The air is blazing on the Greek island. There is a faint breeze blowing off the shore, but it does little to cool the afternoon. Sitting comfortably in my beach chair, I wiggle my toes in the sand, digging them deeper and feeling the hot, dry grains give way to the wetter and more compact sublayer of the beach.
The tidal shelf extends all of three feet. There is a small gradient just in front of me which accommodates it, and up which the apologetic waves race in a gentle culmination of sound and motion. I push my feet forward towards the waves, seeing how close I can get without actually touching the water; get it wrong and you get them wet, for a count of two, or at most, three. It’s not an unpleasant mistake. There are people around me on this friendly Greek island, but none of them talk to me. I don’t know if this is because I haven’t tried to talk to them, yet.
I look out at the sea through my old Oakley sunglasses; classy but aged. Small enough to fit in a shirt pocket but bullet-proof. Used to use them for mountain biking in places like the Derbyshire Hills …
Stupid . . . stupid . . .
The self-guided meditation fades. It was, of course, a reaction to the not-so-subtle interrogation by Dr Grey, which had left me shaken; needing somewhere to be me for a while, though I recognise the turning away from reality in that.
My consciousness returns to my senses, the dark cell and the sounds coming from beyond it. Yellow Eyes has left the grill in the door slightly open. I get off the bed and go to stand by it, looking out along the dimly lit corridor at what I have called ‘the tower’.
In the middle of the jail is a huge brick chimney, with an internal width the size of one of Derbyshire’s famous wells. I have often looked at its dominant, central structure on the way to and from the exercise yard. It’s a classic piece of Victorian engineering. I’m assuming it was part of the older heating system – now it just seems to be there, and is probably holding up the old building …
As a lover of heights, I have wondered what it would be like to sit on top of that vertical brick tunnel and gaze out at the lovely landscape of Bakewell and the hills beyond. The danger that would be part of such an experience makes it easier to visualise – one of the oddities of the human creative imagination.
The interview with Dr Grey made me feel like I was hanging on the inside of that tower; with him about to stamp on my fingers. He knew when to apply the shock; and I had little to say in my defence. Just when you think it couldn’t get worse. I think to myself … it does – much worse; and I know he’s perfectly capable of getting a local sanity hearing from the affronted and senior people of Bakewell who control my fate.
Dwelling on him will just increase his power, so I picture him sitting with me, talking, genially, on the top of the tower – with us both kicking our feet against the brick. For a second or two, the humour of it makes me smile; but then I dismiss the thought, along with the remnants of the Greek island’s lovely beach.
My thoughts keep returning to babies – or more accurately, to the journey of being born into the world. It’s upsetting but not illogical to think that my frightened and straining mind would think of my new life as being born, again, though not in a pleasant way. Perhaps the tube-like image of the tower is part of that?
Does a baby feel like this; coming into life? In the mind of that soul the whole of time has been Mother, and the sea of her womb; warm, holding, feeding, linked as one creature. And then, she begins to push the child away . . . down, into the tube which constrains and constricts. I’ll be there at the other end, her intimate thoughts with the child’s say, just trust …
But she’s not, of course. Not in the same way, though she does everything to honour that trust in the way that one now separated from the other can do; and such is the beauty and drama of birth. I think of Wen and Don – now so far away, I hope, from all this …
My thoughts return to my image of the child born. I’ll be there at the end, the mother in my head said. Instead, you’re on the outside of something; one becomes two. Lying, in a state of total vulnerability, and doing the only thing you can; the thing that grips your soul with the full power of this new shell – crying . . . and you cry and cry … and everyone seems happy with this, and you’re passed to the shell of Her the Most Warm and she knows what to do, and your mouth takes on a will of its own and you suck, and suck . . . and suck.
And thereafter, you never stop sucking, though the substances change, as the world is eaten, and painful teeth replace soft pink lips.
Later, you learn that there are different types of eating; that the milk of She the Most Warm is only one variant of food. There are two others, though the third has been largely overlooked because we’ve stopped believing in wonder and forgotten its purpose.
There is the air you breathe, which seems to be very different in function to the liquid and food that enters down the shared tube that goes deeply into you, just as the chimney in Bakewell Jail penetrates down into the bowels of the place – the fire room, down below, where, in the days of its use a full-time caretaker would tend it and the warmth it brought to the whole building.
The air has its own special place that links the lighter part of your world with the more vital part of your body, joining the internal flow of life in a very special way.
And the third type of food? The most powerful of secrets that the ancients knew, but we have forgotten? Why, of course that’s . . .
The nine grills on the shuttered hatch flick fully open on their oiled tracks; and Yellow Eyes is there. I will have to break off from my train of thought to be deferential to him.
“Special visit, m’Lud,” he rasps.
“I have a visitor?” I respond, my hopes rising.
“No, you’re going on a special visit,” he chortles. “Not far.” He is enjoying my unease.
He takes me to a old and narrow spiral staircase which ascends, vertically, along the outer wall of the central chimney – my Tower. I had never noticed it, before. Urging me upwards, I complete three turns before we emerge onto a landing. There are additional cells, here, though they don’t look used. The doorway to the last one is partly open.
“In!” Yellow Eyes nods his head and I enter what turns out to be a very pleasant space. Inside is Dr Grey, sitting on the cell’s large bed, beneath a glass ceiling that curls from the outer wall back towards the central structures of the place, topped with shaped ironwork. It’s essentially a conservatory – light, airy and uplifting.
“Bakewell’s Victorian jail is an example of what was known as ‘improving’ design.” says Dr Grey. “Trusted prisoners were allowed to graduate to one of these rooms, where they had the benefits of fresh air, and …” He swings his arms around and points to the view. “ … even a view of the surrounding hills. “ Dr Grey laughs, amused with what he’s trying to make happen. “You and your friends liked the hills, didn’t you, Ben?”
“He travels fastest who travels alone . . .” I say to him, finding something suitably trite to fend off his relentless logic.
He ignores this irrelevance. “Given that you may be in here for some time, Ben,” he says, getting up off the bed and approaching me in what he takes to be a conciliatory fashion while opening his arms. “We thought you might appreciate a transfer to this more comfortable cell?” He stands back to allow me the freedom of exploring. Were I being kinder to myself, I would stand stock-still and refuse. But the hills are there … and they gave birth to the people who carved the ancient stone – that stone.
In an agony of what will soon be self-denial, I walk around the edge of the cell, looking out over the town and then beyond to the nearby and beloved green landscape. The autumn is at its height and the mellow colours are beautiful.
“You wouldn’t think the two rooms were in the same building . .” I notice the deliberate softening of Dr Grey’s sentiment by the juxtaposition of the word rooms for the reality of cells. This is, indeed, a clever man …
They watch, wordless but happy, as my eyes mist over, looking outwards. Watch as I turn to face the direction in which I suspect Don and Wen fled the scene. I do not blame them; what else could they have done? What sense three of us locked in here?
Yellow Eyes grunts. Dr Grey nods, sagely. What they are not conscious of is that I am used to there being a special feeling about those moments of the now that are pivotal. They have an immediacy … as though someone else is listening. We can react to them in many ways – we can drift off into fantasy or imagination, which is fine, but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. If we want to pierce that heart with the spear of our own presence, our own consciousness, we need to bear witness to its reality, in all its wonder or sadness. That is our birthright, and we have no idea of the power of it, nor of the truth it carries.
That moment of power, with all its poignant consequences, is coming now, like a spear or an arrow launched from somewhere else. I hold metaphorical arms out to the beautiful vista beyond the curved glass, hug it in my heart, and know it will be long time before I see it, again.
“And all I have to do is to tell you I have accomplices and give you their names . . . and then you’ll dress us up in the clothes of local ‘history society’ fools and a prank gone too far?” I say softly.
“This is a mess for all of us, Ben,” Dr Grey says sincerely, still hoping. “Have you any idea how many important people you’ve upset?” He lets this sink in, then adds, “It’s an easy way out . . . for all of us.”
And then the arrow strikes from the sky, and it hurts, it bloody hurts; and I say, in a whisper that they can both hear, “But it’s not the truth.”
There is the silence of a thinly-witnessed crushing of the pale flesh of fingers beneath a boot’s sole; and then a falling into blackness …
I am back in my cell. The smaller, darker cell with only a skylight that looks at occasional blue, cloud, or five stars, on a good night. It’s colder in here, too, though the coming winter will, no doubt, make autumn’s first chill seem mild.
The light has gone, now – as has Dr Grey. Yellow Eyes has slammed shut the nine slices of his huge face in the door’s grill for the final time today, marching off down his corridor in disgust. There remains only the presence of ‘me’.
I have made my bed. There is only one way ahead, now … I have to convert that ‘me’ into a meaningful and deeper “I”, using only the trust that the unfolding now contains all that is needed, no matter how meagre.
I think of the third type of ‘food’. It is so simple that no-one considers it: the food of the soul is what is taken in by the senses – impressions. The alchemy of spiritual transformation is to take in our impressions and ‘eat’ them in a different way – no matter how humble their source seems to be … and they who carved the stone knew this …
I lie in the darkness, wondering. I consider a return to my Greek beach; but decide against it. It is not real, though it is attractive. It wastes the power of the moment, the high-octane content of immediacy that is our very lives, and a gift from somewhere else … though it can often be hard to see it that way.
It is said that the darkest moments contain the highest potency. I may need that thought in the future.
I close my eyes and try to clear my frightened mind. From somewhere in those depths something different appears. In an action that is not simply imagination, a clear image of the stone forms in my mind with such vibrancy that I can move around it as we first did in the churchyard in Bakewell …
———————————————————–< 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 story, 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.