Second-prize winner of the Entelechy Biofiction Prize
spring/summer 2006, no. 7
My Name is Henry
by Tania Hershman
January 2nd; 2pm
"My name is Henry. You can’t disagree with that."
"No, Henry, I don't disagree."
"Good, that's good. Henry. My name is Henry."
"Henry, do you know where you are?"
"Where I am. Of course. Where am I? Silly question."
"Where are you? Henry, where are we?"
"Henry. Where are we?"
January 2nd; 10am
The young man paces up and down the small room with one bed and a single high window.
"Henry, my name is Henry," he mutters. "Henry is my name. That's right. Henry. They can't take that away, can they? No they can't."
Inside his head, pictures come and go, and his mind tries to catch hold of one and make it stay, but nothing remains. "A tree, maybe, could be a tree. Grass. Or the sea," he tells himself. He cannot stop moving in this limited space, he walks up and down the length of it, up and down, as if he is on a long road that leads out of a city, a road with no end.
The man is young because his life has not yet begun. He is only just stepping into adulthood with its responsibilities and desires, joy and insecurity, irrational love and loneliness. The doctor who is watching him on her video screen in the next room sighs. She sees the waste of a perfectly good human being every day, and she knows well that the chances of his recovery are not great. She sighs because this is the profession she has chosen and the place she is in. Her friends and her lovers cannot understand how the doctor can endure this work with the damaged and the confused, but she does. It replaces something from her childhood that she does not even realize is missing.
January 1st; 8pm
"No, no, let go of me!"
"His name is Henry Hunt," says the orderly.
"Henry," says the doctor gently. "Henry, there is no need to be afraid. We are here to help."
"Let go of me! Let go!" and the young man lashes out at the orderly, his arms swinging wildly. The orderly, a big man experienced in these situations, catches hold of the young man's arms and, without inflicting any pain, holds him so that he cannot move. The young man is suddenly quiet, subdued. He does not look around him, he looks only straight ahead, at the wall.
The doctor feels a surprising sympathetic pain for this young man, hardly more than a boy, who has come here and does not know why, who left his life behind only a few hours ago, and is now somewhere that he does not recognise. His face is like an angel, thinks the doctor, and is amazed at the thought. She believes herself to be detached from the patients in her care, and this thought intrudes on her distance. Yet she cannot help but look into his face, the blue eyes that she imagines were once bright and are now faded like aged paint, the red lips that may hardly have been kissed, the soft skin of his cheeks with a faintness of stubble. The doctor tries to contain an emotion rising in her. "Henry, Bruce will take you to your room," says the doctor and nods to the orderly. When they have gone through the double security doors, the doctor walks slowly to her office, sits in her chair and puts her head down on her desk.
January 1st; 4pm
"Can I help you?"
"Henry, my name is Henry," mutters the young man, standing in the middle of the lawn. He is wearing a damp suede jacket, and his hair is wild around his face.
"Can I help you, love?" says the woman more kindly. She sees that the young man is "not all there", as she will later tell her husband and their two children. "Standing there, on my grass, looking around him, like he's in a foreign country," she will say, excited that, unlike her everyday routine of cleaning, ironing and reading magazines, today she has a tale to tell to her family, who listen as they spoon mashed potatoes and beans into their mouths. "Didn't take me long to realise, he's not all there, poor chap," she will say. “Looking all ragged, like he’d slept under a hedge.”
"Are you alright, love?" she says to the young man and walks towards him, not too fast in case it scares him.
"Henry, my name," mutters the young man. He bends down and runs his fingers through the grass. "Green," he says. "Blue, red, pink."
"It's grass, love," says the woman, who has stopped a few feet away, because he is young and strong and if he's not quite right in the head, he could get violent, she thinks, although she likes the way he is feeling her lawn, a sensitive chap. But when the young man drops onto the grass and lies down on his stomach, the woman is afraid. What if he doesn't move, she thinks. She hurries into the house, making sure to close the front door behind her. She picks up the phone and for a moment does not know who to call. So she calls her husband.
"Call the police, Doreen," he says. "Quickly, before he smashes a window or something." She puts the phone down, her hands shaking now with the horror that could be, and she picks it up again to dial 999.
"There's a man," she tells them. "Not right in the head, he's on my grass." The police are coming, they tell her, and she moves to the front window from where she watches the young man, who is still lying there, now on his back, staring up at the sky.
January 1st 3am
The young man is crossing the park, rain soaking through his thin suede jacket. He is on his way home from a party celebrating the New Year, and all that is in his head is one word: Katy. Her smile, her eyes, her touch on his arm as they sat together on the sofa. Katy. The young man runs faster, his arms out wide, ignoring the storm. He does not even feel the cold and wet. Something else is flowing through his veins, the first hints of a first love.
The young man suddenly stops and takes his mobile phone out of his pocket. He presses the Address Book button and the screen lights up. He enters ‘K’, ‘A’. The telephone recognises what he is doing, and ‘Katy’ flashes onto the screen. The young man grins, the phone number she gave him is stored there safely and tomorrow he will use it. Now that they have spoken, now he knows that she is aware of his existence, he can call her. He will call her. He has fluttering birds in his stomach. Hi Katy, it’s Henry, he rehearses in his head. Katy? Hi, it’s Henry.
The thousands of volts that hit him at that moment are not registered in his conscious mind. He had not noticed the thunder and the fierce wind shaking the trees around him; he did not notice anything. The electricity comes down from the sky so fast that there is no time for him to look up and see it arrive. It reaches into the corners of his brain and the heat it creates is something human neurons are not designed to withstand. The fingers of electricity seek out different corners of the young man’s body, searching for a way through to the earth. When they find ground, the young man’s knees buckle, and he slides down onto the sodden grass. All around him, the storm continues, while the young man’s brain struggles to piece itself back together.
December 20th 7pm
The young man lets the elderly woman with her shopping get on the bus first and then he goes up to the top level and sits at the front. The bus starts with a jerk and then moves slowly down the street. The young man is thinking about the History lecture that has just ended. He is only in his first term at university, and is still unsure about what he is doing and where he is leading himself in life. History and Economics seemed a fine title to a degree, one that the young man’s parents approved of. Yet he was drawn to names that spoke of different worlds: Psychology, Philosophy. Perhaps later, he will have his chance to delve into other realms.
Today, though, he is thinking about History not because of the wars they are analysing, but because of the girl he was watching. He has watched her at every lecture since the first, in September. He turns to look at her when the lecturer asks a question, for she invariably raises her hand. Her answers are always what the lecturer wants to hear; the lecturer smiles while she is speaking as if thinking, Why can’t they all be this excited about what I’m teaching them? The young man is excited, but not about the question or the answer. He is excited about the girl, whose name is Katy. She shines so brightly in the lecture hall that he does not understand why everyone is not dazzled by her. He has tried to move closer to her, and with every lecture he is a few seats nearer, but she has friends who surround her and he cannot breach their stronghold.
The young man leans forward, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands, and stares out at the road in front of him, but sees Katy’s face. He has always been too shy to speak to girls. I will talk to her, he thinks. A fear spreads through him at the thought, but at the same time, he is already impressed by his own braveness. A change is coming over him. He thinks of a film he saw where the hero and the heroine keep missing each other, one walking into a room seconds after the other has left. He laughed while he was watching, but a part of him knew that feeling. Next week, I’ll say something to her, he thinks, as he stands up, rings the bell and makes his way down the aisle to the stairs.
When lightning happens electricity flows between sky and ground, packing a wallop of 10,000 to 200,000 amps… the damage to the brain can be severe. Victims often have several discrete areas of damage dotted around the brain — dubbed the 'Swiss cheese effect'. — NewScientist Magazine; 6/25/2005
About theEntelechy Biofiction Prize.
Tania Hershman is a science and technology journalist originally from London and now lives in Jerusalem, Israel. She is working on a collection of science-inspired short stories, two of which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4, with several others published or forthcoming in publications including Route's Wonderwall anthology, the Orphan Leaf Review, Front & Centre and Spoiled Ink. Tania recently won Creating Reality's Flash 300 competition for a 300-word short story.
Copyright © 2006 Entelechy: Mind & Culture. New Paltz, NY. All rights reserved.