Die shall all Flesh? What then
must needs be done,
Is it not better to do willingly,
Than linger till
the Glass be all out-run?
Death is the end of Woes: die soon, O Fairy's
Faerie Queene Book 1 Canto
I see them everywhere; in every
town and every village, from the Steppes to London, from the Amazon to the
Victoria Falls. Wherever there is sadness and death, tragedy and murder they
are there, feeding on it, growing larger and
This was written on the inside cover of
a journal I found when helping a friend from church clear-out her
grandmothers house; the handwriting looked rushed and was old-fashioned
so that it took me awhile to be able to decipher it, but I had more time than I
knew what to do with and I needed something to halt the madness that seemed to
be overwhelming me.
John my husband had just left me and so
when Janice suggested I help her with her late grandmothers possessions
then I was more than happy to help. The house was old and large in what, until
recently had been a very wealthy part of Manchester. I helped my friend collect
books, newspapers and clothes from all over the house, which she then sorted
through; and put them in three piles; stuff to keep, stuff for charity shops
and the last pile, which was much the biggest, items for the rubbish dump.
I found the journal in what looked like
a spare bedroom that appeared unused and uncared for, it was hidden in a
wardrobe, underneath some old and rather smelly blankets. The journal was just
a pile of papers loosely bound together so at first I thought it was a
collection of letters but once I started reading them curiosity has
always been a weakness for which various bishops have admonished me on occasion
I realised that they were some kind of journal or diary. The diary had
been written in the early to mid 1880s; sometimes there were entries every day
whilst at other times there was nothing for weeks on end, presumably when the
author, unnamed, was too busy to write. There was no address, but clearly the
writer lived in London so it was a complete mystery what his private journal
was doing in a wardrobe in a suburban part of Manchester.
My friend Janice knew nothing about the
journal, did not think it belonged to her family and when I asked if I could
keep it she smilingly agreed.
Please do, it would have just
ended up on the bonfire.
Janice was much richer than me and more
well-spoken but being a fellow Latter-Day Saint (or Mormon to the uninitiated)
we had a bond that I did not have with people who otherwise I would have a lot
in common with. We could pray together and talk about things non-Mormons just
would not understand.
It was Janice I spoke to when John up
and left me one Sunday afternoon after an anguished meeting he had had with the
I cannot deal with your doubts,
with your questions. I just dont feel I know you anymore. He
had told me looking rather silly and red in the face. I had centred my whole
life around him and he had left me, despite my begging him to stay. Janice
listened to my anguish and anger and then prayed with me, although I could not
tell her that praying felt like throwing stones into an empty well.
I love diaries though, not the ones
clearly meant for publication; the politicians still trying to justify their
mistakes and betrayals but your Kilvert and your Molly Hughes, ordinary people
describing their ordinary lives, so that the reader becomes part of
somebodys existence, and perhaps gets clues as to how to live.
I thought I understood how to live a
normal Mormon life, that I could function as a wife, but my husband had left me
after only a few months with me, so clearly I had no idea. When we got
married I really tried to make it work; read all the books, watched
documentaries, spoke to my mother and married women from the church but there
was something missing. I could pretend, particularly when people were around,
but sometimes in the evenings, tired after a long day working in the bank I
just wanted to be myself; silly, sexual and cynical and he could not deal with
that. I wanted a husband I could tell anything to, and I thought I had found
one, but this proved not to be true. So with the marriage over I spent my time
reading this diary in the hope that it would help me to understand what went
wrong and how to start anew.
Monday, 8th September
This morning I saw the Prime Minister
heading towards Piccadilly. The Grand Old Man looked distracted as he strode
heavily along. It was hot and sticky as only London can be in September, but Mr
Gladstone always looks as if he is forging through a strong gale in the Welsh
mountains rather than through the heart of our great metropolis, the centre of
all that is civilised and good.
I followed him for awhile, after all I
might stumble across a story, catch him at a weak moment and get a quote from
him, although I doubt the abstemious Mr Gladstone would ever be caught unaware
or compromised. Other passers-by stood and stared and one rather drunk looking
gentleman tried to engage him in conversation but was rebuffed effortlessly,
and eventually I gave up and left him, I might be able to work it into
something for the Mercury later, Mr Gladstone seemed deep in thought as
he strode through London this morning or something similar.
But I soon had more important things to
describe because as soon as I got to the office I was sent out to the ghastly
derailment outside St. Pancras, and I forgot all about the Prime Minister.
It was an awful scene and I felt an interloper amongst all those trying
to help the injured and ailing. I spoke to a nurse who was for a moment
disengaged, she had been talking to a girl who had been crying but who had been
taken away by a large woman in black.
Awful she said and appeared
on the verge of tears; she was a young woman, blonde and with such pale skin
that I could see her veins blue underneath.
I distrust these trains; the noise
and the deaths. She told me, and then she smiled, and for a moment I felt
a moment of intimacy before she appeared to remember an appointment and swiftly
walked away, I watched her as she disappeared out of the station and then I
returned to the newspaper office to write the report, but for some reason the
nurse has stayed in mind throughout my work and this evening. Even as I write
this I can picture her eyes cool and appraising; an independent woman with a
mind and a heart.
Thursday, 11th September
..I dreamt of her in her dark
uniform and that pale skin, we were just talking but I could not hear what she
was saying, as if there was something between us. And she was cold, even
without touching her I could feel the frost emanating from her.
Conversely I woke up hot, craving water as if she has sucked all moisture from
Sunday, 14th September
This afternoon I thought I saw that
nurse again. I was walking through the Green Park, watching the Sunday
afternoon crowds. After spending the morning at church with my father I wanted
to get out amongst the people and what passes for fresh air in the capital.
After a perambulation of the park I saw a woman lying on the floor having
collapsed and round her were two children looking scared and someone who looked
like the same nurse I had seen a few days ago, bending over the woman. Suddenly
there was a wail and the nurse looked up with a most strange, almost triumphant
look, and for the briefest of moments she glanced straight at me. Was it her?
Even then when I was so close I was not sure, but although she was similar;
blonde and ethereal with the same grey eyes, I realised that she was stouter
and that there was a mark on her cheek which I did not recognise.
Once back in my apartment I thought
about my father in his cottage lonely and sad; each time I see him he seems
more despairing. Even before my mother died he was prone to melancholy, but now
that she is dead he just emanates misery. My brother Samuel visits less and
less, and I dont blame him, whilst Esther has her children and her
husband. Will I have to take him or live back with him? But his sadness
corrodes my soul and I feel his tentacles encircling me, dragging me back when
I thought I had escaped; a job I enjoy and am good at, and freedom.
Tuesday, 16th September
I have often seen these nurses,
wandering through London, blonde and pale with their dark uniforms always
immaculate. Each time I hope that it is her, but so far it has not been.
I put down the diary for a week as my
parents came on a visit, they were trying to patch things up with my husband
and me. They are Mormons, as are most of my family ever since, according to
family lore, my grandfather came across the Manchester Mormon chapel being
built and offered to lend a hand, within a fortnight he and his fiancée,
my future grandmother, had been baptised and another Mormon family had come
Whilst divorce is not unknown amongst
our religion it is frowned upon, and to my parents eyes John was such a
good catch; a former missionary and someone already with a good role in the
church, Bishop material for sure and probably more, so they were anxious to
bring us back together. Secretly I suspect he does not have the strength to
have much power; he goes running to the bishop when confronted with anything
that is difficult or unusual, which unfortunately included me.
Part of the problem was that we did not
really know each other. I had just arrived in Manchester from Welwyn and
started to attend this chapel. John and I, as two single people in our
twenties, were pushed together by well-meaning members of the congregation and
we got on well, went out on a few dates, even a few unchaperoned and had
attended the temple in Preston together, so far so conventional. I did like
him, and in my mind I could picture us as man and wife with children living
good Mormon lives.
One evening, however after going to a
concert at the Bridgewater Hall he had come to my flat, I was living alone as I
earned enough at the bank to rent somewhere to live. We sat together on the
couch and cuddled and then I kissed his neck and stroked his chest. I felt his
breathing quicken and I brushed against his penis and felt it hardening beneath
his trousers. I stroked him slowly and probably inexpertly until he made a
gasping noise, called my name and collapsed back onto the arm of the sofa.
We shouldnt have done
that he told me rather crossly before he left, having wiped himself clean
in the bathroom. I felt awful; having broken the Mormon law of chastity, but
even worse I would probably never see John again now that he saw what kind of
woman I was.
I was called to a meeting with Brother
Hansen, the Bishop from our church, John was there, having told him all that
You need to get married and as
soon as possible Hansen told us, it will happen again and worse.
You are both young and obviously in love. I look forward to marrying
John nodded his head, the earnest young
Mormon ready to do what was right. Within two months we were married, both of
us pitifully young and having known each other for less than half a year.
I could not tell all this to my parents
of course, but they probably guessed as it is not uncommon. But they went to
see John and spoke to me endlessly, however John was adamant that the marriage
was a mistake, that he did not love me and despite all my fathers
persuasions he refused to change his mind. Eventually my parents gave up and
returned home to Hertfordshire leaving me alone. I even stopped going to church
for awhile, and got some time off work, and all I had was the diary to read as
I could not bear to look at anything religious.
I also read about William Gladstone as
he was mentioned in the diary several times and it was an excuse to get out and
visit the library. I enjoyed researching this principled politician who was
Prime Minister for much of the time when this diary was being written but who
would soon lose his position in part because of the death of General Gordon by
the Mahdi at Khartoum, the blame for which was laid at his feet. I remembered
reading a bit about this period when studying A Level History; I
had preferred Disraeli at the time, the writer and witty intellectual but now
it was Gladstone who appealed to me; a man with a destiny who brushed off all
criticism and mockery because he knew that he was doing Gods
Tuesday, 23rd September
I visited the house of a suicide
yesterday; a Grub Street writer, Reginald Harte, who had been promising and
talented but ended up in a boarding house, writing occasional speeches for
politicians and hucksters. His landlady had found him hanged, his room littered
with paper, most of which was blank.
I knew him, Arthur, my
editor told me, he was a great poet. Write something about him, make our
readers realise what a great writer lived amongst us. God help us, it could
have been any of us.
I walked into Hartes rooms, they
looked less poor than I had expected and cleaner, in fact little different from
mine. Inside there were seven people stood around as if not knowing what to do.
A policeman was one, talking to the woman I have been dreaming about since we
met at the railway station, she glanced over at me and I knew that it was her
and I returned her slight smile and waited for her to come over to me.
She soon disengaged herself from the
policeman and I walked with her as she left the building.
Did you know him, Mr Harte?
I asked tentatively, and shivered slightly as I did so.
Oh yes, I was with him a great
deal over the last few weeks, I tried to help him as much as I could. He was
unhappy, it was a release for him.
Her voice was pure, no accent of any
sort. My dreams had been so real and sexual that I felt embarrassed to be with
her, so close to this demur woman. She told me that her name was Edith and that
indeed she was a nurse. As we walked along I had the strangest feeling that I
should keep away from her, to say goodbye and be done; she seemed so odd, so
alien. But something within me wanted to stay with her, and it was this better
part that won.
We went to a coffee house and I asked
her about Reginald Harte, and made notes as she talked. She looked at me with
her steady grey eyes and soon we had stopped talking about the unfortunate poet
and I was telling her about my father and my other worries, nothing that I have
not already confided to this journal already, but it did me good to speak about
them to someone of flesh and blood rather than just writing them down for
nobody to read, and she seemed so sympathetic; drinking in every
Tonight I dreamt of her again; she was
naked and as we lay together she bit into my shoulder and started to eat my
flesh, but the pain was numbed and there was pleasure. When I awoke I was
dirty and had to wash my nether regions and then I got up remembering my dream.
I looked out over London, the sun was rising and I could see it high above the
smoke. I imagined angels looking over us, wishing us well and protecting us
with their outstretched wings.
Wednesday, 24th September
I met a friend of Reginald Harte, my
editor put me onto him. We sat in a grubby pub, the floor hard and noisy so
that I had trouble hearing Mr Meaden speak.
There was a woman. He could not
stop talking about her. She drove him to it. Always there, never leaning him
alone, even when he was sat shivering in a corner almost freezing to
I was jotting down notes, but Mr Meaden
was obviously a drunk and confused.
Who was this woman? I
Oh a nurse of some sort. I only
met her once but she was so cold and harsh. Destroyed him.
Various other people dropped in and
talked to my companion and eventually I left with enough material to write a
sympathetic obituary which was what my editor wanted.
Wednesday, 1st October
Edith called at the office yesterday. I
was just returning after sitting in the House of Commons to hear Mr Gladstone
talk about trade when Miss Potts the newspapers secretary told me that
there was somebody waiting to see me. Edith was sitting opposite my desk
looking out of place amidst the mess and the smell of ink and tobacco.
You are the only journalist I
know she told me and then proceeded to describe a slum landlord in the
East End, not far from where the tourists go, a son of Israel she
told me with the slightest of sneers.
I will look into it I told
her knowing that my editor would not countenance such political stuff, but no
she wanted me to go now and I thought I would take a chance and so took my
greatcoat and we set off. We walked through the city, her arm on mine,
although it was so light I could barely feel it.
This is such a cruel city,
wickedness everywhere she told me, but somehow I feel safe with
you. I could not help but feel gratified at such sentiments.
Are you from London? I asked
as we walked through the clear, bright streets, I cannot place your
Oh from the north she told
me and then she began talking about me; my father again and my ambitions and
the fact that I felt stifled in my job; just reporting trivial things rather
than writing something more important and of lasting worth.
Who will be reading my work in
even five years time? I asked her, not realising that I had such
frustration. It is strange that I have always thought myself content but then a
sympathetic person makes me realise that actually I am not, far from
She showed me around some tightly packed
flats owned by this landlord; I could smell the filth and poverty of the
inhabitants before we stepped inside. Even in a city with so many strange
odours the smell emanating from this building left me nauseated and I had to
smoke a cigarette before going in. Edith introduced me to various families
living in abject need, with children too hungry and tired to cry, with no
bedding and with no hope.
She is an angel one woman, a
Mrs Griffiths told me, always here, always taking an interest. I do not
know what we would do without her.
I made notes and whilst I am sure Arthur
will not allow the Gazette to publish such stuff I spent the rest of today
writing the piece using as much pathos and human interest as I could in the
hope that my editor would feel compelled to put it in. Before Edith left me, I
arranged to go with her to the British Museum on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday, 4th October
We walked through an exhibition on India
and then drank tea in a café. It felt odd to be unchaperoned with a
lady, a lady who I hardly know. Of course when I am with prostitutes it is
different, but Edith is surely a lady with her clear diction and impeccable
manners, but she is the strangest lady that I have ever met. As natural as you
like she came to my rooms and sat drinking coffee watching me. And then she
came over to me as I started to smoke and kissed me hard and for a long
It is funny that it was only a few hours
ago but I cannot remember what she looked like naked. She was pale and her skin
was cool against mine. Everything seemed to take so long and it was in the
early hours when she left like a breath of ice disappearing as the warmth of
the day appeared.
I started to talk to John about
religion, that was my mistake; sure we had talked about the practicalities of
the church, and clichés about how wonderful the Prophet was, but nothing
real. I had been struggling with religion; Mormons are supposed to have a
testimony but mine had gone. Was Joseph Smith really a prophet? In
the past I had been inspired by the Book of Mormon but now it just seemed dull
as fudge. I should have kept my questions to myself, in the end you cannot
trust anybody, not even someone who says they love you and claims to want to
spend the rest of his life with you, them least of all.
Sunday, 9th November
We have become a couple, Edith and me.
We spend our time together, other than when I am at work and she is on her
errands of mercy. We look at art galleries, explore the city and sometimes she
stays the night, always in my apartments. She has shown me the building she
shares with others of her profession, a cold, austere looking hostel close to
Kings Cross Station, but I have never been inside, the women who live there are
strictly forbidden from bringing their young men through the
In fact I know little about her; she
rarely mentions her parents and when I ask her about her family somehow we end
up talking about mine instead. I do not think she has siblings, but I do not
know, and she never mentions friendships or her youth. When I imagine her as a
young girl I see her drifting through a snowy northern landscape on her way to
a grim church school, looking radiant and intense.
She encourages me with my writing,
telling me that I am better than being a journalist, that I should have more
ambition. I think I was happy with my lot before I met her, but now I realise
that I could be a writer; have my work serialised in one of these magazines
such as Longmans. I realise that I could be great; another Dickens
or Thackeray. And my editor just sends me out on piffling stories like any
other hack and ignores my ideas.
I went to see my father this evening;
what with Edith and being busy I have not had time. I walked over to him
relishing the cold wind on my face; there had been a snowfall earlier and my
boots crushed the hard snow beneath them with a pleasing crunch. I had hoped
that Edith would come with me, but she had promised to see a friend.
Go and see your father she
told me but remember what I said.
What she had said was that it was
impossible for me to live with him, that I had a brother and sister and it was
time that they did something, and that the old should not burden the
And he did look old as we sat opposite
each other. I had not realised how cold his house was but in November the small
fire that burned in the grate was nothing against the cold wind that howled
around us. I felt moved with compassion and wanted to tell him that he could
live with me; either in my apartment or we could find somewhere together, I am
sure that my brother and sister would help with the additional cost, and for a
moment it was as if a burden had been lifted from my soul.
I was about to suggest this when the
image of Edith came into my head and I realised that she would not let this
happen, that it was impossible. That cold face would look at me with something
like contempt that I had been so weak and I would never see her again, would
never feel her body against mine. Therefore I left my thoughts unspoken and
after a short while departed, leaving my father to his cold house and sadness,
even Ediths embraces later on could not assuage my guilt, well not
I made a friend at church. I started to
go back again, after all I had nothing else and at least I known people there,
my childhood friends being back in Welwyn. Although I still struggled to
believe it didnt really matter, it is a community and they were kind so
long as you did not ask awkward questions and followed your callings, it gave
me a purpose to life and company. And I did like the hymns; with their
pom pom rhythms and catchy tunes.
Erin had started going to the chapel
whilst I was away for those few weeks. She was my age I think and rather
beautiful; ever so pale and with blonde, almost white hair, and grey eyes which
look at you so intently. We hit it off straight away and started to sit
together and she visited my flat a couple of times. So many of the people from
the chapel seemed embarrassed about what happened, even though John had the
grace to go to another chapel out in Stockport. The fact that such a
golden marriage had ended and presumably John could not but help
tell the Bishop and anyone else who was interested why we had split up probably
cast me in the role as back-sliding Mormon who did not know when she was well
off. No doubt they all wished I had gone elsewhere rather than him.
But Erin sat and listened, did not
judge, but rather encouraged me to talk. She was a nurse so I suppose she was
used to listening to peoples woes; getting them to tell their deepest
fears. A couple of times we had kissed; nothing sexual but just a gesture of
love and concern. And I lay in her arms, shivering and crying but realising
that there was somebody for me who cared at least a little.
Wednesday, 26th November,
I gave up my job today. I had
written a piece for the newspaper about the Queen, not exactly calling for a
republic but certainly critical of her; her aloofness and her ostentatious
wealth. Edith helped me write it, encouraged me to express how I
I cannot publish this Arthur
told me after barely glancing at it, you are a fine journalist but this
is scandalous and just not right for a newspaper such as ours. Save it for your
I knew he would react this way but I was
still angry, and I remembered Edith telling me to be brave, to go it alone and
so I threw the article in his face and told him what a Philistine he was, what
a fool and then I was gone.
And now as I write this journal I feel
exhilarated, I have been brave, some would say foolish but my future is now
ahead of me. Tomorrow I will sit down and write, I have money for the time
being and I have so many ideas teeming through my brain and now at last I can
put them on paper. She is coming tonight and I will be pleased to tell her what
I have done. We will make love and perhaps she will become my wife. With her
besides me I know that I can do anything.
Friday, 19th December,
I am not in despair, but sitting, trying
to write but not succeeding is upsetting. And money is running short, I try to
budget but even so I have little left. I am tempted to ask for my job back, but
I can imagine Ediths look of contempt.
Too often I just go out and pace the
streets of London, remembering when I used to walk with Edith her hand on my
arm. Now I often do not see her for days on end, or when I do it is only
briefly. And we never share a bed; she always initiated it and now when I try
to take her in my arms she looks offended and I am scared that she will leave
but then she does anyway.
Thursday, 5th February,
I saw the Prime Minister again, he looks
so much older than when I saw him last year. Now he is The Murderer of Gordon
rather than the Grand Old Man. Gladstone doomed because of something happening
faraway in Africa. At least I brought my troubles on myself, I am not sure that
Mr Gladstone did. Hopefully we will both be given another chance. But then I
forget about him and concentrate on the emptiness in my belly and the coldness
in my heart.
She appeared last night after so long
away. I was huddled in a blanket, hungry. She looked just the same; austere but
beautiful. She kissed me and took me to my bed, she was so cold that my body
froze to hers.
I wont be coming to see you
again. She told me, there are other people for me now, and
then she was gone; perhaps back to the frozen wastes or to find someone else
and cause them despair.
I dreamed of her, naked and astride me,
she looked less collected, more passionate and she was saying something, the
words echoed in my head rest, it is over, this life is finished.
I woke up naked and wretched. My room is
cold and empty and I have not written for days or even weeks, only this journal
and even this is becoming less coherent. I know that this is the end, that
whoever she was, Edith has taken everything from me. Left me isolated and
There is a knife on my desk, it was not
there yesterday, perhaps she left it before she went away. I feel the blade and
run it along my thumb, it is sharp. I put it in my hand; it lies there cold and
with a job to do
.. I will put this aside and do what I need to
I put the diary down, it was ended. Even
now I am curious as to what happened to the writer, but in my heart I know,
another citizen in the great city dead with only the diary discovered over one
hundred years afterwards as a memorial. I wondered how long it was until his
body was discovered, and who attended his funeral; his father shivering and in
tears, his brother and sister feeling guilt but anxious to get home to their
homes and family.
I had stayed up all night reading the
diary and thinking, and I found that it was Erin who came into my head, the way
she kissed me and the way she encouraged my sadness, taking my soul into her
cold heart. I realised that I did not want to see her again, that she
would destroy me just as she, or another of kin, had done to the diarist in
another city in another century, and to many others before and
Erin contacted me a couple more times;
rang me and even came to my door looking kind and sympathetic, but I refused to
see her, knew that once I did I would be sucked in, and eventually she left me
alone, perhaps finding someone else to befriend. It was easier to avoid the
people from my church who were easily put off once I had told them I was no
longer interested. For the first time, perhaps ever, I felt happy and
The day after I finished the diary I
talked about a transfer with my manager Marie and eventually she got a post for
me in London, I have done well here in Manchester and she was happy to give me
a good reference and she understood my wanting to get away from the city where
my marriage had ended and did everything she could to help me. I will be near
my parents but not too close and near the friends of my childhood, my
non-Mormon friends and I will make new ones as I become confident and strong. I
do not need a crutch, whether it be a weak and pompous husband, a cultish
church or a cold-hearted friend.
As I sit here, my last evening in
Manchester, I see a Victorian Prime Minister walking through the streets of
London, mocked by many but carrying on unbowed. I see a writer dying by his own
hand, alone and over-powered by guilt and foolishness. And I see me, powerful
and determined, storming through the snow and ice until I see sunlight