The Life of Henry Fuckit
77 Dear Henry
Why is the night sky so dark? If there are an infinite number of stars and they're evenly distributed in space and time, then the sky should be solidly bright with starlight in every direction, and there should be no such thing as night. Not so?
Glick gave me the address of Mr Jeremiah Rabkin and I went to see him in (out of curiosity) his luxury suite at the Highlands Old Age Home. There were the remnants of a courtly charm and handsome dignity but senile dementia had wiped his memory all but clean. So what inspired a city merchant to name his building after a German astronomer remains a mystery.
Isn't it strange that when I first saw the plaque in the Olbers Building I thought of you? And when I went to an encyclopaedia and read about Olbers' paradox I knew it was just the kind of idea which you would have appropriated with extravagant enthusiasm. (Are you still so sceptical about the ability of Science to explain the physical world?)
I'm about to take up a position at a hospital in the U.S. and, before leaving South Africa, I thought I'd take a few weeks off in Cape Town. I remembered that Mr Skinflint Glick still owed me the deposit I paid him when I rented his flat, and that's what led me back to the Olbers Building. Imagine my surprise when the clerk mentioned that someone else was interested in the inscription in the foyer. And when he said this person claimed to be an acquaintance of mine, I knew it had to be you. There you are. Now you know how I was able to get hold of your address.
Are you still pursuing your chosen path as a dilettante? Has your dabbling led you anywhere special? Have you been rewarded with any valuable insights? Has anyone been able to provide you with an effective antidote to the pain of existence? Or have you 'matured', abandoning your futile search, and found a measure of peace by some other route?
These are questions which demand access to the sacrosanct region of your inner self and I have no right to ask them. But for some strange reason I don't feel embarrassed. Maybe it's because I recognise something in you which elicits a sure response, telling me that you are 'one of my own', and somehow I do have the right. I think you'd agree we are both marginal people, in terms of what we share in common with the great majority of our fellow beings. Out on the periphery of culture the distances are great and it is rare for one to encounter another wanderer. When one does we peer into each other's faces, murmur a greeting, and move on. It is so seldom that there is anything more than this. So, on the scant occasions in a lifetime when our eyes meet another's and there is that flash of recognition, as unmistakable as the memory of a long forgotten childhood smell, it is all the more acutely felt and all the more precious. And that's why I'd like to think, somewhat irrationally, even superstitiously, that there's a bond between us which will persist no matter what transpires on our separate journeys.
Henry, I haven't forgotten our last conversation, even though so much has happened since then, and I don't' want to cause you pain. You made it quite clear, in your astonishingly forthright declaration, that your interest in me was forty-nine percent platonic and fifty-one percent carnal. You said the only way we could enjoy a purely metaphysical relationship was if you were to take yourself off to a horse doctor and have yourself gelded. Well, that was more than five years ago, the world has turned on its axis a good many times since then, and it's unlikely you still see things in quite the same light. Anyway, that's what I'm hoping. I'm hoping for friendship with one who I regard as a kindred soul in an increasingly cold and silent universe.
I really want to see you again, Henry. I want to see the sadness and the humour in your eyes and I want to hear your preposterous version of what's been going on in the world. I would also like to tell you about my own crazy life. Not that it's a pretty tale. Within me it's as if something has been buried and something else exposed, I don't quite know what. I have experienced more than has been good for me, most of it lamentable, and I suspect I have become disillusioned, if not defeated. I observe myself and others with a hard sobriety and don't much like what I see. I am able to act effectively - I am a good doctor, no more than that and no less - but I seem to be losing the power of communication. Words are used as analytical tools in the diagnostic process, or strung together in phatic clichés and stock phrases for the dying and the sick. Most of the time I immerse myself in work and try not to think. But now and then an old yearning rises to the surface and I dream of being carefree. Sharing laughter, living intensely - of coming alive. And as I conceive the thought it shortcircuits in my mind back to that old misery guts in Ecclesiastes - 'Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.'
Enough of my melancholic grumbling, it's beginning to sound self-pitying. Instead, let me invite you to lunch on Wednesday (I leave on Friday.) How about Kirstenbosch, a place we both like? It's out in the open, nice and casual, and we can take a walk afterwards. Please say yes to 12.30 in the tea garden.
Because of the subsequent events it was only much, much later that he tried to retrieve from his memory every little detail and nuance of their meeting. Only later. For many months it was just a synoptic list of facts pinned up for him to look at if he cared to.
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