When the building had been first built, three ornamental maple trees had been planted in a row outside the entrance door. The anonymous planner who had made the decision to plant these trees here is today, no doubt, contentedly enjoying his retirement. He is probably on his umpteenth cruise around the Bahamas. Meanwhile, the building’s cleaners still have to sweep up and dispose of the copious gold and red leaves that the tree sheds every autumn and which are walked through the building stuck to its visitors’ shoes.
The leaves that lie around the entrance door are exquisitely dainty and beautiful, so that they almost resemble hand-painted pieces of parchment. Further into the foyer, however, and they have been largely trodden into the carpet. They are now shredded tatters, rather like a colourless confetti, and the most dexterous tailor could not sew them back into their original shapes again.
Henry had been out in the foyer first thing that morning to clean up the leaves. But there were too many leaves, or they hadn’t been adequately kicked to pieces before he started picking them up, and they had soon clogged his nose and wrecked his insides. He continued to smile but this was now a smile of distress rather than of his usual inane happiness. Laura, his assistant, went to the office to report that Henry had breathed his last.
“Don’t worry, I think we have another Henry in the store cupboard, in a box.”
The Henrys were like kings. There had been a Henry the first, and a Henry the second, and so on.
“There’s also a Henry in the cupboard behind the stairs,” Murray, the supervisor, chipped in. “But his nose is held on with duct tape.” I had once heard Murray make an admirable joke about this Henry marrying into the aristocracy and having a nose job to try to conceal his Jewish ancestry.
“I want the new Henry, from the store cupboard,” Laura decided.
When Saint Peter opened the gates that morning, a huge number of petitioners quickly pressed forward, each clamouring to be seen to first. Yet when Saint Peter heard that familiar trundling, and he looked up to see Henry’s inanely smiling red face, he hurriedly shooed all of the other petitioners out of the way. “Henry!” he cried. “What an honour you have bestowed on us!”
“Hey garçon!” Saint Peter clicked his fingers at a passing angel. “Henry is here! We must organise a champagne reception! Immediately!”
Two angels rolled out a red carpet whilst many more flocked with the champagne and the flutes to toast Henry. Saint Peter pulled him through the gates and along the red carpet but all at once there was consternation rustling amongst the angels.
“Peter, you’re pulling Henry by the nose!” the Archangel Gabriel scolded the saint.
Saint Peter was aghast. “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry Henry.”
Eventually, after being toasted with champagne from every corner, Henry had trundled around the palace and arrived at the foot of the throne of Heaven. Here, God, in all of His magnificence, sat up and surveyed Henry. He instantly smiled His work to see.
“You’re the best, Henry!” God declared firmly. “The most perfect and virtuous of all of my creations.” A champagne flute found its way into God’s plump hand and He raised it, signalling to all of His angels to do the same.
“To Henry! Hip hip!”
“HORRAY!” the angels thundered drunkenly.