…the being undone, the fading away, the death or the falling apart of something which had been held together until that point
Now that Helen was actually earning money, and so paying the rent every week, as well as slowly clearing the backlog of twenty-three weeks of unpaid rent and keeping Oscar’s head just above water, she had assumed the air of someone of great importance with even more confidence than ever before. Indeed, such was her confidence in her own importance, not only her importance to Oscar, but to the world she inhabited, that she had no hesitation in insisting that everyone she knew must attend the launch of the advertising campaign she had organised.
Now that Oscar had little else to do, he gratefully accepted any distraction, especially anything which took him away from his daily three hours of doodling on a piece of paper and writing the odd epigram – all which came under the general term of “my work”. Such was Oscar’s craving for distraction that he planned his whole week around the upcoming event – the launch of Bananahol, “the new drink for a new crowd”. Oscar even managed to come up with an epigram for the occasion – his most productive outpouring for quite some time – “If you sell it, they will buy it.”
Smith was always interested in the workings of the advertising trade, just as he was always interested in the workings of anything which could be said to have workings – which encompassed the infinite number of things which could be said to work or not to work. If it doesn’t work, it’s broken – and broken things held a fascination for Smith. Not that he was interested in fixing them. As for things which did work – Smith was constantly surprised that they weren’t broken. This state of constant surprise is the oxymoron at the heart of the person Smith finds himself to be.
Henry would come because he was told to come. Not that he didn’t have his own faculty for arriving at a decision based on the merits of a particular enterprise and a rough calculation of his own personal interests – he just didn’t want to exercise that particular faculty, or any particular faculty, if he could at all help it. He didn’t want to set that particular ball rolling. Once it’s rolling, Henry often had cause to remind himself, there’s no stopping the avalanche. Henry was now having greater success reminding himself of this prior to the avalanche being set off. But, once or twice, quite recently too, this reminder, about the dangers of setting the ball rolling, was enough of itself to set off an avalanche, a metaphorical avalanche of course, but a slightly less than metaphorical pile of shit at the end of it.
So now that all four actors are about to enter the stage of tonight’s performance – “How the Cracks Appeared” – we may begin.
It was a very cold night, and the venue, a dank warehouse somewhere in the northern quarter of the city, did little to disguise this fact. Indeed, the venue did everything to emphasise this fact. And the crowd, made up of such an odd variety of people which defy any more specific description than that of “crowd”, didn’t hold back from expressing their dissatisfaction with the conditions. The puddles of stagnant water, the fogging of every breath, the poor lighting and the sounds of bats in the eaves, all came in for particular comment. Fortunately, as far as Helen was concerned, their mumblings of discontent were as yet lacking harmony and so cancelled each other out.
The first spark of light on the large screen, which was spread across the end wall, was enough to distract each of the crowd from their own personal discomfort and focus their attention on the main event. Even the coughing stopped, confirming Smith’s long held belief that coughing, sneezing and crying could all be grouped under the same term – consciously controlled expressions. Sneezing, as far as Smith was concerned was a conscious expression of either an extreme disgust or a sharp pang of anxiety. Smith therefore deduced that no one there present was either disgusted or anxious, at least not excessively.
At this point Helen took central stage. Lit up by the light from the projector, a light with a distinct yellow tinge, Helen acquired a particularly sinister quality. Her white skirt and shirt having a yellow hue did little for her hopes of coming across as somebody who was completely other than who she really was – a person with many rather sinister qualities, that is, qualities ranging from a run-of-the-mill deceitfulness to an almost psychotic disregard for the safety, preferences or needs of the rest of humanity, either individually or en masse.
Helen delivered her speech as such a person should, such a person who regularly delivers such speeches, that is. Her performance, as such a person, was flawless. She pulled it off with great aplomb. Oscar was very impressed. Both Smith and Henry were very impressed. None of the three could discern the least sign of the real Helen in any of this, apart from the sinister yellow hue, which was only the most oblique of hints. There wasn’t a word which betrayed her true self. There wasn’t a gesture which even hinted at the kind of person Helen really was. This wasn’t the Helen who would club a puppy to death for pissing on her shoe; this was a Helen who would calmly intercede in any such clubbing incident, should she happen upon it on the street.
However, when the first crack appeared, it was the three people who knew the truth, who knew what was beneath and what the cracks would reveal, who were the most shocked. Thought the term “shock” doesn’t adequately cover how Oscar felt when he saw the first banana fly towards Helen. The term “shock” denies any mirth that might have been felt at that moment, the moment of witnessing a banana flying through the air in Helen’s specific direction. Perhaps the term “shock” is also inadequate to describe how Henry felt when he saw Helen fall to the floor of the staging just as some yellow projectile hit the screen behind her. But Smith was genuinely “shocked”. Why should anyone throw bananas? he thought. What is the world coming to?
The world, to answer Smith’s question, was coming to order. It was being put to rights, after Helen had abused the natural order, assumed the rightful position of another Helen, had lied and cheated, and caused seventy-five pounds worth of damage to the carpet in the conference room of the company’s offices. Smith would have taken such a view, as he always, sooner rather than later, made some sense of events as they were unfolding, regardless of how lacking in sense they were. But Henry and Oscar were struggling at that moment to make sense of what they could see before them. Bananas continued to fly towards Helen, some hitting her pathetically cowering figure, some hitting the screen and distorting the image being projected on it – the image of a woman variously grinning and grimacing as the bananas impacted, holding up a bottle of Bananahol – “The drink for a new crowd.”
Once the torrent of bananas had subsided the yellow and sinister Helen got to her feet and expressed her true feelings towards the potential customers of Bananahol, as well as the shakers and movers of the advertising world (selected at random from a yellow pages), and the whole of humanity, each individual specifically and the general throng – “I hope you fucking choke on it!”