…plump, full of sweet juices    

Helen had locked herself in her bedroom and refused to come out. She didn’t respond to any of Oscar’s pleas – though they were, for the most part, half-hearted – they sounded half-hearted, therefore they must be half-hearted, Oscar thought. He had never mastered the art of introspection, never discovering anything within himself or beneath his surface worthy of comment. Therefore, what sounded half-hearted, callous, sarcastic or sincere, would have been, must have been, could only have been half-hearted, callous, sarcastic or sincere.

Not that he was shallow, which implied more than a lack of depth; it was more a case of these depths being inaccessible. Because if they did exist, these depths, and exist they must (there was four thousand years of philosophy behind that assertion, Smith had told him), they would be very deep, at least as deep as the depths of the averagely deep person, and probably deeper, as deep as depths go. But Oscar was always suspicious about these depths. Even if they were heavily populated with really meaningful stuff – what good were they if they were hidden. They were as good as no depths at all.

So having no choice but to be half-hearted in his pleas for Helen to come out of her bedroom, Oscar felt he had little choice but accept the fact that Helen wouldn’t be coming out of her bedroom and that he would have to get on with his own life, what there was of it to get on with, without recourse to Helen’s tale of how, of why, of under what unbelievable circumstances she was fired this time.

Sitting in the living room staring at a blank sheet of paper, which Oscar decided was more likely to inspire him than the pale glow of a bare computer screen, Oscar played around with the word of the day, which had been the word of the day for the last week, and thought about how he could obtain some inspiration from the facts that Helen was locked in her bedroom and that Henry had been locked in the bathroom for almost an hour now. Henry had run up the stairs on arrival and had locked himself in the bathroom. Oscar hadn’t thought of asking him to come out, not even in a half-hearted manner – locking yourself in a bathroom wasn’t after all a cry for help; it was no more than reasonable demand for privacy. Oscar gladly afforded Henry that privacy, despite his eagerness to find out how Henry’s day went. The longer Henry was locked in the bathroom, the more encouraged Oscar was. Surely the length of time he locked himself away was directly proportional to the intensity of his experiences that day at school – one hour locked away, even in a bathroom, suggested something intense, perhaps the intensity of a final warning from Mrs R P Merryweather or the accidental spilling of coffee over a set of exam papers; if he was in there for another hour it would probably mean the intentional strangulation of that girl in his third year class who pushes him to the edge every lesson.

And Smith wasn’t around either, therefore Oscar had neither distraction nor any particular inspiration – he couldn’t write about nothing. And as mining the depths of his person wasn’t an option either, Oscar found himself at a loss. He couldn’t write in a half-hearted manner. He could do everything else in a half-hearted manner – request that Helen leaves her enforced imprisonment, destroy Henry’s career by surreptitiously addicting him to nicotine chewing-gum, buy bread and blackcurrant jam at the corner shop, attempt to pick the lock of Smith’s back door, and fight for his life as a gang of neighbours set on him and beat him to within an inch of his life – a life which was never going to be extinguished at that point, because strangers would never beat someone to death when that someone was fighting for his life in a half-hearted manner. But writing couldn’t be done in a half-hearted manner.

The toilet flushing again wasn’t a moment of inspiration, but did recall Oscar to the problem at hand – what to write about. He knew that the toilet flushing wasn’t necessarily a precursor to the appearance of Henry. He had flushed the toilet six or seven times already, so it was unlikely that he was using that forceful evacuation of water for its customary purpose – what other purpose, either material or existential, could the flush of a toilet serve? A problem which Oscar clung onto now – problems are, after all, the starting point, the core, the nugget at the centre of all works of art. How to get over this problem – the significance of flushing the toilet (maybe the number of flushes, was it seven or eight, could be significant) – could be the centre of his novel. Then the idea struck him – the toilet flushing representing the purging of the soul. And wasn’t Helen also purging her soul through locking herself in her bedroom and denying herself human company, tea and fig-rolls?

“Henry… why are you flushing the toilet?”

Of course, there was no answer; why would Henry answer? Oscar wasn’t expecting an answer – besides, he knew the answer already, so instead of shouting questions up the stairs, Oscar was now intent on writing answers down on the blank sheet of paper on the table in front of him.

The gush of water, a torrent, a cascade… thus is the soul expunged of all its dirt and shadows. It is a metaphysical flushing of the toilet. A purging of the soul.

Henry’s soul needed cleansing. For too long he had submerged his soul in the murky waters of Didsbury Girls – a stagnant pool. Above the surface of the water he would have seen the sun tipping the seed heads of the grass and the fronds of the ferns, but he didn’t climb out onto the bank of the pond. He didn’t think he could. He thought the sun would burn him, that the bright light of the soft summer’s day…

Oscar wasn’t sure about this extended metaphor. Besides, it was an awful way to start off a novel – and besides he hated metaphors. And besides, they give people the wrong idea, metaphors in general, and this metaphor in particular – the idea that in some way, Henry’s life is beautiful. It isn’t. At least, it is no more beautiful than his. At least, beauty didn’t come into it.

Abandoning the metaphor, Oscar was still under the spell of the sound of the toilet flushing – it just flushed again. Why is the toilet flushing? If it isn’t a metaphor and represents nothing but itself, why does it hold so much meaning?

Captured by the image of the flushing of a toilet, Oscar considered the blank page.



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