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How To Henry


a short story by Lyn Gallacher

That morning Henry Harold Evans sat in his favourite office chair, in front of his favourite coffee mug and took out his coloured crayons. He laid them out carefully alongside the Blueprint for Reform of the Australian Government’s Administration of Justice. It was a big document. It would take a lot of colouring in, but that’s just what he wanted, a challenge. His secretary would take care of whatever else it was he was supposed to be doing, she always did. Anyhow, he was the Attorney General. He could colour in whenever he liked.



Yesterday’s work looked good. He was particularly pleased with the Just and Secure Society pie chart. Pie charts were tricky, you had to be careful not to go over the lines, and this chart had big arrows linking the word Government with the word Community which he couldn’t decide whether to make yellow or blue. Eventually he’d opted for one of each. That could be seen as a mistake, but for him it was a good compromise and brought him the satisfaction of his favourite colour combination. He also felt like a real artist whenever he confronted these dilemmas. Well almost.


Today’s task, should he chose to take it on, was to colour in a page about Crime Prevention and Enforcement. It featured a nice little coat of arms at the top, but otherwise it was a troubling list of words: Anti-Money Laundering, Child Sex Offenders, Extradition, Fraud Control, Criminal Law, People Trafficking. Too many capital letters really. Not the way you’d speak to your mother. Henry found it difficult to know where to start. Red was the obvious choice, but it was too literal, too obvious. The page would look like blood, which was unacceptable because Henry thought of himself as more of an abstract expressionist than that. He decided to fall back on one of his unblocking techniques. He would sing the document and attempt to find creativity through a different kind of resonance, a sort of simple self-induced synaesthesia. It could work quite well if there were plenty verbs on the page, but with all this nouns … Nouns were such shits, chasing after him with their pissy little concepts.


Henry inhaled ready to begin his morning performance just as the door flew open. ‘Go away,’ he grunted, ‘I’m busy.’


‘But we have an appointment.’


‘Ma!’ Henry called his secretary Ma. ‘Ma, do these intruders have an appointment?’


‘Yes,’ the answer came roundly, ‘I told you yesterday.’




‘Yes, they do.’


‘You didn’t say anything about that.’


‘Yes, I did.’


‘No, you didn’t.’


This, Henry knew, was called an argument, although technically he preferred the term consecutive contradictions—it was more correct. Either way he could not stop himself engaging in this so-called-argument, even though he knew it could not end well. When one person shouts, ‘Fuck You’ and the other responds with ‘No, you fuck you’, it is difficult to know what to do next. Fortunately the film crew, for that is who the intruders were, solved the problem. As they set up their cameras to record, Henry automatically began one of his policy speeches (or at least that’s what he thought he was doing):


One of our jobs here in the Attorney General’s department is to fix organised crime. How exactly? Get rid of the police. Illegal immigrants? Abolish borders. Prisoners? Free them. Library fines? Totally unnecessary. All remnants of history. What we should do is start again—from the other end—and this time around, avoid civilization. It’s common sense. And while you’re there redefine capital with a game of rock, paper, nuclear missile launch. But where was I? Consider not loving your neighbour, too much guilt for those who don’t, and too much smugness for those who do, or love your neighbour as yourself when your self-loathing is at its best and don’t catch the wrong bus home. Ma! Tell Ma on your way out, that I need some tea.


Henry had a reputation for being difficult—brilliant, but difficult. Ma was proud of the fact that she’d lasted longer than most of his secretaries, a good seven and a bit years. She loved Henry in a resentful yet respectful kind of way. His portfolio impressed her. She liked being in charge of law, national security and emergency management. When they first met she flirted with him, why wouldn’t you? His big brain was a turn on. But now she wanted to move out from under his cloying bullying. He was, she thought in her darker moments, only hanging on for the superannuation. He could certainly get his own tea. She smiled as she put his tray down. English breakfast with a digestive biscuit on the side, just the way he liked it.


‘What’s this biscuit?’ He stared at it, ‘Not one of those diabetic ones?’


‘No. It’s a digestive.’ If only it were rat poison.


‘Doesn’t look like a digestive. Looks like a diabetic.’


The film crew had already gone, so Ma was free to spit in his face with a mouthful of milk, but there were other, more pressing things to do. ‘I’m going to a meeting about NATO now,’ she announced. ‘It’s over at the Foreign Affairs office. I imagine you’ll still be here when I get back.’


‘Yes. Plenty to do here,’ he said.


‘So I see.’ Ma left the room.


Henry grunted. He hated those people at Foreign Affairs. And NATO—what was that when it was at home? A trade fair for American weapons? Ma could go to those meetings, she was much better at buying submarines than him. Although she could lose a bit of weight and put on a better bra. Henry didn’t mention it. The door closed and the office was quiet. What now? Henry could happily return to the task at hand, his crayons were waiting. No, he couldn’t. He was upset. The morning had been ruined. That film crew had rattled him. Who were they, those people and what were they up to? And why hadn’t Ma stopped them? What did they think they were going to achieve barging into his office? All good questions looking for an exit.


The film crew tripoded their way out of the parliament building, unsure of what their executive producer would make of the footage. It was brilliant on one level and rubbish on another. Played on the evening news it could mean the end for the honourable H.H. Evans as the nation’s most conservative Attorney General. But who knew if there was going to be a stock market crash, a drugs haul, or an earthquake in Ecuador. News was always a random diversion where politicians played with the odds stacked against them. This film crew wasn’t going to worry either way.


Back in his office Henry found his favourite chair more and more uncomfortable. Did he really want to abolish library fines? Something about the morning was making him nauseous and it wasn’t the ridiculous diabetic biscuit. He knew he was meant to stay on message and talk about values; integrity, cooperation, intelligence, excellence, innovation and courage. That was how they liked him to fill in the time. And he’d been trained to give each value a capital letter, Integrity, Cooperation, Intelligence, Excellence, Innovation and Courage. It didn’t even rhyme. But what had he done now? Maybe that film crew hadn’t gone too far and he could fix things. Nil all. That’s the best way to play the game.


One of the clearly observable habits of highly effective people is that they know how to dress themselves. Henry had never been concerned with this kind of thinking, rather he knew that his power lay in his stylish interior self, and that obviously a shambolic exterior was cheaper and easier to maintain, which was probably the real reason. He expected people of taste and distinction to see beyond the way his trousers groaned around his bum and his shirt hung out of his belt. He left his office that day without his upright shock of white hair looking any different. He wore no shoes, no jacket and a porridge stain on his tie. It was an outfit which gave him the opportunity to consider why the weaker he became the more vigorously his toenails grew. They were stronger and tougher now than they’d ever been in his youth, as if all his virility were subject to gravity and had taken to sliding downwards towards his toenails. The hole in his sock proved it. This yellow nail on his left big toe was so strong, it could take on a few of his colleagues in question time and demand increased troop numbers to whatever war was going on at present.


As she headed down in the lift, Ma realised she could not go to the NATO meeting without a snack. Chocolate should be on the agenda of every ministerial meeting. But what agenda was that exactly, she wondered. Were they going to give over the other half of Darwin to US troops, or cut straight to the chase and bomb Asia? Because, it’s not about what we can learn from them, but what they can learn from us. These countries are in a real mess you know. And our economy, thanks to the conservatives, is in such good shape. How do you think we survived the recession? Self-aggrandisement, always an important agenda item. Make that two chocolate muffins please, Ma smiled at the Burmese girl behind the cafe counter. We have a Responsibility to Protect Ourselves, RtoPO, that’s what it will be about, she muttered as she searched for her wallet and realised she’d lost her reading glasses. Damn. It was very Freudian really because subconsciously she wanted the American ambassador to think she was younger than she was, but she couldn’t read the green paper without them. She’d have to go back to the office and find her back-up pair, which were ugly.


Without knowing exactly how, Henry found himself in an unfamiliar part of the parliamentary corridor. The grey corporatization of the decor left very little clue as to the business of government in this end of the world. He could hear conversations through the walls about tasks and tasking individuals, as if that conjugation was the actual achievement all by itself. Ah yes, he thought, there were certainly tasks he had to tick before the Senate Estimates Committee met in June, he just couldn’t remember what they were and felt better that way. Off to his right there was a door with the word Studio marked on the outside and a group of neuro-transmitters jumped across a synaptic gap in his brain. This word was connected to his task, his overall purpose, his reason for walking down the corridor. It was extremely reasonable to assume in his current situation that television came from a studio and that there might be a film crew on the other side of the door. He was not lost after all. He was just waiting for the right word to find him, because as we all know reasons come after events, which makes facts a little late on the scene.


By now, Ma was certain she didn’t want to go to the NATO meeting either. The whole thing was fallacy of the past. She’d be condescended to as the stand in for Henry. Is this the best the Attorney General’s office could send? He shouldn’t put her in those situations, she was over the pretence of power. It was full of a priori thinking and feedback loops, a Disneyland of surveillance, and catatonic data which couldn’t be called into question. Who wanted to sit though all that again and again? She didn’t even have her name on the door, so stuff it. She wouldn’t wear her back-up reading glasses and would tell Henry it was his turn now. ‘Yhoohoo,’ she said as she turned into his familiar suite. Yhoohoo she thought probably sounded too affectionate, but it was hard to suck a sound back in again once it had been released, what could she say, Oohoohy? She made up for it by knocking formally on Henry’s office door. There was no answer. She poked her head around the open crack. There was no Henry. Tricky. She’d be in all sorts of trouble if he was off the leash. She looked at his empty chair as if it could point the way towards what happens next. In situations of crisis people who need to go to the toilet make the best decisions. Ma did not need to go to the toilet. She needed to prioritize. Without assigning any value to any particular item, her brainstormed list read so far:


a. make a cup of tea


b. do some grocery shopping


c. inform ASIO


d. find Henry, and


e. build a just and fair society


Ma considered these, just a few of her many options. The so-called-studio was a colourless, windowless room with modular tables and departmental staff whose adjectives had long since disappeared. The self-satisfied whiteboard-on-wheels demanding attention reminded all of those before it of the insignificance of their existence and of many other things they would rather be doing in their short and pointless lives. Gus, the positivity training contractor at the centre of the room, reinforced this with his manner of shouldn’t-you-all-be-corpses-by-now? He’d been brought in from the private sector to engage all staff, below a ministerial level, in compulsory behavioural capability exercises. Without pausing in his introductory remarks, he gestured for Henry to take a seat. As a rule Henry didn’t trust anyone with pointy shoes, but his walk down the corridor had made him tired, so he sat, of his own accord, in a cheap plastic chair. The others seemed to have proper padding for their bottoms. Why was this white, moulded plastic, piece of outdoor furniture, an erratic, in this so-called-studio room anyway?


‘Positivity. a win-win situation,’ Gus told his group. ‘Each person is in the best seat.’


‘Agreement is a form of emotional dishonesty,’ Henry defined for himself. ‘It is the first lie. Swallow this bullshit and the rest won’t make you choke.’


‘Goals,’ Gus informed the whiteboard, ‘is what we are here for.’


‘Grammar!’ corrected Henry in his head. ‘And gaols,’ he dismissed the fact that recent dictionaries prefer the J form of the word. Technically, Henry knew, both spellings were still correct and the confusion suited him.


‘We will forward our goals in five stages.’


‘Unreason, is a bitch.’


‘In order to do this,’ Gus looked at Henry wondering if he had spoken or not, ‘we must turn off the auto-pilot within. That is part one, then, part two, don’t leave life to chance. Part three is acquire a new mindset, followed by sharpen the saw and finally self-hypnotism. All of this will enable you to release the potential inside yourself and recognise it in others. Call out if you’ve any problems so far. I’ve been doing this for a long time so there’s nothing that you can say that’ll throw me.’


‘Where’s the film crew?’




‘That’s the wrong colour,’ Henry knew it wouldn’t do any good, but the occasion called for the point to be made.




‘I’d change it if I were you.’


Gus was baffled. Who was this idiot anyhow? Why had he wandered in late? Why did he sound so bossy? And why was he already falling asleep? All questions with nowhere to go.


The first task in effective management is to correctly identify the first task. This means organising your energy not your time, which would place option e. at the top of the to-do list. But that didn’t seem right because the chocolate muffins wouldn’t taste so good on their own. Ma knew, in the deep recesses of her heart of all hearts, what she should do was a. make a cup of tea. Darjeeling if possible. Henry would be alright. A little bit of derangement in the corridors of power was pretty common. Amongst the general air of hysteria, jealousy and conspiratorial neurosis no one would notice anything amiss, except perhaps for the pest inspector. The pest inspector! Ma hurriedly hid last week’s still soggy band-aid sandwich under her ever growing pile of unread Times Literary Supplements.


‘Hello, may I help you?’


‘Scheduled Moth Fumigation,’ the stranger attached to a cartoon monster moth tee-shirt and a canister of poison explained. ‘Best not to leave food around. It creates an environment conducive to breeding.’ Was he flirting? ‘I presume you mean moths,’ she queried.




‘Oh nothing.’


‘Is there anything else hidden away that I need to know about?’


She sighed. Why were Wednesdays so difficult to achieve? What most people wish for at the end of their life is a sensible death in the arms of the one they love. How impossible this seemed on a Wednesday. Ma thought she might cry. She hadn’t even had the chance to say good-bye to him. Not the pest-inspector, he was still here. To Henry, whom she now thought she loved more than anyone in the world. He explained that moth eggs could gestate even when swept under the carpet, so she asked him to leave. No one would remove her pests. Not this him or that him, (second person pronouns are so interchangeable). Who could tell if she didn’t take off her white work blouse and let him spray her nipples? Her pests were personal and he should leave them alone.


‘Look here, Mr Whoeveryouthinkyouare, each one of my pests is accounted for and each one is extremely dear to me. I allow no unauthorised fornication beneath these surfaces.’


The pest inspector had seen it all before. For him this was just another day in the office and he knew how to do his job. His fumigation equipment was ready and in perfect working order.


© 2012—Lyn Gallacher