…the complete absence of intelligence in both the subject and in the object
Oscar, gleaning very little inspiration for his novel from watching Helen lie, bluster and dance around and about her own destruction, was hoping that Henry would prove to be more fertile ground. After all, Henry would probably be on the very edge by now. Surely his unwitting addiction to nicotine candied gum pieces would have him teetering on the that very edge by now – if not already falling into the chasm at the other side, if that’s what was on the other side of the edge – a chasm, and not something less dramatic, like a gradual incline or an infinite number of heaps of freshly cut grass.
Henry, obtaining very little assistance from any other agent in the universe, in fact obtaining only confusion, aversion and a dull pain in the back of his head from every other agent in the universe, thought he should try out his good friend Oscar. After all, Oscar would probably be close to perfect calm and serenity, be a veritable Buddha of wise sayings, and be more than willing to dole out wisdom born of several weeks of unemployment, empty weeks which would have allowed him ample time to think, to reflect on his life and his place in the world, to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the world and to appreciate the intricacies of the human condition.
Both expectations (Or were there more than two expectations in there somewhere?), were to be disappointed in their entirety.
In the first place Oscar’s earnest demeanour and manner of speaking upset Henry rather than reassured him – Henry might have been seeking an earnest chat with someone who had been touched by the wisdom born of inactivity, but the sight of such earnestness informing the features of Oscar was just too disconcerting.
“Do you think about this “edge” a lot?” Oscar asked, his wrinkled brow speaking of genuine concern.
“Jesus Oscar… do I think about it…” Henry wasn’t sure how to play a part in such an earnest and calm and mature discussion.
“This edge you talk about,” Oscar went on, his literary imagination having been inspired by this idea of “the edge”. “When do you feel closest to it… this edge?”
“I can see it now… it’s closing in on me… it’s eating away at the things in front of me… everything is just melting away…” Henry had quickly forgotten how disconcerted he was due to Oscar’s earnestness, perhaps because of the disconcertedness which emanated from every fibre of his being, and was once again his usual disconcerted self – he was only ever one or two sentences away from his usual disconcerted self, despite his attempts to divide up the known world into six-hundred compartments (as listed in his little black leather dairy) in order to render the known world, and his engagement with it, more manageable… well, at least render it manageable for someone who was obviously not managing.
“That’s an interesting metaphor… the idea of things “melting”… the process of melting. And there’s things being “eaten away”… things disappearing… very interesting.”
“Your interested… that’s all you have to say?”
Oscar smiled. “I’m just trying to understand.”
Henry smiled. He didn’t understand.
“Let’s develop this metaphor.” Oscar stood up at this point – the better to develop the metaphor. “I see an iceberg.” He apparently saw it in front of him, rising at least twenty feet into the air in front of the trees at the edge of the park (because they’re in a park by the way). “It’s melting at the edges. That’s what icebergs do. The water’s warm. And it’s salt water. You’re fresh water. You’re moving north into the warm and salty waters of the Indian Ocean. And all the while your edges are melting away. You’re getting smaller and smaller.”
A glint of recognition, of understanding, of something, briefly appeared in Henry’s right eye.
“And an iceberg is all about hidden danger. There’s a danger lurking beneath the surface.”
“But…” Did Henry understand? “I can’t hit myself, can I?” Henry was now deferring to the apparent calm and reason of Oscar. “If I’m an iceberg, I can’t sink myself.”
“Melting and sinking – this just gets better and better.” Oscar sat back down, the metaphor fully developed and bearing fruit too.
“At least I don’t want to. It’s just sometimes I can’t even help myself. Like yesterday morning during assembly. I was sat at the back of the hall and Merryweather was haranguing the girls about short skirts or some such thing. But I wasn’t listening. I was focusing. I was standing back… and I rarely get a chance to stand back Oscar, but there I was – I was standing back and looking out over everything. I was manoeuvring compartments. The compartment holding that girl Rebecca in my third year class who’s the bane of my existence – I was just putting that to one side after deciding on a course of action – I had her… I was going to get her good… but I lost it… it’s certainly gone now. I was opening up the compartment dealing with my fear of open spaces, just peeking in, and then I shifted onto the four compartments which I had to deal with that morning – I could see them lined up in front of me, like train carriages Oscar… they were lined up like train carriages in the station… I was on top of it. I was in control. But then I looked up and it all fell apart. There was Merryweather staring at me, her jaw dropped, her eyebrows arched, her eyes… her eyes… My God it was terrible. And then it dawned on me – the chewing gum compartment – I had forgotten the chewing gum compartment. There I was chewing like a god damn cow. And by the time I remembered the chewing gum compartment every girl and teacher in the hall was turned around and staring at me… hundreds and hundreds of eyes… eyes!”
Oscar was regretting not following Smith’s advice and carrying a notebook with him should he come across some material he could use, because this was good stuff.
“I thought I had it Oscar. I thought… I thought…”
“You were thinking?” Oscar was looking through his satchel for a pen; he had found a receipt in his wallet on which he could summarise Henry’s mental collapse in brief bullet points.
“That’s the trouble – I was thinking!” It was Henry’s turn now to stand up, the better to squeeze out his anguish until not a drop remained. “I thought I had it all worked out. And it was beautiful Oscar. It was beautiful. Everything had its own compartment – my world in six-hundred compartments. It was a beautiful system and I was in control. One compartment at a time. No confusion. Nothing could go wrong. But one false step… one mistake and it all fell apart.”
Oscar’s pen had run out of ink and he was scribbling desperately on the edge of the receipt in order to generate more blue ink from some pocket in the universe.
“I fell apart yesterday morning at the back of that assembly. My dreams… my aspirations… my hopes… it all melted into a puddle on the parquet floor.”