THE TEXT

The Life of Henry Fuckit
(1950 - 2015)

 

75   A significant nightmare

Because the details of the dream were still horribly clear in his memory, even after his second cup of coffee, he decided to write them down. Maybe that would help to exorcise the diabolical image that kept appearing before him, filling him with repugnance and dread.

After my ordeal at the Department of Labour I was forced to immediately embark on a prolonged bout of solitary drunkenness. This resulted in an exceptionally severe hangover involving nausea, vomiting, vertigo, tremors, headache, fever and acute anxiety. For a whole day I suffered as with seasickness, so distressed that I began to contemplate death itself, not as a feared enemy but as an obliging friend. Black tea and ginger were ineffective antidotes, and just the thought of smoking dagga caused me to retch. I spent most of the day lying in bed, curtains drawn, blankets pulled up over my head. Only in the late afternoon did I begin to feel better.

I put my head under the tap and let the cold water run for several minutes. Then a peanut butter sandwich and tea. I was on the mend. In the belief that increased circulation would hasten the elimination of toxins I took a brisk walk down into Salt River, up past the hospital and back along De Waal Drive past the brickfield.

The evening dragged slowly by. I was bored and restless, disgusted with myself, still afflicted with bouts of queasiness. I switched on the radio, changed stations, turned it off. Nervously I began to pace back and forth, pausing now and again to listen to the wind rattling the back fence, before resuming the endless tour.

I turned to my library books but found it hard to concentrate. The novel irritated me - too slow-moving and drawn-out. I tried another of Thomas Mann's short stories. This one was set in Venice and entitled 'Disillusionment'. The protagonist asks the narrator 'Do you know, my dear Sir, what disillusionment is? Not a miscarriage in small, unimportant matters, but the great and general disappointment which everything, all of life, has in store?' They are seated at a table outside Florian's café on the Piazza di San Marco. I started another story but my eyes had begun to grow heavy and I decided to retire. Tomorrow could not fail to be an improvement on what I had recently had to endure.

I slept badly. At some stage I awoke and lay in the dark for what seemed a long time. Then I began to dream.

There is something familiar about the scene, as if I have dreamt about it before. A large plaza surrounded by dirty, decaying buildings. The columns and grey stonework are grimy and crumbling. The place was once grand and imposing and splendid. Not now. It could not possibly be in South Africa, yet in the dream I think it is. There is wintry desolation and practically no-one is about. In one corner of the square the buildings have been claimed as a home for pensioners. There is dreariness and poverty. I see one or two spectre-like figures of old men shuffling in the shadows behind the pillars. One quarter of the square is dominated by a large rectangular pool. Once it was used for bathing. The winter wind ruffles the water. An old man in a coat with the collar pulled up about his stubbled chin offers to punt me across. I can see a large sign: BAR - KROEG. The idea amuses and appeals to me. Like a gondola in Venice. I do not experience crossing the pool but I notice that it is deep and that three old men are swimming to and fro. Only their heads and necks appear above the surface. Their hair is wet and plastered down flat on their grey skulls. They swim about rapidly, changing direction like three nervous ducks darting this way and that. I feel no surprise at seeing them. Another old man, white-haired and bundled in a shabby overcoat, vigorously strides up and down at the poolside. I enter the bar but have no experience of it. When I come out the 'gondolier' is on the other side. I stand on the edge and am about to call him when I notice the three old men still in the water. It is now that I begin to feel repugnance and dread. They all wear the same expression of silent desperation. Three live skulls in the cold black water ceaselessly darting here and there. I realise they are trying to get out but the old man at the water's edge is preventing them. I turn to look at him and study his features. The face is ravaged by age and bears the hallmark of an inveterately cruel disposition. His eyes are insane with bitterness and hate. Then he looks at me and my terror wakes me up.

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