…that which is an obsession; concentration on a single idea; the process of making concrete that which is incorporeal
The dictionary sat on the table, it stood on the table, it could have jumped up from the table and levitated in mid air several feet above the table, it could have, it would have, it was about to, and it was lit by the light shining through the grey net curtains covering the front window, so it seemed to shine, it did shine, it had an evanescence all of its own, it took upon itself so much meaning and significance, it mystified as well as numbed the minds of those present, all four, Oscar, Smith, Henry and Helen, it was at the centre of attention, the centre of a semicircle of either blank or loaded expressions, it was sitting there, right there, for all four of them to see, but the very act of its getting there, the very act of its existence in the I-can’t-believe-it-here-and-now, the present and correct, the oh-my-god-how-did-this-come-to-be, there it was alright; it was beyond the wherewithal of each of them alone and all four of them together.
“There it is alright,” Oscar was the first to speak and these words broke the spell, if it was a spell, by which each of them was held.
“Don’t touch it!” Smith burst out with, as Oscar approached the dictionary.
Three surprised, becoming bemused, faces turned on Smith.
“I mean… well… We got to wait and see.”
“It’s a dictionary.” Helen felt the need to demystify the dull and black covered mass of white and faintly luminous pages, she felt this was best achieved by her voice lingering on each of the syllables of that word, particularly emphasising the hard c sound and the long e sound at its end
“You stole a dictionary.” Henry felt the need to spell out the true nature of her crime.
“It’s my dictionary.” Oscar felt the need to establish that justice had indeed prevailed and that the natural order of the world had been restored.
“It’s a pretty good sized dictionary.” Smith felt the need to become more involved in the drama of the dictionary, and he reached forward and picked it up with both hands, letting the dictionary’s weight rise and fall in his grasp.
Three pairs of eyes followed the rise and fall of the dictionary. However, Smith’s eyes were caught by a movement, a happening, barely visible through the front window’s grey net curtains and dust covered Venetian blinds, outside in the world, between patches of condensation which obscured whole swathes of the street. It seemed that a police car had pulled up.
“Someone’s in trouble,” Smith stated, nodding his head knowingly, but not knowing anything in particular.
Three sets of eyes went from the all-of-a-sudden cessation of the rise and fall of the dictionary, to the wide-eyed gaze of Smith which had replaced his knowing look, which they, all six eyes, followed to just in time witness the approach of two policemen intent on prosecuting the law to the letter.
Henry was the first to react, falling to the floor, overcome with the sudden remembrance of every crime and misdemeanour he either committed, was associated with or could possibly be linked to in the past thirty-two years of his soon to be curtailed life.
Helen’s hand went to her hair, always to her hair, that which she valued most and so most feared to loose and so tugged at mercilessly whenever it was most likely that she would be shorn of her locks when she was discarded in a solitary cell in some prison on an island in some book she had once read.
Oscar smiled, but he always smiled, and so a smile from Oscar meant everything, and so also nothing, therefore his reaction cannot be labelled, no more than it can be further described – he did no more than smile a perfectly ordinary, run of the mill, unexceptional and everyday, neither slight nor pronounced, neither ironic nor frank smile, a none-of-the-above-smile, a nothing-at-all-of-a-smile.
“The dictionary!” every voice uttered in unison as that same divine object fell from the precarious grasp of Smith and hurtled, if something can hurtle for a space less than one yard, towards, it was actually falling beneath the weight of gravity, but the weight of everyone’s gaze must surely have added even more momentum to the holy volume as it moved, floated, fell, hurtled, glided, onto the table with a bang, whose volume and pitch finally would have qualified its movement as a fall from a height of no more than a yard – but all were transfixed.
“It fell.” Smith felt the need to excuse his part in this whatever-it-was catastrophe.
“My god.” Henry felt the need to invoke the Lord’s name.
“My hair!” Helen felt the need to plead with the universe the cause of her hair.
“My dictionary!” Oscar couldn’t seem to leave alone the idea that this precious object was by law or by some other means, wholly his property.
There was a knock on the door, a fairly modest knock, a knock not at all intrusive, not at all exceptional, a knock wholly in keeping with nothing much about to happen, perhaps a random inquiry on the part of the police, or perhaps a knock to bring to the attention of this house’s occupier that there had been a spate of burglaries in the area recently and that he, she or whoever it was lived here should be sure to be careful.
“Don’t answer the door. Don’t answer the door.” Henry was pleading.
“Do you think they can’t hear you saying “Don’t answer the door”?” Oscar was both making a point and at the same time he really was wondering.
“Answer the door. Answer the door. Quickly! My God will someone answer the door!” Henry was pleading.
“That’ll sound a whole lot better.” Oscar seemed assured one way or another.
“This is the police,” a voice intoned.
Yet no one’s eyes could leave the black bound and faintly luminous white pages of the dictionary which sat, stood, lay, presented itself, offered itself up, shone, existed, subsisted, lived, survived, endured and grew larger than its physical dimensions right there on the table and could have been about to levitate, about to do something miraculous, so that all hope was centred on it, it was the only hope, this dictionary, it was everything and nothing, it was one copy of a million others and it was a one of a kind, it was Oscar’s dictionary, it was the dictionary Helen stole, it was the dictionary that Smith caused to hurtle a space of less than one yard and it was the dictionary that would ruin the life of Henry and consequently precipitate the end of the world.
“My God! It’s the police. Did you hear him – he said “This is the police”!”