Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Brilliant Jarvis was born, of course, brilliant. The doctor agreed—He’s just brilliant, Mr and Mrs Henry, just brilliant—and so there really was no other comparison to make. His brilliance shone from his forehead not as a light, but as if the shiniest light was reflecting off him, and that there was no one else it would have ever chosen to shine off.

Brilliant Jarvis began his life among the angle grinder ankles of professional carers. They came and went in quick succession; at the inevitable end to their tenures they used words like alert and polite, but not one of them could tolerate his brilliance for longer than a few weeks. Moreover, he caused his carers no end of grief by constantly going missing. Despite the fact he always turned up again, unharmed, Jarvis’s parents always blamed the carer for allowing him to go missing, when, in fact, the carers never had anything to do with it.

While most parents endure their fair share of momentary skipped supermarket heartbeats and frantic funfair glances, Merle and Jolene Henry had to undergo the constant trial of their son completely disappearing from—as Jarvis himself will explain it some years later—the face of the earth. Jarvis’s vanishings were as mysterious as they were frequent. Not only could Jarvis not explain where he went or what he did while away, he would always return in a manner so unexpected as to elicit surprise from even the most stretched parental heart.

One afternoon, for instance, after a nine-day disappearance, Jarvis returns in a box delivered by a giant Bombay Indian dressed in the livery of a well-known parcel delivery service. The Indian holds the box by its ends, so Jarvis’s face can be seen poking out a handle hole on its side. Jolene looks blankly at the Indian, for this is the expression her face has become most accustomed to, and holds out a handful of crisp twenty-dollar notes. The Indian nods sagely—as if it is common for him to accept cash payment for delivery of a boxed-up errant son in order to avoid embarrassing credit trails—and hands Jarvis over.

The problem, as far as his parents saw it, was not only that Jarvis was vanishing on a regular basis, but also that he was patently misapplying his brilliance. Maverick behaviour, Merle was prone to say when Jarvis returned. Not at all right. Jarvis would tell his father that it was a societal problem, that fifty years ago no one would have minded, that it wasn’t his fault that the private fears of our unwitting collective conscience had not only caught up with society but had indeed overtaken it. His parents told him he was so brilliant that they were worried someone else might want him. He showed the an article from The Times on date rape.

Later, Jarvis will lecture about such matters. He will say a normal person can’t guiltlessly fathom having sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with them. There is no pleasure, he will argue, and therefore no biological imperative. It’s the sexual repression early in the life of an individual, he will content, that really matters. Jarvis Henry will always prefer prevention to a cure.

Brilliant Jarvis was so brilliant that he was given a video camera for his first birthday. He would make nature documentaries in his parents’ extensive backyard. He was not yet tall enough to explore the heights of trees, so instead he focused on the ground. He observed, through his diamond-grinded lens, the lives of bugs and worms. Although after a day or so of filming, he became inexorably drawn to the lives of ants: he loved their faceless toils and struggles, their strength and unquestioning industrial drive. Jarvis would deeply and honestly lament the end of a day, as wide sheets of sunlight shrunk back between fractal cracks in branches of the highest trees, becoming, as ever, the soft nerves of night. Jarvis begged his parents for his own television, and he began to watch back his films after dark, kept from sleep by ants crawling their complex paths; indecipherable, beautiful.

Through the many professional carers of his childhood, Jarvis would love only one; not a homely Balkans nor a gentle Hebriedean, but, of course, his mother. After the many perceived failings on the part of hired help, Jarvis’ mother assumed responsibility for her son’s welfare, which, she told herself, she perhaps should have done a long time ago. To appease her guilt, Jolene Henry assumed the guise of another faceless carer, hoping her son would not notice. She dressed as plainly as she could, wore too much makeup, and a wig. Jarvis, of course, did recognise her, but he was brilliant enough to realised that if he stayed quiet about it, he could spend more time with his mother in one day than the had in the entire previous span of his life. So he didn’t say a word, and they were both happy.

In time, he had begun to convince himself that his mother was a professional carer, someone who had trained to be what they were not as an extension of a previous, unknown life, someone who would go home to another bed at night. His greatest joy was the new leap in his heart when he saw his carer appear at the entrance to his bedroom door, a familiar face couched in a stranger’s clothes. This was someone he was excited to see. This was unabashed, childish love.

Brilliant Jarvis soon stopped disappearing, although why he did was anyone’s guess.

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