…heat which comes from inside
“This is it,” Oscar announced when he ducked his head back down into the dark. He was speaking to three other vague and indefinable shapes, what with him also being a vague and indefinable shape, his face having been covered with black shoe polish, his wearing only black, and the shadow of the brick wall spread over all of them. He was having difficulty with the shoe polish on his face, which Smith had liberally applied and insisted on covering every inch of his face, including his eyelids, ears and lips – Oscar’s difficulty consisted in not being able to desist from touching his lips with his tongue and then being repulsed by the metallic, greasy and sharp tang of the black shoe polish. “Such things novels are made of”, Smith had promised him; Oscar was now beginning to feel the friendly glow of disappointment.
“This is it?” Henry’s head now appeared over the brick wall, his greasy blackened features catching the light emanating from the large window ahead of him, framing a picture of an old woman, whose indistinct features were in turn illuminated by the flickering light of a television which was lurking in the wings. Never before had Henry’s sight lingered for so long – upwards of twenty seconds – on such a seemingly innocuous picture: the framed portrait of an old woman sitting on her own watching television – it very nearly took on a deeper meaning for Henry, but his foot would slip off the brick he was standing on and he would fall back beneath the shadow of the wall in ten seconds.
“This is it?” Helen was even less impressed than Henry; their two heads now sticking up above the wall and catching the faint light. She squinted a little, because she felt that she mustn’t be getting the whole picture – there must be more to it than this. She didn’t at all feel inspired as Smith promised she would. But then, she may be getting inspired without knowing it as she was unsure what the feeling of being inspired might be like. She had thought the feeling of inspiration would be some kind of warm feeling in the very depths of her being, but how she was to distinguish it from pity, love, hate, shame or hunger she was unsure. Either way, right now she felt neither pity, love, hate, shame nor hunger, nor could she have felt inspired, not without some kind of physical symptom.
“This is it!” Smith now stuck his head above the wall. His head was soon flanked by all of the other three – Helen’s appearing to his left, Oscar immediately to his right, Henry’s to Oscar’s right as soon as he had picked himself up from the murk he had just fallen into – like four shrivelled heads left a castle wall.
No one spoke a lengthy period (of somewhere between one minute and three minutes) – a silence in which three of them wondered about the significance of the picture before them, and in which one of them was in awe of its beauty.
“This is the stuff of life, my friends.” Smith’s head was twisting about in the passion he felt at that moment, his eyes glinting, catching the light, acquiring the flickering appearance of a flame caught in a draft. “This is the truth behind the front doors and drawn curtains. This is what life is. This and no more.”
“No more,” confirmed Helen and Henry in unison, which prompted them to lean forward and look at each other and almost fall over in unison.
“This is humanity stripped bare. The human condition revealed. This is what we all are. We are all alone. We are all an old woman sitting on her own watching television in the half-light. This is how we will spend our last days, but this too is how we spend every day, how the days fall through our fingers, and all we can do is sit alone in the dark… we are each of us alone. Alone in this world – this is the picture of existence, the truth revealed… the past, the present and the future.”
“I can’t see it,” Henry confessed. Helen shook her head in order to concur, but on second thoughts made it a slow shake of her head to show resignation that such stupidity, Henry’s stupidity, and what she nearly confessed to be her own, must exist in the world.
“I can see the old woman,” Oscar conceded. “But I can’t see what’s on television, but based on the manner in which the light is flickering, I imagine it to be quite a slow moving film – the light’s hue and intensity changes only every five or six seconds. I’m sure she’s watching something that’s meant to be very sad – but I can never feel sad about what I see on television. The acting is invariably quite poor and it asks too much of a person of my intelligence to suspend their disbelief.” Oscar looked to his left and his right for nods of agreement, but none were forthcoming. “I have to admit I do struggle to suspend my disbelief – and not just when watching television either.”
“I think we need to get closer,” Smith conceded. “Be face to face with existence – so close we could smell it. This is where inspiration lies, Oscar, this is the heart of any novel, the beating heart of existence.”
“And we could see what’s on television,” Oscar added.
Both Helen and Henry refused to move forward with the main force, but agreed to hold the fort, keeping watch and ensuring that the forward party weren’t cut off. Both would have admitted that this was good fun, as Oscar promised them it would be, but their blackened faces and the faint light didn’t reveal their true feelings, if it could be said that either of the two had true feelings – both of them seemed to be suffering from various false feelings for quite some time.
And by now Smith and Oscar were over the wall and fallen into the overgrown grass and bushes which constituted the old lady’s garden, the poor state of which prompted Smith to pass another comment on the fate which awaits us all, but which was smothered out by the sudden push of Oscar’s behind into his face and a muffled cry from behind of “he’s coming!” followed by the echoing sound of four feet slapping an escape up the back-alleyway, which was quickly succeeded by the sound of someone very close by, a someone who wasn’t Oscar and who wasn’t Smith – both of whom were now facing each other as they lay flat in the long grass in amongst the bushes, a someone who began to cough and drag up an amount phlegm from deep below, a someone who spat this substance out in a particular direction, the end of which was the small of Smith’s upturned back, a someone who proceeded to wheeze, cough and sniff and finally a someone who unzipped a zip and watered the garden, the warm stream of his piss landing loudly on the grass next to the their faces, pummelling the ground, the warm smell and splashes touching both their blackened faces, now glistening in the faint light from the window, but then spreading, the jet of piss, into a finer spray to cover the entire area in which the two were lying, and finishing up in an extended dripping, the number of heavy drips of warm piss – twenty three, easily counted by Oscar, onto whose thigh the drops dripped.