My first novel.
Henry was born into a life that was neither similar nor dissimilar to those that dwelled beside him. He was not handsome, he was not ugly, he was not intelligent and he was not poor of mind, he was simply Henry, another face atop a set of feet that roamed the land in search of gaps his mind and soul could fit. Like so many before the night of Henry’s birth, he was lost and seldom found a God to whom to pray. In the space of five years, he lost his remaining grandparents, his mother, his father, his lover, his job, his passion and all that once held him tight together. It was all gone. No explanation and no sympathy offered in return. He was alone and found nothing in which to seek a hint of human spirit and compassion. The world was falling to shit as holy men told lies and politicians swore to truth and jobs and lives fell further into chaos. The economy was battered by bankers and their homes away from homes and interest paid on payments made for jobs they failed to do. Society, it seemed, was ill prepared for change as lives were subject to a balance measured by banks and bailiffs no longer hidden from hope and happiness. Tears were heard across the land as futures erupted into fear and poverty. The recession came and squandered times of smiles and joy as countless fathers mothers lovers carers wore burdens on their frames. Henry failed to understand. He was unable to identify where it was he belonged and why he found it so difficult to do like others and advance. He was lonely and could not ignore how much he missed his parents and their love and everything they were and ceased to be. He felt more alone than ever before. He looked outside the window at a world that scared and shunned him. The people and their faces and the eyes and hands and spit. The passions and obsessions and methods of surviving The young and old and dead and born on streets silenced by submission. But as the days went on and eves rolled out in plurals of their name, Henry rediscovered hope and a talent long since laid to rest. When all fell apart and departed with equal speed, the only comfort Henry maintained were the words that never ceased inside his head. The words and worlds so close to all he knew and yet different and dear and tender. The only thing he knew, the only thing he hoped to save him from his pain was prose of greater power. He tried before and failed. But now the time was right to try again. There was nothing more to lose. Not anymore.
Henry arose to face another day, another arduous succession of minutes in the same languid life, the same boring routines that made up his grieving existence. He was, like so many, a tool of the state economy. He added sums, subtracted lives, and equated death. For the mind and body there was no relief, no reprieve from a time and place that neither accepted his thoughts nor rewarded his actions. It was the way of things and he was merely one among a zone of duplicates, empty and alone, scribbling in the dark amid a million mounted check books, all numbered and identified and condemned to cornered fate. Henry often wondered how many people died for the printed paper of his birth. How many soldiers fell to madmen, how many foiled them, how many spoiled them, and how many finally joined them? Was it the promise of a better life? Was it this life? Was it his life? If so, his life was slain and he smiled at thoughts of kissing Satan’s feet, his mind wandering and absconding until the Lord of tortured fate appeared aloud behind him.
‘Come on Henry, you’re dreaming again.’ The cold and dour voice intruded. Henry knew he was dreaming. He knew he always dreamt. It was the one thing that made reality bearable, the only thing, his thing, and now they wanted to strip him of his right to enjoy the one side of life no one could control but him.
‘Sorry, it won’t happen again.’ Henry replied, and off he went again. Numbers turning into naked women. Letters into woven mantras of lustful affliction. Love on his brain. Sex in his pants. Work in his face. Always in his face. Poking and prodding and relentlessly claiming every portion of his soul. ‘You’re doing it again Henry, what the hell is wrong with you today?’
‘You.’ Shit. This time he wasn’t dreaming. Reality merged and what he dreamt of saying so many times before finally spilled from loosened lips.
‘What did you say?’
‘I said you’re a fucking idiot and you can find someone else to fuck your fractions.’
‘Are you sure you want to do this?’
Henry looked at the man before him. He looked at the new suit and shiny shoes tailored for his crooked hooves and stubborn eyes. He looked at his neatly trimmed beard and plucked eyebrows. He looked at his gold jewellery, diamond cuffs and manicured nails. He searched for a trace of humanity in between the stripes of his Armani shirt. He stared at the pink tie as its brightness damaged his desire to remain sat inside this rancid place of silent death. Who the fuck is this man? Henry thought. Who the fuck is he to me? What the hell do I owe him? He looked around the office. What the hell do I owe any of these people? What the fuck am I doing here? For what reason do I surrender my life to profits far removed from mine? What the fuck? Why?
‘What, this?’ Henry finally spoke and rose to feet. He grabbed his bag and walked out, away beyond and gone. He did not look back. He did not regret or curse what disappeared behind. He did not speak or motion his farewell. He merely walked out. Just like that. Gone.
That was how Henry lost his job, four years ago, today. And today he stood beside his sister as they watched the priest tell tales of a life long since given up in search of peace. A life Henry saw diminishing, a life he smelt decaying, a life his father forgot, the last of his relatives, gone. Now he was the final hope for forebear’s name and fame, an unemployed burden to a society that washed its hands of him the day he lost his job. Henry was never one to seek refuge in distant worlds, particularly worlds that made no place for him, but this time things were different. This time, he was different. This time, there was no time.
Henry spent the past four hours watching Lost on DVD. His eyes transfixed by the troubles of a set of strangers thrust into the abyss of barren lands and places bereft of gaping minds and sagging spines. Why would this be a problem, Henry thought, adrift from everything and everyone. No work, no bills, no joys no thrills. Just myself and me, alone, together. But though he was indeed alone, confined within the trembling walls of a sullen flat devoid of familiar flesh, Henry felt no better in seclusion. This was how he lived. Six months. Six long months of self and shit and pain and piss. From the moment he was told of his father’s grim mortality, time became a burden, a burden he held no wish to recognise. Fuck off, he screamed, leave me be, can’t you see I’m already dead? Look, my veins are dry and my heart amiss, no hand to kiss, no love in bliss. But nothing came to save him, no rescue, no salvation, nothing. So he filled his time with senseless tasks and welcomed slight and sound distractions for a pulsing mind, a desperate escape from the confines of his irate anatomy, and sleep became the main component.
Henry slept for fourteen hours a day and the remaining ten were spent in preparation for a sullen slumber, coercing the mind into a trance forbidding emotional response. When thoughts of his father entered his consciousness Henry made sure to force them to retire. He tried everything. Drink, drugs, books, films, eating, shitting wanking, fighting, and rarely sex. And despite his cosmic cravings, his minor will fell ill. It was the one thing he thought would help, someone to talk to, a partner, a friend, a lover, but it was not to be. Following the disintegration of his past relationships, Henry found himself confronted by a plethora of detrimental thoughts, deliberations that made no sense and an existence that appeared to serve no purpose. In a relationship he experienced joy and pleasure in his deeds to make the other happy, he had a role, a duty, welcome tasks to make life easier and more enjoyable for the fortunate flesh joined beside him. The problem was, these persons deemed themselves unfortunate and discovered increasing difficulty in legitimising his involvement. Life with Henry was anything but easy, not because he cheated or lied or stole or cried, but because he told the truth, and when he couldn’t, silence was his only friend. Genuine truths were seldom welcome and caused more pain than peace, so he stuck with silence and refrained from words of friction. But this silence was mistaken for a distance dark in danger, a distance that made the maintaining of any relationship a laborious struggle. It was his way of coping. His way of dealing with problems that never seemed to disappear. But they never got it. Instead, he was advised to seek counselling, to get help, to speak to someone, anyone. That was all well and good, and as much as he desired a companion, as much as he yearned for love and passion, he knew it would end the same way. He would end up broken, shattered and confused, while the other smiled with glee at the absence of his presence. And no matter how much he reflected on what went wrong, how it went wrong, and why, the conclusion was the same, he was wrong. Wrong for relationships. Wrong for work. Wrong for everything. Wrong.
‘I’ll always be here for you.’ They promised.
‘I’ll never leave you.’ They assured.
‘Goodbye.’ They never said. No uttered words of compassion sounded in the thinning air. It just stopped. The end. No words. No sounds. Nothing. And that was how Henry’s relationships ended, his brief encounters with joy feebly surrendered, muscles quivering in the dark as love left him alone and scared again.
The last episode of Lost finished over half an hour ago, leaving nine and a half hours yet to waste, but how? He could wash and get cleaned up, but what was the point? The only person who could smell him was himself, and he was now used to the stale stench. He was unable to accurately identify what it was, he could not distinguish between the mixture of aromas that constituted his constitution, but he liked it. He breathed it in with intense appreciation, sucking at the peculiar taste, savouring every salty second, for in its very essence was the proof of his existence. I’m here, he thought, alive. Unless it was the smell of deaths slow grip, like the essence of a lemon, singeing open wounds and blistering battered wits. Perhaps, perhaps I should get washed, Henry decided, and trudged into the shower.
He left his flat and instantly realised he had forgotten his keys. He’d placed them atop the television in order to remember their companionship, a location calculated due to its proximity to the exit, but remember did he fuck, the door now closed, locked and stern while the landlord awaited rent, the last thing Henry sought to buy. So he decided to get away from all his failures and search for something else in town. To seek something out that might remind him of humanity and hope. But as he descended the stairs it struck him, suddenly from the shadows and unwelcome in his brain. The panic. The fear. The realisation that at any moment, at any given time, he might find himself confronted with an overwhelming desire to recoil and run. Run so fast his legs would splinter into shards of crooked flesh. A trail of blood and disappointment rotting in his retreat. These perilous potentials to harm his fragile will were bountiful in emergence and his eyes quivered in recognition of this impassioned fact. Such bouts of fevered fear encompassed everything he thought and felt, like his state of present unemployment. Finding a job was not the problem, keeping it was. Thinking about the problem became a problem, and so he decided to forget about it, and forget he did, like his keys, gone into the gloom.
Somehow he found himself at the bus stop. He could not remember the walk but there he was, waiting for something to happen. He considered a visit to his father’s grave but soon decided against it. It meant a different bus, it meant remembering, it meant pain and reflections of all he failed to understand. Since his fathers death Henry avoided all but one sensation, and that sensation became so commonplace it now lacked the pleasure it once possessed. So he decided to have a break. He decided perhaps it might be time to find a real woman. A woman he could touch. A woman he could hold and hope to love and cherish. And town was his only hope.
Having sat in meditation throughout the journey he got off the bus and walked towards the shopping centre. Passing through the myriad of shoppers he felt the brief touch of another individual and looked to his side to witness the form of beauty bared and framed on mortal feet. She was right there. Beside him. Breathing the same air. Walking on the same ground. Pure. Perfect. Human. He decided to follow and see what opportunities might arise for a conversation, a social sensibility he knew little of. She stopped by the window of Ann Summers and instantly Henry’s mind filled with erotic fantasies and images of sex and sweat and screaming. He saw bathrooms filled with the flicker of candles, scents of passion rising in the mist and the glow of lovemaking filling empty souls. He was under her spell. She bewitched him and he welcomed it, wilfully surrendering his unstable functions to the magic of her form. She took a few more steps and walked into a coffee shop. He watched her in the queue and followed the smooth surface of her dress as it traced her shapely rear. She purchased her milky latte and sat at a table overlooking the busy market stalls, her dress lifting slightly to reveal the texture of her thighs. Her face glistened in the artificial light, a look of ease, a calm and peace he no longer knew. She had it. She had it all. She was perfect. I must approach her, Henry urged. It must be done. But what do I say? How do I start? What words can portray when man alone is dumb? He looked around for inspiration but was immediately drawn back to her. I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Do I sit down? Do I stand and speak? Do I walk away? Fuck it, I have to say something, I’m tired of being alone and empty. He walked over to her table and stood looking down on her. Immediately he began to regret his decision and considered a hasty retreat. The panic was setting in and fear and anger and hatred were twisting and churning the stuffing of his skin. What do I say? What? Help? He could feel his heart hammering his ribs, his eyes blinking and cursing all the weakness set within. You fool! You complete and utter fool! What have you done! What have you done! Get out of here. Run. Run fucker run. But before he could move away and accept defeat she looked up to identify the shade upon her face.
‘Can I help you?’ My God she was beautiful, Henry thought as his eyes began to burn.
‘Er…do…do you mind if I sit down?’ Henry said with great disbelief.
‘Sorry?’ She leaned in closer.
‘Do you mind if I sit down?’ he repeated slightly louder and suspicious of her apology.
‘No…not at all…it’s fine. Go ahead.’ She smiled.
‘Can I get you anything?’ He asked.
‘No, thank you, I’m fine.’
Henry stood in awe of her for a moment longer. She was fucking amasing, Henry observed, absolutely fucking amasing. Suddenly he realised what he was doing and decided the best course of action would be the preservation of her kind reception, so he turned and ordered an iced coffee from the counter. This is fucked up. What am I doing? What the fuck is going on? He wasn’t sure, but it felt good. He was scared and nervous, but also something else, something long forgotten, something waiting to be awoken. He returned to sit opposite her and she smiled at him again before returning her eyes to the printed words atop her palm. What to say? He questioned, it seemed so easy when no thoughts were mended by the detail, and now that was all that remained among the allocation of its fright. She had not objected to his approach and now he was sat beside her gripped by fear and hatred. What the fuck do I say? Henry searched his ill practised mind. Come on! What? What do I say? Tell me what to say! Please! She looked up from her book and smiled. Shit.