i watch us fold me
into this piece of paper
gracefully handling

with our fingertips
sharp folds and shallow creases
shirking paper cuts

all the while unsure
where we’re going to end up
following these lines

that run as graphite
does across that vacant plane
intersection space

all of a sudden
after a tug and a turn
we’re finally there

Fog mingles with the light emanating from the street lamps, drawing out a continuous, honey-coloured stream of photons from their crowned heads looming up above in the murky greyness, looking down onto the wet cobblestones so slippery you might break your neck although there isn’t even much rain falling, only intrusive dampness creeping into the gaps between the layers of your clothes.

Down the street a tall figure is walking unsteadily on the wet cobblestones, holding up a lanky pole with a half-open sphere at the top, swaying gently in the breeze, gathering up the fog saturated with the pale lamplight, storing it for further use. As the figure continues down the street, the air grows tangibly dimmer, the light harvested, its particles removed gently.

The figure softly hums a tune that smells faintly of the darkness following, a crisp, musky odour hailing back to unlit caves penetrated by the scent of burnt-down fires and sooty bones littering the ashes, the thick smell of charcoal running down rough walls in the shape of a never-ending hunt lost somewhere in the folds and creases, the recesses of time and a memory gone for good without a chance of recovery, down, deep down the well of a brooding past so restless you have to watch your hollow tread echoing with dust.

Teeth

When I was examining the stalls of the various street-sellers of manufactured articles in —- Market, I made a most curious discovery at one of said stalls. I had not expected that the proprietor would be allowed to run his stall by the authorities due to the – at least in my and certainly in the readers’ opinion, as well – deceptive and gruesome nature of his merchandise. I arrived just when the seller, also acting as a buyer in this particular case, was receiving what one would call the ‘raw materials’ of his trade. One of the so-called Bone-Grubbers, who will be treated in the following volume dealing with this group of Street-Finders, was in the act of passing the seller a dirty and most foul-smelling bag filled to the brim with all sorts of mortal remains. Among them were bones of all shapes and sizes, strings of sinew and dried pieces of what appeared to be meat – of which animal, assuming that these were indeed the remains of mere animals, I could not tell.

The stall of the vendor, which was constructed in such a way that it could be folded quickly and taken away on his back if the need for such a course of action were to arise, was full of grisly ‘trinkets’, some of them in the shape of necklaces, rings, bracelets and the like. The deeply disturbing thing about those trinkets was, as the reader certainly has already guessed, that they were fashioned entirely of the remains resembling those that the Grubber-Boy had sold the proprietor some moments ago. He explained to me, that all of those were supposed to be ‘charms’, either to ward off evil or bring it upon a person one bore a grudge against. I haven’t seen many of such sellers in London, as they are mostly to be found at various country fairs, especially when gypsies follow in the fair’s wake.

One of those trinkets consisted of three lumps of dried meat tied with bits of old string crammed inside what appeared to be a bird’s ribcage – complete with skull and beak on top – so devoid of liquid that it gave off clouds of dust when the salesman ran his hands around his wares in order to demonstrate their admittedly singular character. Another one came in the shape of a necklace made up of coils of sinews wound around each other in such chaotic knots that they made the eye dizzy from trying to ascertain where they began and where they ended. The vendor proudly told me that he was, in fact, carrying on a tradition, as the charms had been a family business for several generations, him being already the ninth in this line of business.

As I was rather taken aback by the fact that the authorities would allow such superstitious rubbish to be sold in the streets of London, I asked him whether the policemen had a habit of interfering with his business, to which he replied with a decided negative, and slyly explained to me mechanism which allowed him to fold up his stall. Business was good, he said, pointing out that the articles he offered covered a wide range of prices, the cheapest charms being sold for no more than a penny, while the expensive ones being made of more exotic materials could be acquired for half a sovereign. I could not believe that anybody in his right mind would spend such a substantial amount of money on things like these but the clean and respectable quality of the salesman’s clothes testified to his claim.

He then proceeded to show me another one of his creations, which he had taken to fashioning mostly in the wee hours at home with his wife when the smallest number of customers used to turn up. I was understandably shocked to behold that this one was a pendant made of mostly animal teeth which were complemented by several decidedly human-looking ones. The teeth had small holes drilled into them through which he had put a piece of string to hold them together, arranging them into the shape of a cone. I immediately inquired where the ‘ingredients’ for this abominable trinket came from, but he simply shrugged his shoulders and answered that he only bought the materials for his charms off the Grubbers and did not concern himself with the source they originated from. Upon hearing this outrageous statement, I turned round on my heel and made off into the opposite direction to look out for a policeman, whom I would send to this stall immediately. When we returned to the stall, however, the vendor was already gone, having packed his trinkets and folded up his portable stall.

Teeth

The scene is a room that does not exist and never will, let’s not fall prey to illusions or false hopes there. Let’s just say it’s empty and w|h|i|t|d|e as the eye can see, to make it easier for the audience to image – although this can only be stated in a manner of speaking; if the place does not exist, there can neither be a room, an eye that can see, figuratively as well as literally speaking, nor an audience that can imagine anything. I would even go as far as saying that this is a matter that cannot be left to imagination, because this is the final frontier where imagination is bound to stop and give out under the pressure it is placed beneath. So let us maybe start anew: do not imagine that there is a place to imagine, no space for imagination, just take my word. In this – for lack of a better word – ‘place’ there is a FIGURE standing, shifting, facing one of the non-directions that suits it well. Upon further inspection, the FIGURE is clad in White.

THE FIGURE. In my hands I hold a piece of cloth which is not white.

It holds up the cloth for nobody to observe, wrapped round its bare hands.

THE FIGURE. Its contours rise sharply from the background of which I am part, in my hands it bursts into flame. You would expect my fingers to blister, my nails to crack, my skin to roll up, turn outwards at the newly created seams in a crust reminiscent of tar, shrinking like burnt paper. But they don’t.

The cloth burns bright red, with the colour of young blood, hurting no one’s eyes.

THE FIGURE. This is a blindfold not meant for the eye. I will proceed to tie it around my jaw.

The cloth is tied, the colour is rushing down the face in rivulets. The tongues are sealed as are the teeth, mother of pearl tied to the raw meat.

Street Exhibitors

During my inquiries concerning the exhibitors of animals, my informant in S— directed me to an obscure alley in the south-east of the borough, where, according to his statements, an increased number of such exhibitors set up camp, the constabulary not being very partial to the idea of patrolling said area due to the outrageous level of criminal misconduct. In this district all sorts of miscreants herded almost unchecked, thieves, burglars, fences and most provocatively dressed women not even waiting for nightfall but strutting about in the broad light of day. I was repeatedly warned and strongly advised of relinquishing my plan of visiting said area, as he feared for my safety, but my report would be incomplete and the reader surely most dissatisfied, potentially even putting forward the charge of cowardice against this reporter. If the press shall not venture into these places, exposing these nests of vice and depravity to the inquisitive eye, who shall do so then?

Thus, perceiving it as my duty to the general public, I ventured forth into the court said alley lead to and upon emerging from its narrow confines, I became aware of an old, rather shabby-looking ‘gentleman’ standing behind a ramshackle table in front of the row of houses facing the exit of the alley. His clothes must have once been of a more or less respectable quality, these times, however, were long past, his toes showing through his shoes and his moth-eaten tophat barely holding together, more resembling an old, crudely-opened tin can than a proper hat.

Upon drawing closer to the table, the ‘gentleman’ touched his hat, flashing a grin revealing teeth, which were in a state as desolate as the houses behind him, being marked by jagged and rotten holes for windows and unhinged doors. There were already several subjects frequenting the neighbourhood gathered around his exhibition table, yet, from afar I could not make out what their eyes were so intently focused upon. It is only when I arrived directly in front of the table, peering past the other onlookers, that I beheld a most curious sight.
The ‘gentleman’, describing himself as “a tamer of vile beasts” to me, was running a flea circus, brandishing a crooked stick in imitation of an orchestra conductor – if simply for its impact on the onlookers or for the fleas, I cannot conclusively say. The fleas, as I was able to observe, were made to pull tiny carriages across the table and perform a variety of circus acts, including the operation of a miniature Ferris Wheel, which amused particularly the boys present the most. At the end of each demonstration, lasting about ten minutes, the proprietor of the circus took off its hat, handing it round for a small remuneration, with the pennies mysteriously disappearing within its depths, not making any noise whatsoever, although the hat did not even sport a proper bottom any longer.

Sometimes, he would feign a flea or two escaping – in jest, he assured me – suddenly grabbing the air in front of his audience as if the fleas had jumped off the table into the direction of the observers, who, although reassured by the performer of the comic nature of his act, as had I, were starting to scratch their entire bodies vigorously, as if bitten by the tiny brutes. If the onlookers had laughed at the sight of the fleas some moments before, now some were beginning to feel uneasy, judging from the look on their faces. This circumstance was not alleviated by the fact that the ‘tamer’ continued in his roguish attitude, hollering out things such as “Don’t you worry your heads, ladies and gentlemen, scratch them!”, followed by a rather unpleasant kind of laughter emanating from the run-down row of houses in his mouth, and “Don’t be so itchy! This shall pass quickly, those fleas being proper rat fleas, ladies and gentlemen! Those who’re dead don’t need to scratch their pretty heads any longer!”.

The reader will surely agree with me, when I doubt that such practices of business would attract returning customers and indeed, if the London policemen were more present in this part of the city, such exhibitors would definitely be driven from the streets as soon as an appropriate number of people were to raise a complaint against the man in question. Yet, curiously, as I was able to witness myself, the man succeeded in attracting new visitors again and again, thus assuring his livelihood – as meagre as it may be.

Street Exhibitors

I’m sure that you heard enough tall tales starting with “I’m not sure about this, and I haven’t seen it myself, but a friend of a friend told me” or “You know, there’s this person somewhere in the town I’m living in and it might sound peculiar, but –“ in your life. I did and enough of that nonsense, I can tell you. But in this case it’s not from someone who only told me, I’ve seen it myself and now I’m telling you, I am. And I’m sure that no one told you about this one yet because it literally just happened, hasn’t even been in the newspapers yet and you know how fast those vultures usually are. So, you see, there was this woman, a friend of mine first told me about her and naturally I didn’t believe him but then after a few weeks I met her myself – several times even. Now, that’s not a strange thing taken by itself, you get this a lot: One of your mates or yourself sees a hot girl somewhere in town and you talk about her, nothing weird about that. But this one, Jesus, still gives me the bloody shivers. That one didn’t have just one face, she changed them regularly, man. And I don’t mean that she used lots of make-up or had plastic surgery or shit, she literally changed faces like shoes or shirts or whatever. Now you may ask how you could even recognise her as soon as she wore another one – and no, the answer is not as simple as “She wore the same clothes”, “Her body or her voice didn’t change” – and this is where shit gets spooky. You could recognise her by looking at her face. Nah, I’m not pulling your leg, seriously. She was literally wearing the other faces on top of her usual one. That didn’t change. Just simply on top, honestly, like some pretty fucked-up sort of mask. It was just that cut-up piece of flesh sticking crudely to her original face. There were lots of faces. Some were all oozy and wet, with blood running down the contours of her face|s, lazily dripping down her chin and, jeez, you could see how badly it was attached to her skull, with the borrowed layer of skin going all bumpy in all the wrong sorts of places, with folds and creases where they weren’t supposed to be on a usual face. Some, on the other hand, were all dry and cracked, gone all papery and flaky, audibly rustling when she touched it while brushing the hair out of her eyes. I’m pretty sure that she had to peel those from her real face – if there even was one, I‘m not so sure about that anymore, maybe there’s even a face beneath that face and so on all the way down where there’s nothing at all – with her fingernails. And the most disturbing thing was that most people didn’t even notice. Once, when I met her riding the bus, the smell of rotten meat alone was so bloody overwhelming my stomach turned, but apart from another woman in the back of the bus nobody saw it. There was even a guy ogling at her, trying to chat her up and, man, he was totally into her but he didn’t notice shit. And I haven’t even started wondering where she gets the faces from. That thought will sure take me places I don’t want to go, so I’ll leave it at that.