THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

60   Premeditated déjà vu

The sun was sinking into the mist on the horizon when he awoke cold and stiff. Thirsty, he drank more than half the contents of his water bottle, then pulled on his Navy sweater. The land was cooling fast and the evening breeze was stirring up the dust. He cut a thick slice of bread and a hunk of cheese and walked over to where Lady Provider stood waiting before the welwitschia.

Over two mugs of Vrotters he pondered his next move. The light was going and all the time the temperature was dropping. It was too late to attempt hitching a ride anywhere but to stay put for the night would be extremely uncomfortable. Well, he couldn't just stand around getting pissed either. What about the dwelling shown on the map? He would go back to the track and follow it to the top of the next rise and maybe discover some kind of shelter for the night.

It was further than he had imagined and when he finally topped the rise the twilight had faded into dusk. In the murk ahead he was just able to discern a broad flat valley backed by a line of black hills. The building stood on the open plain, unprotected and solitary. To his surprise a feeble light glimmered at a window. What was there for people to do out here in this barren waste? He hurried on, anxious to beat the dark.

As he approached the building he began to worry about dogs. He had heard no barking but at any moment he expected the silence to be torn by a warning howl followed by furious baying. Alsatians? Rottweilers? Bull terriers? He had no means of protecting himself. From what he could make out the house was in a state of neglect but the windows were still glazed and he saw the glint of metal against the dark solidity of the front door. As quietly as possible he approached the lighted window and looked in. The room was dimly lit by candles and a single oil lamp. On the table lay the body of a man covered with a plain white sheet. The sheet was drawn up to his neck and his chin pointed sharply ceilingward. Not a young man, maybe fifty or sixty, a gaunt face and bald dome of a head. Henry stood frozen in shocked fascination. Then from the right there appeared a woman, barefoot, long hair flowing loose, tying the belt of a bathrobe. Carelessly she tossed a towel over a chair and went to the sideboard. She lit a cigarette and began to pour from a bottle into a glass. Jesus, what was he to do? It was almost completely dark and a hard wind had sprung up, helping him to make up his mind.

"Who is it?" In response to his knock on the door her voice was aggressive and without fear.

"A stranger. I'm a hitchhiker, stranded on the road."

After a few moments the door opened. It had been unlocked all the time. A flashlight shone in his face and then dropped to his chest and he saw she was holding an extremely large pistol, one of those horrible Smith & Wesson Magnum things, probably.

"I'm so sorry to disturb you, madam. I've been overtaken by nightfall and find myself in an embarrassingly vulnerable position. You don't have an outbuilding where I might take refuge from the cold just for the night, do you? If you're in a position to oblige I'll be on my way again at first light."

"Come in." She lowered the gun and he followed her into the room. "You've chosen a bad time. My husband's just died on me." Henry stood looking down at the pale and livid skin drawn tight across the facial bones, the half-closed eyelids, the gaping thin-lipped mouth, the scrawny neck of a chicken. "Want a brandy?" She was at the sideboard.

"Er, yes please. Just to keep you company. For the shock. You must be…"

"He was ill for a long time. I treated him badly and he hated me. It's a relief." She spoke flatly, without emotion. This woman wasn't more than thirty-five, forty at the most. He ran his eye over the shrouded body and noted the splay of the feet beneath the sheet. The outlines struck him as entirely authentic, one hundred percent cadaverous. "The undertakers are coming in the morning."

He took the glass and drank the neat brandy.

 

The curtain edges slowly acquired definition, the light strengthened and the room took shape. He raised himself on one elbow and saw she was awake, looking at the wall with wide unblinking eyes. Without moving her head, without even the briefest of glances towards him, she uttered the one phlegmatic word: Go.

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