…to pretend or make believe, but also an excuse or a deceitful act, an affected display or to be pretentious
“You have to help me,” Oscar cried out, feeling the need to inject more drama into this matter than perhaps it warranted.
“Stop shouting. I’m right next to you for God’s sake.” Helen was standing right next to him, wearing a look of incredulity, though what it was she didn’t believe wasn’t, nor was it about to be, specified.
“It’s incumbent upon you…”
Helen caught Oscar’s eye and she held it. “Incumbent?”
“Yes… as my friend… It’s incumbent upon you to…”
Helen let out a sigh which was certainly audible and which certainly let Oscar know of her attitude to such a term. “I wish you wouldn’t feel the need to use big words.”
“It’s not a big word.”
“Just because you think you’re a writer…”
“I am a writer.”
“… you feel the need to use big words.”
“It’s not a big word.”
“How many letters has it got?”
Oscar took a moment, obviously concentrating, the wrinkling of his brow could have meant nothing else.
“Nine… ten… My God, I need my dictionary.”
Helen adopted a look of someone who had been clearly vindicated. “Exactly… it’s a big word. It’s not the biggest, but it is big”
Oscar attempted to counter with “Just because it’s got a lot of letters doesn’t make it a big word.” But his point was drowned out by the sound of Helen walking heavily across the room, picking up an old copy of a newspaper and shaking the dust and wrinkles out of its pages.
Oscar now adopted a new approach. He opened his palms towards the ceiling, adopted a look of one who has been persecuted most horribly but is not bitter about it, and slowly uttered the words… “Helen you’ve got to help me.”
“No I don’t.”
There was no way, Helen had told him “from the word go”, that she would ever set foot inside that school and certainly not under false pretences.
“There’s nothing false about pretences!”
“What?” Helen seemed either annoyed or intrigued, or a combination of both, by such a statement.
“Well they’re pretences anyway… saying their false is ungrammatical.” Oscar felt he was on to something, perhaps something great, perhaps something he could write down. “You can’t have true pretences, so how can you have false pretences? It’s just pretence, pure and simple. Q. E. D.”
“Q. E. D.?”
“Yeah.” Oscar smiled the smile of victory, a smiled tinged with a certain amount of unease at how easily this victory was achieved.
“No one says that anymore. No one ever even said it – it’s lifted from the copybook of a nineteenth century school boy!”
But Helen relented. Perhaps it was because she was always curious about what it was Oscar actually did for work, what he called work, and what he had just been adjudged unfit for and so banished forever from the premises where such work was carried out. Helen’s curiosity might also have been a little more than piqued by the fear inspired in Henry by such a caper and his complete refusal to be involved in it, to know about it or even to be on the same street when such an “insane” and “utterly preposterous” scheme was discussed.
Wearing a sharp black trouser suit and her hair tied up tightly in a bun and wearing a pair of thick glasses borrowed from her grandmother’s dresser, Helen walked uncertainly towards the school building, the building looming up before her, its outline and distinguishing features more than a little blurred by the thick piece of glass in front of each eye.
“Would you stop running!” Helen hoped to prove that there was such a thing as a true pretence.
The young girl stopped running and stood to attention.
“Pull up your socks and sort out your blazer.” Helen’s face was twisted into a particularly vinegary expression. “You hardly look like one of our young ladies.”
The young girl seemed filled with remorse by such an accusation being laid at her feet, even if it was done so by someone she had never seen before.
Following this chastised young lady’s directions, Helen strode confidently towards the main building, pushed past one particularly boisterous group of older girls, letting doors swing shut behind her, never looking back, smiling assuredly at any other member of staff who happened to be walking towards her, or at least those she could make out through the thick layer of glass, which rendered the world of Didsbury Girls one of vague flitting shapes and rather vapid faces.
At the sound of a phrase uttered in her direction “Excuse me,” Helen picked up her pace and raised her chin and clicked her heels even more sharply against the parquet floor and gained the foot of the stairs without having anyone lay their hands on her and drag her back kicking and screaming or hanging her head in shame or laughing out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of this whole affair.
Removing the glasses for this final and delicate stage of the operation, Helen slowed her pace and stopped dead at the door of what was, according to the directions of one chastised little school girl and the often repeated bitter anecdotes of Oscar, the classroom of the newly disappeared and rather easily replaced Mr MacSweeny, the resting place of quite a few insipid memories and the last known whereabouts of one weighty tome from which the word “dictionary” had been scraped by numerous layers of mindless doodling and whiling away of hours.
“Can I help you?” a voice asked at Helen’s shoulder, one which she duly attached to a rather smartly dressed young man with a peculiarly twisted lip like a stage villain.
“Can I help you,” Helen replied, emphasising each word in the hope that any possible meaning might be attached to her mindless repetition of the question directed at her.
“If you’re looking for Mr MacSweeny I’m afraid you’ll no longer find him at Didsbury Girls.”
“Perhaps you’d care to tell me the exact nature of your business here, Miss…?”
“Well…” Helen began to explain. “I’m actually here under false pretences…”