…the person who brings about a well deserved downfall; the agent of a vengeance which restores the balance of justice in the world
The living arrangements at number 25 Railway Street were unconventional. This has to be said. And it was said many times. It had been commented on several times, by each of the four main protagonists, and by everyone who came across these arrangements – either first hand or through the reports of others.
It wasn’t just the fact that Helen, who had no actual relation to Oscar – not a familial relation, not a friendly relation, not a romantic relation, not a business relation – so no relation at all, unless there is another kind of relation – lived in the house’s front, and also the largest, bedroom, which was odd. And it wasn’t just the fact that she insisted on using a padlock on her bedroom door – the fact which most frequently was commented upon, and most frequently labelled odd. Nor was it just the fact that she cooked all the meals for Oscar, meals which he entirely took for granted and rarely thanked her for; this wasn’t even held out for special comment, when people got around to commenting on their peculiar living arrangements. It was just the entirety of the little day-to-day facts and happenings which constituted their living together at Number 25, which had to be taken all together and which was unanimously considered odd. Considering the lack of any conspicuous cohesive force, the lack of any possible reason for their living together and the complete lack any real affection for each other, people had little else to say other than it was odd. Even the two participants in this arrangement were often heard to comment in a similar manner.
Their sitting together watching the blank grey screen of the broken television, eating a meal Helen had just prepared, not talking to each other – neither on their current occupation, that of eating the meal, nor on their occupations that day, which in themselves were worthy of comment, was in itself odd. Perhaps the only illuminating aspect of this scene, if we roll the film on somewhat, is Helen’s deliberate kicking over of Oscar’s glass of water, but in such a way as it had all the appearances of an accident (apart from a grin she hides behind a mouthful of mushroom risotto).
Oscar’s legitimate consternation, his rather harsh swearing and the manner in which he viewed the perpetrator once he had discovered the vile act or unfortunate accident, all told of a relationship made up more of hatred and suspicion than of anything else.
“I told you not to put your glass on the floor,” Helen reminded Oscar, though she didn’t point out how this piece of information might be of any use to him.
The simultaneous arrival of Smith and Henry raises two more questions – though it could be phrased as one question. What is either of them doing here?
It can be supposed that Smith has an active, full and interesting life on the other side of the partitioning wall in Number 23, the inside of which we are never allowed to see. Smith is just the kind of person who people would suppose has an active, full and interesting life. Indeed, he is quite a character. So why does he need to constantly stick his head over the fence, through the door, or into the face of Oscar, who minds his own business, what little there is of it, quietly next door?
Smith’s first words, “You’re still rotting away in here?” tell us little of his motivation for arriving on the scene. It cannot be any kind of affection for Oscar, to whom he offers little comfort. “You know, you’re going to die in here. You’re going to stink the street out.” He could be undertaking some kind of project, what might be termed a missionary role, to get Oscar back into the saddle, a saddle in which he never really felt comfortable in in the first place. But his next statement, upon sitting down on top of various newspapers and whatever else might be there on the sofa facing Oscar – “Oh I forgot to tell you, there was a call from some school last week… they wanted you to come in for an interview.” – would undermine any theory based on the idea that Smith was in some way, in any way, here to help.
Helen’s and Henry’s almost simultaneous guffaws surely undermined any theory based on the idea that they were in some way, in any way, on this world to make it better.
“What the hell are you telling me now for?” Oscar asked, his mushroom risotto sliding off his plate onto the wet floorboards as he adopted a look of complete disbelief – the look the protagonist would be advised to adopt at the end of a Greek tragedy.
“You’re better off out of it,” was the only reply Smith thought necessary.
Henry, already after another thoroughly nerve-racking and bewildering day at school, where he was wound up tight and unwound rapidly a number of times, primarily by his own swirling thoughts, could surely have selected a better place to slowly unwind or gather himself together, whichever he, at that moment, needed to do.
“Just take a look at him?” Smith added by way of elucidation to his first comment, pointing an accusatory finger and a look of disgust at Henry.
And take a look at him they did – Oscar and Helen’s looks adding to the weight of derision contained in Smith’s.
Oscar, taking in the now haggard features of his one time fellow pupil, though never a school-friend, barely a school-acquaintance and only once a school-partner-in-crime, would offer no pity, no understanding look, nor any comforting gesture, but a sharp expulsion of breath to register his disgust at what he saw before him.
Henry didn’t seem to expect much else from Oscar, somebody he was tied to by no bond other than a chance meeting some six or seven years previously, a chance meeting which turned into a long term and serial chance meeting ever since.
But Henry did have within him what little spirit it took to fire a caustic comment at Helen, concerning the puddle of mushroom risotto covering her right slipper and how it was indicative of the part she played in the great adventure of life. The happiness she derived from kicking over Oscar’s glass of water evaporated, leaving not a jot of happiness in the room.