The Life of Henry Fuckit
30 Henry differentiates between two types of suffering
"Heeave. This is worse than Vaaljapie. What is it? It tastes completely vrot."
Mike de Jongh's pronouncement on their blended beverage gave rise to the name "Vrotters". Vrotters was a mixture of cheap white wine, preferably on the dry side, and cheap fortified red wine, like Old Brown Sherry or Jerepigo or Muscadel. The mix was approximately three quarters white to a quarter red, depending on the need.
"This is poison. This stuff will destroy your brain and your liver. All this drinking and dagga rooking, it's pointless. I mean, where's your self-respect? Where's this going to get you?"
"Sometimes we add a shot of brandy too. You should try it; gives it a nice kick, blurs the vision, kills the pain. Mr Fuckit, tell Mr de Jongh about the pain and the search for euphoria."
"Glad to oblige. Anything to dispel darkness, enlighten the ignorant." Henry pushed back his kitchen chair, stretched his legs straight before him, crossed his ankles and folded his arms. "My dear Michael, allow me to begin by asking you a question. Have you, in the course of your training in the pulling and stopping of teeth, have you come across the term "pain threshold"? Ah, I hear no verbal response but I detect from the sullen glower that has replaced your customary expression of vapid earnestness that you are indeed familiar with this concept and that you wish me to get on with it. Very well. Some people are more sensitive to pain than others. The pain with which you deal in your trade is the physical, neurological type produced when pathologic disintegration and dissolution of tooth enamel and dentine take place, eventually causing inflammation of the dental pulp. The dental pulp contains vascular, connective and nervous tissue, as you are well aware, and when this pulp becomes inflamed you know all about it in the form of raging toothache. It can be intermittent, sharp, throbbing and shooting, or it can be gnawing and continuous. Whichever, whatever, it's fucking painful and it's caused by caries. But please remember this, Dr de Jongh, and when I say 'doctor' I see you standing above me, instruments gleaming, so smart and clinical in your crisp white jacket, surgical mask protecting you from my stinking halitosis. Doctor, I wish you the best of luck in a lucrative career,
At this juncture Kaye Goldblatt entered the kitchen intent on making herself a cup of coffee. Mike half rose to his feet and then sank back despondently. In one hand she carried the library book she was reading. She was barefoot and wore only the brightly coloured T-shirt Henry had given her by way of a peace offering after being caught harvesting one of her Cannabis sativa plants. (For a whole week he had toiled under the critical gaze of Guinevere, the volatile art student friend of Steve, transforming his thirty plain white T-shirts into many-hued garments of tie-dyed splendour.) Henry's eyes went first to the book, Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point, then to her breasts, then her legs, and back to her breasts. Ivor's eyes started at her ankles and travelled slowly up her legs to the hem of her shirt where they tarried longingly, flicked to the book, and came to rest on her breasts. Mike's eyes darted about the room in panic and then fixed themselves on the three-year old calendar on the far wall. All three men gave some attention to the conjecture that she was not wearing panties. Henry sat up and pulled his chair in to the table, Ivor sighed and crossed his legs, and Mike blushed the lovely deep pink of an Empire rose and broke into a sweat.
"Good morning, Kaye. Good book?" Henry paused but briefly, well aware that she would ignore such small talk, and continued with his description of mental pain. "Well yes, quite so, could've written better, yourself, no doubt. Yes. I was just explaining to our dental friend here the difference between physical pain and the pain of consciousness. It's a difficult concept for him, having been trained from an early age to ignore the possibility of such unpleasant aspects of the human experience. But please, I fully understand your ennui, having explored this area already and come to your own conclusions. Feel free to read your book until the kettle boils and ignore my simple-minded drivel. Now, as I was saying, Michael…" and once more he turned his attention to the student of teeth. Kaye put a spoon of coffee in her mug and leaned back against the sink unit as the kettle murmured into life. Her bust rested comfortably on her folded arms and she appeared content to observe Henry's antics while she waited. Strangely, he felt both pleased and abashed at the same time.
"The pain of consciousness I am referring to, and the need to assuage it, have been dealt with by the Afrikaans morphine addict Eugene Marais in his book 'The Soul of the Ape'. You might be surprised to learn that even baboons are capable of experiencing this selfsame depression, this existential melancholy, this gnawing sadness and despair that I am alluding to. It's a combination of futility, boredom and hopelessness. It can be dispelled by music, poetry, good literature, art - which requires intellectual effort. It can also be chased into the shadows by engaging in sexual activity, which, if it involves a partner, can be messy and complicated. It's far easier to find euphoria and oblivion through alcohol and opium. This is why we sit here drinking this rotten wine, smoking our foul pipes. Let me be quite unequivocal about this - our intention and our desire is drunkenness. Sobriety is too much to bear for more than an hour or two at a time."
"Bloody spineless lack of self-discipline, if you ask me." Mike de Jongh got to his feet. "Make an effort and keep busy. Sport, hard physical exercise: just as good as drink and drugs. Just as effective against the misery of being human. A marvellous way to overcome loneliness and longing and emptiness. And thoroughly healthy too."
This parting statement left the three remaining occupants of the kitchen somewhat taken aback. Henry's thick lopsided eyebrows were arched in surprise. He stroked his beard contemplatively. "Well, I suppose if a baboon is capable of feeling dejected we shouldn't be too astonished when a trainee dentist evinces familiarity with the spiritual anguish which afflicts us who are of more refined sensibility. After all, he is a human being."
"I told you he wasn't a total shithead." Ivor turned to Kaye who was now pouring hot water into her mug. "I bet you're as surprised as Henry is. You've always considered him a numbskull, haven't you?"
"I admit it." She topped up with milk from the fridge, stirred, and started towards the doorway. "I still think he's a moron. But I can see I was wrong to be so completely dismissive." Before leaving the kitchen she said to Henry, "Marais wasn't much of a scientist and he didn't get very far with his analysis of souls. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard - they're worth reading."
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