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Dick Neville Strikes Out

It was in a disused room off the kitchen, where Dick Neville frequently went in the early morning to have himself a nip of the flask, and a quick smoke. Occasionally he would be joined by a small gaggle of nurses, catching a few minutes repose between looking after patients.

Dick was a skinny, raw boned fellow, whose bottom jaw was frequently covered with a very scrubby, sandy beard. Alcohol and cricket, along with womanizing, formed the triad of his major obsessions in life. It was not his fault, he reckoned; Dad had been a scoundrel, and his father before him.

But he did have a certain lingering, rugged handsomeness about him, and a certain charm that had enabled him to claim a number of sexual conquests that had only begun, in his forties (and to his deep regret) to have tapered off,somewhat. But, then, that didn't mean he was going to quit trying.

It had been himself, an older woman employed as a ward maid, and Hildy Watkins who had been sitting in the dark alcove behind the kitchen, passing around Dick's ever-ready flask and talking in low, murmered voices, so as not to attract the attention of their superiors.

"Did you say the way he looked at me when I told 'em that? Did you see it?" He laughed, quietly; a throaty , raspy chuckle that was well-seasoned by gin and tobacco use.

The ward maid, who fancied she wouldn't mind having a go with Dick herself said, "like somebody had set his arse on fire, luv. Oh, it was a real sight!"

"Yeah," said Dick, "but if he ever gives me any of his lip again, I'll box his ears, I will. I won't stand for insolence from the likes of him. Nobby little shite!"

Hildy Watkins had ambled in unexpectedly, with not a solitary idea of what the two of them were actually talking about. Nor, did it seem, that she cared.

Her appearence always seemed to quiet a room, somehow. It was as if she carried with her a sort of disquieting cloud. It was in her eyes, Dick reckoned, that you could see it; the haunted, vapid gaze of someone that was just not, entirely, in possession of all her faculties. Or, as he often put it, "off her bleeding nut!"

She had come in and sat down at one of the battered tables, without saying a word. And right behind her, blowing in like a hurricane, was the the Head.

Dick cringed. He quickly put his flask back in his jacket , and began to try and slip out beside her, hoping she would be too preoccupied to even notice him. But he didn't get two steps, when she cried, sharply, "and just where do you think you're going?"

He turned his head, his heart, all of a sudden, hammering in his chest, and said, "well, I got another hour before the shift ends, and I---"

"You were in here wasting time, was what you were doing!" she cut him off abruptly, placing her hands on her hips, with a look in her face that might have made the most sadistic school master envious.

"Do you think I'm too stupid to know what goes on around here when my back is turned? You all had better watch yourselves, if you want to continue working here at The London . You know, you aren't the only man in the streets we could hire for a porter."

He stood there a moment, and consciously fought back the urge to reach up and pound her flat across the bridge of the jaw. My! he hated to be yelled at by a woman. Didn't seem right, somehow, that any woman besides your mother could make you feel so little, and Dick's mother had been dead for over ten years. Instead, he simply said, "sorry, mum. I was just talking to Barbara here for a minute. Didn't think a thing in the world of it."

She gave him the queerest look, the look of someone who was trying, desperately, to be patient with a mentally impaired child. Then, as if she had exhausted whatever rage she could focus on him, she turned on Nurse Watkins and said, "and you girlie! You're lucky you weren't sacked a month ago. You had better shape up by the end of the week, or it's going to be out the door with yer. Do you understand me? Stand up when I'm speaking to you!"

Hildy Watkins stood up from where she sat at the table. Her eyes, her very strange, grey eyes, looked directly into the Head's. The Head Nurse fairly hissed.

She saw something she didn't quite like there.

"I suppose I do." Hildy said.

"Yeah, well, just see to it that you at least try...I've got a mind to just let you go---right now!"

Hildy looked at her as if she might be speaking Chinese. Barbara Meadows still stood speechless in the corner, feeling as if her bladder might burst. Dick had turned to try and sneak out again, but Eva beat him to the punch; she turned, hissed, and flew out the door in an exasperated rage. He sighed. He had come close to losing his job, and he didn't have anything substantial saved to fall back on , if he did.

" Well," he said to Barbara. "ain't you the lucky one? She didn't give you near the dressing down she did us."

"Old bitch. Foul old bitch." Barbara looked glum. Well, she thought, it's either this or starving.

"You got that right," agreed Dick. " What she needs is a good fucking to cure her. Or, kill her!"

They both began to laugh. Hildy turned and looked at them, and said, " you should stop that laughter. You shouldn't say things like that. I don't like it. It's sinful, what it is."

Suddenly, with a nervous cry, she turned and hurried out the door. Dick Neville turned to Barbara, and said, "and there goes another one. How in the bleedin' hell did she ever get hired on? She belongs in Colney Hatch."

Still, he thought, I wouldn't mind having a peep at her with her knickers down.

" You know the only reason they keep her, don't you luv?"

He shook his head.

"She's the only one that don't mind bathing him."

"Bathing? Bathing who?"

"Ah, Dick, if you were any slower you'd be crawling, dear. Bathing Merrick, that's who. She's the only one who wants to do it. She always volunteers. You're right: she's out of her bloody mind."

Dick was aghast.

"Ah, bloody hell! You don't say?"

He turned and looked at the doorway where she had just left.

"So how are you feeling today, Joseph? Only your best, I hope."

Joseph could not smile, but said as cheerily as it was possible for him to convey, considering his limitations, "very good, Freddy. Not a care in the world, and like a new man, altogether."

Treves was faintly amused at Merrick's choice of words. He said, "so. Have you considered any alterations in your daily routine that might possible help you to stave off this melancholy that seems to have got ahold of you lately. I was thinking, perhaps, if you applied yourself to some rigorous course of study, maybe we could obtain for you some texts, or something."

Merrick considered. There were, it was true, huge gaps in his knowledge of the world. His formal education had been limited to around six years. But, be that as it may, he would still rather read his novels. Schoolbooks seemed dreadfully stuffy.

"And what subjects would you suggest, doctor?" Joseph was tired of the topic, but decided to ply Treves, to see how hard he had actually thought about his proposal.

"Oh, well, numbers, grammar, history...what, er, would you be interested in knowing about? I would hope a little of everything..."

"I am always interested in learning new things, doctor. But, it becomes very distracting trying to concentrate on some subjects if they do not, uh, have the same kind of dramatic effect on me as do many of my novels. Schoolbooks give me a headache."

Treves smiled. He understood the overwhelmed feeling that sometimes plauged young scholars. He had suffered it enough, coming up through medical school.

"Well, Joseph, I simply wish you to have a better understanding of the world and how it works. Education is the key to happiness, to mental well-being; an educated man is a successful man."

Suddenly, Treves regretted he had even brought the topic up. It was pointless. If Joseph wanted to while away his reading hours on rubbish, then who was Treves to say nay? What would Merrick ever accomplish with an overabundance of education? He couldn't even walk out of his front door in the daylight.

"Freddy, do you know what subject endlessly fascinates me?"

Treves looked at him bemusedly.

"What, pray tell?"

Merrick seemed uncomfortable for a minute, but then bent close to him in his chair, and said, "dreams. Dreams fascinate me. It seems that there is no end to the strange dreams that I seem to have"

Treves considerd for a moment. Well, it made sense. Someone that had had Merricks life would obviously, from time to time, be afflicted with strange dreams.

" Well, Joseph, all I can say to you is that I am not trained as an alienist. Dreams are a perplexing phenomenon of the brain; when we sleep, it seems to be as if we lose all conscious control of our thoughts, and our brain becomes unbound by the inhibitions and restraints put upon it in waking life. Oddly, there is a young Vienese physician I've recently read who is doing quite alot of research in that particular field...What was the gentleman's name? Ah, it escapes me. At any rate, what sort of dreams are you having? "

Merrick stopped to consider for a moment. Then said, "well, they are simply peculiar. There is always some man there. Dressed in black. And then the man takes me to some land, some far off place. And then I wake up, and the rest I can't remember."

Treves looked intrigued. Probably, this was Joseph's way of dealing, at some level, with his abandonment by the sideshow entrepeneur in Belgium. That bastard was probably coming to haunt Joseph in his nightmares.

"Does the man look familiar to you, Joseph? I mean, does he seem like a man that you've seen, somewhere.?"

"Yes...and no." Merrick was really carefully dancing around some issue. It made Treves slightly nervous.

"Yes and no? Well, which is it?"

"Well," began Merrick slowly. "It's as if, some part of me knows he who is, but it's a part of me that can't quite remember. It's like, I know him deep inside, but I don't know what to call him. My soul knows him."

Treves suddenly hit a brick wall. Here it was again, Merrick's bloody religion.

"Joseph, Joseph," he sighed, "you mean your mind, my friend. Your soul and your mind are one in the same. In fact, I should say you envision the soul through the lens of your mental development. The brain is an incredible organ, sir, and I would be a liar if I told you that we understand how it functions. But Joseph, your dreams, while they are interesting, are still only illusions. Products of the sum total of your learning and experience in life."

"But it is always so real, Freddy. It's almost like I can reach out and touch things---for instance, I had the most incredible dream the other night, and when I woke up the next day, t'was as if I hadn't slept a wink at all." Merrick seemed on the verge of pieceing something together, but it was something that was beyond him, and after a moments silence, Treves spoke up and said, " well, I wouldn't let it worry me, old man. I have never had a dream that I felt there was anything to fear from." He smiled; it would be a cold day in hell before he actually related to Joseph some of the case histories he knew of people dying in their sleep from apparent fright. He didn't feel, particularly, like there was any danger of that happening here, but why encourage Joseph's preoccupation.

"Well, probably you are correct, doctor. It's not something I'm going to let trouble me unduly."

"As well you shouldn't. I've always told you to put whatever fear you may have felt in the past to rest. You are in hospital, and here you will stay. This is your home, and we are going to make sure that you have nothing to worry about."

Merrick pulled himself to his feet, and extended his hand. He didn't want Freddy to leave, yet, but he knew the doctor was bound to his duties, and at any rate, soon it would be bath time again. besides, he knew the workman were coming back to Bedstead today to lay some more new bricks. He should have some people to talk to in between working on his models, answering his mail, and reading the rest of Frankenstein.

And, who knew? There might even be a caller or two today, to help keep him cheery.

He had cornered her in the back hallway, behind the ward where they usually kept older patients suffering from dementia. He had seen her pushing a cart with empty food trays, and he had been unable to stop himself. Easy mark.

He walked up to her casually, knowing they were relatively secluded in that area.

"And how are you this morning, my lovely pet?" Dick Neville came close to her as she stood there, acting as nonchalant as if he had stopped her to talk about the weather.

Hildy Watkins gave him the same stone cold stare she presented to everyone in the world.

"Oy, no need to be so cold to old Dicky. You should really be alot friendlier. Smile. Your face looks like it deserves one."

She simply continued to stare, blankly. My, he thought to himself. her eyes are as strange as they are lovely. Look like cat's eyes.

Slowly, he began to move his hand closer to her elbow, and she did nothing to stop him.

"Oh, you're an agreeable lass, then? I did not think that it would be so."

He came up very close to her then, and tried to move his hand up the rough material of her uniform. She simply stood there, as uncomprehending as a side of meat.

"Ooooh, yes, you and me and are going to be best mates, we are." His breathing became ragged. He had pushed her, slowly, away from the cart and up against the corridor wall.

If they catch me at it now, I am done for. I might as well pack my bags. Old Eva will sack me without even a second thought.

"Well...c'mon, girl. I ain't got all day."

He was half-expecting her to turn and lift her skirts for him, but she simply stood there, as if made of wood. It was then that he caught a whiff of the strange odor.

It was not the smell of sweat, he knew that odor well enough. It was something meatier, randier; like something had been left in a room on a hot day, and left to decay. It had not reallly been very noticeable at first, but the longer he stood next to her, the stronger it became. Now, it seemed to be the most overpowering odor in the room.

"Uh," he exclaimed in disgust. "Wot the hell have you been into?"

He had lost all his passion; it fell flat. Now, all he wanted was to get outside,and into the fresh air. And get the hell away from Hildy Watkins.

She saw him back away. she stepped past him and back to her cart. He simply stood there, with the same disgusted look on his face. Before she walked on though, she did one thing that made his blood run absolutely cold.

She smiled.

"Right out of a bleedin' nightmare," he murmured in disgust.

The Doctor is Sick

Freddy was standing by the window, looking out into the square.

"Well, it seems they've almost completed the work on the new wing. They do things so bloody quickly now. Not like in my day."

Joseph had looked at him for a moment. Freddy was so admirable a sight; tall, mustachioed, and handsome in a way that few men could really hope to ever equal. a dashing figure; admirable.

"Yes, Doctor. I have had quite a good time sitting and watching all of the activity that's taking place out there. The workmen are always so good to stop and speak to me during the day. Do you know I actually got to show a Mr. Edward, the foreman, my picture of Her Royal Highness? He was very happy about it, and asked me all sorts of questions about what it was like to have actually been introduced to the Princess of Wales."

Treves grinned, knowing that Merrick would, almost certainly, never in his life forget that particular moment.

We have already marked his memory for the better. I am very pleased that he seems to be forgetting some of the trouble he has had in the past.

"Very good. I do believe, as your physician, that the more interaction that you have, while you are here, the better off you are. You are a normal man, essentially. I believe that Mr. Edwards has probably realized that."

If Joseph could have smiled, he would have beamed. It did wonders for him for Treves to stroke his ego, call him "normal". It was going to be a bright day, God bless.

Treves seemed unduly tired, though. Joseph, after having looked at his friend in all sorts of moods nearly every day for the past two years, could well see that.

"I should probably be getting back, Joseph. It has been a most tiresome morning, already. An accident at the railway brought several men in for our immediate attention, and I was several hours simply applying bandages and trying to staunch bleeding. And you know, full well, what it is like when the common crowds carry them in: one man being lifted and passed down a row of onlookers, all promoting chaos. It's nearly insufferable, what you have to fight your way through simply to attend the sick and injured."

Merrick listened intently, then said, " but, you do not feel well, today. Do you doctor? I can see it. I think you may be coming down with some sort of illness in your own right."

Treves looked at him, suddenly annoyed. What, was Merrick a doctor now, that he could tell him what was wrong with him? But he said,

"Very kind of you to notice Joseph. Yes, I have been under something of a strain lately. Keeping up private practice, volunteering here, and also trying to be father husband, and diplomat. I'm afraid you don't quite know how much of a tax it can put upon a person."

Merrick withdrew from him, then, a little. He supposed he also took a considerable amount of the doctor's attention.

"I hope, it is nothimg that I have done, Freddy? I mean, you don't have to see me, every morning, I suppose."

Treves suddenly felt very bad. Joseph had interpreted his remark in the only that he possibly could have---an insinuation that he was an additional burden to Treves. He could see the dejection creep over his friend.

Merrick, for his part, could make no facial expressions. The deformity forbid it. But Treves had learned to read his eyes---truly, he thought, the windows to the soul. Or, at least Joseph's soul, at any rate.

"Oh, Joseph, I didn't mean it quite the way that you seem to have taken it. I enjoy our time together immensely. You know that. I always manage to learn something knew from you every single day."

Merrick brightened somewhat, but was left with the feeling that his friend was in need of some kind of attention. And, after all the kindnesses that Freddy Treves had shown him in his life, Joseph began to wish desperately to be able to figure out exactly what, and if, in his limited power, he could do anything to help.

I suspect you do learn from me, dear Doctor---just as I always learn from you. Just as I have learned from you, today, that there is something wrong that you cannot confess.

With Reverend Valentine

This is the song of thy suffering servant,

This is God's hobbling little poem,

This is a psalm for the New Age,

I drone on in His image.
---Kenneth Sherman,
Words for Elephant Man

"Joseph, you wanted to see me?"

Reverend Valentine was a little man, with a beet red complexion and thining grey hair. His knock was sturdy; self-assured, and he always struck everyone he talked with as having the same way about his religion as he did with his interactions with others. He was self-assured, not given to doubts, and knew that God was master of heaven and earth. Amen.

Merrick had actually wanted to see him about attending chapel services at the hospital. Something had been tugging him lately, tugging at his sense of assurance and his basic joy. Oh, he had read his Bible, and tried to work it out in prayer, but it had simply refused to leave him alone. He was suffering; he couldn't seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel any longer.

"Yes, Reverend. I have some little things I want to discuss with you."

The good Reverend entered and made himself comfortable at the little circular table where Joseh took his meals. Already, he thought, the morning is proving to be sobering.

Reverend Valentine had seen Joseph on several occasions, and had become quite use to his appearence by now. But, his speech was a different matter, and the conversation they had was strange, and punctuated by not a few "beg your pardon's" from the good Reverend.

"Well, Reverend, it's just that I've felt so, well, melancholy lately. I don't quite know how to explain you think God, understands, I mean, when we are feeling bad, and can't quite seem to find it within ourselves to be of good cheer, as the book says we ought to?"

Reverend Valentine very carefully chose his words here. He knew that if he was Joseph Merrick, questions of faith would be a daily struggle. Upon first meeting him, he wondered how the man had managed to survive as well as he did.

"Brother Merrick," he began. "I think that God knows, truly, what is in each and every heart. I don't think there is anything, particularly, unnatural in a person, especially one who has experienced such difficulties as yourself, having doubts...if that is what you are talking about. Is it not?'

Merrick considered.

"I suppose it is. But it isn't really a doubt about the existence of God---I don't doubt that at all. It's just that, well---"

"You question exactly why it is that things have to be the way they are, don't you Joseph. Well, all I can tell you is what Jesus himself said to the disciples." He sat at one of the chairs that had been brought down to accomadate Joseph's visitors, and opened his own weather beaten Bible.

"Ah, see, here it says, Luke chapter 9 verse 48, ' ...for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.' You see, to God, even the least of his servants is counted amongst the most valuable. So---there is no reason for you to be despondent, my friend. God knows the secrets of your heart, and he knows how good you are."

Joseph sank somewhat. This did little to ease his mind, but he said, "I have tried so hard to keep faith with him. But I have to wonder: why did he make me as I am? what was his reasoning?"

Tristam Valentine sighed deeply. This was going to be difficult.

"Joseph, have you read the book of Job?"

"Yes. Of course." How could he not have? He damn near lived by it.

"Then," began the Reverend, " you must remember what it says in chapter 40 verse 2: 'Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty, instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it...' "

Joseph finished for him, quoting,"'Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth...'"

"You know your scriptures well, my friend." The Reverend was taken a little aback. What to say to this man to console him?

"Joseph...Brother Merrick, we are all Gods children. In my life, I have seen countless examples of human suffering. We are not in this world because it is paradise: this world has fallen from grace. It is only by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we may hope to achieve salvation, in the next world."

Joseph looked at him, but that verse was still running in his mind.

"Behold, I am vile..."

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The following comments are for "Joseph: A Victorian Fairy Tale (part 2)"
by tom baker

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