…the first use of a word or expression or the word itself which has never before been used
“You sent Helen?” Henry was incensed.
“Are you incensed?” Oscar adopted one of his favourite looks, that of mild curiosity, one which he realised irritated people, but one which he couldn’t avoid adopting, usually at the most inopportune of moments.
“Why would you do that?” Henry adopted his natural, if not preferred, look of a man on the verge of complete mental breakdown.
“I wanted my dictionary back.”
“Dictionary! Dictionary! What the hell do you need a dictionary for?”
Oscar smiled, thinking the answer to this was obvious, so obvious in fact that it would only further incense Henry were he to right now spell it out.
“And why that dictionary? Is it special? Has it got words in it that no other dictionary has? Is that it? Has it got some amazing new words that you just have to know, that the world can’t do without?”
Oscar walked out into the back yard to escape the intensity of Henry’s mental collapse.
“Well let me tell you…”
Henry appeared in the sunshine to finish telling Oscar.
“There are no new amazing never-before-heard-of words. There are none. They don’t exist. And if there’s some new word in that dictionary of yours… well then it isn’t a word. Not even a word!”
Henry sat down on an upturned plant-pot, resting his forehead in both his hands.
“Not even a word!”
“What’s not even a word?” Smith’s voice emanated from behind the fence, his wizened and sallow an sallow and curious and strange face would be soon to follow.
Oscar applauded Smith’s entrance as though this was a fifties sitcom, but it was more of an emergence Oscar thought, more of an emergence than an entrance – is “emergence” a word?
“What’s not even a word?” this was shouted out in a tone of complete disbelief, as though what had just been said flew in the face of everything not only rational but of everything within the realms of possible, past the improbable, up to and beyond the outlandish and teetering on the edge of the physically impossible – Smith’s sense of proportion was never very well developed.
Henry adopted the look of one who was set upon, one who was about to cry, about to give up and about to run away – but he never did any of those things, he never got past that look, he always managed to restrain himself, or be restrained by some force, call it the force of reason, call it the obligation of maturity, but Henry was affected by this force without being aware of it.
Smith hung his arms on the top of the fence and smiled by way of a greeting. “There’s lots of things there isn’t a word for – isn’t that right Oscar?”
“Then it’s not a word.” Henry couldn’t let those words alone.
“What do I know?” Oscar, hands open above his head, palms turned upward, eyes examining an overcast sky, briefly flirted with the intention of delving into this quagmire.
So now this scene consisted of the exaggerated smile, further wrinkling Smith’s sallow face, the wrinkled brow of Henry, just visible over his fingers which covered his eyes, which seemed to be right then pushing his eyes further and further into his brain, and the shrug and wave of the hand of Oscar, which denoted that he was either giving up or giving in.
And the tension rose even further now as another thought momentarily reoccurred to Henry. “And she’s not even back yet.”
Oscar gave in. “Henry here thinks she’s right now being interrogated by the Gestapo.”
“Helen’s not back yet? What time did she leave?” Smith stood himself up erect, as though ready to meet some challenge, ready to set off, ready for something. “This is serious!” He raised his voice to stress just how serious this must be. “Have you phoned the police and the hospitals?”
“Yeah, you know…” The wrinkles on Smith’s face were erased by the severity with which he viewed this situation. “She’s not back yet. You don’t know. You never know.”
“My God, you can’t call the police,” Henry called out.
“That’s going to sound good to the neighbours.” Oscar sat back, his hands behind his head, putting his feet up, as the world around him, his world, tossed and turned and groaned in the misery born of consciousness.
A look of panic filled Henry’s face. “You think the police are involved.”
“It’s police business as soon as you call them,” Smith uttered as a kind of deep truth.
“Who’s calling the police?”
“You’re the one talking about calling them.” Smith was on firm ground here.
“No one is calling the police!” Henry loudly and clearly pronounced each word. To further emphasise his point he tagged on the question “Is that clear?”
It was clear. Smith nodded his understanding. Oscar derisively muttered something about the whole debacle of the police’s immanent arrival having nothing at all to do with him. Henry quickly looked over the small garden’s rear wall, over the side fence and then back at Smith’s either bemused or confused face resting on the garden’s other fence.
“We got to think,” was Henry’s frantic comment on the situation. But he didn’t seem to have the demeanour of one who was about to think. “My God, we have to think!”
The three of them must have at this point begun to think. At least they each gave the outward appearances of the thought process being actively engaged. This was most evident in the stance and facial expressions of Smith, who adopted the classical pose of the thinker, though it is only a matter of supposition if the accompanying frame of mind was also adopted.
Henry’s mode of thinking was as always a matter of intense and complete wrenching agony. The agony on his face could have suggested, to the casual observer, many possible processes going on beneath the skin, from the difficult passage of a large deposit through his bowels, to the complete breakdown of his pulmonary and circulatory system, but any familiarity with Henry would have been assurance enough that it was in fact the thought process which was being engaged.
“You think she’s got the dictionary?” Smith suggested.
“I hope so,” Oscar offered without opening his eyes. He lay as though soaking up the sun, but the sun was buried beneath thick grey cloud.
“Jesus Christ, the dictionary!”
Whatever thought processes were going on, they were leading nowhere. This was certainly not an instance of constructive thinking, nor was it likely that any kind of eureka moment was about to explode into the middle of this scene of an overgrown and rubbish strewn back garden behind a terraced house on an overcast morning.
“You know, there should be a word for this,” Smith said in the manner of a wise man delivering an astute comment on something in particular.
“A word?” Henry would grasp at anything.
“You know, like in the dictionary.”
“I know what a word is.”
“A word for what?” Oscar’s great but untapped literary mind was mildly piqued.
“This.” Smith shook out hands of erect fingers and grimaced at the world. “What are we doing? There’s no word for it. We’re not just sitting here. We’re not just thinking. We’re not just hanging out. What are we doing? What is this called? There isn’t a word for this.”
“This! What is this called? What is it called when… What’s that feeling you have when you’re waiting to find out… When… What is it when something’s about to happen… it’s when you’re thinking… this tension… it’s the tension… What is it called? We need a word for it. There’s something happening here and there isn’t a word for it.”
“There’d be a word in my dictionary.” Oscar tried not to smile.