Jacques is telling it…
Night has fled and dawn bleeds through the spindle trees. The muffled sound of the sea pulses in the mist, as if the waves themselves were breaking over the hills. Ethereal waves purl in the cauldron:
‘Every best gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.[i]’
A flash of light, and the Cyclops is standing by the hearth.
‘Krew! Don’t creep up on me like that!’
‘Sorry, did I frighten you?’
Krew looks different. His eye has lost its rainbow hue and the iris is clouded with a cataract. His once bright face is pudgy and pale, with bristles on his chin. Everything about him is peculiar – especially his proportions; his arms have grown long and gangly, whilst his legs are short and fat, with enormous clumsy feet. Even his garb has changed: instead of the radiant robe he first appeared in, he now wears a sackcloth cowl, which hangs on his shoulders like a mouldy leaf.
‘You’re changed Krew. And your eye is dimmed.’
‘Dimmed? Is it? Yet I see perfectly. And the world looks quite enchanted…’
‘Why are you dressed in sackcloth?’
‘Sackcloth? Don’t be absurd. My royal robe is spun from volcanic glass; the finest obsidian, drawn from the depths of my mother’s mantle. See how it sparkles like the stars.’
‘It doesn’t sparkle at all. It’s nothing but sackcloth. Dirty old sackcloth.’
‘Your perceptions are at fault. Are you eating properly? Malnourishment is the first cause of disease.’
‘I see perfectly. And you’re wearing sackcloth.’
‘Ask yourself, why would I wear the garb of a heretic?’
‘To mock me?’
‘Don’t be foolish Jacques. ’Tis I, immortal Krew – your diamon and friend.’
‘Well, you don’t look like Krew. Even your voice has changed.’
‘’Tis deeper and less melodious. Gruff.’
‘I can assure you, I am none other than Cyclops Krew, son of Pyracmon the Fire-Anvil, and Governor of the Molten Halls of Aetna.’
‘Methinks you an imposter.’
‘Imposter? Whatever next. Very well, let us settle this once and for all. We’ll view our reflections together. Do you have a mirror?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Then we shall look into the pond.’
‘The pond is frozen over.’
‘Well never mind appearances. If truth be told, we diamons are apt to change – especially when our human host is disturbed of body and mind. I know your heart is heavy. Listen to me Jacques, I have just come from the village. A multitude of sick, blind and lame is gathering in the street. They are awaiting your arival. But there is division amongst the crowd, for some attribute Maria’s resurrection to the work of Beelzebub, Prince of Devils.’
‘I knew it!’
‘Fear not. Such obstinate and incredulous people are unworthy of miracles.’
‘I should flee to the mountains.’
‘You cannot flee. This is your vocation. You must win them over. Sympathise with their pains. I have endowed you with many gifts, not least an innate knowledge of human nature. You are a great empath. Astound them. Reveal their inner doubts and fears. Shall I reveal yours…’
‘You feel guilty for your mother’s death. She died alone whilst you were raising Maria.’
‘Yet part of you rejoices at her end, because she beat you cruelly. When you were young, you thought she beat you because you were bad; and you thought the beatings made you good. And even when she was going mad, you martyred yourself under her staff, because your punishment relieved her pain.’
‘You must understand that her rage was born of fear; fear of the Janus and fear of the pyre. As your deformity grew, she began to see the Janus in you. But Margot had her own Janus on the inside. Living in the body is a dangerous thing. She tried to escape it whenever she could. But years of whoredom, hemlock and wine softened her brains. In the end, she saw you as the product of her sins: an evil unnatural thing. And now you fear she was right. For your affliction disturbs you with dark impulses. The darkness wants you for its own…’
‘Must you torment me so?’
‘Don’t be sad Jacques… Your soul is intrinsically good. And the people will know it. Soften their hearts, as I have softened yours. Give them encouraging words. Summon the Light. Lay hands upon the sick…’
‘I cannot cure a wart.’
‘Did you raise Maria or not?’
‘I thought you did.’
‘Me? You are quite mistaken. Only you can wield the Light Stream. Go forth. Show them your powers.’
‘I’m not worthy.’
‘Don’t be so weak and contemptible. Christ said: “Ye are Gods.” [ii]’
‘Me? A god? I look like a cankerous she-goat with twisted horns! They will stone me to death.’
‘Show courage. Paul was stoned for healing the lame. Did he loose heart? No. Go and heal the faithful. But stay clear of unbelievers.’
‘Why? Are they not worthy of miracles?’
‘Must I appear prejudicial? Sceptics and cynics are detrimental to the soul.’
‘But what of my fleshy tunic? My horns frighten them.’
‘You are sufficient as you are.’
‘Am I not worthy to be cured? ’
‘Do not expect to meet the Divine on the basis of your personal afflictions.’
‘But that is how the sick met Christ.’
‘That was different.’
‘Different? How was it different?’
‘The origin of disease does not lie on the material plane, but from a conflict between Soul and Mind. The primary cause is action against Unity. Disease is just a symptom, manifest in the body. Heal the spirit, and you heal the flesh.’
‘You infer that my spirit is corrupt.’
‘Not at all.’
‘But if my soul is good, why is my flesh flawed?’
‘All men are fallen. Are you so foolish that, whereas you began in Spirit, you would now be made perfect in flesh?’[iii]
‘Not foolish, Krew. Hopeful.’
‘You hope in vain. Believe me, there’s not a cure on earth for your miserable condition.’
‘You’re wrong. I met an angel who can cure me.’
‘You silly fool.’
‘He is the mainstay of my entire existence.’
‘I saw Him by the river. An apparition in the storm. He spoke with me.’
‘And were you beguiled?’
‘He promised to change my tunic.’
‘And what did you say to Him? “Get behind me Satan”?[iv]’
‘No. We made a pact.’
‘Are you mad?’
‘He will restore my flesh in exchange for my soul.’
‘Alas, the flesh: a fatal deficiency inherent in all human. You foolish child. No good will come of it. I bid you break this pact at once.’
‘I can’t. Lucifer is the Prince of The World. And if I break my pact, I am fated to return as Future Jack, the moonstruck man.’
‘Do you think so? But I have seen you in another sphere – as a beautiful lady, sipping wine on a Venetian veranda.’
‘That lady constantly evades me. I cannot wait for another sphere. This Earth is where I dwell and have my being.’
‘You are a child of Earth and the starry heaven, but your race is of Heaven alone.’[v] Do you think you have not lived ten thousand times before?’
‘Shall I never return to Paradise?’
‘Work out your salvation, and the treasures of Heaven are yours.’
‘Salvation lies in matter. And Lucifer is the master of matter. I will find my gold in mud.’
‘Already you sound like a prophet.’
‘He promised me a sign.’
‘Well now! A sign. What sign?’
‘A blooming rod.’
‘The rod of Aaron? That brought forth fruit, and budded like a Virgin bringing forth her son? But I see no blooming rod. Where is it?’
‘I haven’t found it yet.’
‘Beware. For the Serpent shall turn His rod into a serpent. Have you checked under the bed? I have a profound phobia of snakes. The very sight of an asp brings me out in hives.’
‘You mock. I wonder who you really are. A deceiving spirit sent to test me? Did Satan send you?’
‘Satan? Send me? Fool, I come not from the hellish Serpent, but the brazen Serpent of Christ crucified. And you let Lucifer beguile you into thinking He could cure your tunic? Shall you be bitten and burnt by a violent heat? Get behind me Satan. Behind me. So I ask you, who is behind the Christ? Does Satan oppose Christ, or follow him? For the Light is oft’ a dangerous and fiery power.’
‘I am confused. Are these the palms of Lucifer or Christ?’
‘I cannot serve two masters.’
‘Shall you heal with your right hand only? The ordinance of God has set out two great masters in this world: Life and Death. But the Light is an elixir of their joint operation… For Christ also is the bright and morning star.’[vi]
Krew vanishes in a puff of smoke.
The sun has risen over the woods and the land sparkles with silver frost. It seems that pearly light is sprinkled on my crown. I am the fusion of opposites – the great alchemist, alive in the world but not part of it. I have climbed Jacob’s ladder to dwell on higher planes, above men, glory, influence and status. The prophet is a lonely madman, poor and wretched in his flesh. I feel bold enough to summon all angelic powers. Bring me the sick and lame; I shall cure their palsy, soothe their sores, and pour sweet heresy into their ears…
Up a ladder, down a snake. A gypsy game of the East. My ascension is through falling. Another throw of the dice and where shall I land? In the New World – amid the smoking chimney stacks, where cobbled streets lead to tarry realms. An age of doubt, denial and misbelief. Is that what He wants of men?
Star of the Morning, where is your sign? Bring me Aaron’s rod and I will serve you all my days… Let me follow the Brazen Serpent back to Paradise. There I will feast on fruits of Knowledge. I will glean what Moses knew of Genesis; behold the glory of Eve before The Fall. Then rise like a phoenix, melding fires of Life and Death, in self-cremating passion.
‘All this is madness! Moonstruck madness! Tis Selena’s mysterious work. Did she not say I would find worlds within words? Did she not lead me into this enchanted realm? Yet I too have qualms and suspicions, distrusts and misgivings: that the world is not what it appears to be; that I am but a porn of the Gods, created for their amusement, in this game of human pains. Up a ladder, down a snake…
* * * *
Ma went to the alehouse last night. There was a posh man waiting in a Bentley when she got home. He wound down his window and asked:
‘Are you Mrs. Vallis, the midwife?’
She didn’t answer, and hurried to the front door. But he got out his car and blocked her way:
‘I want a word with you,’ he said.
I spied from my bedroom window as they fought like dogs on the cobbles. He grabbed her hair; she kicked his shins; he slapped her face; she clawed his cheek. He grabbed the lapels of her coat and they spun like satellites, tripping on the curb. She tottered back against the bonnet, her skirt ripping on the bumper.
‘I’ll kill you!’ he cried.
She lashed out with her handbag. The clasp caught his eye and he yelped:
She stamped her foot:
‘I’m not a witch! I’m a midwife!’
‘Call yourself a midwife? You’re nothing of the kind. You’re a back street abortionist, that’s what you are! A bottle of gin, a knitting needle, and six Hail Mary’s. Well the Lord won’t forgive you! That was my baby!’
‘Your baby? It was yer wife’s baby!’
‘She had no right!’
‘No right? It’s her body.’
‘Her body? You need to take an anatomy lesson!’
She ran inside and slammed the door in his face. I crept to the stair as he shouted through the letter box:
‘Midwife to the Devil! That’s what you are! I’ll bloody kill you!’
‘It’s her body!’ cried Ma, again.
He kicked down the door and forced his way inside. Then he took Ma by the throat and said:
‘Her body? It wasn’t her body, you stupid cow! It was a separate individual human being! But you cut it out like a cancer! A baby is not a female body part! An unborn child is not an elective organ! You evil hag! She was six months up the duff. Six months! Christ!’
He looked in mind to kill her. He squeezed harder, sinking his thumbs into her scrawny neck. Ma began to splutter and choke. She was pinned against the wall, squealing like a rabbit, her feet barely touching the ground.
‘You wicked witch! I’ll show you! I’ll cut you up!’
She was blacking out, her eyes bulging like dobbers, her heels rapping on the skirting. Part of me wanted him to finish her off. But I yelled:
‘Hey fella! Stop! You’re gonna kill her!’
‘Get lost kid,’ he snarled. ‘She deserves to die!’
I ran to the hall, grabbed the Virgin Mary, and hit him across the temple. The statue broke in two and shattered on the tiles. Dazed, he let Ma go and rolled back against the wall. They sat there for a moment, sprawled on the floor, panting from the ruckus. His suit was ripped at the shoulder and his face covered in scratches. He gazed vacantly at the broken statue and asked softly:
‘Boy or girl?’
Boy,’ rasped Ma, ashamed.
Distraught, he staggered out the door, snivelling:
‘My son! My son!’
I saw it squirming in the bucket. The poor wretch was torn to pieces. I blame the Pope; he’s responsible for all the murdered babies. Catholic dogma is pure evil. I mean, how can you proclaim the sanctity of human life with one hand, and forbid contraception on the other? It’s a plot of the Devil. And in the shadow of such evil, I ask myself, how can a rational and satisfactory theodicy ever be constructed?
Ma’s been hungover all morning. Why won’t she leave me in peace? Fetch some coal Jack. Cut some kindling Jack. I’m nothing but a skivvy round here. I’m trying to listen to the radio, but she’s bawling from her bedroom:
‘Have you got that fire lit yet, lad?’
‘The matches won’t strike.’
‘Don’t be so feeble!’
‘They’re soaking is wet.’
‘How did that happen?’
‘How should I know? They reek of beer. What did you do? Drop ’em in your drink?’
She ponders for a moment then bleats:
‘Er, no, not me, pet. A man at the bar. It was chock a block in there last night.’
‘Well, I can’t light a fire without matches, can I?
‘Go out and buy some more.’
‘It’s Sunday. Syke’s is shut on Sundays.’
‘Well rub some sticks together, for god’s sake!’
‘Don’t be daft ma.’
‘Mind your lip. And turn that bloody radio off. You spend your whole, life listening to that thing. Make yourself useful and mend the door. It’s proper Baltic in ’ere. And where are my stockings? … ’Ere, ’ave you been in my things again, our Jack?’
The door hangs broken on its hinges. How can I possibly mend that? The latch is an enigma that muddles my mind; the grain is full of cryptic marks, unintelligible as the Cross. Each twisted nail reminds me of Christ Crucified.
‘Are you deaf?’ cries Ma. ‘I said, turn that radio off! I’m trying to get some kip!’
I flick the knob and the dial goes dark. You’d think the fairies would have saved me by now. But they hate the New World. Only in far-away realms do faeries dwell, beneath enchanted hills, where fire-goblins dance under a silver moon. The New World has no patience for elementals of the past. They cannot be considered without first being excluded, a priori, on the grounds that materialism has forever closed the doors of spiritual inquiry.
We live by faith, and not by sight. That’s what the priest said. But his Mass is a dreadful bore. There’s nothing to do on Sundays except listen to the radio. I’ve only got one book, and I must have read it a thousand times. The Boys Book of Radio and Electronics – a Christmas present from my uncle. I know it by heart…
Heinrich Hertz died of blood poisoning on New Year’s Day, 1894, at the age of 37. Few scientists have accomplished so much as did Hertz in the seven short years he spent as professor of physics. His name is immortal. In the summer of that same year, an imaginative young man of 20, named Guglielmo Marconi, was vacationing in the Italian Alps. While looking for something to read, he picked up an electrical journal which contained an announcement of the great Hertz’s death. It told also the story of Hertz’s experiments with electric waves…[vii]
What about Time waves? A faery told me all about them. According to Grazide, events in Time ripple through the Ether like waves in a pond. Past events ripple toward the future, whilst future events ripple toward the past. The past and future form interfering waves. At at any one point in time, you can access both past and future, because the ripples of those events are all around you. Which means that linear Time does not exist. Our life is a manifestation in Time, but one that constantly reconfigures itself, according to the interference pattern in the Ether.
At nine years old, I had the preposterous idea of building a Time Machine. Perhaps, unbeknown to me, I succeeeded. For I dwell between worlds. My entire existence consists of long excursions into the fourth dimension. Do you think me mad? Think again.
It is asserted that when Marconi was experimenting with wireless telegraphy on the Swiss lakes, there were people who called him insane and advised that he be confined in an asylum.
Oh my beloved Marconi! How I wish we could have a good laugh together! I shall speak with you tonight – summon your spirit from the great beyond. The materialists will be rudely shocked. For they don’t believe the human personality survives bodily death. But the afterlife can no longer be dismissed with disrespectful sneers. Facts are facts. There is a natural body and a spiritual body. How I despise those cowardly sceptics! It is always easy to believe anything once it becomes conventional and respectable, but almost impossible before.
I’m leafing through my scrapbook. Automatic writing is difficult to decipher. Especially mine. Here’s a letter from my beloved Marconi, transcribed in trance at the age of thirteen…
My dearest Jill,
The horizon of truth awaits you. The greatest discovery of Mankind is the electrical theory of matter. The Cosmos is infinitely larger than the paltry limits of human imagination. Yet the one great continuity between worlds is the Ether – a substance incomprehensible, and of such refined order, that it forms an all pervasive field, binding all matter together – the universal medium of communication between the stars. This interplanetary and interstellar medium is so subtle that it offers no resistance to a moving body, nor is displaced by it, but passes through it, like water through a sieve. Paradoxically, this implies a density greater than any solid. Assuming the electrical theory of matter, this ethereal density is laid down as of the order 1012 times that of water. Yet how miraculous is this wondrous fluid! How elastic and delicate! It instantly responds to the vibratory impressions of Mind!
Your beloved Marconi.
Tell me Hertz, what they will write of me?
Jill Vallis died from spontaneous human combustion, on New Year’s Day, 1974, at the age of 910. Few transsexuals have accomplished so much as did Vallis in the seven short years she spent working at Mullard Valves. Her name is immortal…
I awake just in time to catch the end of The Archers. It’s dark outside and Ma is sleeping it off, snoring like a trooper. I keep the volume low and put my ear to the speaker.
Oh no! Ambridge is on fire! Grace has gone after Midnight, back into the burning stables: “For God’s sake Grace! Don’t do it!”
* * * *
The theme wafts in through the door and hangs in the eaves like a curse that refuses to die. Shall the future never change the past? An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth…
I pace round the cauldron, pondering the aberration of my saintliness. A chill breeze whispers through the reeds. An omen is at hand. I stand petrified on the threshold, awaiting His sign…
A raven caws from the pond. I gaze at the rushes with their frosty heads, all bowed in mourning. The raven caws again. And I can’t believe my eyes. For the bird is perched on Moma’s staff! It stands boldly in the ice, a white flower blooming on the shaft. The blooming rod of Aaron! And I know it marks the spot. Not even Reynard the fox could find my gold… No wonder! She hid it under water!
I wade in at once, breaking the ice, gasping at the cold, fumbling through the weeds. Within moments I’m heaving the amphora onto the bank. I uncork the neck and grope inside. Gold! I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams! The coins tinkle through my fingers like manifest wishes. There’s enough to flee this place forever. You shall be lord of all you survey…
Goblin jury, I humbly recognise my hypocrisy. Where is my faith? In God or gold? I would like to tell the court that the amphora became a huge spiritual obstacle. But I’d be lying. I thought of all the human pains used to fill it; each coin a transaction of depravity, taken from the abbey coffers. The gold exceeds the silver, and the silver exceeds the copper: the wages of a whore, who brought forth the world with obstetric hands. All her life she was caught in a snare; and the only gold she wanted was the sacred mistletoe. What grievous humiliations? What soft caresses? What potions for the Janus and his wives? Yet I too might be one of these very coins: another mooncalf buried in Devil’s Ditch. But the Light of Grace surrounds me: I behold all the stillborn babes, twinkling like fireflies, swirling above the pond and flying through the firmament…
Moma kept her horde for me and I found it with her blessing. She marked this spot before her death. The icy water must have finished her off. Sweet maiden of berries and boles! Shall I leave my treasure for the faeries? Nay, they have gold enough; gold to them is common as mud; they pave their floors and walls with gold; they have all the gold in the deep Earth. This gold is mine. And I shall spend it as Moma intended: on my education. I will go to Paris and dwell amid the throngs of singing spires – a den in a belfry, high above the river, with the gargoyles and ravens for company, far from this world of gutless thralldom. You question my intentions. Should I take naught for the way but a staff only? No scrip, no bread, nor money in my purse?[viii] People would fear me leprous as the snows. But all things obey money. I can do great works with gold. I will honour Margot’s memory: I will dignify her strife…
The abbey bell tolls down the furrows. And the Devil whispers:
‘Do not be so hasty to spend that filthy lucre. Paris will have to wait for your infamous arrival. For you have unfinished business in cloister. Remember our pact: I want that abbey razed to the ground!’
’Tis then I see Margot’s ghost hovering on the pond – a grim visage, sallow and wan:
‘Were all my trails for naught? What business have you a monk? Abbot Adam is evil, mad and dangerous. More dangerous than a ravenous wolf. Stay clear of him! He must never know who you are!’
She melts in the mists.
But despite her dire warning, I no longer fear my Janus sire. For Lucifer has paved the future with golden opportunities… Besides, how shall I find peace lest I avenge my mother’s death, and all the poor maidens who met their end in that cursèd tower?
I check nervously over my shoulder. The lane is deserted but for the crows who spy from the rookery, squawking at the shimmering coins. I sit there for a moment, trembling in disbelief at so much wealth. But there’s no time to gloat. Already the churls are calling from the vill. My treasure must never be found. Hurriedly, I scoop the coins back in the urn and jam the cork fast. Then I sink it amid the weeds on the far side of the pond, where the water is deep and dark. I will return in Spring, when my pact is fulfilled.
The dawn chorus rejoices in a great cacophony that rings from the woods. Taking Aaron’s rod, I march toward the village, my heart brimming with new hopes. Lucifer kept his vow. Now I shall keep mine…
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2007
i. James 1:17.
ii. John 10:34.
iii. Galatians 3:3.
iv. Matthew 16:23.
v. “I am a child of earth and the starry heaven, but my race is of heaven alone.” Orphic tablet, Petelia, Italy 3rd century BC.
vi. Apocalypse 22:16.
vii. “The Boys’ Firsts Book and Radio and Electronics” by Alfred Morgan.
viii. Mark 6:8.
Image credit: ‘Aaron’s Rod Has Sprouted’ by Hesdin of Amiens; illumination from a Biblia Pauperum (Bible of the Poor) manuscript, Den Haag.