Saturday, October 3, 2009

Henry's Tragic Comedy

Henry wiped clammy sweat from his forehead and staggered clumsily back through the store entrance. In a single swinging motion he checked the time on his digital watch, and popped the top off a fresh can of cold beer he had purchased from the obedient but clearly disapproving store clerk. It was a quarter of ten, still plenty of time to get to work. And with that he sloshed the can up above his head, and leaned back while cold bubbly liquid swam effortlessly down his throat. Extending his free hand outwards, Henry turned in place like he was performing ballet and lifted his hand in a flourish as the last drops of sweet foamy beer fell between his greedy lips. Like the strings were cut, Henry's hands fell limp to his sides and the useless empty vessel of a can fell to the pavement with a dull clank. Moving one leg in front of the other like a soldier, Henry marched away from the convenience store as quickly as he came. Mission accomplished, beer achieved, he was refreshed and recharged and ready for his day.

And what a day it was. A special day for a special man. Today Henry was returning to work after a regrettable but unavoidable absence. He was a man with purpose, today he was a King! Henry beamed as he marched confidently down the street. He tipped his crown at passersby, old ladies on their way to the grocery, moms returning from dropping off their young ones, kids rushing late for class. They all gave him a wide birth and looked down nervously as they passed, and Henry didn't blame them. He continued to march while his loyal subjects marveled at his majesty and quivered before his stature.

"Fear not!" Henry bellowed at one young man who practically dived out of his way. "I am a man of the people." He turned and watched the scared citizen scamper away. Henry bowed again and again, rotating slightly between bows to keep them properly aimed. 'They fear me because they don't know me', Henry reasoned. What they needed was a demonstration of his humanity.

There was an apartment down the road with a steep staircase rising up to the front door. That would do nicely. Henry wanted all of his subjects to have an unobstructed view. He skipped merrily towards the steps, and with a feat of athleticism, bounced his way quickly to the top. The last step proved devious, shifting slightly before his foot fell on open air, and he rolled hard into the front door of the building. Cursing the clear betrayal, Henry tried to return to his feet. His shoulder ached, but his head swam pleasantly from the bump so it was not all a loss.

'That's it,' Henry thought. 'Be positive, show your subjects how upbeat you are'. And with that he stood tall and fast, saw a flash of stars that was surely a blessing from above, and raised his arms high while the city drifted circles around him.

"My subjects!" Henry hollered. "Gather! Bear witness to your king! Fear not, for I am but a mortal man." He paused for effect, and brought his hands gracefully out to either side like a trained thespian. Drama, he thought. Build the tension, pull them into your world, and then drop all the pieces and leave them in stitches. I offer the gift of Drama, followed by Comedy. With that, he leaned back, unzipped his fly, and proceeded to urinate while a dozen citizens watched, stunned in thoughtful admiration. The warm unbroken stream fell impossibly far before hitting the bottom steps and splashing about in a miraculous dance of light and colour. 'I am a great man with a great purpose,' Henry thought while the last drops descended down to street level. 'I am an undeserved gift, but a gift just the same'.

The street was clear now and Henry was wishing he'd had more to drink that morning, but life was sometimes about sacrifice. Almost falling again from the motion, he looked down at his watch, wiping off a few drops that obscured the numbers. Late, he was definitely late and he would keep his delightful coworkers waiting no longer! Pausing only for a moment to berate the deceitful, unloyal top step, Henry made his way down the slippery slope and returned to a steady, purposeful march.

Several minutes later, he was standing in front of the lobby to his building, where he'd worked the last ten years as a business analyst. 'Nation Building', he called it. He took small minded, naive entrepreneurs, and guided them towards success and wealth. Like a farmer, meticulously planting and caring for tiny acorns that grew into massive oak trees. He turned pimply kids into captains of industry. He was their guild, their mentor, their master, and it was time to dance. Up above on the seventh floor was an office. Inside that office was a smaller office, just for him. His own private kingdom all his own.

Henry slid gracefully through the rotating door, and tipped his crown to the guard sitting behind the large opposing desk. The guard looked back, wide eyed, and whispered frantically into a microphone. Ah yes, Henry thought. They must be preparing a greeting! Henry breezed past the elevator and entered the staircase. 'Exercise,' he thought. Healthy body, healthy mind. Also he thought he might have a quick vomit.

Feeling energized by the climb, Henry burst out of the stairwell on the seventh foor. Two large security officers were standing by the elevators looking stressed and impatient. "Take the stairs my fine fellows." Henry offered, indicating the door he emerged from with a grand gesture. "Only watch out for my sick!"

The men stared dumbfounded and Henry turned chuckling, and walked briskly through the front doors of the office. This place was like his home, he could navigate these grand halls with his eyes closed and one leg tied to an ox. The receptionist leaped to her feet as he walked by with a wink. She ran up as if to grab him but changed her mind at the last moment. It was a wise move, he thought. Best not to get in the way of a purposeful man! The security officers were following him now, he could see their shadows on the floor and hear their heavy footsteps. He kept pace almost at a run, passing cubicles, the lunch area, the lounge, he was almost there. People shrieked, one young lady actually tossed her full mug of coffee into the air. Comedy, he thought with a smile.

He was there, the door to his office where he'd spun so many stories, built empires, and lived the life of kings. A crowd of subjects had gathered behind him, and the security officers were closing in fast. He fumbled with the doorknob, and slipped quickly through the gate to his kingdom.

He stood for a second, unbelieving. There was nothing there. No grand table, no throne, no feast, nothing. Just a cube of empty sorrowful space. Blank walls, dull carpet and harsh florescent lighting. He spun around, the entire population had gathered outside and were watching him through the window. He would have shut them out, but even the blinds had been removed. The secretary pushed past and handed one of the security guards a key. Henry leaned closer to the glass, and watched in disbelief as he was locked in from the outside. Henry tried the knob but it was no good. He was trapped. The guard was now on the phone, and Henry thought he heard a terrible word: Police.

"Betrayal!" Henry backed up and yelled, hot with anger. He lashed out with his finger, pointing violently at each and every person who stood now, watching him like some trapped animal. "Betrayal! Betrayal! Betrayal!" He continued to yell while his coworkers flinched under his gaze. He paced back and forth like a caged lion, his eyes fixed on the weak and stupid subjects. He was about to start a tirade, a real long and juicy rant, when his foot bumped into something he hadn't noticed before. There was a cardboard box in the corner of the room. He leaned down and looked closer, it contained his belongings.

He fumbled through the box for a moment, like an archeologist sifting through artifacts of a fascinating but long extinct past. Photos of his family who he no longer saw, a book he used to love but couldn't remember why, a Rubik's Cube that he had never solved... It was all there. Then in the corner of the box he saw something that made everything else fall quickly from his mind. There was a mostly full bottle of vodka, his silent friend who had helped him through so many trying days at the office, especially towards the end when things weren't going well at home. He lifted the bottle out of the box, caressing it like a child. He could feel the disapproving gaze of the onlookers, their eyes tearing at him with silent accusation.

He glanced over at them guiltily, and looked back at the bottle. Then he smiled. Drama, he thought, such beautiful drama. And now? Comedy. He unscrewed the cap and with a flourish, leaned back and lifted the bottle high above his head. With impeccable aim, the harsh clear liquid splashed and burned its way down his throat. With his free hand Henry fumbled with the buttons on his shirt and trousers, and began to undress while his audience watched, their eyes full of awe and gentle contemplation.

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