… turned around and around and around
What should have been the final scene of the last act opened with the sound of a squeaky wheel. An inauspicious opening, Helen might have thought. But as she pondered the image of herself dressed smartly in a black suit, with an almost imperceptible pin-stripe, her hair brushed back off her face, her cheeks no doubt slightly flushed, her hair beginning to frizz up ever so slightly because of the half rain spitting down, the strain showing in her face as she pushed a wheelchair containing Jimmy the Nod up the hill to Didsbury Girls’ Grammar School early that morning, the shadow of her high cheek bones just evident, soft shadows around her eyes, a strand of hair hanging down the left side of her face, maybe it was, Helen thought, an auspicious opening after all.
The full length of the trees she was walking under now became part of the picture, the shadows between them, beneath them, and the wetness of everything, the light sheen of a few leaves, some thin puddles on the ground, a parked car, catching the early morning grey light, the expanse of the dark grey sky, all filling the picture, pushing its edges to every side, the frame expanding, growing, so that her bent over figure and the body of Jimmy the Nod in the wheelchair were only at the edge of the picture, in the bottom left hand corner. Almost lost. Pushed to the edge.
As though it was a watermark in the picture she had of the world, his face was always there. The face of who she now knew to be Tommy Kilpatrick.
“Why aren’t the birds singing?” Jimmy the Nod asked. Just on cue they started singing. Helen felt elated – her plan was running along perfectly. Around the next corner was the school.
That Jimmy the Nod would be reinstated at the newspaper on Oscar’s dismissal was not part of Helen’s plan, at least, not until it happened. And by now it had become a central plank of her scheme, her scheme to drive forward the inevitable. To be in control was everything. Being called into the newspaper offices first thing this morning, before the first thing, before the morning, at half past four, and by Jimmy the Nod too, was a surprise. It was embarrassing. It was too much. It was unbelievable. Her plan was coming together nicely. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Like a maze. Like a game of chess.
Of course, her plan was amazingly complex. Plans had to be. How else could you incorporate all the vagaries of the world and the peculiarities of the peculiar. Various permutations and consequences of consequences were flitting through her head. But they flitted by so quickly, they appeared so briefly, as to hardly amount to thoughts at all. There wasn’t a clear structure to her plan. There wasn’t realty a plan. Just a series of pictures:
The first picture was of herself, as were all the other pictures in one way or another. It consisted of the present state of affairs, more or less. Helen was at the centre of this picture, more or less, a little to the left, a little to the right, pushing the wheelchair containing the slumped over figure of Jimmy the Nod. They had almost reached the summit of the hill and were beginning to pass the grounds of the school. Tall trees. Tall trees. It was very early. The quiet was prominent. Only distorted by the wheel wheel. But the quiet allowed Helen to appear to be in some way immaculate. As though the world was quiet on her behalf. But then there was the wheel wheel.
The second picture, also with Helen at its centre, though a bit off centre, was a picture of another as well. Helen’s face was inches away from the face of that man: Tommy Kilpatrick. He was sneering for some reason. Though she couldn’t help but love this man, Helen could only picture him sneering. It was a picture of hate more than one of love. A confrontation, not a meeting, not the moment before an embrace, not the moment before anything. It was just a sharp image of a sneering Tommy Kilpatrick in profile, facing, at the picture’s not quite centre, a sharp image of Helen in profile. She was beautiful as always.
The third picture was a little blurred and constituted the bulk of the very complex plan which could be said to be passing through Helen’s mind. Tommy Kilpatrick was there somewhere in the background, but in the foreground a raft of images jostled against each other, Oscar smiling, Jimmy the Nod with his mouth hanging open, a dread stained Henry, a confused looking Smith, a rather fuzzy image of a headmistress with her arms folded, and the picture of screaming. It is the picture of chaos. There were half formed people running away from the picture. Running across the picture. People running into the picture, running out of the picture. A picture of disaster. It is the tragic final act.
And as these pictures loomed in Helen’s mind, ballooning faces and trees into contorted shapes, there was the world around her to contend with as well, the world as it revolved around her.
The thinning hair of Jimmy the Nod loomed large as he sat back in the wheelchair. It filled the world. Whorls of mousy brown hair winding out from a bare circle of smooth pink skin. “Keep to the right,” Jimmy the Nod muttered. Smooth pink skin. His head began to sway from side to side. The ground moved past on either side. His head came back and turned to one side. His nose and one eye. His garbled words. The sound of the wheel wheel. The ground rolled past on either side. On the edges of the picture a low wall wheeled past, atop the wall a sparse holly hedge, patches of darkness and brightness. And then the flash of something brighter. Then spitting out, “What’s that?” The roundness of his head bobbing from side to side. Then almost shouting, his voice rasping, “Who’s that?” The sound of the wheel wheel. A passing car. “Stop!”
It was then that the dishonesty of Jimmy the Nod struck Helen. It shone brightly and bleached out everything else. She was blinded by his dishonesty. Not a liar. He wasn’t a liar. Not man enough to lie. Pathetic. Just dishonest. There was nothing worse than being dishonest. Dishonesty. He was a picture of dishonesty. Disgusting. His head turned and angled back, half his face turned upwards to Helen, the dull whites of his eyes: “Don’t you fuck this up Anderson.” The little bastard. “Don’t fall asleep on me.” How dare he? “Your last chance is dangling on a thread.” How dare he utter a single word? “Thin ice.” Every word dishonest. “Very thin ice.”
The picture was now of them both on the brow of the hill, outside the school’s main entrance. Helen beautiful. Jimmy the Nod in a wheelchair. Dishonest. His body twisted around so that he could half face Helen stood behind him. His mouth shaping around one word after another. The holly of the hedges billowing out over the low wall. The tall trees. Everything looming beneath them. Helen’s white face. Teetering on the edge. Jimmy the Nod leaning back too far. Helen stood aside to let the wheelchair roll back down the hill. The wheel, the wheel, the wheel.