September 4th, 1964
“How are you feeling, Harry?” Verloc broached from his established spot by the door.
“Like a caterpillar smoking hashish,” Haworth declared in a lazy drawl. He sat on the edge of his bed, at the foot so as to be far enough away that Verloc couldn’t inspect him too closely from his corner.
The morning after a Crash Day was a mixed bag. He ate well at breakfast so he wasn’t hungry or irritable as he had been the previous two days, but he always ended up doing something on Crash to earn a higher dosage of Coconut the next day. On an otherwise clear head, the increased dosage left him feeling loopy and not in as much control of himself. It was as though he were operating on a stream-of-consciousness auto-pilot, speaking without thinking through his words and relying on the feelings behind them to dictate how forthcoming he should be. While he couldn’t claim to be happy the way his own Joy formula had made him in the past, he was at least content on Coconut. If he’d incurred an injury as he had this time, though, Verloc would want to look it over.
“What?” Verloc said, troubled by the oddness of Haworth’s answer and chancing a step closer. Though Haworth had spoken so cryptically with the intent of worrying Verloc, the note of it in his voice put a point on the fact that there wasn’t anything actually keeping Verloc in the corner. Saying things that made him sound like he might be concussed would make Verloc want to come closer.
“The same, but more,” Haworth clarified quickly to dissolve Verloc’s concern and keep him at bay. “They upped my dosage again.”
“Yes, I know that,” Verloc grumbled. “I meant how is that bruise? Does it hurt?”
“Why don’t you ask Petcher? He’s got a matching one.” Haworth chuckled to himself and shook his head. “They never see a headbutt coming until it’s here.”
“It’s not funny,” Verloc told him.
“How would you know? You’ve never had a sense of humor. In any event, you should be pleased. You told them not to get handsy with me; now they have a reason why.”
“One of these days, you’re going to really hurt yourself,” Verloc huffed resentfully.
“And I’m sure you’ll be there to interfere with it, just like you always are,” Haworth countered with the suggestion of annoyance underneath his Coconut fog. He couldn’t hold on to that grumpiness though. A memory connected to the thought and brought it to the surface for him to examine. “Heh, do you remember Christmas of ’61, when you tried to give me that bottle of scotch? And I waited until you came to the glass so you could watch me drink the entire thing in one go?”
Verloc did remember and didn’t think it was as amusing as Haworth did, to judge by his dour expression.
“If you remember that, then the Coconut isn’t working,” Verloc said, verbally making a note.
“I don’t remember much of anything after that,” Haworth said, smirking. “Aside from the look on your face.” He grinned to himself at the memory of it. It had been a delightful shift from relieved happiness that Haworth had accepted the gift when he’d rejected every other peace offering Verloc had tried to give him over the past year to horror when he realized what Haworth meant to do with it.
“I had to force ipecac down your throat until you threw all it all back up. And then charcoal tablets to soak up the rest,” Verloc elucidated him. “You could have died.”
“How fortunate then that you were there to save me,” Haworth said with a toneless sarcasm. “Come to think of it, I do remember waking up after that and wondering if I was still alive or if this was just Hell.”
“I have done everything I can to make you comfortable in here,” Verloc snapped. “It’s your own fault if you’re determined to be miserable.”
“There is nothing comfortable about being kept in a cage like some sort of exotic pet, Anton,” Haworth said evenly. He couldn’t get up the ire to be actually angry about this as he knew he genuinely was, so he delivered this statement as if he had unlimited patience for explaining it. His inability to speak as if this weren’t simply a matter of fact was making Verloc madder though, which Haworth thought a fair trade. “And I’m not about to acquiesce to being treated like one.”
“I do not treat you like a pet,” Verloc contested.
“You brought me a bag of blue currants and stood on the other side of the glass, waiting to see if I would eat them,” Haworth said.
“You like blue currants!” Verloc argued. “I was trying to give you something nice!”
“A treat, you might say,” Haworth said with disdain. “As one gives a pet.”
“It was a gesture of goodwill. So that maybe you would understand that this wasn’t some great betrayal like you act like it is.”
“I think you’d find most people would interpret being locked in an isolation cell that way,” Haworth said.
“You wouldn’t have to be kept in a cell like this if you had just stayed in the house like I told you to,” Verloc bit back.
“Locked in your house all day, waiting for you to come home from my labs? Like a house cat perhaps?” Haworth scoffed. He was trying to get on Verloc’s nerves now and there was one surefire way to achieve that. “I wonder,” he said, his tone dropping down low and purposely mean, “did you try to lock Miss Boyle in your house too? Is that why she left? Did your little bird fly away before you could spring the trap closed on her?”
Verloc inhaled sharply through his nose and puffed himself up, absolutely furious.
“How dare you talk about her… You don’t even… I should…” Verloc’s eyes darted around looking for anything he could grasp on to, to finish that sentence.
There was nothing Verloc could do. This was the precise reason why Haworth never accepted any of his supposed olive branches.
There was nothing in his cell that Verloc could take from him and he had no privileges that could be revoked. He wasn’t even allowed walkabouts anymore, after he’d almost managed to escape on one. The only thing Verloc had to leverage against him was the extra biscuit at tea time. It was the only one of his “treats” that Haworth couldn’t refuse and he would have considered it a victory if Verloc did rescind it.
From his first day in here, Haworth understood intuitively that kindness on Verloc’s part was conditional. Accepting any of his gifts would have made Haworth beholden to and reliant on him. That dependence could be used to reward or punish, so Haworth elected not to participate in that exchange at all. It made his life dull and his days long, but it left him free to treat Verloc exactly as he wanted to and Verloc powerless to retaliate.
He tilted his head tauntingly and stared Verloc down. They both knew he had no move to make. Haworth was just waiting for Verloc to accept it.
The futility of his position embarrassed Verloc and he did the only thing he could do to end this argument. He yanked open the cell door and threw himself through it, slamming it hard behind him. The bolt slid on the other side of the door with a resounding scrape of metal and a thud.
A satisfactory start to the day, Haworth thought.
He felt sorry for Plantagenet. The man hadn’t been the friendliest to begin with and his Coconut-induced madness did his disposition no favors, but Haworth all the same felt pity for his barmy neighbor. He also felt responsible, in a way. If he hadn’t taken a shine to Verloc ten years ago, Plantagenet might still be sane and free to be a smarmy blight on the lives of his fellow Wellies today. Sometimes – perhaps out of guilt, perhaps because it was the only thing he was able do for him – Haworth played audience to whatever delusion Plantagenet was weighing under. Today, it was a spirited speech about his – their, he magnanimously appended – eventual rescue by his most loyal subjects in hiding among his usurper’s ranks.
It was a fairy tale, similar to the kind Vanessa Tinker-Bell used to tell him.
She had been a librarian before she’d come here, complaining of melancholia and her Joy being less effective. Apparently her books were now making her glum, Les Misérables in particular. She’d been going through the book to remove all the sad parts so her library’s patrons could better enjoy it, but that necessarily required exposing herself to those depressing passages. Haworth had gleaned these details about her from her patient notes.
She passed her time by standing at her window and telling stories to him. She regaled him with classics, fairy tales, and mythology. She didn’t shout, as one usually needed to do in order to be heard through the glass. She was able to project her voice without increasing her volume. Haworth imagined she would have learned to do this for story time at her library so it would carry to the people in the back of her audience.
He supposed that’s where his comment about feeling like a caterpillar had emerged from. Vanessa might have retold him Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland once, he thought. Or if she hadn’t, she could have and that was enough to inspire the image once his vision started getting languidly colorful.
He was much too old to be told stories like a child, but it wasn’t as if he had anything better to do in here. It cost him nothing to let her or Plantagenet talk at him. They weren’t asking much, really.
But Gemma was. Her very business was asking. That her first contact with him was to ask him if he was who he was and how long he had been here made him feel seen in a way that living in full view of anyone who walked by his window did not. He’d grown used to passively indulging others with his attention or otherwise being ignored by whoever was on the other side of the glass. The loneliness of that role made him much too eager to respond to her inquiries. While Haworth knew being too willing to answer Gemma’s questions might leave him vulnerable to risk or manipulation, on an increased dosage of Coconut he was not at his craftiest best. So when Gemma knocked on the window, he didn’t think twice about abandoning Plantagenet’s speech to see what she wanted to ask of him instead.
A few days from now, he’d spend much of his Crash clarity trying to determine if cheerfully admitting he’d been staying at Verloc’s house in those missing six months would become a problem later. It was the question of his missing top sheet that cut through the Coconut today.
He had known he didn’t have a top sheet without needing to think on it. The particulars of his cell were the sort of details that didn’t slip the mind so easily. When Gemma had asked why he didn’t have one, though, he couldn’t recall. There must have been a reason.
He’d had one before, he remembered that much. He didn’t think Verloc would have taken it as a punishment. The top sheet was too inconsequential and petty to have been taken out of spite.
Haworth must have done something with it. Something that they didn’t like him doing…
He’d tried to hang himself.
The memory resurfaced as if pulling a file from a file cabinet. Mercifully, it didn’t have any feelings paper-clipped to it like there would have been if he wasn’t swimming in Coconut fog. It was a concise and emotionless documentation of events, yet still a sobering enough thought to break his Coconut high for the moment. Yes, see, it’s right here. You tried to hang yourself with the sheet. That’s why they don’t let you have one anymore.
Haworth glanced back at Gemma. She was still there, and her face looked avidly expectant so she must have seen this realization register on his. That wasn’t the sort of thing you told someone you were hoping to convince of your sanity though, nor someone who you had only met two days ago and had passed exactly zero spoken words with. He was relieved to be seen, but he did not want to lay himself bare. It was better to lie.
The most convincing way to lie was to stay as close to the truth as possible. So he told her through mime that he did indeed twist the sheet up as a rope, as he now remembered doing, and looped it over the Joy mister, as he had in fact done. Beyond that, it was just a reversal of the physics involved. He had not hoped the pipework was secure enough to hold his weight, but that he was heavy enough to rip it out.
By all appearances, she took his story at face value and didn’t question it. But then she indicated to him that she wanted to think on it. He hoped she wouldn’t analyze it too deeply. He hoped he wouldn’t. If he followed that line of thought too long, he might find whatever had driven him to suicide then. And if he did find that, he didn’t have a top sheet to do anything about it with this time.
He sat down at his tea table and deliberately set his one-track Coconut-hazed mind on the much more unassuming topic of what might be for lunch today.