THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

69   Henry's comforters

JOE:
Nothing like pain if you're looking for distraction. Takes your mind off things.
IVOR:
That's for sure. You know, I read somewhere, just recently, in some nondescript waiting room, indistinguishable from so many other waiting rooms, I read a fragment from an article in one of those coffee table magazines, covering a sublimely ridiculous range of topics, something about the appreciation of pain. (Pauses) Yes, the appreciation of pain. It said something like this: Pain isn't suffering. No, it's the pain we associate with suffering that we fear.
STEVE:
That's a neat turn of phrase. Sounds good. But what's it got to do with this poor cunt lying here? Prone for three weeks! And that's even without mentioning the second-degree agony! Isn't that pain enough? What's this kak about suffering without pain?
IVOR:
No man, for fuck's sake listen to what I'm saying. Pain on its own isn't suffering. It's not possible to adequately describe pain, the actual experience that makes you groan or scream. Because you can't communicate it you become cut off and powerless. All you can do is submit to it and concentrate on it; attentively and slavishly. That's why I agree with Joe when he says it takes your mind off your other problems. Pain demands your undivided attention.
STEVE:
Hmmm. So for the past three weeks lover-boy here has been totally unperturbed by the futility of his miserable existence. He's had a complete break from all existentialist anguish. A nice little holiday.
JOE:
Jesus, you call it a holiday?! You call this a holiday, all this pain and humiliation? Second degree burns to your buttocks, your thighs and your scrotum? I don't think I'd call this a holiday.
STEVE:
Christ man, don't get me wrong. Do you think I don't have sympathy for what he's been going through? I mean, it sounds as if he nearly lost his balls when it all started going septic, what with all the shit he was lying in. If Ivor hadn't discovered him when he did I dread to think…What made you decide to call on him, Ivor?
IVOR:
Well, it was just coincidence, luck. I hadn't seen him for more than a year, not since my wedding. It was school holidays and I had some time on my hands. On the Tuesday I tried to phone him at the Dockyard for a chat, but they said he hadn't been in for two days. I had to go to Fish Hoek the next day, so I decided to call in at Kalk Bay on the off-chance of finding him at home.
JOE:
That was the Wednesday, so he'd been lying in his room for four days. Yisiss, he must have been in one helluva condition! How'd you get in? Wasn't the door locked?
IVOR:
No, fortunately not. I knocked and called and tried the handle. Jesus, what a sight! And the smell!
STEVE:
Please man, spare us the sickening details. Cut that bit short. So you called an ambulance and got him to Groote Schuur and here he is on the road to recovery. But the cause of the…er…the injuries…the accident…? He was delirious, so how did…?
IVOR:
It was that little Greek shit himself who told me when I went to phone. Bastard said I should call the rubbish truck, not the ambulance. And I saw his wife there; two black eyes and an arm in a sling.
STEVE:
Ah, but there you are! A crime of passion. Can you blame the guy? How would you like to find your wife being pomped on a table in the back room? Especially these Mediterranean grease-balls, they take it seriously. They get married in a church and they've got their certificate - that means they've taken out sole fucking rights on the woman and that's the end of it.
IVOR:
Well, put like that, I suppose you can term it 'rough justice'. (Thinks about it.) Yes, Henry had it coming to him. He took a chance and it didn't pay off. Hey, Henry, how about a grape? Joe and STEVE here went and bought you a nice bunch of export grapes to help you recuperate. No? Don't mind if we try them do you? Oh yes, and I've brought you a bottle of good old Government House Port.
JOE:
Yuk! Export?! No wonder South Africa's a pariah state. Ggiptooh! (Spits grape skin into sputum mug on locker.) Sour leather! (Passes sputum mug to STEVE and Ivor who also spit out half-chewed grapes.)
STEVE:
What did that fucking smous on the pavement say to us? Sweet as honey, Master. No pips, Master. Skins so thin and soft you don't need teeff, Master. This grapes is what the Queen of England eat, Master. Fuck the Queen of England! If that half-caste poes is still there when we…Hey. (Distracted by bowl of grapes on neighbouring patient's locker.)
JOE:
Gee, it's a good thing we decided to sample them. What would Henry have thought of us? He might even have choked on one. I once met a man in the bar at the Glencairn Hotel whose uncle nearly died from choking on a grape. But there happened to be a doctor present and just when this oke had turned blue in the face and was about to fall down asphyxiated the quack grabs him from behind in a bear hug and gives him one helluva squeeze. It's a special manoeuvre, named after one of Hitler's henchmen for some reason. Either Himmler or Eichman, I forget which. Apparently the grape shot out with such force that it knocked over a full bottle of beer on the other side of the room.
IVOR:
Amazing. So this guy owed his life to the quick action of the doctor? Got to know what you're doing though.
JOE:
Not really. This was actually a medical student, not a full-on physician, and he was a bit pissed and overdid it with the manoeuvre. Broke several ribs and punctured both lungs. Instead of choking to death on a grape Uncle drowned in his own blood. (Steve returns with exchanged grapes. Offers them round.)
STEVE:
Try these. Now these are what I call grapes. I'm afraid the old toppie next door will never taste the fruit of the vine again, by the looks of him. Can hardly breathe, let alone savour the sweet plump flesh of a prime honey-pot. Far gone, far gone. (Shakes his head in sorrow.) Took a dekko at one of his cards. 'Get well soon'. Jeez! 'Looking forward to having you home again.' The only way he's going home is as ash in a fancy little urn. The human propensity for self-delusion - it's truly astounding. All right, that's enough. Leave some for Henry. (Places bowl on locker.) I mean, he's the one supposed to be enjoying them.
IVOR:
We don't seem to be doing much to cheer you up, Henry. You've hardly said a world since we arrived. Do I detect resentment in your reticence? Maybe you feel that true friends would have been more attentive to your well-being; that our neglect is partly to blame for your… um… your accident; that if we had been at your side we would have distracted you from your besottedness; we would have jolted you out of your moral stupefaction; we would have warned you with such strident emphasis that you would have turned aside from your suicidal folly; we would have reminded you that God gave you a strong right hand in order to cope with these powerful temptations.
STEVE:
Come on Ivor, its all very well for you to talk, a married man. A nice pair of tits to fondle whenever you like, and putting your cock in most nights of the week if you're not too pissed. Have you forgotten what it's like to be a starving bachelor going crazy with hunger?
JOE:
Yes, Ivor, you're coming over decidedly judgmental. It must be this cosy bourgeois lifestyle doing things to you - on the permanent staff, snotty school, smart car, smart flat, smart wife with fabulous tits and a good job, as well as….
IVOR:
(Angrily.) Will you guys leave my wife's tits out of this?
JOE:
Alright, alright. Calm down. Where's that bottle you were talking about? I'm sure the patient would appreciate a drop of medicine. Hey Henry?
STEVE:
Yah, let's try and cheer old Henry up. (Empties tumbler of water into urine bottle.) He can have the glass, we'll have to share the bottle, in humble deference to necessity. (Pours generously for Henry.) Yah, these hospital scenes can be fucking depressing, what with being surrounded by the sick and dying, being assailed by the mingled odours of antiseptic, disinfectant, stale food and overflowing bedpans, and listening to a background of groaning, coughing and spitting. Fucking depressing.
IVOR:
Come on, Henry old chap, raise yourself and have some of this lovely stuff. This is what Alfred Lord Tennysan used to drink when composing his best poetry. Or was it Lord Byron?
JOE:
Is that the origin of the expression 'Pissed as a lord'? That's my boy, Henry. (Henry gets to his knees, takes glass, raises it, sniffs, takes a sip, then drinks greedily.) Cheers! To your speedy recovery. (Takes a swig and passes bottle to Ivor.)
STEVE:
Hey, Henry, whilst you're semi out of the prone position, now would be a good time to let us inspect your wounds. Out of curiosity and for the record so to speak. (Takes bottle and knocks it back.) Ah, just what the doctor ordered!
IVOR:
Good idea. Hey, Joe, pull those curtains will you? Don't want any of these visitors gawking in prurient abandon as if it's a free show or something.
STEVE:
Nosy bunch of fucking perverts. The visual evidence of Henry's private shame and agony is for his friends' eyes only. Not so, Henry? That's it, undo those strings. Careful now, for Christ' sake! Jesus, wow!
IVOR:
Henry, you poor fucker.
JOE:
Fuuuck! (Henry kneels in bed, posterior aspect presented. Drains glass and puts it on the locker.)
IVOR:
Well, look…Jesus…at least it's all new skin. I mean it's healing up nicely now. I mean, it's not as if there's any gaping wounds. And what about the, er…the area where it went septic? That all under control too?
STEVE:
Henry, just bend forward a little, if you don't mind. That's it. Could actually do with a torch. (The three visitors cluster at foot of bed, peering at Henry's buttocks, thighs and testicles.)
JOE:
No, not too bad. It also looks to be on the mend there. Lucky he didn't lose them.
IVOR:
That's for sure. No, they seem to be hanging quite normally. Once that scab comes off they'll probably discharge him.
STEVE:
Mm. You know, this reminds me of a nurse I once knew. A bloody wild woman with a vicious sense of humour. Our brief relationship was memorable for its violence and its depravity. Her parting shot was to say, with a horrible sneer on her face, which I can still see in my mind's eye, that not only did I have an exceptionally short prick, but that I was a freak of nature too. She claimed that, in the line of duty on the wards, and off duty as an unfettered nymphomaniac, she had come into contact with thousands of pairs of balls, all of them lopsided, but mine were the only ones to tip the scales to the left and not the right. Totally shattered my self esteem. Took several days of humiliating surveys and research to expose her pernicious lie and restore my equilibrium.
JOE:
Does it matter? Anyway, Henry doesn't have to worry. His right ball is definitely in the ascendancy. Okay, Henry, thank you. You can cover up and make yourself comfortable again. Why don't you lie on your side a bit? Shit man, look at this! (Takes bottle and drains it.) You guys have gone and finished the whole bottle. Hey, Mike! (Notices Mike de Jongh's head framed by curtains.)
IVOR:
Hi, man. Glad you could make it. A bit late though, they'll soon be ringing the bell and throwing us out.
MIKE:
Greetings, gentlemen. (Formally shakes hands.) Hello, Fackit. Glad to see you, and so sorry to hear about your mishap. (Shakes Henry's hand vigorously.) I brought you some assorted dried fruit to promote digestion and regularity. And also some reading matter - I know you've always got your nose in a book. I asked the bookshop owner to recommend something philosophical, but none of that damn existentialist crap you were so fond of. Something to uplift you and strengthen the character.
STEVE:
What was your choice? Dale Carnegie? Billy Graham?
JOE:
(Takes book from packet.) 'The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.' Not a bad choice, Mike.
IVOR:
Stone cold stoicism. I don't know about STRENGTHENING the character. STRANGLING the character is more like it. Stoicism, asceticism, Spartanism, flagellation, self-deprivation, cold showers, abstinence, frugality, humility, chastity, and all manner of self-loathing. A mirthless devotion to duty and virtue. I don't know, Mike. I somehow doubt whether he's ready for the straight and narrow, but I might be wrong.
JOE:
Ah, here we are Henry. This is for you. "Do not say 'How unlucky I am, that this should have happened to me!' By no means; say rather, 'How lucky I am, that it has left me with no bitterness; unshaken by the past, and undismayed by the future.'
STEVE:
Ag, it's all very well to urge an oke to be dispassionate and long-suffering, but does that deal with any of the underlying problems? What Henry needs to do is analyse where he went wrong and how he got himself into this condition in the first place.
JOE:
Not so easy. How do you pinpoint a moment or an event in your life and say, This is where I fucked up. Too facile.
STEVE:
Kak. What's facile about self-analysis? I've actually given this some thought already. Cast your mind back seven or eight years to those days in Bedford Street. Free-and-easy, rebellious, irresponsible. But eventually we all got our bits of paper and moved along on the roads we'd chosen, for better or for worse. Except Henry. Henry, looking back now, don't you regret not having done a degree and embarked on something, anything, instead of wasting yourself in that bloody Dockyard? Don't you regret not having made a choice, not having made a commitment?
IVOR:
Steve, I think you might have put your finger on it. None of us could be said to have had a vocation. No voice called us. I started out studying Law, thoroughly detested it, and switched to Economics because it was the only subject that interested me at the time. Now I teach it. And you, with Architecture, and Joe with Librarianship. Arbitrary, arbitrary. Even our dentist here - would have preferred to be a brain surgeon or something, but you've got to be realistic.
JOE:
Not Henry.
IVOR:
No, not Henry. This is what I'm saying. Instead of accepting some basic realities and humbling himself enough to embark on something specific, he preferred to drift without direction, uncommitted, unwilling to place his bet for fear of losing.
STEVE:
I'm inclined to agree with him, Henry. If you analyse it and put it in a nutshell it comes down to this: your main problem is a fundamental lack of courage. You can't face the prospect of discovering you're an unexceptional, boring nonentity like the rest of us. What do you say, Joe?
JOE:
Well, I don't know. I suppose you're right, in a way. But remember how he used to talk about being a dilettante? His vocation was to be a dabbler. Not just in the arts, but in life itself. Life with a capital L. I liked that idea, and it wasn't a weak excuse for not choosing something else. Henry, my old china, I'll tell you where I think you went wrong. You lost your identity as a dilettante. Your concentration wavered and you stopped focusing on what was important to you. You stopped dabbling. Instead of remaining interested in everything under the sun, you gradually became oppressed by everything under the sun. Either you should have given up the notion of being a dilettante and chosen a career, any fucking career, as Ivor suggests, or you should have stuck to your guns and kept moving and making a superficial study of this and that, and expressing your shallow opinions on every aspect of life you chose to dabble in. (Looks at Mike, who has become increasingly restless, shifting from one foot to the other, half raising his right hand as if to gain attention and permission to interject.) What say you, Mike? You seem a little agitated, as if you were struggling to ignore the urgent demands of an anal itch.
MIKE:
Damn you, you…. Now listen here, I've heard nothing but bally rubbish from the three of you. Now it's my turn. Henry, I'm not going to say I don't sympathise with you and the dreadful pain you've had to suffer, but there's no getting away from the fact that you brought it upon yourself. This is the consequence of a lifestyle I warned you against years ago. Your life has fallen apart because there was no structure to it. Just drinking and smoking, reading all that obscene, subversive junk you called Literature and Philosophy, sitting about talking endless crap, attacking all the tried and tested social values, profaning every religious principle you could think of, denouncing your own country and people, applauding communists and terrorists as they murdered and burnt, and always, always despising the hard working, the responsible, the consistent, the decent. God, you make my blood boil! No wonder you've landed yourself in hot water. No wonder…
STEVE:
Nice pun that, Mike. Ha, ha. Hear that, Henry? Landed yourself in hot water. Didn't burn your fingers though. Burnt your bum instead.
MIKE:
Oh, shut up! The three of you are almost as bad as Henry. I'm surprised you haven't ended up in trouble yourselves what with the cynical approach to life and the lack of belief in anything. Henry, for your own good, you'd better change your ways. Treat this incident as a final warning. Heed the warning and start the long process of building yourself up into a proper man, with principles, integrity and backbone. Ignore the warning, and in no time you'll find yourself in the gutter and headed for an early grave. (There is silence. Then Henry struggles to his knees and crouches facing them. At last his eyes have come alight and he speaks with fierce indignation.)
HENRY:
Alright, enough is enough. I've had to listen to all four of you and this is my response: Fuck you too! What right have any of you to pass judgement on my life? I'm not interested in your career counselling and your sermonising. What do you know about my inner conflicts and the writhing of my soul? You advise me to capitulate and become a dispirited nonentity, then you chastise me for not having obeyed my original instincts to resist the dispirited nonentity temptation, and finally you tell me no, forget about being a dispirited nonentity and rather become an insufferable hypocrite and a bigot. Your collective advice would be enough to turn any sane man into a gibbering schizoid. You don't have the faintest idea of what it is to be a genuine dilettante. It's because you gave up the struggle without a fight, or you weren't even aware of a struggle in the first place. You talk about commitment and choice! I have made the hardest choice; to commit myself to nothing. I have elected to drift through life, letting things happen, examining whatever comes my way, observing myself, exposing myself as completely as I can to what it is to be human. Do you think that's easy? No, you are the ones who made the easy choice. You've backed into your mental caves, fortified the entrances, and now peer out apprehensively, your eyes filled with suspicion and fear. No, I don't need your sympathy. You are the pitiful ones, you are the ones too timid to live in the open. Fuck off back to your caves. Leave me to be buffeted by life, and maybe even caressed by it too, who knows. Even if it does mean the gutter and an early death, at least I will have LIVED! Go, get out! (Shouting wildly.) Ring the bell, you fucking bitches! Look at the time. Get them out, get them out. (Bell rings.)

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