The Life of Henry Fuckit
17 Henry's first fuck
One Friday afternoon two weeks before Pepe Caputo was due to return from the wars Henry arrived back at the Ponchielli house feeling pleased with his morning's achievements. On the Wednesday he had been interviewed by the Assistant Manager, a credulous Scot by the name of Urquhart. Thanks to the coaching given to him by Ivor Hopper he had been able to make a favourable impression. The secret had been to refrain from all truth and honesty.
"Just lie about everything and you'll be fine. Remember, you'll be talking to a cabbage who has been in the same job for twenty years. Imagine you're him when he was a young guy. And for God's sake don't try and enjoy yourself. That would be a stupid luxury."
When he phoned in the next day it was with bombastic formality that the Assistant Manager had informed him of his infelicitous decision to appoint Mr Fuckit to the position of Junior Clerk, commencing with the Company on Monday week. He then concentrated his energy on the task of finding suitable accommodation. The Young Men's Christian Association was first mentioned by Jack Ponchielli as a possible place of shelter. Henry's initial response had been to dismiss the suggestion out-of-hand on the grounds of conscience.
"It's not a monastery, you know. You keep your mouth shut and they'll do the same. It's more a youth hostel than anything. But suit yourself."
When Ivor Hopper suggested the same address as a possible lodging place he was surprised. Ivor seemed to possess a certain amount of intellectual integrity, and was unlikely to hold a traditional Christian view of man and his world.
"The YM's alright. They won't hassle you with any heavy Christian crap, don't worry. Just don't shout your mouth off with deliberate blasphemy and they'll leave you strictly alone. And think of how convenient and cheap it is. Two minutes walk to work, your own room, the food's not bad, and there's a gym on the top floor. Go take a look."
On entering the building through the ornate double doors he was not displeased with the general ambience. A hundred years of heavy use had left its mark on the tiled entrance hall, the creaking staircase, the worn edges of the woodwork. But everything seemed clean, the brassware was polished and there was a clatter and bustle on the stair, in dining room and lounge, and in the long corridors. The middle-aged gent at Reception was polite but clearly in a hurry to attend to Henry and get back to his paperwork and the ringing phone. He handed Henry a key and suggested he view the room on the second floor. Up the stairs, then right. The room was small, even cramped, but exuded the clean smell of Cobra wax polish, and the bed was comfortable. The view from the window was over roofs and between buildings towards Bokaap and Signal Hill. He returned to the man below and agreed to take the room for six weeks commencing the end of the month. The form he was required to complete called for the denomination of his faith and, contrary to the advice offered by Ivor, he wrote "Sceptical Humanism" in the allotted space. The receptionist scribbled a receipt for the thirty rand deposit and the agreement was concluded - he could take up residence from the first of September.
Thus it was that he felt a sense of satisfaction as he walked up Upper Orange Street thinking of the events of the morning. The afternoon sun was pleasantly warm and he was glad to be dressed in T-shirt, shorts and sandals. He pushed open the gate and swung the haversack from his back. From behind her lace curtains Mrs Ponchielli noted with disapproval that he had left the gate half open. As he climbed the concrete staircase to his room, he fumbled in the bag for his key. On the landing he inserted it through the black escutcheon plate and turned anti-clockwise, away from the frame. But to his puzzlement there was no movement. He turned the key in the opposite direction and felt the deadbolt slide over. The door had been unlocked all the time. Damn it! He was sure he had locked it. Maybe the maid… Again he turned anti-clockwise, unlocked the door and threw it open with a gesture of irritation. He strode into the room, elbowing the door shut behind him, and then stopped dead in his tracks.
She was standing at the foot of the bed facing the bay window through which the late afternoon sunlight was slanting to the floor. The initial instant of shock quickly passed and he was suffused with heart-pounding excitement. The image of her standing there was burned into his imagination, and later he was to savour it as one might enjoy savouring the detached realism of a piece of modern American art. She wore a short white bathrobe. Her arms were folded and she had turned her head to look at him. Her shoes stood beside the easy chair and her shirt and jeans were draped over it. He dropped the haversack to the floor and took a step towards her, his legs weak and shaky like those of a man walking away from a roller coaster.
"Did you want to see me?" he asked obtusely, his voice gruff, his throat dry. When she turned and walked the few steps towards him and stood very close before him, he was aware of a hundred distinctly seductive movements. She did not smile but her lips were parted, he saw her tongue, and her eyes were intense and feverish. About her neck, so smooth, so sculptured, so strangulatory, was slung a chain of the finest hand-forged silver. From this chain depended the silver crucifix that her maternal grandmother had pressed into her hand with an incoherent Italian imprecation just prior to giving up the ghost. Henry stared at it in horror. The obscene extravagance of human cruelty screamed at him. She dropped her folded arms and the towelling robe fell vertically open. Her panties were of the bikini type, so brief that a line of black fuzz surmounted the frilly waistband. Fully aware of the peril he was in he sought about for a source of strength. He was about to fall into the pit. He needed the fervour of moral conviction to take hold of him and deliver him from temptation. Alas, his desire to be virtuous was growing ever more tepid as his craving to touch flesh grew ever more inflamed. If only he were a Christian shithead! The bronchial smooth muscle spasm that occurred when he leant forward and slipped his large and grimy forefinger into her suprasternal notch and hooked up the silver chain resulted in a sharp intake of breath and she shivered. He ran his fingers along the chain until they were cupping the crucifix. How dreadfully pitiful were the sagging head and the averted knees. He wondered whether it might be possible to halt her in her obvious intention by uttering a magical incantation. It was worth a try.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
It was to no avail, for instead of recoiling in shame, she tilted back her head slightly and a smile played on her lips. As she murmured "Amen" she let the robe drop from her shoulders to the floor. At the sight of her nipples he knew he was forsaken. He slid his hands into the seat of her panties and drew her to him. And still his mind was telling him that this was immoral, this was folly. But it was no use. His luck was out, his guardian angel was beyond earshot. Resignedly he sank to his knees, slowly sliding off her panties, and pressed his lips to her silken belly.
"Get up!" she panted. As she tugged at his shorts he pulled his shirt over his head.With supple and mysterious strength it rose up in a show of posturing menace. It stretched and swelled, flexed, swayed and arched its rippling back. Beneath the surface a thick cord stood out, running upward from the heavy jowls to below the bulbous head. The mighty dorsal artery dominated a web of royal blue veins. The collar of skin had ravelled back to expose the neck. There was something sinister about the head, like the head of a cobra. The tight skin was angry and tumid, and had taken on the appearance of raw liver. A gaping slit glared at them balefully. Then into this Cyclopean eye there gradually materialised an opalescent monocle. This had the effect of transfiguring a swaggering bully into a ridiculous fop. She ran her fingers through the hair on his chest.
"You big hairy ox. Come and fuck me."
"Bull," he corrected her. "Big hairy bull. Or hairy ape. Fucking is beyond the realm of possibility for an ox. An ox has had his testes removed, thus rendering him incapable of servicing a cow."
She moved to the bed and lay back with her legs open, knees raised. At the foot of the bed he paused to survey the spectacle. To his mind came the vivid picture of D H Lawrence's Snake, which emerged from a fissure in the gloom, from the dark door of the secret earth. And then he thought of him returning, putting his head into that dreadful hole, withdrawing into that black hole, deliberately going into the blackness, slowly drawing himself into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure. He began to butt and buffet her in an attempt to emulate the reptile. She grabbed the serpent by the neck and thrust its head into the blackness and he followed, marvelling at the all-embracing darkness, the blissful comfort of the interior.
Very soon after entering he discovered what it was that he had been searching for. It was so obvious that there was no doubt in his mind that there could be anything else but this. Of course he would be required, almost immediately, to resume the quest for that which he had already discovered. Rediscovery upon rediscovery. Just for a few moments, as he lay there motionless, he was able to contemplate the emptiness of his achievement. Soon it would start again, true enough. He would forget the vanity of it. Once more he would "go stumbling up the breathless stairs to burst into fulfilment's desolate attic."
On the third and final occasion that she visited him for the gratification of whatever it was that drove her to have herself fucked on her fiancé's bed, in her fiancé's room, while her fiancé was away fighting the war, she took the opportunity to offer an opinion of his ability to satisfy her.
"You know, you just don't have any style. You've got no idea what a woman wants, have you? Pepe might not want to do it all the time but at least he knows HOW to do it." She was pulling on her clothes, her mouth sulky, her face tense with frustration. Henry wiped his groin dry with his T-shirt and also got dressed.
"I confess to being a total novice in this matter. I'm certainly no dago-smoothie with slicked back hair, fancy pants, a gold tooth and an Alfa Romeo. Certainly you're disappointed. But consider this: I might have done both you and your swarthy cuckold a great service. If I had turned out to be a gifted performer you might have spent your married life accusing the prick of underperforming, whilst he wore himself to a nervous shadow trying to satisfy your nymphomaniacal expectations. Now you can both relax and enjoy it." She wasn't really listening, standing before the mirror, chin tipped back, examining her neck. "In fact, you are both indebted to me. You can name your first born after me. Henry or Henrietta."
"Just look at my skin!" Indeed her luscious Modigliani neck was somewhat raw. "Now I've got to listen to a whole lot of shit from my mother. Why don't you shave your ugly face?"
And that was it. It struck him as being most odd that two strangers could be physically intimate on the strength of so superficial an attraction. Not long after arriving at the Cape of Good Hope he had bought the Friday edition of the Cape Times and over the following week read it from cover to cover. He was not interested in it for its news value but rather as a social commentary. It was a piece of anthropological evidence giving an insight into the weird and wonderful customs of people in Cape Town at that point in history. Very interesting had been the classified advertisements. Births and Deaths, Marriages and Divorces, Lost and Found, Private Investigators and Missing Persons, Tuition Offered and Accommodation Wanted, First and Final Notices and Sales in Execution. And of course, any amount of Goods for Sale. In the Personal column he had read with amusement of lonely hearts attempting to find a mate. Now, thinking about the wording of these particular advertisements, he saw that no one was foolish enough to seek the company of another human being merely for the purpose of fornication. For that there were, presumably, other solutions. What they all had in common was a desire to find a companion with similar interests and compatible qualities. If he were to write such an ad, how would he word it? And if Rosalia were to describe the man of her dreams, how much common ground would be discernible? He knew the answer: virtually none. About the only thing they had in common was their race group. On almost every count he could think of, they were worlds apart. She was a Catholic, he was an atheist; she came from a close-knit clan of South African Italians, he came from a culturally diverse, unrelated bunch of lunatics; she showed no interest at all in anything remotely intellectual, he lived inside his skull, referring everything he came across to everything else; she appeared to be devoid of any trace of a sense of humour, he found life endlessly ironical and saw absurdity and black comedy around every corner; she was modern and conventional, he was classical and revolutionary; she was a snob, envious of the rich and dismissive of the poor, he was contemptuous of the wealthy and powerful, sympathetic to the underdog. And so it went on. Probably the most important difference, though, was the one to do with humour and wit, or the lack of it. One could make certain adjustments and compromises but how was it possible to get along with someone who looked at you coldly, totally unmoved and uncomprehending, as fifteen of your facial muscles contracted involuntarily and irrepressible gasps, grunts, coughs, gurgles and other non-verbal noises escaped from you? To her, laughter was an activity without any utilitarian value, quite unrelated to the day-to-day business of survival. It had no biological purpose and was a meaningless luxury. Ah well, ho hum, he wasn't looking for a mate anyway, thank goodness. He wasn't looking for anything in particular. His chosen path was the vague, undefined one of a dilettante, dabbling in this and that, interested in the general and not the particular. Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto. This Latin tag was one of Braithwaite's favourites. I'm a man. Nothing that is human is foreign to me. Henry liked it too, taking it to mean that he, Henry Fuckit, merely on the strength of being Homo sapiens, was capable of the most despicable behaviour under the appropriate circumstances. He was not above or beyond such behaviour. Accepting this alarming truth, he was obliged to examine all aspects of man's nature and to acquaint himself with all the horrible possibilities. Such a study would be a lifelong process and he needn't be in a hurry. This little dalliance with a brainless, shameless nymph had been edifying. His behaviour had been consistent with that of a weak-willed person, lacking in moral courage and self-respect. He was learning about himself, what he was made of, what kind of rubbish.
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