audience

the person or persons with nothing at all to do with the action on stage     

Across the two-and-a-half acres of Astroturf, beyond the poplars on the horizon, beneath the bank of grey swelling clouds, past what could be seen, something was coming. Henry knew that something was coming. What’s more, he knew something was wrong. Something was always wrong. And though he couldn’t see it, as it was beyond what could be seen, and though it was beyond what could be sensed by any other of his senses (he couldn’t feel a slight chill passing over him, nor detect even the faintest of unpleasant smells, nor taste anything not quite right in the air, nor hear anything but the faint twittering of little girls and the occasional hollow pock of hockey sticks hitting hockey balls), Henry still sensed it, though he did not have a sixth sense.

Sitting on the grass where the ground gently rose up to the side of some newly installed prefabs, Henry Bridgewater just didn’t feel at all at his ease, though he did look every bit the teacher sitting at his ease, enjoying a surprisingly warm and sunny day, looking out at the girls playing hockey, who strolling in pairs, hand in hand, smiled and nodded and stifled giggles, and this teacher, looking into the distance, loosing himself in the gentle glittering of the leaves of the distant poplar trees, seemed to be lost in this loveliest of days.

On even the closest of inspections, the sun speckled face of Mr Bridgewater gave little indication of any inner turmoil. Apart from an almost imperceptible twitch around and about his left eye, his was the face of perfect contentment. What else could such a relaxed and placid face suggest? Little else, apart from boredom, severe retardation, a coma, acute confusion, complete mental vacuity, or overwhelming fear.

If we consider the vast and intricate picture confronting Henry, we could perhaps divine his true state of mind. At the centre of this picture was the rather unassuming figure of Mr Kilpatrick, a whistle in his mouth, a group of younger girls standing around him waiting for his next word. Around this figure, at varying distances, were randomly scattered clusters of girls, single girls leaning on their hockey sticks, and pairs of girls involved in intimate conversations about nothing at all. Further out, in the next concentric circle, or rather a concentric rectangle, were little huddles of girls sitting around the hockey field, ostensibly watching the match, or rather, waiting for it to continue. There seemed to be some problem which had stopped play and precluded the possibility of it continuing.

That there was a problem, one within the range of his senses, might have subconsciously registered in Henry’s brain, and made him conclude, in whatever brand of logic his mind was currently in thrall to, that there was a problem of a wholly different order, a higher magnitude and a different plane of reality. Because things can hardly be as they seem – if they seem innocuous. Little problems are hints of much larger problems, just as the cracks running up the front of his parents’ four-bedroomed semi-detached house were indicative of much deeper problems, and just as the almost imperceptible twitch around and about his left eye was indicative of a tottering pack of cards, each one writ large with anxieties, clubs, fears, spades, dreadful probabilities, hearts, grim certainties and diamonds.

Of course, that problem, if there was a problem, and there must be a problem, would have to be centred on Henry, who was, in Henry’s view of the universe, the undisputed centre of the universe, in so far as that centre was the epicentre of every crack running through the universe.

The picture gently flickered one way or another, and then Mr Kilpatrick was pointing in Henry’s general direction. This accusatory stance immediately struck Henry as the eagerly awaited, sometime doubted, but forever feared collapse of the entirety of the world’s events into the small space that he occupied. The group of girls standing around Mr Kilpatrick were the first to turn and look this way, followed by the scattered groups of girls standing nearby, until all of the girls on the hockey pitch had turned to face this way, and then the girls sitting on this side of the pitch had turned around, until every face in the picture was now pointed at its audience, the isolated and recumbent Henry Bridgewater, the very picture of the teacher sitting at his ease, enjoying a surprisingly warm and sunny day, looking out at the girls playing hockey.

At this point, or almost this point, nearly the next point, running up towards Henry, from a crowd of girls huddled just to the left of the foreground of this vast and intricate picture, was the energetic figure of Ms Julia Madden. She skipped the final few steps into what should have been the borders of Henry’s peripheral vision, smiling, laughing and heavily breathing a greeting of sorts. But the field of Henry’s vision had contracted, shrunk in order to render his view at the centre of his vision more stark – Tommy Kilpatrick was still stood there pointing at him from the centre of a series of concentric circles and concentric rectangles of wide eyed faces – when all at once the world shook at the shrill sound of a whistle emanating form this picture’s centre, and then this world seemed to collapse, to fall apart, to be shook to its very core, to be something, to be everything, to be rendered invisible, to be lost forever beneath the cataclysm of the out of focus face, two red cheeks, rows of off white teeth, wide open mouth of Julia Madden.

“There seems to be a problem,” Julia said, as her face slowly regained its focus. “Henry, it seems that you’re required out on the field?”

What did Henry do?

He turned around and walked back towards the school building, walking to the side of the art building and around to the back car park. He would have a cigarette in his car. He had a cigarette in his car. He didn’t roll down the windows. He lost himself in the smoke he exhaled. He enveloped himself in it. That’s what he did. He enveloped himself in his own smoke and hoped that the dull pain at the back of his head would melt away.

But what could Henry do?

He could suppress thoughts of what Tommy Kilpatrick said to him; he couldn’t, wouldn’t entertain such thoughts, and thoughts of Julia Madden, and every other thought, so many thoughts, each a string of words, each string getting more and more tangled, as it overlapped with other strings, wrapped around more strings, tied in knots, enmeshed and balled up, and pulled tight they would form a huge knot that could never be untangled. Henry wouldn’t like that.

What would Henry do next?

There had to be an end. If thoughts were indeed strings, and it these strings had, as has been stated, become tangled and tightened into one huge knot which couldn’t be untangled, and if this knot of thoughts was to only tighten and never loosen, and if smoking a cigarette in the car didn’t suffice to loosen these thoughts, as these thoughts would only be suppressed, and so untended, and so not be disentangled, then what could Henry do next? What can I do? Why is everyone looking at me?

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