Once a badger had a drug problem. The badger’s problem was that it had become addicted to painkillers. For the longest time, life had rubbed it the wrong way, and not an hour passed without the arrival of something, great or small, to complain about. The entire planet seemed set on being a pain in the badger’s neck, or its back, or, on its worst days, further down. Whether the problem arose from some personal sense of injury or some deeply repressed infantile trauma, it was never in the mood to consider. What was certain, however, was that without its painkillers, the badger didn’t know how it would be able to tolerate the constant discomfort the rest of the world caused it. That wasn’t all, though. The badger had another problem. Its livelihood depended upon announcing its endless woes through gruff snarls, snorts, gnashings, and growls listened to by an inexplicably large and faithful audience of those who had nothing better to do with their own lives, apparently, than to pay rapt attention for hours on end, day in and day out, to such a racket. The badger’s predicament was obvious. It needed a constant supply of distress to hold the attention of its listeners, but not too much to begin dissolving into a quivering ectoplasmic lump beyond all control whatsoever, something resembling a jellyfish in danger of stinging itself. Often, however, that line would be crossed when the pain grew too severe, and the badger might emit an ear-splitting whine at what it declared to be the chief sources of its torment. Most of these began, curiously, with a sound like the letter “L” for reasons not well understood, either by those in the know or those completely out of it. Only when the string of shrill complaints threatened to end in hyperventilation would the badger pop a few more pills and settle into a more gurgling and slurred grumble. Listeners didn’t seem to mind about the change, or perhaps didn’t notice it, and continued to follow the badger’s litany of grievances regardless of whether it howled or merely muttered its way through them. Despite that gratifying loyalty, the badger knew it would be best not to take any chances. There was always the option of professional treatment, to be sure, of putting itself in the hands of experts trained to deal with even the most hopeless of cases. But this course struck the badger as being such an insult to the vision it had of itself as a pillar of unwavering strength, that it settled instead for the more immediate therapy of keeping two bottles of “little helpers” near it at all times, one filled with everything that sent it into paroxysms of complaint and the other just as full of sense-dulling relief. Like Alice in Wonderland, with her drinks for shrinking (or growing) and cakes for growing (or shrinking), all the badger had to do was reach for whatever would produce the desired effect when needed, making its own world appear so large or everybody else’s world so small. The only problem seemed to be keeping straight which bottle was which.
Copyright © 2005, revised 2009, by Geoffrey Grosshans