E.C.T. # 17
I am cast down to Earth; I am earthbred and earthborn; my flesh is earthen and I am earthly minded. I shall commit myself to earth. I shall not hesitate. I shall do it now… What is my life but the pursuit of matter through dark and infinite labyrinths? Am I not worthy of Death? The grave is not black: ’tis lazulite blue…
Krew is telling it…
When I was a student of the Cybele at Crete, my favourite pastime was to sit on Cape Spatha and watch the storms brew out at sea. ’Twas a wild and desolate place, with towering cliffs, where Griffon vultures soar on aeolian winds. ’Twas in the height of summer, when the crickets fell silent on sweltering afternoons, that the storms rolled in from the north. The wind began to wail, the waves swelled and roared, then bolts of lightening flickered across the sky. I had a brother called Gunoy who was slain by a siren of the deep, (for information on his curious death, I refer the reader to my treatise on Sirens, but in the meantime, please pardon me for omitting the tale). How we loved to fly o’er the tempestuous waves, catching lightening in our fists! ’Twas a fine game we used to play—and our favourite summer sport. Neptune kept tally whilst we grappled the bolts, absorbing their charge in our ethereal bodies. Sudden whirlwinds sent us tumbling through the firmament, and aerial tongues of fire tore at our limbs. When the rut was spent, we would sit on the rocks and watch the parting clouds reveal a Cretan sky – a cerulean blue that told of heavenly joys.
Who has not gazed in wonder at a blue sky? That blue is more than just a colour: it has depth and dimension; an aquamarine void that the mind can dive into, just like the turquoise seas below. ‘’Tis the same azure tint as the eye of God which brings untold peace to soul; the cyanosis of lazulite and sapphire gems; the gentian of angelic realms, where Zeus moves beyond the veil, looking down from His celestial throne.
How strange then, that what I remember most about Sunhill Asylum is lazulite blue. The corridors and stairwells were blue; the padded cells were blue; the iron doors were blue; the cavernous ballroom with its magnificent ceiling was blue; the canteen crockery was blue; the tiles of the morgue and chapel were blue; so were the walls of the hydrotherapy room, the laundry and shop. Even the washing machines and boilers were blue. The blue distemper extended throughout the wards; the bedsteads and blankets were blue; the sills and skirtings were blue; the architraves and dados were blue. Wherever you went, in public foyer or private chamber, the mordant of lazulite blue washed upon the eyes, with its nuance of summer skies and promise of peace. The wrought iron pillars of the day room were blue; so were the screens, partitions and chairs. The labyrinths of corridors with their Gothic groins, purloins and rafters, were lazulite blue; and so were the conduits of pipe that snaked around the shadows. To visit Sunhill was like entering the pale blue world of a dream. This soft, quiet and understated tint was obviously chosen to elicit a calming response. But that heavenly woad disguised a multitude of hells. For lazulite blue was also the tint of torture, coercion and despair. The blue of the azure horizon was the same blue as the E.C.T. console, with its lethal switch and dial. The Virgin’s cerulean robe which shone in the Chapel, was also worn by the nurse who presided over lobotomies. So whenever I ponder the heaven of that Cretan sky, I am always reminded of Sunhill Asylum with its lazulite halls, and all the infernal barbarism that went under the name of Psychiatric Medicine.
Heed me now. I speak the truth. The eternal round of birth and death form links within a chain. And oft’ these links are superimposed, one upon the other. Like Chinese rings, they interlock, life upon life, so that the memories of one life impinge upon another. Thus the soul becomes aware of multiple incarnations, personas and beliefs. And so it was with Jacques Vallin, who is now Jack Vallis, locked in the same terrene body, his final judgement not yet passed.
The boundaries between worlds wear thin in places—so thin that you may pass from one dimension to the next without even knowing. Come with me now, as we fly through the ballroom, and swoop behind stage curtain. Look yonder upon that wall of yellow bricks—it hides a subterranean secret. There’s a bolted hatch beside the fire escape – and beyond a flight of steps leading down into the pit. There are many spirits there, lost in a vortex of pain, which spirals deep into Earth. For ’tis here that Pontius presides over his puppets of flesh. Here lie forbidden wards, where men are locked in perpetual sleep. ’Tis a labyrinth of dark corridors and low chambers, lit by red lamps and glowing machines that spout voices on ever turning wheels.
Footsteps echo in the dark. A door opens and a shaft of light glimmers on the glossy walls. Here comes Jack, asleep on a trolley, steered down the corridor by Dobbs. They enter a grim chamber where Pontius awaits, tending a blue console which stands on an iron pedestal. Dobbs wheels the trolley aside and applies the brake. A nurse appears from behind a curtain. Without delay, she approaches the machine and smears contact jelly on two flanged electrodes; then she straps a headpiece on Jack’s temples and inserts a rubber guard between his teeth.
‘Ready?’ asks Pontius.
‘Yes, ready,’ replies the nurse.
Pontius takes a preliminary measurement of resistance, turning a knob until two green lights flash on the console. Then he turns the current dial to maximum and presses the “Treatment” switch…
Jack grunts like a pig. His head jerks back and a sudden expression of inscrutable pain screws up his face. He grunts again—a guttural rasp that comes from the back of his throat. His mouth contorts in a deathly grimace and the ligaments of his neck stand out like wires. The air rattles in his chest. His spine arches high. Then his arms thrash like flails as he claws at the air.
‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’
But my plea falls on deaf ears. Jack fits and foams at the mouth, kicking the trolley and rattling the rails. The nurse holds his head, clasping his chin, keeping his mouth closed upon the gag.
‘Hold him tight!’ snaps Pontius.
Dobbs grips Jack’s shins, limiting the motion of his knees as the trolley jitters on the tiles. After twenty seconds the convulsions subside. Jack looks like a slaughtered sow, pale as Death and clammy from head to toe. A long gurgling sound echoes in his gullet. Then he sinks in the pillow and respires deeply.
The nurse removes the gag and asks:
‘Doctor, where do you think he goes when he’s like that? I mean, does he dream?’
‘Unlikely,’ replies Pontius. ‘His whole cortex is lit up like a Christmas tree. Cognitive function is completely impossible. Patients rarely remember E.C.T. at all.’
She wipes the saliva from Jack’s chin as Pontius turns to Dobbs and bids:
‘Take him back to the ward. And ensure his buckles are done up tight. I don’t want him wandering about when he awakes…’
I float above the trolley as Jack is wheeled back down the corridor into a gloomy ward lit by red lamps. Some eighty beds line the aisle on each side where the living-dead mumble like dreaming parrots. Beside each bed is a tape machine that feeds the ears with endless words and phrases. Phantoms flit about the shadows as reels spin and lambent dials cast numerals on the walls. These might be the infernal halls of Limbo, or the sulphur mines of Etna, where the thief Barabbas toiled as a Roman slave—except that even slaves are free to dream.
Dobbs is busy tightening Jack’s buckles when Selena appears from the shadows and says:
‘You may go now Dobbs.’
He nods obediently and exits the ward.
Selena looks down at her supplicant who gazes back in wonderment.
‘Are you going to be a good baby for mummy?’
He simpers like an idiot.
She produces a syringe and a pink phial of CYCLOPS marked with a butterfly. Inverting the phial, she punctures the foil cap with the needle. Then she draws back the plunger and sucks up the narcotic. Jack smiles adoringly. He knows what’s coming next. Selena taps the syringe three times and gives him an expert injection on his inner thigh. A sudden warmth envelops him. Waves of bliss run up his spine and bloom in his head like roses. His eyes roll back in their sockets. Selena prepares the tape machine and slides the headphones over Jack’s ears. The reels begin to turn. Jack groans as a seductive voice slithers round his cochlea:
‘Good baby. What a good baby you are. Now listen to Mummy Selena. Today we are going to continue with our Latin. Are you ready? Repeat after me:
‘Tempus erit, quo vos speculum vidisse pigebit.(i) [The time will come when you will look in the mirror with regret]…
‘Vix decimus quisque est, qui ipsus sese noverit.(ii) [There is hardly one man in ten who knows himself]…
‘Tempus est quaedam pars aeternitatis.(iii) [Time is a certain part of eternity]…
‘Facilis descensus Averni, Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras, hic labor, hoc opus est.(iv) [Easy the descent to hell; but to retrace your steps and to regain the upper world, that is the difficulty, that is the labour]…
‘Qui e nuce nucleum esse vult, frangat nucem. [He who would eat the kernel must crack the shell]…
‘Res est solliciti plena timoris amor.(v) [Love is full of anxious fears]…
‘Quo fata trahunt retrahuntque, sequamur.(vi) [Wherever the fates lead us, let us follow]…
‘Quisnam igitur liber? Sapiens sibi qui imperiosus; Quem neque pauperies, neque mors, neque vincula terrent; responsare cupidinibus, contemnere honores, fortis, et in seipso totus teres atque rotundus.(vii) [Who then is free? The wise man who has dominion over himself; whom neither poverty, nor death, nor chains affright; resolute in checking his appetites, and in contemning honours; perfect in himself, polished and round as a globe].
‘Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos. [Whose is the soil, his it is even to the skies and to the depths below]…
‘Dentur omnes decimae primariae ecclesiae ad quam parochia pertinet. [All tithes must be paid to the Mother Church to which the parish belongs]…
‘Esse optime constitutam rempublican, quae ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo, et populari, sit modice confusa. [That State is the best constituted which is made up in moderation of the three classes, royalty, nobility, and commons].’
Selena opens a jar of rosehip syrup, inserts her finger, then smears it over a large latex dummy which she slips in Jack’s mouth. She stands there for a moment, watching him suck on the teat, the narcohypnotic coursing through his veins. She smiles in triumph as she runs her hand over his groin and gropes him with a tight squeeze:
‘Sleep tight, Baby Jill.’
She walks away.
I flit inside Jack’s head and swim in the cisterns of his brain where the cerebral fluid flows rich with intoxicants.
‘Can you hear me Jack? ’Tis Krew, your faithful diamon. Do you know where you are?’
‘The Garden of Earthly Delights.’
‘No Jack. They have poisoned you with an elixir of the mind. And lest you stop your ears with wax, this siren will unravel your brains and lull you to eternal sleep! Awake! Awake!’
He groans, but not for me. All he hears is Selena, reciting Latin verbs. I run amid the labyrinth of his cortex and delve into a gyrus. I count 12 million damaged neurons. His frontal lobes show diffuse degeneration of grey matter with hyperplasia of astrocytes. As much as I thrive on electricity, ’tis hard to halt this barbaric degeneration. The damage is so extensive and complex, ’twould take many aeons to correct; for the human brain is like a nebulae of stars, infinite in number and connection.
But with each Latin word that echoes in his ears, I see new connections forming—dendrites branching, flashing, fusing…
E.C.T. # 18
I remember a dark room with red lights. Something bad happened there. But Pontius is very pleased with the results: I have memorised a whole Latin phrase book. I am changed inside. But not for the better. I feel a cavernous hole within. I am disintegrating from the inside out. Despite my titanic memory, I have forgotten my mother’s name. I know there was a trip to the zoo. But I can’t remember it. She used to sing me rhymes. But I can’t recall them. Litera scripta manet. The written letter remains. Words may escape the memory, but that which is written is proof of my past intentions. I think she used to beat me. I must have been bad. I can’t recall my father. But I saw her once with a younger man—they were kissing in the Clough. Making love; having sex on all fours, like dogs. I don’t want to remember it. Pontius erases the good and leaves only the bad. Selective erasure would be best. Fools say we only remember the things we favour; but my mind is full of hurtful things I would rather forget. Like finding my mother dead. She died alone. I’d give anything to undo her death. Shall I travel back in time to the hour before she passed? Make good our quarrels, fights and fears; put right all wrongs, and change the past just as I would like it? What is her eternal round? Is she a hare, a dog or cat? Is she at peace in heaven, or earthbound in some other age? Some say that thought and feeling annihilate Time and Space… Time travels in divers paces with divers persons. I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, and who he stands still withal…(viii)
Pontius refutes my ability to travel through time, and he denies my previous incarnation. But Pontius knows nothing of the past. He has forgotten his crimes in that age of magic, smoke and fire. And now our paths have crossed again. What would he say to Cicero? Nescire quid antea quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum; quid enim est ætas hominis, nisi memoria rerum nostrarum cum superiorum ætate contexerit?(ix) [To be unacquainted with what has taken place before you were born, is to be always a child; for what is human life, unless memory is able to compare the events of our own times with those of by-gone ages?]
I write this down for posterity. My soul is bound with Pontius across the centuries, but I remain his puppet of flesh. He has defiled my body and set the wheel of my nativity aflame.(x) Is it not meet and just to expect a small reversal of fortune? Good women of Paris, heed my foul intention! I summon the dead to curse this blind Inquisitor of the human soul – Pontius Fougeron, medic of the state, who stalks the corridors of this infernal asylum! Sisters of the Pyre, come hither to my bidding! Here is the cause of our suffering! Let us immolate him!
This is an age of high depravity in which Satan has great power. The universities are crammed with corrupt teachers who pervert the laws of God. These sceptic dogs have formed a cabal darker than the Holy Inquisition; they have enslaved the minds of the ignorant, obscured the sacred mysteries, consigned the dead to the grave, and exorcised the Devil in the name of humanist enlightenment. As if the Devil could be expelled by the power of an atheist!
Today I was taken to the red room. Mummy Selena spent the whole afternoon reciting the laws of Plato. Spartan and Cretan institutions, which claim to have been the work of divinely inspired legislators, are based on the assumption that the state is a fighting machine. If it cannot fight, it loses its independence, and the power of enjoying its property.
But there are other fights besides those with foreign states. A country may be at variance with itself. A man’s “better self” has to contend with his baser inclinations, and for this kind of fight the noblest qualities of all are required.
The victory of the better elements is spoken of as a victory of the whole being. But in civil strife the important thing is to reconcile the combatants, and not to exterminate, or reduce to impotence, the vanquished side…(xi)
My head is full of so many words it makes me want to scream. Words are useless. I just want to be a girl. Why must I learn Plato when the better part of myself has to contend with being a man?
My thoughts rise like bubbles from a dark abyss; pictures come from nowhere and flash before my eyes; headlamps, traffic lights and neon shop-fronts; slender manikins in silk stockings and heels; glass counters of lipstick and lace. I cannot contain my passions. I have the eerie conviction that I am living someone else’s life. I run across a bleak landscape, lost in banks of mist. Whenever I try to recall the past, a searing pain streaks across my temples. But I cannot forget the Cyclops. He splashes in the sink like a foetus, singing songs and blowing bubbles with his fishy lips:
“Mnemosyne is the daughter of Uranus and Gæa. She is the goddess of Memory and mother of the nine Muses. I will offer her an invocation of sage and laurel leaves. She will restore your mind by the morrow. In the meantime, you must sleep.”
But I can’t sleep. An eye keeps peeping through the spyhole and will not let me rest. Every time I slumber, a bang comes on the door and someone shouts:
“Wake up Jack! Wake up! The Devil is coming! He’s coming to get you!”
There’s no peace without Mummy Selena. Lying beside her is paradise; she wears a nylon blouse and smells of… What does she smell of? … Surgical dressings.
She spoons me apple purée from a jar:
“Open your mouth Jill. Good baby. Now swallow… All gone! Oh! What a good girl! …”
She shows her pearly white teeth. How I yearn to kiss her cherry lips. She twinkles and unbuttons her blouse:
“Come and show mummy how much you love her…”
E.C.T. # 21
It is now 1.30 pm. I slept between breakfast and lunch. A bird is singing in the yard and Dora is mopping the corridor. The stench of steamed beans wafts through the window. Asylum kitchens; school kitchens; borstal kitchens: the food is all the same. Beans are served under many different menus: aristocracy; plutocracy; vintage magistracy; democratic presidency; oligarchy; bureaucracy; technocracy; demagogy; socialism; fascism… It’s tribalism by any other name. I don’t partake of beans.(xii)
Mummy Selena has read me another book: Einstein’s Special and General Theory of Relativity. But the black hole in my head has grown even bigger.
E.C.T. # 22
Geometry tells matter how to move, and matter tells geometry how to curve. Did I kill myself? The boundary of a boundary is zero. I remember we were poor. A tenement in Toxteth. I had no toys. I remember washing days. My favourite pastime was blowing bubbles. I imagined a world in each one, enclosed in an ephemeral membrane that flickered like a rainbow. I was Shiva, destroyer and creator of worlds, blowing life into existence, seeding the Universe with stars. I can see them now: a hundred worlds floating over the washing line, carried on the winds to who knows where. To here.
E.C.T. # 23
It is now 2.00 pm. The morning is a heady blur of ether and blue corridors. Mine is an anaesthetic life. I pray to god that I will awake in another realm, high above the earth. For when the soul is mixed with the body, it is in a dangerous condition. I deny the resurrection of this physical body. I shall return in a spiritual body alone: an indestructible body that cannot be cut, shocked or drugged. Mummy Selena promised me a new dress: a satin party frock with a pink sash around the waist. She says she can fix me inside and make everything better. She taught me the formula for sidereal precession. But what use is an equation when your soul is out of balance? The source of gravitation is energy-momentum. But body and soul shall never equate.
E.C.T. # 24
My desire to kill Pontius has evaporated. Yet still I fight the Devil in my sleep. I sold my soul for a suit of new flesh. But the time for payment has almost expired. I see through a glass darkly: the television of my mind. But the switch has been turned off and the past recedes into a small white dot. Yet some memories persist—especially the clothes. God knows I flung away my money on corsets and frills. Three girdles from Marks & Spencer’s; six slips; eight pairs of stockings; two bras; a corset from Harrops—and three pairs of Court shoes; I’ve lost count of the petticoats; and what I couldn’t buy, I robbed. Then out of self-disgust, I binned my stash, and confessed all to a priest. I whispered through the screen:
“Bless me father, for I have sinned.”
“How long has it been since your last confession?”
“Six hundred and thirty three years…”
“And why have you neglected so much time in revealing your sins?”
“Because I am so greatly ashamed. I feared to confess, for then you should know the terrible secret of my life, which would be prejudicial to me, not only in the sight of Heaven, but in the eyes of temporal law…”
“Which of God’s commandments have you broken?”
“All of them.”
“Please help me father, I am ready to despair of God’s mercy if you do not quiet and ease my troubled mind. I need the absolution of your lips.”
“Begin then my child, confess by the first commandment…”
“I confess that I have not loved God above all things, for these six hundred years past, my only desire has been to dress in women’s clothes…”
A few seconds of deep silence. He waits in the cabinet, sitting on his stool whilst I kneel on the hassock. Then he sniggers behind the screen.
I think I killed the Catholic dog. But perhaps it was just a wishful fantasy. How shall they judge me? I cannot afford a lawyer. They say a friend in court is better than money in your purse. But I have neither friend nor money. Will Krew come to my defence? What shall he plead? Nature or nurture? Surely, I am a product of pathology.
Why am I bound to this derogate flesh? A new body and personality might change my purpose, but my Ego remains the same. Yet I am not the same, because I have acquired new attributes and experiences. Yet I am the same, for I am still trapped in these same old bones. Why do I need a body at all? I remain uncertain of my own existence. Why must the soul take root in the flesh? Is my spiritual development dependant on a body? If my soul existed before my body, and continues to live on without it, what is the purpose of incarnation? Unless spiritual growth is dependant on the flesh. ’Tis the Devil’s plot. Krew says I am doomed to suffer the same pains, life after life, until I learn my lesson. But if only I knew what the lesson is! I long to be a sylph—an aerial spirit with a changeable body, pliable as my desires, so that I might transform at will, into any shape I please. Have you ever seen a sylph? I have—at my mother’s funereal: a shining vaporous goblin, sitting on her coffin as it lowered in the grave. Our transformation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself…(xiii) This is the Devil’s plot: that we must die to be reborn. When was I reborn? ’Twas long, long ago, under a black moon and gnostic curse. Hear the secret of my mysterious birth…
Copyright (c) Nicholas Shea 2016
viii. Rosalind, Act III, Scene 2, ‘As You Like It’, William Shakespeare.
x. James, 3:6.
xi. The Laws of Plato by E. B. England. Manchester University Press 1921. Books I-VI, Volume 1. Text in italics is from ‘Analysis of Book I’ and is an abridged quote from sections: 624 a1; 626 c5; 626 e5; 627 c2, p9.
xii. “Abstain from beans.” An admonition of Pythagoras, equivalent to saying, “Have nothing to do with elections.” (The Athenians, at the election of their public magistrates, balloted with beans).
xiii. The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians, 3:18.