atavistic

…reverting to an earlier type or resembling a long lost ancestor rather than either of one’s parents

Henry spent one summer of his youth trawling the family album for a sense of identity. On finding a rather dapper looking, but at the same time eminently respectable looking, young man, Henry thought he had located his origins. He was handsome, though his moustache firmly placed him in a century past, and his tweeds gave him, Henry felt, a remarkably modern look, something out of a magazine for gentlemen of the countryside, the look of someone with a manor, someone just out to town to look into some farm business, perhaps a word with his accountant, drop in to see his mistress, say hello to the boys in the club, catch a show. Henry felt that he had found what he was looking for.

“My grand-uncle Seb?” Henry’s mother was less than impressed.

But Henry was certain – this was his true ancestor.

Of course, Henry had been much younger then. He had been an earnest youth. He had an odd look about him, especially in his tweed jacket and jeans – he never had the strength of character to become a true eccentric at eighteen and wear the tweed cap he had bought in a charity shop in order to complete the look.

Sitting at the bar waiting for Oscar to show up, and it would probably be a long wait, Henry got to thinking of himself, which wasn’t in itself at all strange, more particularly about his relationship with his father, which was a pretty common topic in the whirlwind of Henry’s thoughts, and of how he was nothing like, in no way, not at all, completely the opposite, nothing to do with, not in the least, in any way similar to his dear old dad.

And there was that time, Henry couldn’t help but recall, though their was no reason for him to recall it now, apart from the stale smell of drink emanating from a dirty cloth on the bar, when his dad drove the family, Mummy, Henry and baby to the seaside in their clapped out hatchback, Mummy for the hundredth time cautioning him on his course language, Daddy for the hundredth time ignoring her, Henry for the whole journey not daring to look out of the front window lest he saw where he was going before he got there, he could only look out the side windows and the rear window, refused to speak to his parents on the grounds that he was deathly ill, but with the real reason being that it would necessitate him looking out the front window and therefore his seeing where the car was headed before it got there and it would be too late to stop them, crashing directly into a void in the universe or a petrol tanker, or pulling up to his Aunty Veronica’s council house, so he was feigning sleep or coma or delirium or all three, and it was at that moment, listening to his father tell his mother to shut up for the hundredth time and leave him alone for god’s sake, that Henry realised that he must have been adopted in some shameful and underhand scheme where he was forcibly removed from his loving family of Russian aristocrats and adopted by a pair of communist party faithful and planted in some out of the way, common, ordinary and vulgar existence which would be a punishment to his refined and delicate parents by proxy.

Henry was wearing his tweed jacket, despite the grief he would be sure to get from Oscar, and he was wearing a particularly dignified look upon his face, and his mind’s eye was resting on, couldn’t be dragged away from, was mesmerised by, that sepia image of his great-grand-uncle Seb, him smiling like people of that bygone age smiled – with the confidence of someone who thought the world was there just for them, and a piece of grass or straw or some such material sticking out of his mouth and his back and elbows resting back on the top bar of a gate – he was somewhere in the countryside, but then it was all countryside back then, all of it, all fields.

Oscar walking in at this point, could observe Henry standing at the bar, his back and his elbows resting back on the bar so that his stomach stuck out quite comically and his crotch jutted out quite ludicrously, and there rested on his face the look of someone out of a nineteen-fifties children’s book.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” elicited no answer from Henry other than the cessation of his inane grin.

Once Henry had bought Oscar a drink and they had got trough the pleasantries of social intercourse incumbent upon two people of such close and frequent acquaintance, Henry managed to turn the conversation the way he preferred, which was for the conversation’s sole purpose to be the exploration of the person he is, isn’t, was, wasn’t, should be, would be, could be or couldn’t be.

“I feel the weight of my forebears on my shoulders.” was a phrase that Oscar wasn’t likely to forget and would enjoy recalling and parodying at every possible moment until the point in the distant future at which he tired of using it to amuse himself and others.

Oscar was mind-numbingly familiar with the intricacies of Henry’s straightforward, ordinary and bland life. His familiarity with his forebears, which Oscar took to mean his parents, was also mind-numbing.

“I’m not my father’s child,” Henry stated, pausing ever so briefly after each word in order to lend this statement a gravity it might otherwise not have had. “Nor my mother’s neither.”

“So where did you spring from?” Henry asked, in the tone of a scientist confronted by a genuine conundrum.

Rather than reply, Henry authorized his awareness of the world around him to lapse, his involvement with his interlocutor to come to an end, and the faint sense of embarrassment which he always carried about him to dissipate, and his mind once more entered the sepia world where it was all countryside, all of it, all fields.

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