precarious

…that which cannot be secure, which will always be uncertain and which might be dependant on most innocuous and seemingly irrelevant of details

If left alone, and it was a delicate balancing act, Oscar could, it was possible, under the right conditions, perhaps in an absolute vacuum devoid of stimulus of any kind, have managed to get by, from one day to the next, without having to exert his faculty of indignation, opening his big mouth, he had a big mouth, without getting all agitated and upset with the world, without being disgruntled, disgusted, dismayed by something, anything, without having to, having no other choice but to, enter the world of the living with a deprecatory sigh, a raising of his eyebrows and a condescension on his part, to engage people on their level and put them right, point out the error of their ways, the stupidity of whatever they’re saying, express his point of view, therefore exposing himself to be somewhat superior (he liked to preface his descriptions, especially of himself, with the term “somewhat”), and to lay it bare before the world, that he, Oscar MacSweeny, had come down from above to put this world to rights.

Of course the worst possible companion to someone of this nature was his good friend Henry Bridgewater, friend of a never before counted number of years, partner in appalling crimes of a variety of natures, one time unwilling colleague, fellow educator of young girls (until yesterday morning), often times co-conspirator, frequent collaborator in ludicrous conversations, sometime cohort in absurd schemes and once upon a time brother in law and so co-star in the extended-MacSweeny-family-comedy-of-errors-insults-and-shameless-acts.

“Not now,” Henry would mutter between gritted teeth, shout out loud, plead on his knees or demand, from time to time.

But it would have to be now, always now, why wait, now’s as good as then. Oscar couldn’t be stopped – not by appeals to his common sense, nor to his better judgement, nor to a higher power and certainly not to any of his incipient senses of proportion, shame, decency or fair play.

But things were different today. Oscar had acquired, since being fired, ordered to leave, threatened with the law and escorted from the premises of his last job, teaching at Didsbury Girls’ School – he had acquired the outward appearance of someone who was defeated by the twisting and turning and falling apart of the world. Oscar looked every bit the thirty-year-old-down-and-out-waving-the-white-flag-man-on-the-street.

Of course, Henry was quite pleased by this change in his good friend’s frame of mind. No more would Henry suffer from the slings and arrows which invariably missed their prime target, the in-form and outspoken Oscar, and hit him in various parts of his delicate frame. No more would he have to plead with Oscar between clenched teeth, assure him that this or that was quite enough, that he had very clearly made his point and that he should now move on to the next debacle around the next corner where Henry would have to plead with him yet again.

So when they arrived at their destination, a mutual acquaintance’s party to celebrate some innocuous achievement, Henry felt assured that the combination of mildly stupid people, alcohol and a glut of inane conversation would not be sufficient to push Oscar into engineering, all by himself, an embarrassing situation where a large group of people are grievously offended and where there is a unanimous call for the immediate ejecting of Oscar MacSweeny, and anybody with the gall to have arrived at the party with him, back out into the inclement summer’s evening.

Henry even managed to relax over a glass of drinkable red wine, the wine he himself had bought and which he had followed about the room as soon as it had been opened by the inebriated host, and talk to the young lady he had ended up standing next to, a very interesting young girl who gave every appearance of being very interested in everything Henry had to say about the time he spent studying the ancient manuscripts which are to be found in the Scriptorium of a monastery hidden away in the foot hills of some mountains in the north of Italy.

“Indeed the study of… I suppose it is a science really, the science of laughter, is something which really piqued my interest whilst studying those manuscripts… once I got to grips with the arcane form of Latin of course.”

Henry had to stop himself at this point in order to congratulate himself on sounding both so learned and so sophisticated, exactly like one or other of his professors at university who he continually tired to ape – he practised daily to the girls at school and he felt assured that he had taken them all in by it.

But on stopping, Henry noticed the grinning face of Oscar across the room. This was sufficient to fluster him and he knew that he would never be able to get back on track, sounding both learned and sophisticated concurrently. But besides that, he couldn’t recall if the monks he was staying with were the type who didn’t speak. But besides that, the very interesting young girl who gave every appearance of being very interested in everything he had to say had managed to disappear, which was quite a feat because Henry had her cornered between the back of a sofa and the side of a substantial book case.

Henry, in the absence of anyone to impress and lie to, was left to work out the likelihood of a horribly embarrassing scene, beginning where Oscar now stood and expanding outwards to encompass him.

Oscar’s glass was empty, which could have meant that he had lost interest in drinking alcohol by this point, which could have, in turn, meant that he had drunk his fill very quickly, which would mean that he was drunk enough to do anything at all, including attempting to fly through the large picture window at the end of the room which might seem to have been rendered inviolable with Venetian blinds, but Henry knew that this wasn’t necessarily the case.

Now if Oscar’s grin was more of a leer, then it would have had a specific cause, hopefully something he had just recollected, then the invective about to be poured forth wouldn’t have a specific target. However, if this leer was a result of something he had heard, probably spoken by the particularly puffed up woman standing to his right, then Oscar’s drunken diatribe would have a specific target and would, no doubt, be both terrible and severe, but the very fact that it was focused into one narrow and intense stream might mean that it could be an isolated incident which might go unnoticed by the rest of the room, occupied as they were in their own very interesting conversations.

Henry’s hopes and dreams, at least those specific to this evening, his sensibilities, his constant companions – his anxieties, his ever fluctuating fears and his recently acquired sense of all being right with the world were now in the balance.

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