After exercise in the tree-lined yard of the old gaol, I am returned to my cell, clutching a fallen twig of oak. Yellow eyes doesn’t seem to mind this simple addition to the contents of my room, and lets me keep it.
“They will fade and crumble soon,” he mutters, as though the judgment carries enough negative weight against the idea of keeping them. “You can sweep up your own bits when they do . . .”
This simple exchange sums up our current relationship. His initial venom towards me, and relish at my incarceration within his ‘care’, is giving way to the beginning of what I perceive as a process of grinding down my soul. The reference to the certainty of the fading oak leaves being a case in point; the leaves will decay – this is inevitable, and Yellow Eye sees himself as an agent of the inevitable . . .
Perhaps he would be happy if I lost hope and simply joined in the world of the negatively inevitable? I play with the words and come up with an amalgam: innegitable. Its a simple act of rebellion, but it makes me smile. Through the metal slats in the door, he directs a snarling look at my smile as he slams the metal leaves firmly shut.
But my leaves are not metal; they are living things, which, although disconnected from their source, are still alive; though they may be. innegitably, dying. I sit on my bed and examine them, letting my attention rove over their surface, absorbing their features and contours, feeling their delicate veins with the tips of my fingers, putting them over my top lip and letting the smell of the outside, the free, fill my nostrils. It may simply be that being locked up increases the attention to what is there? There is so little here that anything in the field of view becomes the subject of intense scrutiny – with all the senses.
Without my realising it, an hour has passed in this reverie which is not sleep. I know because the eleven o’clock bell starts to ring. This is my only means of telling the time – apart from the growing or fading light. I am not allowed a watch, though there is a rather nice one in a sealed bag of my possessions somewhere not too far from here. The bells remind me of life on a ship, and I wonder at the local customs of this place, and how far they are permitted to bend the normal rules of life in a prison. Derbyshire is an ancient and mysterious land; its folklore is deep and vibrantly alive. Some of this shared sense of archaic culture is the local motive for my harsh treatment, I am sure.
But I pray that, somewhere in this ordeal, there will come into my enclosed life someone who appreciates what we were trying to do; what we succeeded in doing, though its tenure may be fleeting. Someone who can see that our respect for this land was total and hence the motive to return to its rightful place a living and powerful symbol of that link with the ancient past.
I can hope . . . But, certainly that person is not Yellow Eyes . . .
Before me is my notebook and my annotated copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol. I look again at the two inscriptions on the inside cover, which I know to be from my dear friends:
“There would be no point coming into Being if nothing happened.”
“Inside this new love, die. Your way begins on the other side.”
I have to smile at Don’s dark but conspiratorial humour in the first. “It’ll be fine,” I say to the still air of the cell, mirroring his favourite form of reassurance as he pushes me out of the next speeding car.
To the second sentiment, from Wen, I say nothing. Holding the opened book to my heart and thinking of the many happy hours the three of us have shared in our joint madness of the soul.
But death, indeed; or at least a form of death, seems to be the only way forward . . .
———————————————————–< 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.