Jerothony Naylor was the happiest of men. He was in no way bothered about being told he was far from handsome, nor indeed that he gobbled unbecomingly when applying himself at table. No, Jerothony is not a spelling error. An unspecified dispute between mother and father caused the latter to make an impetuous decision on his way to the Registry Office – a decision which no subsequent regrets or upbraidings could correct. Still, either the father had an instinct for the appropriate or the lad grew to suit the name. When experts disagree, who is to decide whether heredity or environment, nature or nurture, is the major influence? At all events Jerothony liked things to be on an even keel, nice and balanced between the options.
To tell the truth, Jerothony did not personally consider himself to be ugly, and the gobbling bit he dismissed out of hand. Beauty, or so we are informed, lies in the eye of the beholder, and when Jerothony beheld the reflection in the bathroom mirror at his parent’s house he was wholly satisfied with what he saw. A nice large determined jaw, well cleft in the middle, a nice determined nose too, overtopped by penetrating beady eyes.
For long periods Jerothony would admire those eyes, and practice penetrating with them. He knew such eyes to be those of a visionary; he knew it from the day his teacher had explained the meaning of the word. Moreover, like the eyes of all well informed visionaries, they perceived the world to comprise what might not unkindly be described as a mess. A mess, albeit, neatly balanced, with lots of goodness to one side and lots of badness to the other.
His view was that the world must be all poetry; complex interlocking tone and balance and symmetry; one thing leading cleanly and sweetly to another thing. Does not grass lead to cows, red straight through the rainbow to purple, life to death, war to peace, evil to retribution; and indeed vice-versa.
Because the world was all poetry Jerothony knew instinctively that his exposition could take the form only of a Poem – a Poem which would come unbidden when the time was ripe. There was no hurry. One does not attempt to rush the inevitable, or even to prod it gently. The poem could be left to incubate.
In the meantime the requirement of Jerothony was that he should get on with living, in a neat, orderly and well balanced fashion of course. His father was a draper, and Jerothony was to be a draper. So Jerothony started to be a draper, and since despite his views on balance Jerothony was a good, honest, conscientious, church going person, he was also a good, honest, conscientious draper, always polite to his customers to the point of servility.
But the time came when Homo sapiens sapiens decided to engage in one of his territorial differences of opinion, Darwinian natural selection having selected him to be like that. The requirement of Jerothony changed from drapering to killing. He learnt to kill with his usual enthusiasm, egged on, nay instructed, to let out a blood curdling scream each time his bayonet achieved the required goal. He found himself in a jungle somewhere, screaming quite often, and the people he screamed at screamed back too.
He was later to scream yet again whenever he dreamt of those doings – it seemed somehow appropriate.
Be that as it may, the poem was all this time incubating, until one day H. sapiens sapiens decided in his wisdom (sapiens meaning wise, and he having two of them) that there had been adequate killing for just now and some other method of passing the time would be in order.
Jerothony was then directed into a sort of limbo – cast adrift in a warm warm land beneath a blue blue sky surrounded by lots of khaki clad comrades with, like himself, no more killing to do – nothing to do in fact except be bored bored bored. Jerothony, though, found himself something to do.
She was beautiful and she was nubile. She had sloping eyes, she spoke English with a slight lisp and she smiled in cool serenity. She also sang cheerily in another language which Jerothony could not understand.
He could not even begin to get his tongue round the words. She did not tell him he was ugly. She did not even tell him he ate his meals with a noise like a hungry pig busy in a trough and fearful of possible competition.
She was so different from every other person he had ever met, male and female alike, that he could hardly believe his good luck.
With some trepidation and several postponements, he made up his mind to tell her about the Poem. When he told her she did not laugh. She even said thoughtfully that she would look forward to hearing it. This reception decided him instantly. They were married.
After that they lived happily ever after. Jerothony went back to his father’s drapery shop and once again applied himself to being servile to his customers. The business did not grow. Jerothony, who now took the main strain, was too good a man, and moreover he was too busy thinking about his Poem and all the adulation it would bring. ‘First things first,’ he would say happily and with a knowing wink at whoever was willing to listen, tapping the side of his nose with his forefinger.
Jerothony’s family grew though. First there came the elderly mother and father of his beloved. They spoke broken English only, but were so grateful to be given a home in their failing years that Jerothony felt warm inside whenever he looked at them. Then later there came the two elderly sisters of the mother, who spoke no English whatsoever and had no intention of trying to master such a barbarous form of expression. They were well aware who had been civilised when the English were wearing nothing but woad.
Jerothony’s responsibilities were great and he was happy to shoulder them. The sad day came when Jerothony inherited his father’s drapery shop. After struggling alone for a while he was forced to the view that there was no option but to employ an assistant to replace the missing pair of hands – but how to find some person who would be sufficiently industrious, honest and servile?
The priest, to whom Jerothony put his problem, looked cautiously wise. He was in no doubt. He had absolutely the required lady in mind. She was industrious, honest and servile, and pious for good measure. Being kind hearted, and indeed one must presume no expert on the topic, he did not add that she was of an unusual square shape, and not terribly good looking – as far from handsome as her potential employer to be honest, which of course we must be. In a female way naturally. The arrangement was perfect; more than perfect. Jerothony instantly warmed to his new employee. He instructed her carefully and at length in the techniques of her duties. He even stayed behind after hours to give her additional instruction, recognising inwardly that henceforth he would be finding his work even more satisfying than hitherto.
And so it continued. The sales techniques of both Jerothony and his assistant were constantly improving, until they were marvellous to behold and to hear. In due course Jerothony felt it only reasonable he should take the lady for a post-training snack, and she was not reluctant to agree. The discussion was of sales techniques and of draper business. Her eyes shone, as did his.
With the passing of the months Jerothony could feel that on account of all this he was becoming warmer and warmer, and warmer. Naturally there was nothing particular he could do about it, except get warmer still, because being a good man there was no way he would permit himself to do anything to harm or upset his beloved (the one with the sloping eyes).
In the end he was as near boiling as makes no odds. Moreover he could feel growing inside himself a passionate desire to tell his assistant about the Poem and what it would do for them. All of them. All associated with him would be famous – no doubt wealthy even. He chose his moment for breaking the good news with care, bottle of moderately reasonable wine consumed between the two of them in the course of a post-training snack. Cupping his hand tenderly over hers as a steadying influence he told all. She listened in silence. When he had finished she gave him a cold look and removed her hand.
‘Have you had too much to drink?’ she said in her most acid voice, ‘or have you become screwy? The world is not like that. It consists of drapery and churches. Drapery to keep alive by and churches to sort things out. It is a self-contained system and has no need of Great Poems.
The very idea!’ She almost choked. She produced a tear. He was distraught. ‘I am so sorry to have distressed you,’ he kept repeating, ‘I will never talk of it again. I take it all back.’
There was no way of repairing the damage. ‘You should,’ she sobbed, ‘have reflected before you spoke. Something only in the mind is of no consequence, but once a thing is said or done it is for ever.’
She broke down again. ‘And besides, why did you have to touch me? You are so ugly you make me shiver to think of it. Drapery is one matter, but touching is quite another.
How can I be sure that next you will not wish to go a great deal farther? It is in no way possible to contemplate with equanimity where it might end.’ She was turning red. ‘And one thing more – you gobble when you eat.Why do you not keep your mouth shut whilst you are chewing your food? Do not others somehow achieve this feat?’
She stood up. ‘I resign.’ She was gone.
Jerothony had a problem; or rather he did not have a problem any more. He went home to his beloved, and gazed at her beautiful face with the sloping eyes. He looked vaguely at her figure, still nubile beneath the bedclothes. He switched the light out.
It was his assistant there. They lay on their pillows and their shadows talked – about drapery, interminably; and occasionally about the church. Every night for evermore, as it were. He never mentioned his Poem again. He knew it was not being entirely rational in a biological sort of a fashion. A Homo sapiens sapiens male is not advantaged by having a soft spot for a H. sapiens sapiens female who responds excessively unfavourably. Such behaviour has no value in the survival stakes which have made him what he is. ‘However,’ Jerothony reflected in his well balanced way, ‘we are greater than the beasts.
If an unlovable man is not loved then who is to be blamed? How, moreover, in any system of logical thought, can the response possibly have the slightest effect on the initial premise? Why should one’s feelings be subject, like some primitive thermionic valve, to a self-abrogating auto-feed-back system?’
He continued to be happy for the rest of his days, as did everyone else, moreover he never ceased gobbling – shadows don’t mind gobbling, and indeed they have many other conveniences.
The Poem, though, did not get written as such. Perhaps in the end it was represented by his life – a bit ragged here and there and certainly not on the scale he initially had in mind; but with all these galaxies around, jiggling about with all these atoms too, are scales of that much consequence between friends?