ante

…what’s on the table? Nothing, sir.     

If the world is falling apart around you, what do you do? If the fabric of society is about to be rent asunder, how does one go about holding things together? If the school’s moral fibre is about to be unwound, how can Henry hope to stop the unwinding? Wind it back up again? Tighten it? Pull it until it was really tight? But what could he hold onto? Where was the loose thread? And as the world as we know it is about to…

It was almost obvious to Henry at this point, what needed to be done. It was blatantly obvious. Almost. And in the way that the blatantly obvious slowly climbs above the horizon of one’s conscious mind, like a red sun peeping above the war scarred no-man’s-land of world war one, like an exploding sun flaring above the skyline of a futuristic city, like one of those old red buses turning a corner on two wheels in a 1950’s comedy, like one of those awfully ugly and frightening dinosaur birds swooping down below a thick layer of stratocumulus clouds, like a curious squirrel falling out of a sycamore tree, like a lion watching its prey, like the colour of snow, like the smell of freshly cut grass, like Saul falling off his horse on the road to Damascus, like you wouldn’t believe, like anything at all, like the loudest explosion you’ve ever heard and the most frightening thing you’ve ever witnessed, like an avalanche thundering down a near vertical slope, like nothing you’ve ever seen before, like that, just like that… the dimly lit image of Tommy Kilpatrick and the half formed image of a loose thread slowly came into view, and their half formed images merged into the answer that had always been about to suggest itself to Henry.

Without a moment to lose, Henry stormed out of his classroom, leaving a first year class confused about the true nature of the world around them, their rudimentary theories on causation in tatters, and their fledgling understanding of the intricate workings of human motivation on very shaky legs.

What Henry didn’t seem to realise was that Henry had many moments to lose. He was, if truth be known, as he had always been, since the day he was born, until moments before his untimely death, awash with moments. He could have very easily, just at that point, sauntered across to the gents’ staff toilet in the West Wing. He could have made his way to his car and wallowed in the smoke of a cigarette. He could have jumped into the rhododendron bushes where they swelled out at the corner behind the main school sign, losing himself in their darkness. He could have spent as many moments as he would care to spend sitting in that darkness, listening to the heavy leaves above him softly rustle in the slightest of breezes, until his thoughts would rear up, and once reared up, his thoughts, they would weigh up these moments now dripping away as though they were each indispensable, decide that they couldn’t be spared, that there were insufficient moments for this, for their being thrown away on idle thoughts in the darkness of rhododendron bushes: in short, that he didn’t have a moment to lose.

He had to find Mr Kilpatrick. He had to put a stop to this. He had to do something. And this having to do something was sufficient in itself. There was no need for any kind of specification. Henry didn’t spare a thought for what this something could be. But it was something. And that was better than nothing. And for now he could walk quickly around the school, marching determinedly down corridors and past the windows of classrooms, and across the playing field, and wind his way through all the cars in the car park, in order to do this something. This something was just about pulling him along. And surrendering to this almost imperceptible pull of this most nebulous of somethings, Henry arrived at the darkly stained oak door of the Headmistress’s office, out of breath and brimming over with what he was about to do, whatever that might be.

“It’s Kilpatrick?” was what Henry shouted at the empty tables and chairs – tables and chairs devoid of the truncated figure of the sitting Mrs R P Merryweather, Buddha like, just like Buddha, but a cut in half Buddha, but a not smiling Buddha. A disdainful Buddha. Not like Buddha at all.

But he wasn’t to have time to deflate – the mass of the Headmistress, Mrs R P Merryweather, had accumulated right behind him, her breath on his neck, the fingers of one of her hands touching, pressing down, pulling back, tugging on his shoulder.

Once Henry had accustomed himself with the lie of the land, a process which propelled him across the room and obliged him to emit a high pitched screech, he reminded himself of the something that he was about to do, the something slowly forming a shape in his mind, the something which dropped into the forms of letters and words just as they dropped out of his mouth.

“He’s a malcontent… a misanthrope. He’s…

“Mr Bridgewater please. Take a seat.” The Headmistress would insist upon some kind of decorum – her kind of decorum, a decorum defined by her ever shifting sensibilities and her predilection for unadulterated subservience.

Mr Bridgewater took a seat. He sat on the edge of the seat as though he was someone who had something to do and could hardly wait to do it.

“If this is in relation to our little tête-à-tête yesterday afternoon…” Mrs R P Merryweather smiled.

Unprompted, Henry took a biscuit from the plate on her desk, fancying himself in some other meeting on some other day.

“It seems I’ve overestimated you, Mr Bridgewater.”

Henry’s mouth was slowly crammed full of dry rich tea biscuit.

“I had you down as someone I could trust. A rock. I needed a rock Mr Bridgewater.”

Crumbs fell to the floor as Henry’s mouth loosened into a gaping hole.

“And what do I get?”

Henry could hardly wait to find out – what did you get Mrs Merryweather?

“A louche. A ne’r-do-well. A fornicator. A man of loose morals. No morals. A man who…”

The crumbs were slowly forming into a solid mass of soggy rich tea crumbs which had all but stoppered Henry’s mouth. His eyes wide in either some kind of masochistic expectancy or unbelieving dread.

“I confided in you Mr Bridgwater. I leant on you. And what was I leaning on?”

The only noise that Henry could emit was a variety of whimper, deep and sonorous.

But Henry could see that something now. He could almost grasp it: he would have to offer up the woman he loved, Mrs Julia Madden, the buxom gym teacher, who he didn’t really like anyway, the thought of whom he couldn’t abide. He spat large chunks of congealed rich tea biscuits onto the polished surface of the desk in his urge to betray the woman who loved him unreservedly, the woman who pressed her breasts and stomach and thighs up against him, the woman who squashed him up against the tasselled cushions, garish cuddly toys and freshly laundered grey underclothes on the sagging sofa bed in her ground-floor flat, the woman who declared her undiluted love for him underneath the darkness of the glossy rhododendron bushes, the woman whose smile, whose every syllable, whose eating noises and loud breathing, whose runny nose and sagging breasts, whose every word, her any word, her about to speak, her having to speak, whose final word on any matter…

    

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