aplomb

…having a brass neck, a steely disposition and a metallic ring in your step     

Helen was reassured by her success with the bananahol project, despite her being unaware of how it was a success, or rather, how it wasn’t a complete disaster. Not that the foundation of her reassurance was ever an issue – Helen was avoiding any kind of introspection above acknowledging basic biological needs. Knowing thyself was all well and good if there was something down there worth uncovering – Helen’s instinct told her not to start digging, so she didn’t.

Of course, simply deciding to not go looking wasn’t enough. There’s always the chance that your mind will stray and all of a sudden you are analysing your motives for throwing both your high-heel shoes at the picture window in your boss’s office. You might be standing in a queue to buy a sandwich and simply dwelling on your hunger, you move on to your preference for corned-beef over ham, and the next thing you’re doing, your picking through your childhood memories and uncovering long ago suppressed memories, fears and desires. To be merely on your guard isn’t good enough. The word “vigilance” isn’t adequate to describe the necessary state of mind. You have to induce a mental state as close to complete mental breakdown as is possible, you have to be “distracted” in every sense of the word, you have to be fragmented, volatile, confused – in a word… well, there’s no word for it.

The decision to avoid introspection was in itself problematic, because once taken it had to be suppressed, otherwise it could easily prompt the exact thing it was prohibiting – why don’t I want to look deeper? – in a word “introspection”. That was why, immediately after her decision to steer clear of introspection and to not give herself enough time to think, let alone introspect, Helen phoned Oscar to agree to partake in his latest scheme – “a full length prose narrative”, a “get to the bottom of all of this” and an “in depth study into the mystery of Helen Anderson”. There was no better way, Helen was sure, to avoid any chance of introspection.

And she had the intricacies of the Fern Account, the immanent arrival on the market of Fern’s Beef Fingers, to keep her occupied until Oscar arrived. But these intricacies didn’t occupy her overmuch. She got as far as the first page in the folder and decided that she had swallowed down quite enough information for one day, not wanting to clog up her neural pathways, forgetting that that was just what she wanted to do, but such were the consequences of suppressing her motives, which, unfortunately, was essential if she was to reach her goal of avoiding getting onto that slippery slope of introspection, which was best avoided by actually clogging up her neural pathways, as opposed to keeping them free. But such were the limitations of these pathways, either through years of abuse, misuse, disuse, or any other use, as illustrated by her initial musings, a rather childish sketch of a cow playing a piano and cooling his fingers in mayonnaise, that the chances of her sliding towards any kind of penetration into herself or the world around her were highly improbable.

Oscar’s bumbling arrival coincided with a number of other events – it was as though every event in the universe, the universe in so far as Helen was aware of its existence, was converging on her. Mary, Jane or Susan, her red-faced boss whose name at that moment escaped her, her secretary with the lazy eye, an old man dressed all in black with a pronounced limp and the sauntering figure of Oscar were all converging on the spot where she stood – next to the recently repaired water cooler. All this scene needed, Helen though to herself, was her parents, her ex-husband and her Secondary School Maths teacher to be a snap shot of her subconscious – but she stopped that train of thought dead for a reason which at that moment escaped her.

“The shoes! The shoes!” her red-faced boss called out. “Do they fit?”

“Fern Beef Fingers,” the old man announced, lending the words a formality and integrity you wouldn’t have ascribed to them normally, neither individually, nor used in such a combination.

“These shoes!” shouted Mary, Jane or Sue. “From out of the sky!”

“Your new shoes have arrived,” her secretary added, seeming to feel somehow outdone by the other pronouncements.

“Mrs Anderson, I presume,” was how Oscar decided to add to the melee.

What can you do? Helen muttered to herself, before showing the world just what could be done in such a situation, where she was being attacked from all angles, skating on thin ice, with her back against the wall and at the end of a particularly short tether.

Smiling, which came naturally to Helen when she was balancing precariously above the pit of her own well-deserved doom, she looked each person in the eye, excepting her secretary, who seemed to be looking at the wall three feet to the left of Helen’s shoulder, and calmly pronounced a perfectly bland and meaningless and empty statement, such as “Well, isn’t this all very nice.” Before taking her red-faced boss and the old man in black by their respective shoulders and walking them away from the centre of the attack.

“I think you know each other,” Helen hazarded; not knowing either one of them, she assumed that they were likely to know each other, but not waiting for a reply, just in case, she moved on to talk about the weather – which she hoped was fair, which was how she described it; the volatility in the equities market – which she had heard of at some point in her life; and the colour of the carpet – which she pronounced to be the finest colour of them all – taupe.

Oscar was dragged along in her wake. However, her wake had quite the opposite effect on the other parties in the congregation – not that Mary, Jane or Sue, or her secretary, where repulsed in any way by the wake Helen left behind her, they were more disturbed or upset or let down – there’s no real word or group of words which could describe how they might have felt. However, Mary, Jane or Sue did attempt to put it into words – “fucking shoe”, but this phrase isn’t adjudged to be adequate to even begin to describe the sentiment behind the look on her face.

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