Henry (Short Story Month #14)
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Which is lucky for Henry, because it’ll take as many words as possible to adequately illustrate the fathomless subtextual morass he’s mired himself in today. Gender identity, sexual longing, the pangs of puberty, lust for violence, outdated concepts of masculine versus feminine…it’s all here. But one must mine the thematic depths in order to fully appreciate the comedy herein. Much like Chaplin’s beloved Little Tramp, Henry is only superficially a silent buffoon; he contains multitudes.
In panel one, the forever-taciturn Henry appears to be purchasing a pair of apples. Perhaps he’s hungry? The reader awaits the next panel anxiously; will Henry be tasting said apples? Or is there some less-obvious purpose behind the sale? Thus we have the set-up of a story which has limitless possibilities for narrative advancement.
Panel two: apples held tightly behind his back, Henry peers from behind a fence, beads of sweat comically exploding outwards from the flesh of his alopecian head. Is someone there? Will this someone steal the apples? Oh, the tension! The normally sedate world of Henry appears to be veering drastically into the category of a thriller, displaying the cartoon’s effortless command of multiple styles and genres.
Panel three: Henry places the apples beneath his t-shirt. For what purpose? It is impossible to predict without the oncoming context of panel four. Only one thing is certain now; in the world of Henry, chaos rules.
Panel four: Now armed with fruit falsies and a straw hairpiece, Henry has taken on the disguise of an intimidating, rather grotesque scarecrow caricature of a woman. Thus garbed, he confronts what appears to be a neighbourhood tough of some sort. Is this disguise meant as a prank? Is Henry mocking the bully in some fashion? Is this a challenge to the bully’s masculinity? Or is Henry’s intent rather one of seduction? And how are those apples staying in place? The mind reels in the face of such overwhelming subtextual coding.
Truly, the myriad levels of this farce elevate Henry into the realms of Fellini. The “point” of the story is whatever we choose to observe within. Like all great artists, Henry‘s creator has left interpretation up to the audience. It is we who will determine Henry‘s worth.
If we cannot find purpose in Henry, it is we who have failed.