The Life of Henry Fuckit
9 The new name comes to him
The desire to change his name had been growing in him over a long period until finally it became an obsession. He was prepared to stay with Henry. Henry was such an ordinary name, so nondescript it could be applied to just about anyone and convey very little. In his reading of European history he had encountered hundreds of Henry's. Henry The Bold, Henry The Older, Henry The Short, Henry The Bald, Henry The Sufferer, Henry The Lion, Henry The Saint, The Younger, The Proud, The Syphilitic, The Imbecile, The Forsaken, The Reaper. The list was endless. Anybody could be a plain Henry. There was something universal about Henry. But Henry Seamus Michael O'Riley? This was extravagantly Irish. It was the sort of name that made people say, "Ah, that's an Irish name. So you're of Irish stock, aren't you?" He didn't want a name that would elicit such remarks. Such a name could draw him into complicated situations. He didn't want to become embroiled in arguments about national characteristics, pride, patriotism, loyalty and duty. His cynicism was already deep-seated and wide-ranging, and many of his views might be considered radical and anti-social. He needed a name that was an instant declaration of non-alignment, an assertion of independence and freedom from obligation and responsibility. If at all possible, it should be a name that gave affront to the genteel and the pompous, warning them off, telling them to keep well clear, along with all their baggage.
He had been greatly encouraged by Naaktgeboren's List but was unable to settle on any of the innumerable names that came to his fertile mind. Then one evening at the supper table, inspiration came to him. They had been discussing the weather. Sultry, uncomfortable, full of unseen electricity and unheard thunder. If any of them had been stupid or unlucky enough to have sustained an injury in the War, their wound would have been playing up, throbbing in the bone where the shrapnel still lay. Herr Fridemann's kyphotic spine was troubling him and he was tense and irritable. Mrs Rabinowitz was short of breath. They were all sticky and on edge and impatient with one another but undivided in their opinion of the weather. This was the worst time of the year and until the rains began it was going to be hell. They lapsed into disgruntled silence.
Then Braithwaite turned to Henry and, in a tone that was more antagonistic than conversational, enquired of him "I take it, Mr O'Riley, that you have abandoned your ill-conceived ambition to jettison your patronymic and adopt some appellation of foreign or outlandish origin? Seeing as we have heard no more on the subject for some considerable time."
Henry merely grunted and glowered menacingly from under his heavy eyebrows.The hot, dusty weather had rendered the nasal mucus crusty, and soon he was able to dislodge a large piece of debris. Extracting it, he began to roll it slowly between thumb and forefinger.
"Good idea, Henry my boy." Witherspoon joined the fray. "Damned silly notion in the first place. You would have spent your life regretting it. Look at old Knackers."
"Ja. It voz surely a passing manifestation of personality disorder. Zis rejection of self, zis search for identity - zese are classic symptoms of schizophrenia. Much better to accept yourself as O'Riley." The three of them were clearly intent on relieving their ennui by indulging in the diversion known as bearbaiting. In this case the bear was Henry and they shared a certain malicious delight at the prospect of worrying, snapping at, and nipping the youth who had on so many occasions enraged them, separately and collectively. Mrs Rabinowitz began to pant with anxiety, aware of the possibility of impending verbal brutality. Before speaking, Henry flicked the pellet away from him with a contemptuous gesture, not caring where it landed.
"Thank God I am bold and vigorous and full of mental and physical energy. Not timid, washed out, dried up and defeated by life, on the downhill slide to a miserable end, convinced of my own failure. No, gentlemen, I refuse to follow your advice. I refuse to remain Henry Seamus Michael O'Riley. To hell with caution, circumspection, discretion and all forms of apprehension. I reject your advice and intend signalling my exit from Ingachini with an appropriate gesture, and making my entry onto the world's stage with an arrogant swagger."
Henry had become thoroughly worked up, bristling with anger and indignation and sweating heavily in the torrid airlessness of the evening. Christ Almighty! What right had they to tell him what to do with his name? They were about to start all that Polonius crap again, offering him a hundred and one precepts on how to make day follow night. Did they really expect him to act like a prudent old man? It was his decision, not theirs. He was going to rid himself of O'Riley. Fuck it! If he wanted to…
All eyes were on the indignant youth. His mandible had dropped and his mouth gaped. His eyes were wide and unblinking, the pupils dilated, the corneas flat and glazed. To all those present at the supper table it was manifestly evident that intense cerebral activity was taking place before them. Mrs Rabinowitz later said that she had been strongly reminded of a convex wooden shield she had seen in Florence before the war. On it was a painting depicting the freshly severed head of Medusa, and being a young girl she had taken fright at the gory sight. And yet she had been unable to avert her eyes for several horrible minutes. The sight of Henry's visage brought the experience flooding back.
Henry! Fuck it! Henry fuck it! It was as if the bell had been rung at Holy Communion. A clear, firm tinkle. Put together the words were alchemy. These words had magical power. It was perfect. Henry Fuckit.
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