…a propensity to distrust, disbelieve, discredit and disabuse    

Sitting in the absolute quiet and calm of his classroom in the early morning, before the pupils arrived, Henry had occasion to think on what had been said just before he left Oscar’s house yesterday – what had been said by Smith in particular, a source of information which he was normally content to dismiss without more than the briefest of thoughts. Henry was quite content to dismiss most sources of information, at least consciously, but each fragment of information did have the annoying tendency of bleeding into the substratum of his consciousness and there join in the scuffle which echoed throughout Henry’s waking life and which loomed large in his dreams – dreams in which individual words could rise up, taking some horrible corporeal form and wreak havoc of almost unimaginable dimensions.

What was unusual about this moment in Henry’s mental life is that he was consciously dealing with one such source of information, a piece of information which he would normally force back into his subconscious, or further if he could, a piece of information which he didn’t like one bit – the idea that his life was vacuous, which is what Smith’s meaning could only have been. It was also quite unusual for Henry to consciously grapple with the actual implications, especially negative implications, of what had been said to him. But grappling was what Henry was doing this morning, a peculiar form of mental grappling, as he stood at the window at the back of his classroom, subconsciously taking in the dimensions and shape of the monkey-puzzle tree which had for some time acquired a permanent and iconic place in his mental landscape.

That Henry’s life was “too full of quiet bits”, this bit here being an example, a bit, Henry now thought, which could constitute a Dickens or a Hardy lyrical and lengthy description, was a claim which he took issue with. Certainly there were quiet bits in his life, this moment being an example – but wasn’t everyone’s life full of such quiet bits?

It was the “too full” part of the accusation which Henry took issue with, that his life had a superfluity of “quiet bits” and a corresponding lack of “loud bits”, as he now consciously and carefully disentangled the implications of what Smith had said to him yesterday afternoon.

Of course, Henry couldn’t maintain such a clear and perspicacious mode of thought for much longer, and collapse into confusion and angst could only be around the next metaphorical corner – but for a moment, for the briefest of moments, he was on the point of sensibly and comprehensively dealing with the imputation that his life was boring, dull and not the stuff that novels are made of.

Now enter Julia Madden into Henry’s immediate frame of reference, her sturdy frame ambling across the green and past the foot of the monkey-puzzle tree. Now a peculiar kind of fear trickled through Henry’s conscious mind, originating in the morass of his unconscious, peculiar only because he couldn’t keep track of every variety of fear which trickled through his conscious mind, thus rendering each fear new, strange and so peculiar – and what started out as a trickle quickly became a steady flow, a burgeoning of fears, a gushing, a flood, a white water rapid and Henry was his old self again – a collision of an infinite number of almost derailed trains of thought.

One such train of thought, almost derailed, but unmercifully never really leaving the tracks, was the bulbous mass of Julia Madden’s naked form, which was swelled by one or other inclination in one or other compartment of Henry’s mind, to monstrous proportions as she strode, waddled or tumbled towards his cowering form. He could hear her in the corridor now. Surely it was only a matter of the briefest moment of freedom before she was pressing her swollen breasts against his face, smothering him. But gasping for air Henry could console himself by the thought that now something was happening, now the vacuity of his life had given way to the blow-by-blow action of the thriller, monstrous and horrible though those blows would invariably be.

Making a mad dash for the alcove where he would be hidden from an imminently opening door, Henry’s pants’ pocket unfortunately snagged the corner of the overhead projector – a large metal box of mirrors and bulbs which hung for a frozen moment of time over empty space. The look of horror on Henry’s face couldn’t have been in reaction to what had just happened. He wouldn’t have had time to register it and all its horrific implications. The look of horror must have had some other source – perhaps another monstrous thought originating in the sturdy frame and forceful personality of Julia Madden or perhaps originating in the multifarious sources of horror which haunted every level of his consciousness.

Picking up the pieces of glass with Julia’s more than willing assistance moments later, a smile resting on her generous lips, her bare knee touching his trousered knee, her stale breath brushing his face, his quivering voice responding hesitantly to her breathy questions and suggestions, Henry might have been comforted by the fact that this incident could have been taken out of any number of novels, but perhaps not novels that he would have the stomach for taking a starring role in.

The proposition that his life was too full of “quiet bits” started any number of out of control strings of thought that day, interweaving with the strings of thought prompted by other incidents which rained down on him, such as: his tripping over his words when turning a corner in the corridor and coming face to face with Mrs R P Merryweather, he was and he wasn’t working too hard; his daily run in with Reh…beck…ka from his third year class, he lost again – this time quite badly; the playful and knowing smile across the staff room from Julia Madden during morning briefing, his spilling his coffee over a set of exam papers by way of response; his being stuck in the bushes at the end of lunch as Mrs Lowry stalked the edges looking for cigarette butts and naughty girls – and one bad boy; the certainty that he was very much in the mould of a bad boy, a risk taker, a player on the edge, an outsider and every other such term; the notion that his life was full of the very opposite of “quiet bits”, that he couldn’t hear himself think for most of the day, what with the noise and echoes of things that were happening to him, all around him, entangling him, pushing him down, holding him under, spitting him out, such that he hardly had time to describe anything, let alone wander into lengthy passages by Dickens, such as a description of the fog or the sun or the fields, before he was blindsided by the next novel-esque event – and before he could follow that train of thought towards any kind of conclusion his being hit in the chest, knocked down and winded by a maliciously aimed hockey ball.


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