He’s John Marlott. He’s John Marlott, and he writes his name everywhere in his room to prove it. He hides a spoon from his dinner and scratches John Marlott into the floor, the ceiling, the hard wood of the door. He writes his name nine times before the spoon is taken away and he is beaten for hiding it.
Being John Marlott doesn’t seem quite as appealing now, with a split lip and raw knuckles and patches of his hair missing from where the other man ripped it off while he held John steady. He held John upright with one hand while he beat him senseless with the other hand. John Marlott is in pain, but he knows who he is. He’s being punished for knowing his own name and that is unacceptable.
John spits into his right palm and smiles when he sees blood mixed in with the saliva. He dips his left index finger into the fluid and starts writing once more, this time using his only bedsheet as a canvas because the color will have a better chance of sticking to the cloth than to the stone walls.
He manages to write John Marlott four times before his mouth runs dry of spittle. It’s not enough. The guard outside his door yells at John to stop spitting his guts up.
When the next guard comes to relieve the first, he laughs at the spitting noises and pisses into John’s cell. “Wouldn’t want ‘im t’ get thirsty,” one guard says to the other, and they both laugh.
John uses the piss to write his name six more times.
He first visits the sea in his dreams. It seem to whisper to him, but try as he might, he can’t make sense of its words. He screams his name at the edge of the sea and waits for an answer.
There is no answer.
He visits again while he’s awake, supposedly. John’s losing the ability to differentiate between sleeping and waking. The doctors give him hell while he’s awake, and his own mind gives him hell while he’s asleep. Why bother to separate the two?
When he dreams, he has a chance of meeting Agnes again, no matter how slim. That chance does not exist in the waking world. That’s why he still bothers to separate the two states, most of the time.
Maybe his name is Meecham. Maybe his name is Kane. Two men come into his cell almost every day, and they keep calling each other Kane and Meecham. Are those their names? He can’t figure it out.
He sits there, sometimes chained up, sometimes shackle-free, as the two men converse and argue about what to do with him. They call him John Doe. A placeholder name; it means nothing to him. He knows he is not John Doe.
Then again, maybe he is. Maybe he is just a placeholder of a man, occupying another man’s place in life. Or, even worse, maybe he has stolen another man’s life, stolen it and made such an unholy mess of it that he doesn’t even know what his name is any more. That seems likely.
He visits the sea again, and he hates every minute of it. He had a name the last time he came here, and now, he has no name. He is a lunatic. He can’t let the sea learn of this. He knows, from his time on the River Police, that water is the most merciless of the natural forces.
“John Marlott!” he screams, kicking the sand and glaring at the oncoming tide. He waits for an answer, and no answer is given, as usual. He doesn’t know why he expected otherwise.
The only sound is the sea screaming back. Maybe it has already claimed John Marlott, and wants the lunatic to stop impersonating a dead man.
Aren’t they all dead? The sea, the man named John, and the lunatic? Haven’t they all passed beyond mortal life, into a state of being cut off from the rest of the world? The sea was never truly alive at all, and the two men have exited the land of the living and entered the sea.
John Marlott is dead. The lunatic who wears his face is not dead; neither does he live. He simply occupies space, existing as a man without a name.
Someone shouts obscenities from a room far away. Maybe his name is John Marlott. Maybe the lunatic’s name is meater, flapdoodle, blunderbuss, idiot, or coward. Maybe he has already been reduced down to a simple noun, like lunatic. Maybe he ought to identify himself by stating his flaws.
If that is the case, then why not revert back to the name John Marlott? People will have read about his supposed crimes in Boz’s newspaper by now. Those three syllables carry more stigma than his face ever will.
A man visits the prisoner sometimes. The guards always call the visitor ‘Father’. Whose father is he? Is he the lunatic’s father?
That can’t be right. Lunatics are not visited by their family; they are left to rot in hospitals scattered forgotten throughout the country, locked away with no hope of freedom. No, this Father does not come as a lunatic’s family member. He comes as another attempted treatment in disguise, reading passages of the good Lord’s Word in the vain hope of provoking some reaction from the lunatic.
The Father is too late. The lunatic has no interest in responding to the empty words of a God that has abandoned him, and robbed him even of his name.
He dreams of a woman named Agnes. Maybe the lunatic’s name is Agnes. At this point, nothing would surprise him.
He can think clearly to-day, and he misses the Thames. He misses his old position with the River Police. He writes that down in the little book that the doctors have given him.
The doctor Kane and Meecham tell the lunatic that he is “remarkably lucid to-day.” He doesn’t understand what that means.
It means they’re going to take him outside. He cannot even count the days since his skin has been kissed by the unfiltered English air, they number so many. The lunatic craves the feeling of air rushing unfettered past his face, toying with his hair, snatching at his clothing. Without the burden of a name, perhaps the wind will be able to snatch the lunatic up and carry him far away from the hospital and its electricity and its confusion and its tendency to send him to the sea in his mind.
Perhaps. Or, perhaps he will simply stand outside for a time, relishing the morning breeze, only to be led back to his cell before noon.
He misses the Thames. He wishes he were on a boat, feeling the wind.
Jack Martins. The name falls out of the lunatic’s mouth easily enough. Only he’s not a lunatic any longer, is he? He has left that horrid hospital behind and fled back to London proper, back to the squalor and stench of the slums, back to the tired-looking buildings overlooking the crowded streets. Back to the Thames.
The river is exactly as he remembers it. Jack Martins cannot find the exact words to describe it, but this body of water feels like it could be his home. He feels as though he could walk down to the riverbed and build himself a house to live in, and all of London would be none the wiser.
He can’t do that. He has revenge to exact upon Daniel Hervey, and that revenge continuously claws at Jack’s heart, begging to be set free so it can wreak havoc upon all of London, on the off chance that Hervey will be somewhere among the victims.
He can’t let that happen. He fears the punishments that will be inflicted upon his body and soul: fire and brimstone for the soul, prison and the noose for the body.
“Thomas! We want them scared of you, remember?”
Perhaps Jack’s name should be Thomas as well. The world ought to be terrified of him, a thing from behind the grave. An unholy thing , fit to be loved by no one and abhorred by everyone. One need only look at his scars to learn the truth of what he is. Even if their conscious mind were to dismiss the scars as a strange coincidence, their Christian instincts would warn them away from Jack Martins.
It’s for the best, really.
He sees John Marlott standing in the sea, while he himself remains on the shore. He sees the real John Marlott, the man who died and stayed dead. The real John Marlott has no autopsy scars.
The real John Marlott has only a fraction of the internal anguish that clings stubbornly to Jack Martins’ conscience. John Marlott had his demons, yes, but they were not of such a magnitude as Jack’s are now.
Is he Jack? Is he John? Sometimes he still feels like John, late at night, when he no longer has to hide himself from the world for fear of being identified. He fears recognition most of all.
He sees Esther by the sea, the next time he is taken there. He hears her calling out for Sam, and the first thought that crosses his mind is, Perhaps I’m called Sam now.
Perhaps he isn’t, however. He knows Sam. He knows who Sam is, and he is not Sam. He is not Esther’s son.
He’s not Sam. So who is he? Is he still Jack Martins? Jack is alive, he is the mask that a dead man puts on in order to blend in with the living. Sam is truly dead, so he has no need for masks.
He’s not Sam, then. He’s just a nameless corpse, walking the earth, both unaware and painfully conscious of the fact that he is already dead.
“I am John Marlott,” he says to Father Ambrose, because the holy man is nearby so he must be listening. The truly dead can do nothing but listen, as John knows. They can’t make a peep, no matter how hard they try. Joseph taught him that.
John leaves the church feeling better, like a workhorse that has just been cut loose from a heavy wagon. He must look better, at least if the reactions of those he passes on the street are any indication. People meet his eye more often now, when he chooses to offer them eye contact in the first place. The great barrier between John Marlott and the greater population of London has become less obvious, though it still partially separates the two. There are some pieces of London life that John will never be able to partake of again.
Having a proper, God-given name, though, that part of London life is one that John freely indulges in.