By Simon Barget
HH was a shaman, a mystery man, a bit of spell-binder. HH pulled the rug from under your feet and it was only precisely after he’d come round, after you’d had a chance to catch your bearings that you realised you’d been taken for a ride. Being taken for a ride didn’t mean anything practical -- there was no tangible upshot -- it meant that you’d finally had a moment to get wise to his devices.
But there was no trick. There was no fake. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that we should have been sceptical, the point was that we weren’t. We should have wondered how the things he claimed to be possible were going to be possible even though they turned out to be real. The fact that they were shouldn’t have diminished our scepticism.
When HH came round it was like he had everything down to a T. There was always some grand scheme, some plot, some big reveal to be made from behind the curtain. This time it was about a comic book we used to have -- how he knew about it I had no idea -- and he said that if we could find it amongst our bookshelves -- we had so many books you could not believe -- we would see that the faces of the characters had been replaced. He had the power to replace the faces with the modern face, or it wasn’t exactly that he had the power, it was more that he had the power to point these things out that you’d never have noticed yourself, that a book lying at the back of your numerous bookshelves in your study could actually have changed without you knowing, physically changed, and it wasn’t just this, it was the whole process of him pointing it out that was transporting, it was being so thrilled by the prospect of having to search for the book in the first place, then seeing if HH had to do anything once the book had been found, whether he might have to tap on the cover or something, and then of course to open it up and see if his predictions had been correct.
We would never have known were it not for HH.
I don’t remember if we found the book but we spent a long time looking. That’s not important. It’s more important to see that he had known we had the book in the first place, some irrelevant children’s body-part-naming and illustration book, that he had known that we’d know exactly which book he was talking about right from the start. This got us onside, coupled with his track record, allied to his certainty and magnetism, allied to his steeliness; the way he swanned in our house and made a beeline for the thing he had come for, it was as if he’d come as an archaeologist rather than a playmate.
He made his way directly into the study as if the house was his; I could barely keep up to follow him. I hadn’t thought about the book for decades. He had this power to dredge up something you couldn’t believe had existed before he reminded you that it did. It was an amazing ‘A-ha’ moment. It was like he had a map of your psyche. But I took it as the most normal thing for him to go straight for our study, I didn’t question his importunacy, his right to burst in, I think I must have been under the impression that there are people in the world who are there just to guide us, and the fact that he was so forthright must have shown he had picked up on this supposition. What was most worrying was that I hadn’t remotely realised he had. It was as if I was in a dream.
He stood over the writing desk. He leant his hands on it, he placed them flat on the desk and leant most of his weight into them. His legs were spread. A general presiding over a map. From there he would tell me exactly what we had to do, what we could expect to happen. He was predicting the future and he expected us to stand and be transfixed.
I can’t remember where the rest of the house was. But I know they were implicated even if they weren’t in the same room as me and HH. As soon as HH came the atmosphere in our house quickened, it became shrill and tense, excited and excitable, it was as if we’d been dawdling until HH came to reveal to us the mysteries. There was no division between adult and child. He had a myriad of discoveries, so many tricks up his sleeve, he was never going to run out and we had never seen him come a-cropper.
But all of a sudden my sister walked in. I hadn’t thought that anyone would. I could see she was excited too; I could see she wanted to be with HH physically, I could see that it wasn’t enough for her to be eavesdropping from the kitchen.
But as soon as she did I felt I had to justify his presence. I felt that as my relationship with HH had been formally witnessed, my right to exist had been questioned. I felt as if I had been hiding HH. I felt the left side of my body disappear and a feeling of not knowing where to stand or to be. So great was my discomfort, so great the urgency to justify his presence, so profound my embarrassment of having been caught with my personal HH that my sister immediately picked up on it. I then hurriedly blurted out: this is HH, even though I knew damn well she knew who it was, even though she hadn’t remotely asked for his name.
And then the way she repeated his name back to me was so laced with mockery, the mockery of my apparent coveting of him -- she said it so pointedly, picking up on my evident propriety and pride -- that it was only when she did so that I realised that no one in their right mind could actually be called HH.
Then even if it was a nickname -- which it hadn’t crossed my mind that it could be -- I couldn’t see at all where it had actually come from, and then my mind went blank because as I racked my brains for his actual first name -- had it been Harold or Henry? -- it struck me that the affrontery of a person to go around calling himself HH when he’d not disclosed his real name smacked strongly of charlatanism.
Well in that moment I so desperately wanted my sister to get out the room, I felt I was the charlatan here, and I remember best HH’s incongruous-looking curls and languid long neck as he scarcely even noticed her, I remember him just carrying on regardless, and my embarrassment must have died down at some point but I can’t say exactly when, and I can’t remember how long she even stayed in the room or if she did, because that’s when the memory goes and I’m not sure whether we found the book.