The Life of Henry Fuckit
62 Back at the Dockyard Bergson is pleased with the success of the expedition but Henry's psychological condition deteriorates
"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
"Yes, quite so. Most profound. Verily, it takes an atheist to plumb the depths of these arcane utterances."
"That's it. A disbeliever. One who denies the existence of God. Or any other deity, for that matter. Feet on the ground, clear-eyed, in possession of all his marbles. It takes an atheist to discover the usefulness hidden in these obscure statements."
Harry Bergson would have preferred to be discussing the success of Henry's Oxaston expedition to Namibia. Now there was irrefutable evidence: there existed a network of subterranean conduits capable of conducting telepathic messages. This was of significance to the whole of mankind. And here they were bogged down in a mishmash of psychoanalysis, philosophical conjecture, unable to move away from Henry's obsessive preoccupation with his mental and emotional condition.
"Henry, the reason why I quote from the book of John is in order to encourage you to seek some kind of renewal. Or at least to acknowledge the necessity for renewal. I'm certainly not suggesting you become a born-again Christian. God forbid!"
He went to the window and looked out over the harbour and Simon's Bay. It was one of those grey, early summer days when the clouds hung low and motionless. The air was humid and a hint of thunder muttered in the distance. On the concrete quay around the dry-dock he could see where a scattering of heavy drops had made dark splotches. A quiet, listless day, he thought. Hard to feel inspired on a day like this.
Henry lay back on his folding lounger and sighed languidly. (This piece of outdoor furniture was on long loan from the Officers' Club terrace.) He was well aware that his boss's thoughts were not concentrated on the topic of conversation. His mind was busy with Oxaston and not Henry's pain - hence the feeling that they were talking at cross purposes.
"Harry, when I say something inside me is whimpering, like a lost puppy or a frightened child, I don't mean it quite as figuratively as you seem to think. This is a physical sensation and it worries the hell out of me. The accumulated experiences of twenty-five years on this planet have shaken me badly. I don't want to alarm you but I think I might well be on the verge of a nervous breakdown." Bergson didn't look the slightest bit alarmed so Henry continued. "It's as if a reservoir deep within me had sprung a leak and my inner strength had seeped away. I feel vulnerable and anxious, no longer able to muster enough bravado to sneer at fate."
Bergson strode away from the window, seated himself behind the empty expanse of office desk and fixed Henry with a hard gaze. The conversation had to be rounded up, pointed in the right direction, and herded along at a brisk pace. Or they would never reach the end of it and Oxaston would remain waiting out in the corridor forever.
"That's why I say you're in need of spiritual renewal. Having been in a similar condition myself I recognise the telltale signs of boredom and apathy interspersed with loathing and panic. I sincerely hope you haven't long to wait for that critical, catalytic moment of transformation. Until it arrives you're going to have to plod on resignedly I'm afraid. Just try not to descend too deep into the abyss before you come up."
"The abyss." Henry wagged a forefinger in emphasis. "Ah, the abyss. You seem to understand. It's the black bottomless pit beneath me which causes me to quake within and whimper like…"
"Yes, Henry, yes." Bergson pushed on, a note of urgency in his voice. Or was it impatience? "There's no profit in it for any of us, this staring into the pit. I've decided to try and alleviate matters by providing you with a change of scene. I'm moving you out of Central Store down to the Verification Office. You'll be assisting Ivan Schroder with a very interesting project exploring the philosophical aspects of quantum mechanics."
"Quantum fucking mechanics!?" Henry had sat up and risen to his feet. "Did you say QUANTUM MECHANICS?" His eyes had a wild look in them as he leaned across the desk and thrust his shaggy features towards the Director of Naval Stores. Bergson was gratified to note the stimulating effect his words had produced. He also noted, with disdain, the sour smell of wine being breathed into his face. Ten o'clock in the morning. He coughed and covered his mouth and was relieved when Henry straightened and began to pace before the big window. "What's quantum mechanics got to do with anything, for Christ's sake? What do I know about quantum mechanics? Apart from what my dear old insane uncle Fritz Friedemann told me when I was no higher than two tickeys and a sixpence?" The cogs of his mind meshed together and began to turn with Rolls Royce dependability. "Yes, it was way back, in the study at Ingachini, in the earliest days of my tender youth, uncle Fritz actually had quite a lot to say about quantum theory, now I come to think of it." His eyes had become glazed and unseeing like those of a freshly landed snoek just after its neck has been broken. Hands in pockets he stood facing the drab green ocean beyond the Eastern Mole. Blind to the rapid progress being made by the SAS President Kruger and oblivious to impending drama about to be played out below him, he began to dredge his memory.
"It's all about subatomic particles and man's pathological drive to describe, define and classify. Started with the ultraviolet catastrophe back in 1900 when some experimental results differed from theoretical expectations. Threw a spanner in the works, it did. They used to think the energy emitted in electromagnetic radiation occurred as a wave-like flow. Then along came Max Planck with his theory that, yes, energy was a wave-like flow, BUT, at the same time it was a stream of particles which could be measured as individual packets. He called these packets quanta. According to my Uncle Fritz this was terribly perplexing because it didn't take a genius to ask the obvious question, how can energy be a wave and a particle AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME? Some smart-arse English egghead even suggested that the electron is a particle on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and a wave on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hilarious, isn't it?"
Over the five years of their acquaintance Harry Bergson had grown accustomed to the encyclopaedic breadth of the Fuckit store of knowledge. Even so, he was not a little surprised and amused at how much Henry seemed to have learnt from his boyhood mentor about this particular topic of speculation.
"Did your learned uncle have anything to say about Niels Bohr or Werner Heisenberg?"
"Mmmm." The SAS Kruger had made its turn and was about to enter the calm waters of the harbour. At the back of Henry's brain a voice was murmuring something about knots, pilots and tugs. "Ah, I think I might have picked up your tracks, Harry. I'm beginning to suspect quantum mechanics could well have something to do with Oxyaston and global telepathic communication. Wasn't Heisenberg the one with the uncertainty principle?"
"Well done! Now we're getting somewhere. It's not possible to be certain about the position and velocity of a particle at any one moment. Nor its position and momentum. More importantly, there can be no certainty about energy and time when examined simultaneously. Certainty lies with the one or the other - not both. Which means that Science moves from being a discipline of certainties to one of probabilities. If one is unable to identify a particle positively and unable to be sure what will become of it in the future, one cannot say whether or not it is obeying the law of cause and effect."
"Resulting in a fundamental breakdown in our ability to define the world around us. Sorry to interrupt the train of thought Harry, but do come and look at this. Jesus! I can say with one hundred percent certainty we're about to witness a fuckeration of catastrophic proportion."
Bergson joined him at the window in time to see half the crew of the frigate diving overboard in a vote of no confidence in their commanding officer, Captain Fanie Plaasboer. The churned up foaming water at the stern of the ship indicated a sincere desire to halt forward passage by reverse propulsion from the screws. When the bow hit the quayside just to the east of the caisson the ship was travelling at six and a half knots. Up on the second floor of the Central Store Henry Fuckit and Harry Bergson experienced the impact as a tremor powerful enough to rattle the window. The horrible thud and the shriek of tearing metal came to their ears and elicited a gasp from the one and a groan from the other.
"Unbelievable!" shouted Henry. "This must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To actually have seen this colossal fuck-up play out in front of our very eyes! The art of coarse docking performed for our benefit. What an unmitigated arsehole! What a command performance!" He was laughing and punching the palm of his left hand and then clasping his head as if it might burst.
"The tragedy is in the aftermath, not the immediate action. Action, action. We've just witnessed an action scene. But the cost!" Bergson too was speaking in raised tones. Henry's excitement was of the manic type whilst the older man was boiling over with anger. "That criminal buffoon couldn't command a rowing boat, let alone a modern warship. And this isn't the first time he's tried it."
As they descended in the lift and joined the throng of Dockyard workers hurrying to the scene of the disaster, Burgson offered an explanation of what had occurred. In the days when the RN had still used Simonstown there had been a certain Captain Arbuthnot of the HMS Daring who had inspired many with his displays of nautical skill. With a sure confidence in his vessel, his crew and his own ability, he had, on no less than four occasions, steamed into port without assistance from pilot or tug. With precise timing he barked out his orders. The bells rang, the water churned, the wheel spun and the ship would slow to a halt, gently drifting broadside to the quay.
"And I suppose this Dutchman thought he could do the same." Henry shook his head in contemptuous disbelief.
"Exactly. The first time he tried it he nearly ran aground on Admiralty Beach. The second time he was intercepted by three tugboats and several launches. But this time …" Bergson left the sentence unfinished.
The dead and injured were being loaded into ambulances and the President Kruger settled a little lower in the water. Then the ship's Tannoy crackled and the familiar strains of Die Stem came wafting in a slow goose-step over the crowd. Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika. Some of them were even standing to attention. Jesus. Fok Suid-Afrika. This was actually bloody amusing and yet, as the man said, at what cost? Henry's earlier mood, which had been dispelled by quantum mechanics and then this fiasco, slowly began to return and weigh down upon him. He tried to remind himself that life was a joke, or a series of jokes, and he wasn't supposed to dwell on the irony which made the joke work. He was just supposed to laugh. Was he losing his sense of humour?
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