Jacques is telling it…

That night I dream of Mengarde. He was lurking by Mill Bridge, club in fist. He broke my arm and knocked out two front teeth. Then his gang tied me to the ploughshare and stuffed my mouth with marl. They ran off laughing and left me tethered ’till dusk when the ploughman cut me loose:

‘Go home and don’t come back! If I find you here again, I’ll kill you!’

The following day Moma made a hazel splint and plied my gums with wort. She put me to bed and sat by the hearth, spinning and singing of herbs. I soon fell asleep, my spirit borne aloft in the blasted oak…


Toxteth, 1949.

As Jill, I dwelt in my imagination and dreamed. This side of my personality began when I was but a child of three. In those early years I lived as a thing apart ― a mystery of my own. But I was the mind behind his mind; the true inward mind; the self behind his self. During childhood I gradually became ascendant, and was the soul of all his sufferings, dreams and desires. But as he turned into a boy, I could find expression no more, and lived in a hidden way. Yet even this inner life was too intimate and powerful to be killed by Jack, and he struggled in vain to shut me away. Sometimes he would write me a letter on his birthday, saying goodbye and despairing at his hopeless situation. But then I would write back in return, offering my support and encouragement, assuring him that all would be well. Little did I know, the dissociation of these two opposing poles would become my undoing…

I awake to find myself in another world, with an iron fireplace and a fine mantle with a ticking clock. Ma walks in and says:

‘Have you been curled up in that chair all day, Jack lad?’

‘No ma.’

‘You can’t hide in here forever you know. Why don’t you go out and play? It’s a lovely day. Get some fresh air.’

‘I don’t want to play.’

‘Why are the curtains closed? It’s like the black hole of Calcutta in ’ere.’

‘I’ve got a headache.’

‘How’s it feeling? Any better? By god, If I catch that Billy Dobbs, I’ll give him the back of my slipper. He’s beaten you black and blue. That’s a real a shiner you’ve got there.’

I thought it was just a bad dream, but then I feel my broken teeth and the splint across my arm. Ma checks herself in the mirror, unties her scarf and asks:

‘Why did he hit you, anyway?’

‘I stopped the clock.’

‘What clock?’

‘The school clock.’

‘What did you do that for?’

‘Dobbs tied me to a desk, see? Then Mr. Armitage came in and put us in detention. So I stopped the clock. We got extra time doing lines.’

‘Like punishing yourself, do you?’

‘I don’t care. I could do lines ’till doomsday – makes no odds to me. Besides, Dobbs is a scally.’

‘And you a scouser, born and bred.’

‘At least I’m not a divvy like him. He’s a whopping great meff. He thinks the sun goes round the earth. What a Noggsy.’

‘Old misery guts. You’ve been sulking in ’ere for days. Why don’t you play with Janet next door? She asked after you this morning.’

‘Did she?’

A children’s rhyme echoes outside:

Jill is poorly,
Jill is sick,
Call the doctor,
Quick, quick, quick!

I creep to the window and peek through the drapes. A gang of girls is skipping with a long rope. There’s a fine cobbled street with rows of tall brick houses. Smog hangs about the rooftops where chimney stacks puff soot into the evening sky. I wonder where the pond has gone. There’s not a blade of grass in sight.

Ma says:

‘Open them curtains. I can’t see a bloody a thing.’

The rails squeak as I draw the drapes, flooding the parlour with sickly light. The room seems all in pieces. The drab grey walls haven’t seen a lick of paint in years. Despite the fire, the air is damp and cold. Before the range is a moth-eaten rug with a red floral weave; the middle is completely worn away, revealing the weft and a shiny black floorboard. A broken chamber pot lies in the corner where a crack runs up the plaster like a bolt of lightning. A Victorian sampler hangs on the wall, embroidered with a crucifix and the words:

If all mankind would live in mutual love,
This world would much resemble that above.

Beneath is a warped table and two Bentwood chairs. On the table is a brown teapot with a chipped spout and a pile of old ration books. The chair-backs are draped with articles of female clothing, and a whalebone corset is stretched before the hearth on an iron rack.

‘Jack, be a luv and nip out for a loaf of bread, would you pet? We’ve got nowt for tea. Here’s sixpence. Get a white loaf mind, not brown. Hovis gives me heartburn…’

‘White loaf? Which one?’

‘Mother’s Pride.’

‘Am I?’

‘Don’t be daft Jack. I’m not in the mood for jokes.’

‘Mother’s Pride? Never heard of it.’

‘Course you have. You know the one I mean. Scottish Plain. The one with the tartan wrapper.’

‘Just bread then? No jam?’

‘Is there none in the cupboard?’

‘It’s gone.’

‘Gone? ’Ere Jack, you haven’t eaten all that jam have you?’

‘We finished it a week ago.’

‘Did we?’

‘You promised to buy more last Wednesday.’

‘I don’t know Jack lad, you’ll eat me out of house and home.’

She rummages through her purse:

‘I was sure I had some more coppers in ’ere. Never mind. I must ’ave spent ’em all last night.’

‘You came in late.’

‘Did I pet? I can’t remember to be honest.’

‘You were bevied up.’

‘Bevied up? Don’t be so cheeky. I was working. A breach-birth on Earl Street. Misses O’Leary. That’s her sixth child in as many years. Still, I don’t like going round there at night: it’s crawling with Orangemen. It’s marching season. And me a good Catholic.’

She checks her reflection, prodding her cheeks with her finger-tips:

‘Look at me. I’m falling apart at the seams. I’d do anything to be twenty again. I was quite a looker in my time, you know. Still, I couldn’t go through another bloody war. Live and let live, that’s my motto. I don’t understand it Jack. You’d think Hitler might have knocked some sense into them. But it’s worse now then when I was a nipper. An altar boy got stoned in the park last Sunday. Bloody Orangemen.’

‘What colour are we ma?’

She spins on her heels:

‘What colour? Why, we’re green of course! Protestants Orange, Catholics Green. You know that. Green folk are loving and kind. Orange folk are extremist and cruel.’

Extremist? I bet that’s what the Proddies say about us.’

‘We’re not extremist Jack. We’re devout.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Jack Vallis! How could say such a thing? I’ll wash your mouth out with soap and water!’

‘Well where was Jesus in the war? Whole city got bombed to smithereens.’

‘Don’t you question the Lord my lad, or I’ll give you a damn good belting. Understand?’

‘Sorry ma.’

‘I should think so too. I didn’t take you on just to bring you up atheist. Heaven forbid.’

Take me on? I hate it when you say that. You make me sound like a stray dog.’

‘Less of your lip. And take my shawl off. Who do you think you are? Molly Malone?’

‘I’m cold.’

‘Cold? Don’t be soft. How can you be cold? I wish I could sit by the fire all day….’

Her eyes flit madly about the skirting:

‘Listen Jack, there was a mouse in ’ere last night. You ’aven’t seen it, ’ave you?’

‘There’s more than one, you know.’

‘We need a cat Jack. That’s what we need. Well hurry up kidda, it’s nearly six o’ clock. Shop’ll be closing in five minutes.’

‘No jam butties then?’

‘Not tonight pet. Just bread. I’ll buy some jam tomorra. All right?’

She picks a coal with the tongues and lights a cigarette, puckering her lips as she sucks the tip. She draws deeply then adds:

‘―And get some matches pet.’

‘Sykes won’t sell us matches.’

‘Yes he will.’

‘He won’t.’

‘Tell him I sent you. And if he refuses, I’ll have something to say about it. Now off you go. Run along.’

I head for the door, eager to meet Janet in the street. But when I open the latch the city has vanished into thin air. Before me is a pristine vista of snow-capped mountains, with verdant slopes of olives and flax. I’m standing by the pond, surrounded by acolytes of croaking frogs. My horned reflection wobbles in the water. And a faint rhyme still lingers in the air:

Jill is poorly,
Jill is sick,
Call the doctor,
Quick, quick, quick!


Sunhill Asylum, 1958.

’Tis just as Krew said: the cosmos is one big hall of mirrors: a skein of reflections that gyre throughout eternity. We dwell in a plurality of worlds: luminous spheres that meld like bubbles of molten glass; hypersurfaces; agglomerated fields; electric fluids that ooze from star to star…

What ill-fate brought me to Sunhill? Was I sent by order of Jove as punishment for my crimes? The precise sequence of events I cannot recall, but I remember falling. Falling, yes. Yet from where I fell is a mystery. I have always had a fear of heights. It is not vertigo that plagues me. On the contrary, I could climb the tallest spire without any trouble at all. No, what plagues me is the urge to jump. And the closer I stand to a precipice, the greater this urge becomes. Sometimes this urge is almost uncontrollable. It comes upon me like a madness – the compulsion to leap and fling myself into oblivion. Despite this fear, towers and parapets are enthralling haunts. I always find myself inching toward the edge, heart pounding in my chest. The closer I stand to Death, the more I feel alive. Even now, I hear Him tempting me to suicide:

‘Fall into in my arms. Forget your earthly toil.’

He whispers of a transcendental world beyond the the gulf – a hidden realm of which the soul has no remembrance. Have you never climbed a mountain and longed to soar like a bird into the valleys below? But most of us have forgotten how to fly. The higher we go, the more we feel that irresistible attraction to the Earth – like a loadstone pulling on our bones. Did Lucifer feel the same when he fell from Heaven? As partakers of life everlasting, how shall we avoid everlasting punishment? Sometimes it seems the punishment allows no room for repentance. Indeed, when does the punishment create the crime?

They call my crimes an evil sorcery. But the charge for my witchcraft can no more be proved than the charge for my insanity. Yet as any inquisitor knows, even an imaginary crime may imply a criminal intention that is not imaginary – especially when it threatens the interests of the state…

Yes, I remember falling. I’m falling still. ’Tis like a terrible dream from which I cannot wake; and no matter how hard I struggle to rouse myself, I remain lost in feverish slumber. Once you enter the gates of Sunhill, there’s little chance of escape. There are chambers within chambers; tunnels within tunnels; doors within doors. ’Tis a fiendish labyrinth whose solution is beyond all human calculation. I fear my soul is entangled with Sunhill forever, and only an act of high magic will set it free.

A hidden hand directs our fate. They say a wise man can recognize the intervention of Divine Providence; but all too oft’ Providence brings catastrophe and chaos. I don’t know what they did to me in Sunhill, but I soon learnt to hate the doctors. I never thought of myself as an anarchist, but perhaps I was destined to incite revolution; to destroy the ill-founded fabric of the Freudians; to shatter their materialist vogue and authority over the masses. Militant atheists have little reasoning capacity; amongst their ranks are the most foolish, vain, conceited, irrational and least-objective thinkers ever to walk upon the face of the earth. Materialists are so infatuated with atheism, that they have invested it with all the faith of a religion.

Nature holds up to us a mirror, for the impulse of the savage always lurks beneath the veneer of civilized society. And what is society but a collection of tribes? There are many tribal terrors lurking in the halls of psychiatric medicine. For the Freudians are the most savage tribe of all. As for the Marxists and Darwinists, they come a very close second. Barbarians. I do not deny that there are many species of madness; but my own particular strain was always less absurd than the dogmas of the day. The theory of Evolution is an unscientific creed; the tenet of a primitive belief system; the religious cornerstone of a radical atheistic political movement. Atheists are naught but unlearned triflers – like the pedant Schoolmen of Paris. Cymini sectores. [Splitters of cummin-seeds]. They’re too ignorant to know when they’re wrong; too proud to admit their errors when corrected; and too dishonest to confess their bias in the first place. Instead they just bury the evidence and silence dissenters.

Those freethinkers who promote such views as spiritual teleology or intelligent design are the most dangerous dissenters of all. To believe in God is akin to insanity. Magic and religion belong to the supernatural, not the dim-lit world of the atheist. Any diagnosis of insanity always renders the greatest service to science. Science bless us all, and shield us from insanity, which is the worst malady in hell. Science may intern insanity, but insanity must never be allowed to intern science. Conformist rule must be maintained at all costs – even it means suppressing Truth in favour of Falsehood. For society is always more in danger of being corrupted by the former than the latter.

Dissenters are often sent to asylums where their seditious minds can be wiped or clinically excised. A heretic is always taught to know his place. Sunhill was an infernal, godforsaken hole; to even loiter in the precinct made the blood run cold. Better the grave than Sunhill Asylum! How oft’ I beat my fists upon the cell door and declared myself sane! But I was only met with the horrid glare of the inquisitor’s eye, who always accused me of depravity, magic and incantation. And for these crimes I was sentenced to lobotomy.


Court Transcript…

LORD SCALES. The severity of the sentence does not arise from punitive vindictiveness, but rather from the injuries and hurts you may inflict on Mother Church. Have no fear. Diamonic Law is perfectly just, balanced and immutable. ’Tis time to chose another bubble. Which shall it be? The Old World or the New?

JACQUES. If Lord Scales will permit, I would like to choose five bubbles floating betwixt his horns…


Bubble One…

I find a crock of fairy gold buried amid the roots of an elder tree. But when I delve inside the pot, the gold melts into an amber mead. I dip my finger and sniff: it smells of roses and honey. At once I’m overcome by a terrible thirst. But when I sip, an elf appears in a red tunic and says:

‘Don’t you know about food in fairyland?’

‘No little elf, I’m sure that I do not.’

‘The less you partake of it the better.’

‘But why? It tastes so good!’

‘You would be a fool to drink all that.’

‘I shall drink if I like. Besides, why should I heed a little elf like you?’

‘Little? I am really much bigger than I appear now. On earth you do not see things as they really are. You cannot glean the Virgin’s secrets. You need not heed my warning, but the Lady who brewed that wants to take you away.’

‘Take me where?’

‘Who knows? But do you really want to find out? Look yonder at the heavens. See how many stars there are! She made them all!’

‘They are beautiful indeed. But I wonder what she wants with me?’

‘I dare not say. Man is a creature of irreducible complexity. For naught can evolve without a thinking consciousness. The Lady has hidden hands. She can snatch you from one world to another in the twinkling of an eye. But what she wants with you is a mystery.’

I down the mead and the elf shakes his head in dismay:

‘I fear you have drunk too much and will never be sober again. For now your soul is possessed by the moon.’

‘Then what must I do?’

‘You must go forth with humility and good grace, and accept your fate as the Lady wills it.’

He vanishes in a plume of blue fire.


Bubble Two…

I am soaring above the earth, flying toward an effulgent orb whose Light is brighter than a thousand suns. I pass through many heavens whilst violent storms rage below, swirling in inky clouds. Thunderbolts crack across the firmament and the land glows red with fire. I fly at great speed and without effort, covering vast distances in the twinkling of an eye. And all the while, my only desire is to fuse with the radiant Orb which constantly evades me. Yet the longer I follow, the more I am overcome by sleep….


Bubble Three…

I awake to find myself in a padded cell. I lie on a reeking mattress, buckled in a canvas jacket, my arms strapped behind my back. I cannot stand, for my legs are in irons and chained to a belt about my waist.

The door bursts open and a dread fear seizes my heart. For who should enter but Dobbs, my childhood nemesis. Dressed in a white tunic, he brandishes a truncheon and leers:

‘Hullo Jack. Remember me?’

A sudden hail of blows falls about my head. I curl in a ball, begging for mercy as the truncheon pummels my kidneys.

‘No one can hear you Jack. No one cares. You’re all mine, every night for ever and ever, ’til the end of time…’

He jabs my ribs as I scuttle round the cell, yelping like a caged beast.

‘What’s up Jack? Why don’t you use your powers? Eh? Go on Jack, do some magic.’

‘Leave me alone!’

He snatches my hair and cranes my neck until I glimpse the whites of his eyes:

‘Look at me when I’m speaking! Show some respect. I want to see you do it, Jack.’

‘Do what?’

‘Turn back the clock like you did in school. Go on! Do some magic.’

‘Magic? I can’t do magic.’

‘I saw you do it.’

‘Do what? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘Liar. I’ll beat seven shades of shit out of you. Now do some magic, or else.’

‘I’m telling Matron on you.’

‘She doesn’t care about you Jack. You’ve got no friends in ’ere.’

‘I’m a Parisian lady, but you treat me worse than a dog!’

Parisian Lady? You mad feck. You were always a dreamer Jack. Stargazer, that’s what we called you. You were always away with the faeries.’

‘Leave me alone.’

‘Do some magic and I’ll go away.’

‘What magic?

‘I don’t know. Show us a trick.’

‘I don’t do tricks.’

‘Do you want another beating?’

‘I’ll walk through that wall! I’ll disappear – then you’ll be sorry!’

He kicks my stomach, knocking the wind clean out of me:

‘Go on then, Jack. Let’s see you disappear.’

I wheeze on all fours, knees knocking, chains rattling, eyes smarting. He spits:

Pathetic, that’s what you are. Pathetic. Disappear? Walk through walls? Yer blaggin’ me, Jack Vallis. Shall I tell you summat, Jack? You can’t disappear. Know why? Cos you’re disappeared already, see? Everyone in this ozzy is disappeared. You’re the disappeared Jack, that’s what you are. The disappeared.’


Bubble Four…

I awake screaming and Margot bids:

‘Hush child. You had a bad dream.’

But ’twas not a dream. I know it my bones. ’Twas a firm presentiment of another age. I am overcome with despair, for I have glimpsed my future life. My soul is not purified, but has passed into yet another terrene vessel; and once again I find myself oppressed at the hands of my enemies who preside over my capture like vengeful demons. Why am I not free? Why has the wheel not turned in my favour? Why is Mengarde still at the Zenith, and me at Nadir? What must I do to be saved? Can I be saved? Or am I doomed eternally?

The following moon, a stray cat enters the hovel. Moma says it will bring good luck and keep the mice down, so we keep her and name her Blackie. I soon fall in love. We play round the hearth all day with feathers, leaves and skeins of wool. I feed her goats’ milk, treat her kindly, and comb the flees from her coat. She purrs on my pillow, sleeps on my lap, and eats scraps from my hand. But one twilight, when I’m out gathering rushes, Mengarde steals Blackie away. He drowns her in a sack, skins her with his knife, and makes a purse of her pelt.

I hate Mengarde and wish he was dead.

How could Jesus let Blackie die? And by such cruel fate? I am done with Christ. It seems more wise to worship heathen gods – the Sun and Moon, the rivers, wells and stones – than submit to a god who allows evil to flourish in the world. And in the dead of night the hoot-owl cries:

‘Twice wise to you!’

Wind rustles the leaves and the Devil whispers:



Bubble Five…

A bell tinkles as I enter the shop. Mr. Sykes looks up from a box of cabbages and asks:

‘What happened to you kidda?’

‘I got in fight.’

‘What does the other guy look like?’

‘It’s his funeral tommora.’

He chuckles:

‘What can I do for you then?’

‘A loaf of Mother’s Pride please.’

‘You’re in luck. I’ve got one left. Would you like some Jam with that?’

‘Not today. But I need a box of matches.’

‘Matches? I can’t sell you matches lad.’

‘They’re for ma.’

‘That’s what the last boy said – before he set fire to the church.’

‘What church?’

‘Saint Margaret’s of Antioch – at the corner of Princess Road. Didn’t you hear?’

‘Is it burnt down then?’

‘No. They caught it just in time. Apart from the Lady Chapel.’

‘I thought Adolf bombed it.’

‘Adolf only smashed the windows. But that boy burnt the Virgin to cinders. Sorry lad. I can’t sell you matches.’

‘What’s that matter? Think I’m a pyromaniac?’

‘A what?

‘A fire-starter.’

‘If old bill finds out I sold you matches, I could loose my license. What would you do for bread then?’

‘Perhaps the Orangemen did it.’

He scowls and slides the loaf along the counter:

‘Is that all lad?’

‘My ma will have summat to say about it.’

‘About what?’

‘The matches.’

‘She would an’ all, if you burnt down a church.’

‘Why would I burn down a church?’

‘Not a Catholic church, anyway.’

‘Are you a Proddy?’

He nods gravely:

‘Catholics used to throw pepper and eggs at me, lad. Do you know what I did?’

‘No, what?’

‘I hung a ham outside my shop with a card saying: “This ham was cured at Lourdes”.’

He grins:

Cured. Get it?’

‘Very funny.’

‘It’s a Proddy joke.’

‘Well I’m not Proddy or Catholic.’

‘What are you then?’


‘You’re pulling my leg.’

‘I’m not. Buddhism is the greatest religion in the world.’

‘And what would you know about it?’

‘This world is full of chattering monkeys. I’m going to Nirvana.’

‘Well before you go, you’d better pay for that loaf. I’m closing now.’

‘How much then?’

‘Four pence.’

I hand him the coin. He cranks the till and the drawer pings open:

‘That’s a tanner you gave me. Which leaves tuppence change.’

‘What can I get for a tuppence?’


‘No. I’ve got toothache.’

‘What about a comic? The Beano? Lord Snooty and his pals?’

‘Not today.’

‘What then? I ain’t got much for tuppence. I could give you some spinach.’

‘I hate spinach. What about them dolls?’

‘What? These peg dolls over here?’

‘Aye. How much are they?’

He squints and checks the price:

‘Well, let me see now. My wife made these. A little side-line. You can have two for a penny.’

‘I’ll take four then.’

He looks puzzled as he wraps them in piece of scrap paper.

‘You got a girl then, ’ave you?’


‘What’s her name? Do I know her?’

‘She’s not from round here. But she likes dolls. She collects them.’

He hands me the parcel and winks:

‘All right then lad, ta ra.’

‘Ta ra.’

When I return home Janet has gone. The street is deserted except for a drunk who careers down the gutter. How empty is the world without Janet!

I must confess, the fairer sex were always objects of deification. I fell in love with every beautiful girl I laid eyes upon. But it was a love so spiritualized, that it bore no resemblance to real passion, let alone a real person, the object of my desire being nothing more than a feminine ideal – the phantom of my absent body. Had I known this at the time, I would have locked myself away. But I did not know, and was easily led astray by my delusions. That is not to imply that I didn’t love these girls – I did – I loved them with a true and bleeding heart; but looking back, I realise that I was also in love with the girl I most wanted to be. I might have been lost in the dominions of Pluto, for all hell was in turmoil, burning me up, body and soul. As the human mind generally requires some sort of fiction for its amusement, relaxation and escape, so I required the proximity and company of girls in order to escape myself. It was the only way I felt alive – to immerse myself in the powerful presence of their bodies, scent, laughter and touch. During adolescence, I became a slave to my sexual pathology, and I could not look upon a beautiful girl without longing to marry her and become intimate in all things. But this was yet another ludicrous fantasy, for Nature had not equipped me for such relations, and the very sight of it made me sick with nausea. By and by, one beauty surpassed another, and I tumbled ever onward, head over heels, into transsexual oblivion…

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2004-2019.