A novel by
6th September 1991 - Shoreditch High Street
Early on the following Monday, Louise left the house heading for Shoreditch. She carried the black card Guy Saint had given her clutched inside her jacket to protect it from the driving rain. She kept glancing at the address as she hurried along Hanbury Street and onto Commercial Road, as though she feared that the elegant silver letters would fade away into nothingness while she wasn’t looking. Despite both the early hour and the rain, there were several people lingering in front of shop windows, or striding purposefully to work, briefcase in hand, or to take their children to school. Louise tried to avoid meeting their eyes, feeling that this would compromise her in some way; she felt guilty, as though she had broken some unwritten law which everybody else held sacred, though she didn’t know why. She passed a number of old Victorian warehouses which now contained offices or studios, before she found the right one. It was a grimy building with a large window in the front, where a grey blind was pulled down. The words Homeopathy - Acupuncture - Spiritual Healing - Clairvoyance were written in violet across the bottom of the window and Louise recognised Guy Saint’s black card displayed with a few others just inside the doorway. She hesitated before pushing the door, unsure if it would be open yet. It led into a narrow corridor, with a flight of stairs at the end. To her left was an office from which a young woman appeared.
“Can I help you? We’re not actually open yet.” The woman shuffled the pile of papers she was carrying officiously, although her smile was open and friendly. “Do you have an appointment to see someone?”
Louise shook her head. She felt panic-stricken, as though every move she made was being watched and hindered, obstacles placed in her path.
“No, but I want to see … Mr. Saint.”
“I’ll see if he’s in. Who shall I say…?”
“Tell him Louise. He’ll know me.”
The young woman nodded and smiled, picking up a phone on her desk. Louise waited in the doorway, folding Guy Saint’s card over and over until it was just a tiny square.
“Mr. Saint’ll see you. Upstairs, second door on the left.”
Louise needed no further prompting. She almost ran up the stairs as if they were her own heavenly escape route leading to her private sanctuary high above the clouds. There were two doors on either side of the landing; both of them grey with a pane of frosted glass - both unmarked. She felt disorientated, as though this was a deliberate move to try and confuse her. But then one of the doors opened and the tall figure of Guy Saint emerged to greet her with the slight, vague smile that was so typical of him.
“Louise, come in!” He led her into his office and closed the door; he seated himself in front of his desk, which was pushed into an alcove immediately behind the door, right in the corner, so that it could hardly be seen. “Can I offer you some coffee?”
Louise shook her head, looking round the room for a chair. A dark blue armchair near the window seemed the only one; either that or a matching two-seater sofa along the wall.
“Drag a chair over.” Instructed Saint. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to speak to you.” Louise hesitated, realising that this much was already obvious. “It’s about Harriet, I thought you might be able to help.”
Saint took out a cigarette and lit it slowly. Louise watched his movements, which seemed to flow along with the grace and inevitability of a dream. His white shirt was fastened at the wrists with slender black chains she noticed; it was almost impossible to tell where the smooth fabric of his shirt ended and his flesh began. He was dressed entirely in black and white, like a character from a ‘film noir’ classic, cut moodily from the celluloid background, shadows falling across his face… black and white, areas of alternating light and dark. The dimensionless black of his eyes - which she now realised were turned directly upon her.
“Ah, Harriet… your Victorian self.” He nodded thoughtfully, “I thought you might run into problems with… her, eventually.”
“Why?” Louise felt suddenly suspicious.
“Well, it’s common sense, isn’t it? Anyone can see it’s not going to be easy juggling two times around, two lives. It can't be easy.”
“But that’s just it, you see.” Louise sat forward on her chair. “It is easy for me – in fact, it’s becoming so damned easy, that it’s… doing my head in, completely. I’m so scared… I don’t want this to happen anymore. I don’t want anything more to do with Harriet. I hardly know who I am anymore, I’ve got no control.”
The vividness of her dream returned to her with a sharp chill like the edge of a blade as she spoke about it, giving some sort of temporary substance to the Victorian London. The terror of turning, the terrible ease of it.
“But you know… you don’t really have to be frightened of it. This is an incredible… gift you have. And you can learn to control it, to click in and out of Harriet, at will.”
Louise stared at him, lost for words.
“I can’t believe you’re saying this. You’re seriously telling me I don’t have to be frightened?”
Saint chuckled wryly beneath his breath.
“I know, I know. Look, I appreciate how incredible it must sound now but you have to stand back, get things in proportion.”
Louise stood up, turning away from Saint and gazing out of the window instead.
“Proportion! Oh, what are you talking about? Don’t try and tell me I’m making a big thing out of this, I should treat it like a big adventure…"
“Louise, I’m not saying that. Of course I’m not saying that.”
“Well, that’s what it sounds like. This was a mistake coming here. I thought you might be able to do something to help.”
“Which I can, I’ve said. I’ll teach you to control this… Harriet.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Turning from the window, Louise found herself staring at a huge print, which hung on the wall above the dark blue sofa. At first she thought that it depicted nothing but vague grey shapes against a very faintly pink background. The picture disturbed her, seeming to imply bulky, formless things without actually naming them - which made them none the less real. Then she recognised the painting as Turners’ Sunrise with Sea-monsters, but instead of the familiarity soothing her, it increased her unease. “I’d rather just get rid of her, I want to stay me.”
“But you can, that’s what I’m saying. It may feel like Harriet’s taking you over and using you according to her own whims, but you can control her.” As Saint spoke, Louise noticed that there were spots of colour high on his sculptured cheekbones and his eyes glowed with an almost religious fervour. “And then, don’t you see, you can use your… experiences as you will… it doesn’t have to be frightening at all?”
“Maybe not for you.” Louise caught his eye briefly and looked away at the rain masking the dome of St. Paul’s. She felt safer with her back turned to him, when she didn’t have to risk the draining confrontation with his eyes. “But, I’m the one who’s actually going through this and I’ve had enough, I want to finish it here. Why can’t you understand? Why won’t you do something?”
“Louise, I do understand, I really do. But I think you’re looking at it the wrong way. In time, you’ll feel more in control. All right, you feel scared now but that’ll pass. Think … think what you could learn about life a hundred years ago! Your fear will pass you know, as you learn to manipulate your experiences. Become distanced from them… and that’s where I can help you.”
“I don’t think I want that kind of help. All this talk of manipulation and being able to control becoming Harriet seems irrelevant. Can’t you see I don’t want any part of it?” Louise gazed at the print on the wall, seeing the sea-monsters rising up like long-forgotten ghosts through the gloom, the thick grey fog of Whitechapel. “If you’d been there… if you’d seen that murdered woman… stood so close you could smell the blood… then you'd understand.”
“But that’s just it, you see. I understand all this much more than you think I do, and that’s why you learning to control your experiences isn’t irrelevant, it’s a necessary part of coming to terms with Harriet.” Saint paused, looking at the books, which were lined above his desk on three shelves, reaching almost to the ceiling. “You were right to come back to me, you know. You think I don’t understand your fear but you have to see beyond all that. While the rest of us can only read about Victorian times, you can actually be there. It’s real to you.” He shook his head slowly, “Really Louise, you can’t even think about missing this opportunity, take it!”
Louise tutted irritably. “You talk about it as if it was a free prize-draw or something.”
Smiling vaguely, Saint stood up and walked over to Louise. She could feel him standing behind her; a presence cut from the shadows themselves, an imagined shape and substance, torn out with a ragged edge half-say between this world and the next. A misfit, like Caliban; devoid of any sense of really belonging anywhere.
“Perhaps there’s an element of truth in that. Life’s a series of choices, isn’t it? It’s all a big game, really - you just have to try and stay in control.”
“Easier said than done though, isn’t it?”
“Of course, it always is but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” He took Louise’s arm, leading her back to the armchair. “Sit down Louise, this is where I can help you.”
She took a step back as though she were being physically cornered. “I don’t think so. What are you going to do?”
Saint smiled faintly. “Just hypnotise you, relax you a bit. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.”
“I don’t like the sound of that. Wait… wait a minute, I don’t think this is a good idea.” Louise felt the hard edge of Saint’s desk behind her back. She wanted to turn and flee as far away from this office as possible. “I’ve told you what I want and it’s not that… to go into a trance and not even know what I’m doing. You say it’ll make me feel more in control but it won’t - it’ll do just the opposite. You'll be in control; you'll be the one who’ll be manipulating me. I won’t really have any say in it.”
Saint looked at her, he appeared genuinely confused. Then he shook his head and shrugged helplessly, laughing.
“Oh, come on, you can’t really mean that.” He paused, perching on the arm of the chair Louise had vacated and took out another cigarette. “Think about it. Do I really look like a villain to you?”
“Well, that’s what it feels like, anyway.”
“You’ve got a wild imagination, you know that, don't you? I only want to help you."
“Oh, I know… I don’t really know what I mean.” Sighing, she turned away; as she did so, she knocked against the pile of books which were balanced on the edge of Saint’s desk, which in turn knocked a couple of others off the other end. She stopped them just before they fell to the floor. “Sorry,” she mumbled, pushing them to the back of the desk. As she did so, she noticed that the book underneath was lying open and she thought she recognised the layout of the pages. The photograph on the right-hand page was of Annie Chapman, the second Ripper victim, lying flat on her back in the yard on Hanbury Street. The book was The Real Jack the Ripper; a bigger edition than Louise’s certainly and hard backed, but nevertheless, unmistakable. She sneaked a quick glance over her shoulder at Saint, who was not looking at her but gazing instead at the print of Sunrise of Sea-monsters, smoking thoughtfully. Putting the other book back on top of The Real Jack the Ripper, she glanced at the spine. A Study of the Mind of the Ripper she read and put the book down quickly. She felt as if she had uncovered something vaguely nasty and perhaps even dangerous. A few sheets of paper covered with Saint’s elegant writing were now exposed where she had pushed the books on top of them back. She read the words, ‘Whitechapel – August 31st 1888 – murder of Polly Nichols on Bucks Row. How much does Harriet know of this murder? Did she see the Ripper? Would she be able to identify him again?’
“What do you think you’re doing?” Saint was beside her suddenly, his voice strained and hard, a cutting edge. “These are private papers, you know. Confidential.”
“Yes, I can see that,” said Louise icily. She allowed herself to be pushed aside, feeling drained and powerless. “Now I see why you’re so interested in Harriet. Why you want to make me go back again.”
Saint piled the papers up and shoved them in a drawer. Every muscle in his face seemed tightened, as if they were all attached to the same pulley system which had been wound round several times, pulling in the catgut threads. He sighed, staring at her coldly.
"I'm afraid I really don't know what you’re talking about.”
"Oh, I think you do, Mr. Saint.”
“The Ripper book, is that what you’re so upset about?”
“I don’t like being used for your fucking research, that’s all and I’m sure Harriet feels the same.”
There was a pause. Saint gazed at her impassively, taking a long draw from his cigarette. The scar across his face seemed to be livid and pulsating, a thing alive amidst the blank space.
“You amaze me, Louise. I’ve never encountered anyone quite so paranoid.” He shrugged, smiling slightly. “There’s absolutely no reason for you to react like this.”
“Really?” Louise gestured towards the drawer containing Saint’s papers. “Then what’s all that… about Harriet?”
Saint didn’t flinch. “Just notes, about you, about Harriet. It’s an exceptional case, you must appreciate that.”
“And all this stuff about the Ripper?”
“Background, that’s all. I like to know what I’m dealing with. I’ve got a particular fascination with the Ripper, I thought you knew that.”
Louise hesitated. She stared at the smouldering cigarette between Saint’s fingers. “I did.”
“Well, then I don’t really see why you should be so suspicious. What do you think I’m going to do to you?”
“I don’t… I just think there’s more to it than that.” She paused, beginning to turn away. “I just don’t think I trust you, that’s all.”
“Well, at least I know where I stand.” Saint said brightly, leaning over his desk and stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray there. He leant back against the desk, folding his arms thoughtfully. “But seriously Louise, think about what I’ve said, I’m sure I can help you. I’m really not interested in… using you or anything, despite what you think.”
Louise said nothing. She paused in the doorway, reluctant now, to leave and close the door on this, perhaps her only chance of escape from the turmoil. She glanced back at Saint, who was still standing by the desk, watching her. As their eyes met, he smiled vaguely and gave a little shrug, almost of apology.
“Of course, I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to. And I understand your reluctance… I think I’d feel the same way in your position, anyone would. But I really don’t think you’ve got much choice in the matter. Which sounds melodramatic, but… well, I think you appreciate that the situation is a pretty desperate one, don’t you?” Raising his eyebrows, he walked towards her resting his hand above her head on the edge of the door. He seemed to be on the point of physically preventing her from leaving, but then again, he could simply be leaning, or even keeping the door open for her. It was all so ambiguous; everything about him had two edges, the blade and the healing wand. Health restored, sanity regained. The control rope caught and pulled tight. “Because I don’t think that this thing with Harriet is going to become any easier to keep under control unless you… allow me to intervene, to help you master the time-slip. You really can’t just let things go on the way they are now. What’ll happen is that you will lose your grip, sooner or later.” He paused. Louise stared at the scar trickling over the line of his jaw; it struck her for the first time that the deep gash was surely the result of a knife attack. “But I think you know that already, don’t you?”
Louise nodded mutely. She swallowed and shook her head.
“But still… I can’t do it.” She looked at him quickly, just feeling the impact of his words. “What do you mean, ‘lose your grip’? On what? Sanity… or myself, me?” Again, the vague smile, the scar creased for a moment like a paper bag. Louise could feel the answer suddenly creeping towards her on silent claws, its’ inevitable stealth contained within the tough skin, the long drawn-out line of Fate. “Or both, maybe?” Turning quickly Louise broke the thread that ran between them, the eye contact that held her like a wizard’s spell, a healing promise tainted black around the edges. She left quickly, heading downwards, following the sucking spiral without looking back, taking the stairs two at a time.