Authors: Ishbelle Bee
n the summer of 1887
, my grandfather stole a clock. He trundled it out in a wheelbarrow and loaded it into a pony and trap, and off he went with a click-ity clop. A big smile stretched across his face like a chalk line drawn by a child on a blackboard, wonky and unsure.
The clock was six feet high
and the shape of a coffin.
hose wicked time machines
Pyramid, coffin, clock… click-ity-clop
Smash up the clocks. Tread them underfoot, throw them at the walls. Break their faces, pull off their arms.
Stop the clocks
S t o p t h e t i c k e t y - t o c k s
, the enormous, exotic and bearded Goliath Honey-Flower arrives like a star falling and imprinting the surface of the Earth.
he has landed.
A galactic footprint.
The moon a stage light for his materialization onto the Liverpool docks. The sky is the colour of porridge and the sea, a miserable treacle black. It makes everything sticky.
I am his ward and my name is Mirror. My name is a reflection. A piece of the moon.
y hair is red
as paprika and I am bundled up in black bear furs. Goliath grips my hand and guides me onto the slimy surface of the dockyard.
Our captain, Mr Mackerel, is a white-bearded weathered old gent, with eyes like sea jewels. He deposits us on the docks with a wink and a crooked smile; like a demented midwife, delivers us straight from the sea. His strange, ragged cat gazes the shoreline for fat rats. I cuddled that cat like a teddy bear on the journey, feeding it bits of ham and stroking its orange fur as though it were a great tiger. It had eyes like magic beans, dark and chocolatey that looked at you and said, “I have my own secrets, you know. I am no ordinary cat.” Captain Mackerel calls him a little bugger and shakes his fists but, I am sure, loves him as deeply as he loves the sea.
I think that is all that matters in this world. It does not matter what you are as long as you love and are loved.
We have travelled from Egypt and it has taken us months to return to England. We had been staying in Cairo with Goliath’s father who is an archaeologist. He has been excavating a tomb of one of the Egyptian princesses.
The skies are gold and pink in Egypt and there are many gods. The skies in England are grey and pale blue and I am told there is only one god here but there used to be more. They have disappeared; swallowed up in stories. Left only words behind.
the tomb of the Egyptian princess which was covered in drawings of blue beetles with horns and green fish with stars above their heads. Red flowers were painted on her skin and bursting like fire out of her mouth. The god in England is made of wine and bread, and his churches have pictures of grumpy looking men praying and angels with swords. I ask Goliath what the old gods of England were like, the ones who disappeared, and he tells me there were gods and goddesses, some of the river, of the forests and of the animals, and they would speak to humans in dreams and in the patterns of the stars.
I miss the colours of Egypt. I think about all those fire flowers of the princess and the little pots she was buried with. I got to hold them in my hands. They had tiny drawings of frogs on them and strange eye symbols. I wonder if she was some sort of enchantress, if she was something not from this world.
Captain Mackerel’s little ship is called the
and it is painted as green as limes. As we stand on the docks I stare down upon it and say goodbye. It bobs up and down on the grimy waters, overshadowed by the other vast metal ships without names or colour. It is raining heavily and great splodges of water fall into my eyes and Goliath’s beard, disappearing like pearls thrown into a wild forest. He gives me a huge grin, showing many white teeth, and puts me upon his great bear-like shoulders, carrying me like a ship’s mate up the mast through the crowds of grey and shadow-heavy people lurking about the docks. Seagulls screech like witches and the moon above us is shaped like a sickle. The people here wander about like ghosts, grey upon grey. That is how Liverpool appears to me. Not like London, where I grew up, which pulses with blood and dark magic. There is no strange glitter here. Captain Mackerel waves goodbye, holding his soggy cat in his arms. I will miss them both and, I am sure, will never see them again.
We make lodgings at a tavern called the Drowned Sailor
deposit our bags and head off into the night to Quack Alley. Goliath has arranged a meeting with a gentleman known as Augustus Nightingale (whose real name is Timothy Scudfish – Goliath tells me he changed his name to sound mysterious). Mr Nightingale is a Psychic Medium, which means he can talk to the dead. People pay a lot of money to see him. Goliath tells me that he is well known throughout England for helping people who are possessed by demons and he is able to perform exorcisms. Goliath hopes he will be able to help me because something is inside of me, like the red flowers inside the princess. Something that is not human.
Goliath holds Mr Nightingale’s book,
Secret Knowledge of the Spirit World,
in his hands. He read parts to me on the boat. Mr Nightingale was born in Puddle Lane and his mother and father had owned a pie shop and he worked there for most of his life until one day, while serving pies, he said an angel came into the shop and told him to become a messenger of the spirit world. I remember that part because Captain Mackerel had been laughing so much he had nearly trod on the cat. Mr Nightingale, much to his parents’ displeasure, had quit the pie industry and started to attend spiritual churches throughout Liverpool, passing on messages to the families of the dead, and had started acquiring a large following. Captain Mackerel said it sounded like nonsense and that Mr Nightingale was as psychic as a dead haddock. He said the only thing you can trust in life is the fish in the sea because they know all the secrets of the world and they keep quiet.
Quack Alley smells of something dead. The moon above us illuminates our footsteps. The street twists snakelike around a series of courtyards and behind a brick factory.
With some trouble we soon locate number 63 in a terraced row and Goliath knocks heavily on the front door. We hear the scamper of rat feet on a roof and the door creaks open, revealing a young boy.
“I am here to see Mr Nightingale,” Goliath says, softly.
The boy replies, scratching his nose, “He’s upstairs doing his magic tricks. He’s a funny bugger.”
The house is small and candlelit. A small framed photograph of a ghoulish-looking grandmother watches us from the landing. Skin stretched over a skull; pinpricks for eyes.
The stairs creak under the weight of Goliath; he can only just squeeze onto the landing. I follow behind and the little boy’s eyes watch us all the way up the stairs. Mr Augustus Nightingale manifests onto the landing from the darkness like a pantomime magician.
“Welcome. Welcome. Come on in.” His teeth are catlike: little and pointy. The only source of light is a solitary candle which flickers and jiggers, casting apparitions on the walls, which dance around us. In the middle of the room a woman sits on a chair. Her eyes are vacant and she gazes emptily at us. Goliath moves towards her and puts his hand on her cheek very softly. Mr Nightingale is grinning like a school boy. “It’s a wonderful specimen.”
“Specimen?” Goliath questions.
“Oh, yes. A quite powerful demon. I’ve never got so close to one before. Usually I deal with the low level ones. Minor tricksters, nuisances really. But this one, it’s really something special.”
Goliath stands next to Mr Nightingale. He is three times as wide and a foot taller. The floorboards ache under his movements.
Mr Nightingale points a shaky white finger towards me. “So this is your ward, eh?” He approaches me and examines me carefully. “Yes, I can see there is a problem with her. Something quite insignificant. I’m sure I can get it out of her. If you’d both like to stand over there you can observe while I deal with this higher level demon.”
Goliath takes my hand and we step into the soft darkness and quietly watch. I could imagine Captain Mackerel throwing some fish at this man and swearing. Mr Augustus Nightingale is as thin as a broomstick, his long black cloak painted with elaborate golden thread symbols. His face is imp white with grey wisps of hair on his head and little shiny blue eyes that twinkle like oyster pearls underwater. He moves towards the chair and rests his hand on the woman’s forehead.
“I command you evil spirit to leave this woman and return to the dark realm from whence you came. Go back, go back vile one.” He mumbles some jumbled Latin and waves his free hand theatrically. Nothing happens. Mr Nightingale repeats his lines. I look at the woman, as though I am gazing through a peephole. I can see what is inside her. It is sadness. It is not a demon.
Mr Nightingale shrieks, “Begone! I command thee!”
I can feel that sadness, like a black ribbon; it is threaded throughout her. Goliath squeezes my hand softly, with love.
“I think Mr Nightingale is full of shit,” I say to Goliath.
She is crying now. Crying over her life, her loneliness, in fear of the picture of the woman, whose eyes watch her day in day out. I think, take that picture off the wall and throw it away. Throw her away. She is with the dead, now.
Mr Nightingale, hysterically excited: “I command thee. I, Augustus Nightingale, Spirit Talker, Command Thee. Return to thy wicked Master!”
I hear a smash from downstairs.
The woman has shut her eyes. Mr Nightingale laughs triumphantly. “I have saved her. The devil is gone,” he cries and stands as though waiting for an applause.
Goliath moves to the woman’s side and helps her up.
“Thank you,” she says to him.
Mr Nightingale quietly says under his breath to us, “She was lucky. Sometimes the spirit is too strong for them to survive. Tonight has been a triumph.” His eyes move to my guardian, nervously. The young boy creaks open the door, peering into the gloom.
“Mum, are you alright? Grandma’s picture fell off the wall and smashed and I think the cat shat himself.”
Mr Nightingale turns towards us. “I am performing at the spiritualist church on Duck Lane tomorrow night if you would care to attend. I could exorcise your ward on stage in front of an audience if you would like?”
Goliath shakes his head. “I do not think so Mr Nightingale.”
Mr Nightingale looks down at me. “Maybe she would like it. What is your name little girl?”
“Mirror,” I say.
“Would you like me to take the nasty demon out of you?”
“I would like to see you try,” I reply.
And so it is decided.
We leave number 63 Quack Alley and return to our lodgings. The stars are now hidden under a blanket of smog and the air tainted with cat fuzz-stink. I wonder how much money slippery Mr Nightingale has asked for. I wonder, if he tripped on his cloak and fell into the harbor and drowned, would it be such a bad thing? Would the angels sitting on the rooftops intervene? Or would they shrug their winged shoulders and watch him sink underwater?
As soon as my head hits the pillow I am asleep. I dream that Goliath is an Egyptian prince and I am his magic crocodile with shiny, shiny teeth. I could eat anyone I wanted and he would let me do it.
The morning shines with an egg-yellow sun over Liverpool, the skies steel grey, with swirls of industrial cotton wool puffs. We eat bacon for breakfast with heaps of buttered toast. I lick the fat off my fingers and smile at the beautiful Goliath. His great dark beard has silver streaks like moonlight and his eyes are chocolate, deep and delicious. Today he wears a big fur hat and a great fur coat. He looks like a giant grizzly bear and I, his cub. By his side is a long silver cane with a frog engraved on the top. I asked him, once, why he had picked a frog and he said it was because frogs grant wishes if they are kissed. And so I kissed him on the cheek and made a wish that he would never leave me and would always, always love me.
Mr Nightingale is performing at the spiritualist church tonight and so Goliath has decided for us to visit a tarot reader during the day. She is called Nettie Stout, and she resides in a little shop on Goodhop Lane. She has been recommended by the wife of the tavern owner who had brought us up our breakfast.
We spend the morning feeding seagulls near the docks and we find a little bakery and buy meat pies for our lunch, followed by sticky buns. Goliath devours three and then announces he is going to buy me a book for our train journey the next day. We find a little secondhand bookshop, small and dark and stuffed with books. I like the sound the pages make when they are turned, the different colours and pictures. I like the smell of them, musky and covered in fingerprints.