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Authors: Anthony McGowan

Jack Tumor

BOOK: Jack Tumor
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By Anthony McGowan


Jack Tumor






Copyright © 2006, 2009 by Anthony McGowan
All rights reserved
First published in Great Britain, in somewhat different form,
under the title
Henry Tumour
, by Doubleday, 2006
Printed in the United States of America
Designed by Irene Metaxatos
First American edition, 2009
1  3  5  7  9  10  8  6  4  2


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


McGowan, Anthony.

[Henry Tumour]

Jack Tumor / Anthony McGowan.— 1st American ed.

   p. cm.

Originally published: Henry Tumour. Great Britain : Doubleday, 2006.

Summary: Fourteen-year-old Hector, suffering from severe headaches, is diagnosed with a brain tumor which speaks in his head, calling itself Jack Tumor and making an effort to improve Hector's home life, increase his popularity, and win him a girlfriend before the operation that will mean the end of one or both of them.

ISBN-13: 978-0-374-32955-6

[1. Tumors—Fiction. 2. Sick—Fiction. 3. Self-actualization (Psychology)—Fiction.

4. Schools—Fiction. 5. Family life—England—Fiction. 6. England—Fiction.] I. Title.


PZ7.M16912Jac 2009


For Gabriel Dante McGowan



Well, that's what I heard. I don't know if that's what he really said because that was his first word and I don't know if he was just learning to speak then or if maybe I was learning to hear but that's what it sounded like.


I stopped what I was doing. What I was doing was reading, although I wasn't really reading, more just turning over the pages with the letters floating around like astronauts in zero gravity.


I must have said it aloud because some of the other people in the waiting room looked around at me. A woman with big hair and a face like a collapsed lung shuffled her chair a few centimeters further away from me, like
was going to make a difference if I was going to turn psycho and stab her. In fact, it raised my wanting-to-stab-her score by about 72 percent.

Whoever had said
the first time didn't say it again, and I assumed I'd imagined it. I'd been imagining a lot of things lately and that was one of the reasons I was there. Not the main reason. The main reason was that I'd had headaches so bad I thought the little dude from
was going to burst out of my eye socket. The first one came on while I was watching a music video, and my mum thought I was freaking out to the music, but really I was writhing around on the floor in agony. Shows how my mum's really got her finger on the pulse of popular culture.

I'd been in the clinic since nine o'clock. It was boring, but I didn't mind too much as it meant that I wasn't at school. Except that at school there'd be my friends to keep me company, and not this load of derelicts and mutants. Apart from the lung-faced lady with the big hair, there was a man who looked like a scrunched-up brown paper bag, and another with a beard that started at his eyebrows and went down to his stained crotch, and a boy with a featureless head like a balloon, and a youngish woman who looked like all her bones had been taken out and then put back in the wrong place, and a purple-haired old biddy who had something similar going on with her teeth (I mean, big ones like molars at the front and small sharp pointy ones at the back, and I knew all about her teeth because she kept smiling at me, as if I was the freak here, the one in need of sympathy).

“Hector Brunty.”

“Er, yeah.”

That was me. I mean, that was me responding to a nurse in a brown nylon uniform like something you'd find adorning one of the mildly retarded—I mean “special”—shelf-stackers in a Tesco supermarket. You know, the ones who, when you ask them where the beans are, first take you to the Thomas the Tank
Engine toddler ride and then start shouting at you about sausage.

I stood up. The nurse smiled at me, and for the first time I began to understand that my life was going to become less pleasant. At the time my best estimate was about 26 percent less pleasant, but I've since recalculated and it currently stands at between 98 and 99 percent less pleasant (you have to allow a margin for error). Although since that first day in the clinic there have been blips taking the graph both ways, but we'll come to those later.

“Is your mother here?”



I felt that I ought to try to explain, but I didn't have the faintest idea how to do that in less than an hour, so I looked at my feet. And looking at my feet was seldom a good idea as it hammered home the fact that what was happening down there was all wrong, meaning I had on shoes made out of an elephant's foreskin, and not cool or even lukewarm sneakers like every other kid at school. But I shouldn't say elephant's fore-skin, because Mum is no more likely to buy elephant-skin products than she is to go whaling. I just meant shapeless blue-gray school shoes, as if something big—okay, let's stick with elephant—waddled over and dumped on my feet.

I told my mum a whaling joke once. I said, “I went to the Wailing Wall. In Jerusalem.” Pause. “It was rubbish.” Pause. “I didn't harpoon a single whale.” She looked at me with this expression of disgust on her face, as though I'd just shown her a boil with a maggot in it, because the joke bit of what I said was completely lost by the horror of the killing-whales bit, when we
all should know that they are our brothers, and peace-loving Gentle Giants of the Ocean, even though nobody ever asked the krill what they thought about it.

“This way then,” the nurse said, and I followed her into an examination room that managed to be stuffy and cold at the same time. There was a window with a view over the complicated rooftop of the hospital, all pipes and vents and skewed angles. It made me feel dizzy, and for a second I thought I was going to have to puke in the sink. The sink had one of those taps with a long handle so you could turn it off and on with your elbow. Or your chin. Or you could stand backwards on a chair and do it with your arse.

But why would you want to do that?

Well, what if you had no arms?

Then you'd probably develop cleverly expressive feet, for which taps would be a piece of cake.

What if you lost your feet?

Well, then you could use your knee, still much better than an arse.

So what if your legs were amputated just below where they join onto your body? In an accident with some intricate piece of farm machinery, a turnip spangler, say, or a hay thrummer, or a many-bladed pig-splayer.

Well, then you couldn't get up on the chair to use your bum, could you?

Aha! That's where the
chair comes into play. The special chair with a hydraulic arm that lifts up your limbless trunk, swivels it around, and presents your arse to the tap.


A man looking a lot like a doctor was staring at me. I had a
nasty feeling that I might have been acting out being hoisted bum-first towards the tap. I'd always done a lot of that—I don't mean acting out, I mean the internal-dialogue thing. I sometimes wonder if that's got something to do with Jack, I mean how he came into being, how he was how he was.

I nodded.

“I'm Dr. Jones.”

I nodded again. He hadn't said anything yet that I felt like disagreeing with.

“As you know, this is a teaching hospital. Would you mind if some, ah,
sat in?”

Before I had the chance to mind, a group of gormless-looking students began filing into the room. Not all gormless-looking. There was one exceptionally pretty girl, with the kind of straight black hair I like.

It meant I was going to get an anal probe for sure.

I felt the electric tingle of a blush as the whole scene played out before me: the pink rubberized truncheon they were going to use, the sparking electrodes at the end of the probe, the giggle from the students at the farting noise produced as the probe was extracted, my stuttering efforts to say it wasn't me but the probe that made the noise.

“So, you've been having some problems?” said Doc Jones.

Problems! Where did I start? My mum was a hippie, my dad was nowhere, my school was a dung heap; I was bullied by Neanderthals and ignored by the girls, and my friends were the Wretched of the Earth.

But that wasn't what Doc Jones meant.

“Headaches,” he said, looking at his clipboard. “Blurred vision.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Anything else?”

Should I tell him about the voices, the strange echoing effect I sometimes heard or felt, as though I were being called from another dimension?

BOOK: Jack Tumor
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