obtuse

…lacking in both literal or metaphorical acuity     

Henry was not in control. This was important to him. Not to feel in control. Because that’s all being in control was – feeling in control. It was a feeling. How you feel about things happening around you. Or not happening around you. Things can not happen too. And then what can you do? What can you do if things just don’t happen? Sitting in the staffroom as other people did things, went places, answered phones, marked books, talked about students, planned trips… surrounded by things happening to other people, everyone so busy, so caught up by life, carried along with their pathetic little concerns and conversations and time-share apartments, despite being surrounded by these happening things, nothing happened to Henry. Nothing was happening to Henry right now. Though he was assiduously ignored by the raft of things happening in the world at that point, Henry felt a frisson of gratitude in knowing that things were all of a sudden about to happen to him, just about to, in any moment. Any moment now.

Not only were things about to happen to him, horrible things, terrible things, but things, things initiated by him, but things nonetheless. He was about to be routed by them. These things he initiated, things and things and things, things after things, on top of things, so many things, everything, but nothing that was controlled by him. Things would be happening to him all right. Just about to. It was like his phone was about to ring, and it would never stop ringing. How long had it been since something happened to him? Since he had something to do? How long had it been since his phone rang? Since he had something to worry about?

Now he really had to worry.

Henry’s reason to worry was most clearly incarnated in the person of Tommy Kilpatrick of the History Department, whose machinations were sure to drag him into a mire of some unimaginable depths. Or did he have more reason to worry about Ms Julia Madden, whose love for him was terrifying? Or what about the Headmistress, the awesome figure of Mrs R P Merryweather, who had him exactly where she wanted him, wherever that was? Or maybe he had more reason to worry about his good friends Oscar, Smith and Helen, who would smile as between them they would pull apart the fabric of his world, as they crashed through the neatly and intricately embroidered screens of Didsbury Girls’ Grammar School into which he had so carefully entwined himself?

Henry wished his phone would ring. This would be the signal that things were about to start. And once things were set in motion, things would gather such a momentum, things would accumulate, things would attain a critical mass, things would roll down the hill and carry him with them, things would overcome him, smother him, things would rise up, would crash down, would swamp the playing fields, would knock down walls, buildings, would wipe away everything. “Oh things”, Henry blurted out as he stood up to leave the staffroom. Of course, no one even turned, no one even stopped their conversations with no body else, even looked up from what they were reading, even opened their eyes. But it was only a matter of time.

Things had been underway for sometime now.

Henry was already being buffeted about by this and that, by things almost happening, half-things which caused him to variously shudder, tense up, bark out sudden noises. And there was always the deep shame he felt whenever he thought of his relationship with Julia Madden, a deep shame which paled in comparison to the queasiness he felt when she pressed her breasts and stomach and thighs up against him, and the dread he felt as he was squashed up against the tasselled cushions, garish cuddly toys and freshly laundered grey underclothes on the sagging sofa bed in her ground-floor flat; apart from that, there were the unpredictable highs and lows consequent of his sexual reawakening to deal with; the clearly perceptible rise in the hatred felt towards him by all of his students; the mounting pressure the headmistress Mrs R P Merryweather was loading on top of him consequent of their little tête-à-têtes; the paranoia that was sweeping the school at the sudden disappearance of Mr Kilpatrick; the imminent arrival of Helen in search of Tommy Kilpatrick, who she was convinced she was in love with; the imminent arrival of Smith in search of Tommy Kilpatrick, who he was convinced he was in danger from; and the imminent arrival of Oscar in search of anything, which he was convinced he was obsessed with. Surely these half-things, about-to-be-happening-things were enough for Henry?

But he had to be sure. That he no longer had to worry about not having anything to worry about, would prove to be quite a consolation to Henry. He had to move on. Though he was always buffeted about and moved on by the barely perceptible current in the school, a current which was gently meandering towards a calamitous fall, such that he was right then stuffing unmarked exercise books behind an old radiator in an unused Geography room, he had felt the need for quite some time for a more precipitous fall, dragging the river into white-water-rapids. He hadn’t forgotten the acres of emptiness in the past few weeks, where he had nothing to worry about. Though he was now more imbued with feelings of consternation than contentment, Henry didn’t feel aggrieved. Such is the way with life, Henry said to himself last night as he ran to his car as soon as Julia Madden dropped off to sleep. However, such moments of insight are rare for Henry. He was more accustomed to blind panic and short-sighted dread. He only wanted to cling to these familiar feelings.

One of his sixth-form students, a usually quite girl, though not any more likable because of it, sidled up to him in the corridor and warned him about the likelihood of his being overcome in the revolution which was around the corner, that the fabric of society was about to be rent asunder and that he would not survive. Henry nodded in response and didn’t even alter his stride.

The sight of Julia Madden skipping across the front lawn caused Henry to take a sharp intake of breath as depraved and vile pictures shot into his head. Having no choice but to fall to his knees and grab at the heads of the daffodils which had sprung up at the edge of his vision, Henry was surely loosing his grip on the world around him. He was loosing his ability to deal with its insidious twists and turns. These things that were happening to him would surely be the death of him. Why couldn’t the world just leave him be? Things! What do these things want with me?

It was just as he was swallowing this petition to the universe of things that he opened his eyes and noticed Mrs R P Merryweather looking down at him. The look of dismay prominent in her rounded features was more than sufficient to bring him to his senses. This was something. Some thing. But the look of dismay was more down to factors which had, on the surface anyway, nothing to do with Henry.

In the confines of her office Mrs R P Merryweather told Henry that she had little choice but to confide in him, confide some really shocking and upsetting news, news which might very well indicate that the fabric of society was about to be rent asunder, that the school’s moral fibre was about to be unwound, and that the world as we know it…

Mrs R P Merryweather couldn’t continue. She had to sit herself down.

Henry was at a loss as to what he could say. There was nothing he could possibly say. He knew nothing. So he said “I know. I know.”

“Sporadic outbreaks of masturbation?” The Headmistress let out between half smothered sobs.

So many things about to happen, Henry thought, as he nodded what he hoped were nods of understanding and comfort. Too many things.

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