The Life of Henry Fuckit
67 Bergson is subjected to another monologue
"Harry," his voice was hoarse and uneven "I know you're pissed off with me over this thing with the dog, but I'm seriously worried about myself."
Bergson had faith in Henry and was not unsympathetic. But he knew there was very little he could do to help the young man and it made him impatient: he wished to God he would take himself off to the other side of the world for a year or two, sort himself out, and then come back all new and shiny clean.
"I don't know what more I can do for you, Henry." There was no warmth in his words. "Why did you do it?"
"Fuck it, man, I don't know. I was desperate." Standing at the big window he shook his head miserably. Squalls of rain were being chased across the deserted dockyard and the sea was all blown up with hostility and threat.
"The man's not only a maniac, he's a raving pervert. In five months we've gone through four cats. He stands there, stark naked under his stupid academic gown, and when I say, What do you see, Mr Schroder? he screams in ecstasy, Old Deuteronomy is dead! and comes all over the place. Shit! The last time, he fell down in a seizure, incontinent, ordure oozing from every orifice. Lobengula had to clean him up, poor kaffir. Are you surprised I couldn't take it anymore? When I saw that pooch knocked down dead at the side of the road the idea presented itself to me in a flash of inspiration." Henry laughed a hollow laugh empty of humour. "What do you see, Mr Schroder? Jesus, how was I to know…?"
Henry went and sat down and Bergson looked at him across his desk and thought bitterly, This man has become a fixture, a fixture which has worn very badly. Look at him! Overgrown beard, matted hair, dishevelled clothes. The staring eyes, dark and bloodshot, tormented by eccentric ideas, desires and fears. The ever-present smell of booze and tobacco and dagga. Was he looking at an incurable profligate or a prodigal son? What dangerous piffle was about to fall from those flabby lips? What litany of obscene fantasies would he have to listen to now?
Henry started to light his pipe. He held up the burning match for Bergson to see.
"Look at that. You'd think I had suffered some serious damage to my central nervous system." His hand trembled, making the flame wobble. "I've had this static tremor for some weeks now. It started off as fine and rapid and almost imperceptible, but it's getting courser."
"Is it worse in the morning, before you've had your first dop?"
"Sometimes." Henry was aware of the sarcastic tone. "But not always, so I don't think it's entirely due to my alcohol intake as you're insinuating. No, this is far more insidious and can't be ascribed to any single cause. It must certainly have something to do with the chronic state of anxiety which has overtaken me." He tried to think what else could be a contributing factor. "I've also heard of a condition known as dementia paralytica." Bergson sighed resignedly. Another monologue. How many of these tirades had he listened to over the years? Too many.
"And this is a terrible disease, a terrifying disease if ever there was one. I'm pretty certain I haven't contracted this disease but one can never be sure just what's lurking in the bloodstream, or skulking under the foreskin, or squatting in the liver, or flitting hither and thither from branch to branch in the bronchial forest. I came across this disease whilst doing some research into the possible repercussions of a little moral indiscretion committed whilst on expedition to South West Africa. It happened in the line of duty, so to speak, when I was searching for your bloody Oxyastonishing ducts, Mr Harry Bergson. (Looks accusingly at Bergson) Anyway, one of the symptoms of this dread disease happens to be a tremor of the outstretched hand (stretches out hand and points accusingly at Bergson who notes wavering index finger), which is exactly what I've got. Also tremors of the lips, tongue and jaw, which make it hard to speak clearly and coherently, and one s.. s.. speaks w.. w.. with a b.. b.. b.. bit of a st.. st.. stu.. stutter at t.. times and also makes one.. one.. it makes one.. it makes it one, if you know what I, mean.. it makes me talk like.. you know.. it happens that.. one is unable to.. to be able.. unable.. to.. get any kind old of.. of.. you know.. coheritance, no, no matter and this ties in exactly with the symptom described. Of course it is worse when I am acutely anxious or fraught with existentialist depression like the other day when I was at home in my filthy little chamber at the Olympia Residentia and it was late morning and I thought I'd make myself a nice pot of rooibos tea to steady and comfort myself because I was feeling very shaky for some obscure reason, finding life rather unbearable and feeling rather overwhelmed by the pain and humiliation all around me wherever I looked. So there I was trying to pour myself a cup of tea. As I say, I was at a very low ebb and floundering in a slough of insecurity and self-loathing. My intention was simple and mundane, merely wanting to pour a cup of tea, but as I lifted the teapot I was filled with embarrassment and misery at the spectacle of my hand upon the handle, it looked so weak and ugly. It was bony and the knuckles were white like gristle and it was a weak hand and the skin was red and blotchy and ever so ugly. The hand quivered and shook and the tea came out in a feeble, wavering stream that cut me to the quick. Right to the very core I was cut, bleeding and raw and weeping inside. It was a direct attack on my integrity, my very persona, this pitiful stream. It was like an old drunk pissing, uncertain and erratic. This wasn't rooibos tea, this was piss darkened with blood, and MY piss would be like this soon, a tincture of blood and piss in stinking fishwater. Miserably I regretted trying to pour the tea. I shouldn't have poured the tea, I should never have tried to pour the tea. What right did I have to try and hold a teapot steady and aim a steaming spout at a gaping cunt of a cup? Instead I should have crawled under a blanket and crouched there under a blanket in the dark, shaking and trembling inside and wanting to whimper. Why, I asked myself, why am I like this, how has it come to pass that I am like this? This is what I asked myself there in the room, in my hour of dejection there in that anteroom waiting to be summoned into some frigid abyss. Why am I like this, I kept asking myself, why am I like this? I don't know why I'm like this. I couldn't drink this pernicious decoction, this foetid infusion. I wouldn't drink it. No ways. The more I thought about it the more agitated I became. I blamed myself for my own despicable weakness, for I should never have tried to pour it in the first place, knowing what I was like, not being able to do anything right, not even the simplest of tasks. I was a shivering cur, better off with brains kicked in and guts spilled in the gutter. Oh, it was a very dark hour for me, I can tell you. Such debilitating wretchedness. That's why I'm so worried and am forever casting about, this way and that, looking for some kind of explanation, some definitive diagnosis that would help me to overcome what appears to be a relentlessly progressive malady. It could be any one of a hundred diseases and I have to consider them all and try to eliminate them one by one. Take this damned dementia paralytica for example. They say it's onset is usually manifested by a change in behaviour. The patient become irritable, concentration is difficult and memory deteriorates. I ask myself whether these symptoms match my own, yes or no. Certainly yes to irritability. Headaches and insomnia associated with lethargy and fatigue? Yes, on occasions. Judgement becomes defective? Yes. General appearance is shabby, unkempt and dirty? Yes, but what's new? Emotional instability leading to frequent weeping and temper tantrums? Yes, just look what I did to that cat I caught in my room. Depression? Yes. Delusions of grandeur? No, never. But that's the first no. Handwriting shaky and illegible? Yes, but I've always written with a terrible scrawl, so it's hard to tell. The loss of tendon reflexes? (Gets up, sits on corner of Bergson's desk and chops at his knee with the edge of his hand.) Did you see that? I mean, that seems alright, hey? So my reflexes are still intact, that's a relief, I must say. An early and characteristic sign of the disease is the onset of lightning pains in the legs, most distressing, by all accounts, and I haven't had anything like that, yet thank the Lord. Then there's unsteadiness of gait, especially in the dark, and I must admit to frequent bouts of this symptom, primarily when emerging from a public bar. The patient may also walk on a broad base with feet wide apart like this (Waddles up and down in front of window.) Ever seen me walking like this, as if I had very large and cumbersome balls? No, probably not. Also supposed to feel as if you're walking on foam rubber. No. And tabetic facies? Do I appear consumptive, with a sad-looking wasted face? Not really? Well, there you are. So you see, I probably can't blame dementia paralytica for the way I am, even though I do have many of the symptoms. (Sits down, drums fingers on the desk. Bergson is impassive, aware that more is to come.) You know something, Harry old chap? I sometimes wonder whether there's any hope for me. It sounds melodramatic and very gloomy, I know, and one could argue that there is always hope, and also that there's no hope, for any of us, not just me; but a couple of weeks ago I experienced something which amounted to an insight, or even a revelation. It was a Saturday morning in Kalk Bay, one of those perfect autumn days when the sun is still hot but without being fierce and there's a crisp freshness in the air. The sky was cloudless and a faint south-east breeze was coming across the bay, bringing with it a delicious coolness. I was down in the harbour mingling with the crowd, watching the fishing boats coming in loaded with yellowtail. Many people, scantily clad, barefoot, brown, healthy. I was aware of the bright colours of the boats against the blue of the sea, and the gay patchwork of summer clothing on the quayside, and the smell of the sea as well as the smell of wine and fish, and the sight of the fish in the sun, slapping and flashing silver. I was overwhelmed by the vitality of the scene. Here was life at its most vibrant, even the air was alive, and I looked at the people and they seemed fascinating creatures, their faces sharp-cut and expressive in the sunlight, fine shadow marking every crease and wrinkle, eyes glittering or falling into blank shade. There was much laughter, whistles and shouting, the women's voices shrill above those of the men, and I felt myself surrounded by raw humanity in the midst of nature. Yet I was not part of it. At a certain moment, unbidden, the perception came to me that behind all that life lay an emptiness where it was cold and dark and filled with vague fear. Slowly I made my way back, searching the faces for some flash of warmth which would strike a chord of affinity in me, affirming I was one of them. Near the railway line I passed a coloured woman shouting abuse at her man. He lay sprawled on the pavement, head and shoulders propped against the concrete wall, dead drunk, the family money spent. I saw ugliness in her contorted face, the raging eyes, the spittle about the toothless mouth. This is a common scene, I thought, encapsulating the plight of the poor. Did this arouse compassion in me, a feeling of sorrow for suffering humanity? No, it filled me with dread. Back at the Olympia I stood in the chill shadow on the balcony looking out to sea and thought, It's all over with me, It's too late. I knew, I knew, as dying men surely do when the time comes for their intuition to inform them of the dismal finality, and I wept feebly. As the tears rolled down my cheeks I thought of the mother and father I had never known, the love I had never received, the love I was incapable of giving, of my loneliness, my essential aloneness, of my failures and of my wasted life, of the cruelty of it all. On such a nice day too. It was a kind of presentiment, a strong feeling akin to a premonition, informing me that I was all washed up. Well, I told myself, I don't believe in such nonsense, it falls into the same category as superstition, and I'm not that feeble-minded yet. I determined to snap out of the mood I was in and to go back to the harbour and enjoy the rest of the morning. But I was shaking. Luckily I had some soetes in the room and I drank two mugs fast and then went down the stairs with fortified resolve. Only to crumble, like a mummified corpse on exposure to the air, when I reached the pavement. I had to cross the road. The traffic was heavy and it required careful judgement and decisive movements and my nerve had deserted me. Time after time I was about to attempt it and changed my mind. Maybe the car was approaching faster than I thought. What if I slipped, tripped, staggered and fell, right in the path of the vehicle? The tyres would scream and I would be hit with that horrible sound, a thud of struck flesh and bone of body so sickening Christ All-fucking-mighty I couldn't stand it. (Covers his face with his hands and rocks back and forth. Then looks up.) You know what I ended up doing, Harry? I…"
The pre-lunch siren had begun to wail and Bergson was on his feet and pulling on his jacket, a look of relief on his face.
"Sorry I've got to rush, Henry. Must get over to the hospital. Schroder's no longer under sedation and he would like to see me. We can continue our conversation when we've both got a spare hour or two. After the weekend, maybe."
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