foil

…to frustrate or baffle, or to enhance the qualities of another by contrast      

Henry was determined to get his due. He had been asleep for the whole of his life – yes, asleep. There’s no other way to describe his existence up to this point other than a long and troubled sleep. He couldn’t even have been having a pleasant dream. Why couldn’t he have been dreaming about virgins and grapes and swimming in chocolate? Why couldn’t he have dreamt of success, rather than this pitiful series of events interspersing a thirty-five-year-sit-in-a-waiting room that was his life, his dream, his nightmare.

Wake up. Jesus Christ, wake up.

He had woken up now. He was awake. The revelation of the empty skip – how the world really works, what the world is concerned with – it was a road to Damascus moment, and Henry wouldn’t even consider himself a religious man. Henry had enough to worry about on the plane of the physical without having to worry about the spiritual plane, of things to do with god, and heaven and hell, and purgatory, but worst of all would have been the concept of reincarnation, a full acceptance of which would have been disastrous, too much, much too much, catastrophic for him, because of his having to consider the consequences of his actions for not only this life but for the next life, and the life after that, and so on, until his mind would have shut down, gone down, broken down, just as a computer would malfunction if dipped in a vat of whiskey.

But getting back to the here-and-now-plane-of-the-physical-and-the-actual – of course, it was now obvious to him, that one man would take advantage of another man if given half a chance. And of course, life was made up of such goings on, of half chances and full chances, any chance, the least chance, of your fellow man slipping up, of pulling the rug from beneath their feet, of peering through the curtains to see when all was clear and then you pounce, you run onto the street and claim your due – you discard the detritus of your life into the skip of another man – such was life. That’s life.

But at least he knew now. Life may be a long series of one-up-man-ships and under-hand-man-ships and pull-the-wool-over-the-eyes-man-ships, but at least he knew, at least he was now in the game, not that he could consider it a game – life. It wasn’t a game. He couldn’t degrade life to the status of a game, chess, snap or badminton. But badminton was a sport. Could life be a sport? A team sport? Spectator sport? Darts? The triathlon?

“I’m ready baby,” were the only words he uttered on the twenty minute journey home through the sluggish traffic of the tail end of rush hour. But much more could be read from his face, so much more, and alas too much to be written down – but all could be put under the catch-all-term – a determined look.

On reaching his home Henry was relieved to find that his mother hadn’t popped-in, she was always popping-in, it was lucky she hadn’t popped-in, but she could always pop-in at any moment, so he had to work fast.

He was playing the game now, or at least he was competing, so he had to be decisive. Henry had to play to win. Henry could win – the corollary of which was that he could lose. But thoughts of loss were far from Henry’s mind, at least they only made a fleeting appearance, as his mind was soon clogged up with the ever-extending list of items that he could possibly do without, ranked in bulk order, items which he could physically throw into the skip.

After nearly an hour of collecting bits-and-pieces-and-large-chunks-of-his-life, anything with the least hint of uselessness about it, Henry smiled the smile of a man who was in control, who was sure to win, who was taking life by the scruff of the neck and for whom victory would be sweet, despite the ire he would be sure to provoke in his mother when she discovered whole rooms denuded of more-or-less-useless bits and pieces, Toby-jugs, three African fertility statues, a half pack of paper plates, his father’s old pairs of shoes, a stuffed giraffe, tartan slippers, twelve old telephone directories, an animal print suitcase, an orange chest of drawers, a pair of Chinese patterned sofas, and a substantial collection of sea shells and smooth stones from the seaside.

It took Henry another hour to choose again, a second order choice of the most useless of items from what he had amassed; this was after he worked out, all by himself, after trying and failing to fit his collection of the slightly useless things he had amassed in the living room into the car’s boot, back seat, front passenger seat and tied onto the roof of the car with parcel twine, that there was no way that he could take even one quarter of the more or less useless bits and pieces of his life on one trip, so that by the end of yet another hour, and much deliberation, hard work, awkward manoeuvring and a final self-satisfied grin, Henry was on his way to strike the final blow and assert himself in this game called life, or was it a sport, with his car full of the two hundred and sixteen most useless pieces of his life.

Of course, Henry was by now too late.

“I’m too late,” Henry called out, as though a man at the very brink of the abyss, which it could be supposed he was. He always was at the edge of some abyss, but he had edged closer now, so that he was looking into this abyss, a view which he accustomed to, but he was staring straight down into it now, his head, arms and torso dangling into it, only his lower body clinging on to the rim of the abyss, his toes grappling onto various perennial weeds and mountain blossoms.

Henry’s car’s headlights, as he turned into Railway Street and approached his goal, picked out in high definition, the jerkily moving head of Smith, at first seemingly levitating on its own, four metres off the ground, though on closer inspection it could be seen to be balancing precariously atop a mass of mattresses, televisions, broken radiators, random pieces of furniture, old bicycles, bricks, a bathroom sink, and numerous other pieces of rubbish and almost-rubbish; though on closer inspection it could be seen to be still attached to his body (his head), which was right then scaling the heights of this pile of rubbish (his body), the base of which just about managed to remain within the confines of the rim of the skip (the rubbish); and on closer inspection this face could be seen to be fronted with the white teeth and gaudy smile of the man himself, a man who had scaled the heights of this life, and who had won, the conqueror, the master, Smith smiling, then falling to the ground.

“The key is knowing when to pounce,” Smith later told an inconsolable Henry.

But Henry wouldn’t listen, he couldn’t listen, nor could he look out the window at his car, buried as it was beneath the pile of rubbish he was now left with, nor could he smile when Oscar said something amusing, nor could he be riled by a trite remark from Helen.

“That’s the difference between you and me,” Smith went on, but he held back from further clarification.

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