floor.
“Sorry for what?” his father asked calmly.
Jeremy was confused, had his mother not told him yet. He decided to confess all the same. “I stole a packet of chewing gum. I bought Mum’s newspaper, a pint of milk and a packet of biscuits. I hadn’t enough for the chewing gum so slipped it into my pocket. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I told Mum as soon as I got home, and have thrown it away. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.”
Jeremy’s father glared at him and after a pause asked “Where is the chewing gum now?”
“In the bin,” Jeremy said.
“Go and get it,” his father replied calmly.
Jeremy walked through to the kitchen and reached into the bin and picked out the chewing gum from amongst rubbish. He looked up at his father who was still standing in the hallway.
“Now son,” his father spoke calmly but in a tone that demanded respect, “Eat it. All of it!”
“There’s ten pieces here Dad!”
“I didn’t ask for a description Jeremy,” his father continued, “I told you to eat it.”
Jeremy began to unwrap each stick of gum, and then fold each piece into his mouth and chew. By the seventh stick of gum, Jeremy was struggling to open his mouth. It felt like rubber bands tied around each individual tooth and attached randomly to another.
“F-aaaarrv-er”, Jeremy chewed, desperately trying to talk with now eight sticks of gum and fruit flavoured saliva filling every cavity of his mouth. “I can’t fit anymore in.”
“Yes you can Jeremy,” he smiled, “here let me help you,” he took the last two pieces of gum from his son’s hand and unwrapped them before handing them back to him.
Jeremy shoved them both in together, pushing them with his forefinger into his mouth. He retched a little and his eyes watered.
“And chew,” his father said with Jeremy’s mother now at his side.
Jeremy shock his head.
“Chew!” his father insisted sternly.
The more Jeremy tried to move his jaws, the more intense the flavour and pull of elasticised candy became in his mouth. He shook his head and began to cry.
His father held out his hand, “Spit,” he commanded.
Jeremy opened his mouth and spat the humongous piece of gum he’d ever seen into his father’s hand.
“Despite feeling you couldn’t fit anymore into your mouth, there was always room to get more in. Despite feeling like you would never steal again, there’s always that small niggling in the back of your thoughts that you’d gotten away with it, so you could do it again. Until you crammed so much in, you couldn’t take the pain any longer. Do you see where I’m going with this Jeremy?”
Jeremy nodded, wiping the excess juice from his mouth with the back of one hand and rubbing his eyes with the palm of the other.
“Have you learnt your lesson?” His father asked, still in a clam and respectable manner.
Jeremy nodded. “I will never do anything like that again”, he promised.
“Early night I think,” his father smiled.
* * *
Jeremy was woken by the sound of muffled voices coming from downstairs. It was still dark outside. He must have fallen asleep pretty quickly after the chewing gum scenario. He went to his door and could hear his parents arguing.
“What more did you want me to do Evelyn? I taught him a lesson, one he won’t forget in a hurry. I didn’t raise my voice or panic the boy unnecessarily.”
“I know but it just scares me. What if he hasn’t learnt his lesson? What if he rebels or falls into the wrong crowd?”
His father sighed and Jeremy could hear the sound of the cocktail cabinet being opened.
“James, this is just the beginning. It never crossed my mind we’d have to deal with things like this. What if he does turn to crime? What if it is genetic?”
“Now you’re just overreacting Evelyn. For Christ sake he stole a bloody packet of chewing gum!”
“Today it was stealing, what about next time? It could be something much worse, and then we are all in danger!”
“Just stop, slow down. He’s a good boy. Stop panicking.”
“Panicking! I have the right to panic. If we start drawing attention to ourselves, or the police begin to recognise our family, what next? You read the rules James, we signed those papers. If we put a step wrong, our cover will be blown!”
“Just stop!” Jeremy knew when his father was about to lose his temper. It was very rare, but he knew the signs too well. He heard his father pacing. “Evelyn, the Witness Protection Programme will look after us. They have for the last ten years. It’s going to be OK!”
Jeremy stood motionless.