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The Destructors [G. Greene]

 [1904-1991]

destructors

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A 1954 short story about teenagers destroying a house. The story is ironic—showing how destruction is allegedly a form of creation.

Set in the mid-1950s, it is about a boys’ gang named the “Wormsley Common Gang”, after the place where they live. Trevor, or “T.”, the protagonist, devises a plan to destroy a beautiful two hundred-year-old house that survived The Blitz. Under T., their new leader, the gang accepts the plan and executes it when the owner of the house, Mr. Thomas (whom the gang call “Old Misery”), is away during a bank holiday weekend. Their plan is to destroy the house from inside, then tear down the remaining outer structure.

[from  Graham Greene: Twenty-One Stories, Penguin Books, 1973]

“Been to the loo,” one of the boys said, for it was common knowledge that since the bombs fell something had gone wrong with the pipes of the house and Old Misery was too mean to spend money on the property. He could do the redecorating himself at cost price, but he had never learned plumbing. The loo was a wooden shed at the bottom of the narrow garden with a starshaped hole in the door: It had escaped the blast which had smashed the house next door and sucked out the window frames of number 3.

The next time the gang became aware of Mr. Thomas was more surprising. Blackie, Mike, and a thin yellow boy, who for some reason was called by his surname Summers, met him on the common coming back from the market. Mr. Thomas stopped them. He said glumly, “You belong to the lot that play in the car-park?”

Mike was about to answer when Blackie stopped him. As the leader he had responsibilities. “Suppose we are?” he said ambiguously.

“I got some chocolates,” Mr. Thomas said. “Don’t like ’em myself. Here you are. Not enough to go round, I don’t suppose. There never is,” he added with somber conviction. He handed over three packets of Smarties.

The gang were puzzled and perturbed by this action and tried to explain it away. “Bet someone dropped them and he picked ’em up,” somebody suggested.

“Pinched ’em and then got in a bleeding funk,” another thought aloud.

“It’s a bribe,” Summers said. “He wants us to stop bouncing balls on his wall.”

“We’ll show him we don’t take bribes,” Blackie said, and they sacrificed the whole morning to the game of bouncing that only Mike was young enough to enjoy. There was no sign from Mr. Thomas.

Next day T. astonished them all. He was late at the rendezvous, and the voting for that day’s exploit took place without him. At Blackie’s suggestion the gang was to disperse in pairs, take buses at random, and see how many free rides could be snatched from unwary conductors (the operation was to be carried out in pairs to avoid cheating). They were drawing lots for their companions when T. arrived.

“Where you been, T.?” Blackie asked. “You can’t vote now. You know the rules.”

“I’ve been there,” T. said. He looked at the ground, as though he had thoughts to hide.

“Where?”

“At Old Misery’s.” Mike’s mouth opened and then hurriedly closed again with a click. He had remembered the frog.

“At Old Misery’s?” Blackie said. There was nothing in the rules against it, but he had a sensation that T. was treading on dangerous ground. He asked hopefully, “Did you break in?”

“No. I rang the bell.”

“And what did you say?”

“I said I wanted to see his house.”

“What did he do?”

“He showed it me.”

“Pinch anything?”

“No.”

“What did you do it for then?”

The gang had gathered round. It was as though an impromptu court were about to form and to try some case of deviation. T. said, “It’s a beautiful house,” and still watching the ground, meeting no one’s eyes, he licked his lips first one way, then the other.

“What do you mean, a beautiful house?” Blackie asked with scorn.

“It’s got a staircase two hundred years old like a corkscrew. Nothing holds it up.”

“What do you mean, nothing holds it up. Does it float?”

“It’s to do with opposite forces, Old Misery said.”

“What else?”

“There’s paneling.”

“Like in the Blue Boar?”

“Two hundred years old.”

“Is Old Misery two hundred years old?”

Mike laughed suddenly and then was quiet again. The meeting was in a serious mood. For the first time since T. had strolled into the car-park on the first day of the holidays his position was in danger. It only needed a single use of his real name and the gang would be at his heels.

“What did you do it for?” Blackie asked. He was just, he had no jealousy, he was anxious to retain T. in the gang if he could. It was the word “beautiful” that worried him—that belonged to a class world that you could still see parodied at the Wormsley Common Empire by a man wearing a top hat and a monocle, with a haw-haw accent. He was tempted to say, “My dear Trevor, old chap,” and unleash his hell hounds. If you’d broken in…” he said sadly— that indeed would have been an exploit worthy of the gang.

“This was better,” T. said. “I found out things.” He continued to stare at his feet, not meeting anybody’s eye, as though he were absorbed in some dream he was unwilling—or ashamed—to share.

“What things?”

“Old Misery’s going to be away all tomorrow and Bank Holiday…”

•  The Pretty Reckless  ↑  ‘Zombie’

I’m not listening to you
I am wondering right through existence
With no purpose and no drive
‘Cause in the end we’re still alive … Alive

2,000 years have been awake, waiting for the day to shake
To all the few who broke me – I am I am a zombie
Again Again you want me to fall on my head
I am I am I am a zombie
How low, how low, how low will you push me?
To go, to go, to go before I lie down dead

Throw smoke right off the tube – Kiss my gentle burning bruise
I’m lost in time
And to all the people left behind – You all walking dumb and blind, blind

For 2,000 years I’ve been awake, waiting for the day to shake

To all the few who broke me – I am I am a zombie
Again again you want me to fall on my head
I am I am I am a zombie
How low, how low, how low will you push me? 
To go to go to go before I lie down dead
Dead . . .

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