Ben’s Bit, part two – The Little Red Book

Steve Green Man Dying FB2

I’ve done it again – drifted off, fully conscious; somewhere else. I do not know how long I’ve been staring at the Bakewell Gazette (see part one), absorbing their celebratory levity at my incarceration. ‘Local Businessman’? Well, stretching a point, but I know what they mean – certainly born among Northern hills very much like the beauty around Bakewell. ‘Businessman’? Definitely, until the recent, long-awaited stepping away from the IT world, after a working life at the helm of a software company; so that I could do the mystical stuff I’d always wanted to devote myself to. 

A crime of ‘Absolute precision’? Well, thank you; but emphasised here to show how the fates were on their side in the apprehension of the ‘prime perpetrator’ of this foul deed. And the precision was not mine, of course . . . though that needs to remain unsaid.

Most of what she does carries the stamp of precision with it – Wen that is; with the added calmness of Don’s gentle but deep oversight and his ability to pour oil on troubled waters, a gift that has kept the corporate wheels on many times. In a momentary lapse of generosity, I mentally repeat the word ‘corporate’.

Wheels . . . my lovely BMW, a retirement present to myself after twenty-odd years at the helm, lies pining somewhere under a dust cover in a justice system storage facility, no doubt.

I can see why they hate me, I really do understand. I am truly friendless in this dark place . . . but, a ‘M’lud’ I am most certainly not. I want to take them back to 1950s Bolton; to the sloping terrace of working-class houses, lined up the hill in uniform rows; one at each side of the river of cobbles – the place where, in a downstairs and makeshift bedroom, I came into the world . . . You take it from there, I want to shout, see what you make of it . . .

But this is getting maudlin, and I have to beware the edge of that deadly chasm. The recurring presence of Yellow Eyes is good for that – constantly reminding me never to show a weakness when he’s around; since he spends his time minutely studying my reactions, looking for the gaps into the soft underbelly . . . which he knows is there.

And I do, too – so the contest will be interesting, even if the dice are dreadfully loaded in his favour. There comes the single shutter movement again in the inset rectangle of the door’s spy panel, and, briefly, his glaring eyes are visible through the slits. Then his face disappears, leaving me to my introspection.

Time . . . that’s the killer. He can always come back and try again tomorrow. They have arranged the evidence to show conspiracy, even though the other perpetrators are yet to be caught; and I’m sure my period of remand will culminate in an utterly disproportionate custodial sentence from a local judge based on an overwhelming body of circumstantial evidence . . . so Yellow Eyes has all the time in the world to watch and hate.

And hate he does – deeply lidded, yellow hate . . . hate that you can taste and smell.

I don’t want to look at the red book on my little table yet. It promises to be the highlight of the day, and I want to savour it. So, once more, I pace my cell. One step, two, half of three – stopping in the panic spot and forcing myself to breathe.  Then, four, five . . . Looking down at the faded redness on the table top, just visible beneath the Gazette. It’s an old book; the spine is worn, as though it ended its working life as a well-thumbed library volume.

The silence is dreadful as I pick it up, pulling it from beneath the local rag. The fact that it has come from my mother gives it a warmth that is hard to express.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol was Oscar Wilde’s last book. Until now, I have never owned a copy, but I know it is said to be his greatest work. Beneath those red covers the man’s dancing and gay wit is replaced by a sober poetic ballad; a narrative of the hard and merciless truth of life behind those savage bars, including the execution by hanging of a fellow prisoner. This much I know. There will be more in the introduction, but for now, my eyes linger on the inside cover, where, in her lovely curly handwriting, my mother, one of the other occupants of that far-away and far-awhen Bolton terrace, has written out three lines:

“There would be no point coming into Being if nothing happened.”

Inside this new love, die. Your way begins on the other side. Become the sky, Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape. Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour. Do it now.”

The third line is a row of three kisses. This is from my mother; the other two are not . . .

I can feel my heart hammering as I realise that my dear friends and co-conspirators in the perceived ‘attack’ on the mysterious and ancient stone have found a way to communicate with me, albeit cryptically and probably for just this time. I know, now, that their flight to safety took them via Bolton, if only for this purpose. The first line bears the hallmark of Don’s humour; the second I recognise as a quote from the Sufi mystic Rumi and would be from Wen.

My eyes fill at the third line of kisses. I turn the page, anxious not to give anything away to they who may watch. Before me is the first verse of the Ballad of Reading Gaol:

“He did not wear his scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

And murdered in her bed.”

I did not know that coughs could sound happy; but the one from the still open inspection grill does so. It’s a kind of chortled grunt; followed immediately by the turning of the key in the lock. The door swings wide and his grinning face enters ahead of the huge body, carrying the requested notebook and pencil, which he places, without the usual ceremony of me having to move back, on my small table.

Smiling at the wet streaks on my cheeks, he nods to me. “It can be hard at first, but you’ll get used to it,” He beams with a sympathy that is false and calculated.

“After all, you’ll likely be here for some time . . .”

———————————————————–< to be continued-

Ben’s Bit is a continuing first-person narrative of the character created by Stuart France and Sue Vincent, which may bear some relation to the author of this blog, Steve Tanham, their fellow director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.  In the latest of their books, Scions of Albion, Ben is arrested for his overly enthusiastic part in a mad escapade, and the other two are nowhere to be seen . . .  For more, enjoy their Doomsday series of books, and the new series (Lands of Exile) beginning soon. Click here for details.

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