…to somehow lessen, reduce or undermine, to discolour
Oscar felt meticulous that morning. A strange feeling to have. To feel meticulous. I feel meticulous. But he felt everything around him very sharply. He felt meticulous. Each thing separately. He felt each detail. He could describe each angle, each line, each heaviness, each coldness and each texture of the world surrounding him. He had felt the sofa gently curving, bowing beneath him, each of the three cushions, the rows of undulating springs, broken springs, the beach towel, which lightly rested on some parts of his body and gently tugged at others, its almost invisible weight falling off the edge of the sofa, not quite reaching the floor, the compacted pillow, solid, and the arm of the sofa. A dead end. He felt the sunshine coming through the slats in the Venetian blinds. He could hear the world around him. Not just the sounds of cars and cats and doors, but the sound of tables and chairs and walls and glass. He could close his eyes and hear everything. And opening his eyes again, he was shocked by the intricacy of the cornflake packet, the texture of the toast, the colour of the butter, the black colour of black coffee. It was so black.
And then, later, the way the glossy leaves of the rhododendron bushes in the grounds of Didsbury Girls Grammar School caught the light, as though they contained it, had sucked it out of the air and swam in it, like they were filled with it, almost dripping, the light about to drip form each leaf. But the light never did drip. It just hung precariously onto each leaf. The rough bark of the thin branches. The darkness of the thicker branches further in. The trunk. Four bottles of cheap port, three packets of cheese and onion crisps and a packet of liquorice all-sorts. The greenness of the grass that spread out beyond the shadow of the rhododendron bushes. The sounds of birds signing. The sudden fury of Julia Madden, the buxom gym teacher, running past. The sounds of screams and shouts from a great distance. The screeching of a car’s breaks. The dull sobs which echoed from nearby.
The sharp greenness of the grass was transcribed by a black line, the line of the rhododendron bushes’ shadow. The sun must have been directly overhead as the grass’ bright greenness had crept almost up to the dead leaves and damp earth at the edge of the bushes. At the centre of the wide sweep of the bright green grass the school building sat squat. Brown bricks and dark windows and dark green ivy and lighter bricks and more windows and each tile on the roof. At the building’s entrance a small collection of people stood, all looking up at the pale rounded face of Mrs R P Merryweather, whose face undulated in time to whatever words she spoke. The small collection of people were absorbed by these undulations, and when her face all of a sudden stopped, they didn’t move, each head angled upwards waiting for the next movement of the next word. The final opening and closing of her mouth was fierce and sudden. The crowd slowly dissipated once she had turned back into the darkness of the doorway.
Oscar was sat in a cave of rhododendron leaves, on top of an overturned empty mayonnaise bucket taken from the back of the canteen. The air was warm. There was a faint smell of stale smoke. The sweetness of the sherry he drunk straight from the bottle was at once glorious and nauseous. The sweetness of life. The sound of the crisp packet being opened and of each crisp being crunched and eaten. Another girl ran past, her white shirt tearing out from beneath her blazer. She didn’t run as children ran. She was running for a reason. Away from something.
Some time later, when Henry was sitting facing him, sitting on the upturned bucket of margarine taken from the back of the canteen, Oscar felt the weighty significance of each word he uttered.
“It’s very important to me that this isn’t important. That it doesn’t matter.”
Henry didn’t answer. He seemed absorbed by the round and dark opening of the bottle of sherry he held between his knees. Even his cigarette smouldered away ignored, the smell of the smoke filling the cave of rhododendron leaves, Henry’s stillness, his quietness almost buzzing, almost humming. His whole body growing to fill a larger space. Reaching the confines of the cave, pushing the leaves to every side, swelling to fill the gaps between branches, the gaps of light between darkness. He lit another cigarette when the first had smouldered to a stub.
Oscar and Henry sat in silence watching that cigarette burn itself out. Following the thin line of smoke upwards as it caught the sunlight here and there, they both caught the sight of the face, the features, the eyes, the nose, the lips, the eyebrows, the red cheeks, the rising bosom, the sound of her breath, her open necked polo shirt, the dull line of her cleavage: Julia Madden filled the space in front of them. Oscar looked at Henry intently, with an intensity that looks just didn’t have, willing him not to move. Henry’s eyes quickly switched from the flushed face of Julia madden, framed by the gap in the rhododendron bush, lit up by the sunlight of the bright green grass, and the face of Oscar, a face which barely caught the light, which must have been little more than glinting pupils and a lighter shadow in the darkness. Henry could do nothing else but look from one face to the other.
When she had walked off, or when she had disappeared, in a manner similar to her appearance, which was sudden more than anything else, neither Oscar nor Henry deigned to make any comment. It was as though there was nothing to be said. Nor was there anything to be said when Mrs R P Merryweather walked past at the head of the school’s emergency response team.
“The girls have been known to climb into the gaps in the rhododendron bushes,” she told Mrs Brown, the senior teacher with responsibilities for pupil welfare, health and safety, citizenship and discipline. Mrs Merryweather’s secretary, who followed close behind, was taking minutes. “Sit there for hours. Can’t imagine what they get up to in there. Just sit there I suppose. Last year a third year girl sat in there for the whole day. She was found at the end of the last period. What were you doing in there all day, I asked her. Nothing, she said.”
When the party had stopped, on seeing a pair of shoes discarded before the bushes, they concentrated on the darkness between the glossy leaves until they seemed to register something, as though they could see through the darkness, see Oscar and Henry sitting there on their respective buckets of mayonnaise and margarine, sitting together in the darkness, guilty, convicted, sentenced.
“They can’t be trusted,” Mrs Merryweather went on. “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile. The trick is to give them just enough rope with which to hang themselves. No point wasting good rope.”
Helen ran past later that afternoon. She seemed to be chasing a squirrel across the green. She wasn’t wearing any shoes.
When the sun had climbed back over the rhododendron bushes in which they were sat, and the shadow of the bushes crept further across the bright greenness of the lawn, it shed more light on the intricacies of the rhododendron bushes on the opposite side of the bright green. They were meticulous.