…overblown, overwritten, overmuch     

It was too much. It was far too much. Too much for anyone to handle. Who could handle it? So much? It was beyond belief. Beyond anyone’s deepest fears. It was inhuman. Unnatural. Excessive. Without precedent. Without limits. Without a glint of hope. Without anything… and it was everything. It was all encompassing. All powerful. All too much. Who could be expected to deal with it? With this? With all of this. That? What? It. How could she stop it? It was overcoming her. It was on top of her. It was weighing her down. It was all she was. It was everything. This picture held her captive.

And there were other pictures. More than one picture. Held’s mind was filled this morning by the picture of the woman sitting in front of her on the tram. Helen wasn’t even in this picture – it was dark, full of shadows, poorly formed lines, many shades, only hints of colour. And this picture was independent of her. It would still be there, still painted, framed, hanging on the wall, when she got off the tram at the next stop. This picture of an old woman, her head, wrapped in a scarf with a faded but barely legible intricate pattern, her head, leaning against the window, shaking as the tram shook over the tracks. Curls of dank grey hair leaking out at her neck. A picture which stayed with Helen as she walked across the square towards work. On finding herself turning quickly down one narrow street after another, amongst the feet of a hundred other people, Helen still couldn’t force the picture to dissolve.

I am ill. I am dying. This is death. And other such ideas briefly flickered across Helen’s mind. As well as: this is it; I’ve had enough; I can’t take any more of this; these people are smothering me; they’re everywhere; these people; four thousand feet; how many different shoes, legs, coats, people; Oscar; The Chief; and that man from the supermarket.

Helen’s world view had suffered a kind of cataclysm, if views as well as worlds can suffer kinds of cataclysms. A kind of era ending. A kind of earthquake. A fall. An end. Or a paradigm shift. But Helen didn’t stand back from it all, as one can’t stand back from one’s self, and consider it from a distance. Helen, as the laws of nature dictated, couldn’t stand back and look at herself. Though she was in the habit of seeing everything in relation to herself, every picture with her in it, at its centre, with light emanating from her face, hands, legs and breasts. So she could stand back and look at herself – after a fashion. So she could and she couldn’t, and that this doesn’t make sense isn’t the problem. What is the problem? Well, the problem, as Helen sees it, is what the hell is she going to do with all these people clogging up her mind? Picture after picture of this person and that person and any person she has managed to lay her eyes on for more than ten seconds, these people are in there staring back at her, as if they want something from her.

Out of this morass of faces and arms and legs, rises, every few minutes, the disembodied face of either Oscar, The Chief or the man from the supermarket she had become obsessed with, like in a film trying to represent character’s states of mind: guilt, love, etc. But did Helen feel such things as guilt and love? Did she really love that man she came across in the supermarket, who she shared the briefest of moments with, didn’t say a word to, did she say something, never saw again, until a moment afterward and every moment since – his brightly lit sinister face filling her head?

Helen spent the first ten minutes at work stood in front of the mirror in the toilets staring at herself. What better way to banish these images from her mind – replace them with the unadulterated image of herself. Stood alone with an empty background. The soft light gently touching her high cheek bones, the line of her nose, the light filtering through the generous mass of her hair, painting soft shades of shadow across her smooth skin, and curves in sensuous lines along her body, and softly floating above her shoulder, lit up brighter that everything else, the face of that man, that man, that man, that man. That man stood behind her, stood facing her, smiling at her, staring at her, looking back at her over her shoulder, that pale man, his neatly trimmed beard, his round glasses, his bushy eyebrows, a weak head of thinning hair, his stubble grey, his eyes magnified by his glasses, his mouth hanging open for another word, a word, the word “Helen.” He was gently whispering her name: “Helen,” he said. “Helen. Helen.”

“Fuck off!” Helen replied. The mirror was empty even of her reflection.

Outside the toilet, surrounded by the soft sound of moving paper and muted telephone rings and hushed early morning conversations, Helen felt a little more sure of herself. The stark image of The Chief standing at his office door, his index finger pointing at her, his kind of a smile, his kind of a wink, his index finger pressing hard against his nostril, his head nodding, his standing there as if he owned the whole world and everyone in it. Who the hell does he think he is? How long will that picture expand inside Helen’s head?

Oscar, of course, Oscar. Here he was. He was holding open a file and jogging, almost running towards her. “Helen, you’ll never believe it!” In his hand, the file hanging open, floated the picture of the man she had no choice but to love. That man. His face held in a picture in a cardboard file. Looking into the camera. Poorly lit. Sinister. No hint of a smile. But it was him.

Oh the pain. The agony. The misery of life, of love, of being a woman, such a woman as I am.

Every word that Oscar uttered thereafter was lost, was a whisper behind the raging seas of Helen’s mind – raging seas, high winds, torrential rain, quaking earth, boiling water, burning fire and free falling. It was over. It had started. It was everything. This is it. And there was the sound of something, a far away, a distant, a kind of a sound of singing. A light. A bright white light. A kind of overpowering fluorescent light. It flickered briefly, as though just turned on, but now burnt brightly, shone fully, and obscured the sight of everything, it was everything. Everything was illuminated and obscured. The light was everything.

When Oscar picked Helen up off the ground, his watch had become entangled with her blouse. The file on Tommy Kilpatrick, also known as Bill Simmons, had been scattered across the floor. Helen’s shock on awakening, of seeing herself in this picture: lying on the floor of the office, beneath the bemused face of Oscar …his hand on her breast, a crowd of half awake clerks and reporters surrounding them, and above them all the face of The Chief, a kind of a smile, a kind of a wink.


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