The previous episode here.
Jack said nothing to Helen about his meeting with Jelly. And even though he had agreed to further meetings he wasn’t entirely sure he would go and see him again. But there was something strangely compelling about the man. It was almost as if he wasn’t there, as if he had a total indifference to everything that was going on around him. And it was clear that he could not care less what Jack thought.
If Helen got wind of any of this it would totally freak her out. She worked very hard to keep on the surface of things, and in all the time he had known her she had never talked about anything other than fashions, parties, work, her friends and TV. But in fairness, all of Jack’s mates were pretty much the same as this, and he was fairly happy to go along with it. The one exception was his father, this beacon of honesty who would sometimes question what it was all about, and was keen to engage Jack in an exchange of ideas. No conclusions were ever reached, and Jack was fairly certain there were no conclusions. Even so, just the act of exploring the territory gave Jack a dimension that was missing in almost everyone he knew, and although he didn’t consciously realize it, his affinity with Barry was based on such an awareness.
He told Helen that he was off to the pub with his mates. She barely heard what he said as she watched one of her favorite soaps. Jack was fairly anxious about meeting Jelly again, particularly on his own. The evening was damp and foggy as he walked up to Jelly’s dilapidated door. Once again Jack could see Jelly making his way to the door just as he was about to press the buzzer.
“Hello Jack. So you came.”
For the first time Jack noticed Jelly’s eyes. They were soft and sad, or at least that is how he saw them. He followed Jelly into the lounge at the front of the house, and once again Jelly disappeared for five minutes and came back with a tray of cups, a teapot and biscuits. Jack had time to look around this ramshackle room. Chairs that had tears and holes in them, half a dozen plants that were in desperate need of water, an old piano, and some paintings hanging on the wall that looked unbelievably amateurish. The carpet was threadbare, and the gas heater was fully on, making the room feel unbearably warm and clammy. There were many books in an old bookcase that had the laminate coming away in various places. And most striking of all was a cheap looking sacred heart picture of Jesus Christ directly above the seat where Jelly sat.
Jelly poured the tea with a level of care that was almost palpable, and offered Jack a biscuit, which he refused. Once he had sat in his chair Jelly looked at Jack, but said nothing. This made Jack very uneasy – silence was to be avoided at all costs.
“Jelly can you tell me something about the books that Barry reads. Every lunchtime he sits for an hour totally focused on them.”
Jelly smiled and again said nothing. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than ten seconds Jelly finally spoke up.
“You find the silence intimidating don’t you Jack? Why do you think that is?”
In all his life Jack had never been put on a spot he could not wriggle out of. But this. This was something different. Honesty was being demanded, and it reminded him of his father’s injunction not to bullshit.
“Yes I do find it uncomfortable. I’m not used to it. And I know why it is uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable because I hardly know you and it feels too intimate.”
Jack was surprised at his own candor and insight, and he noticed a gentle smile on Jelly’s face.
“Very good Jack. That didn’t hurt too much did it – or did it?”
“No it didn’t, I had a father who had a habit of putting me on the spot, and he would not let me off the hook.”
“Yes I know. There would have been no point talking with you if you had not been given that gift.”
“How do you know Jelly? You know nothing about me.”
“I know more about you than you know about yourself. You’ll see.”
This was making Jack emotional. It was only two weeks since his father had died, and all this talk reminded him of how much he missed him.
“Jack, why do you think it is that most people avoid silence?”
“They find it embarrassing. And they find it embarrassing because they can’t play avoidance games. They have to acknowledge each other.” Jack replied.
Once again Jack was surprised by what he was saying. He had seen this need to avoid intimacy many times, but had never put it into words.
“The world is asleep Jack.” Jelly said with a sad resignation.
“The world is asleep, or rather I should say the human race is asleep. It is lost in imagination, daydreams, fantasies, transient desires, and all the time it misses the real show, which is both awful and wonderful. To awaken from this sleep requires great courage and determination, and most people are so asleep they don’t even know they are dreaming. As a result they suffer a great deal. There is a huge disconnect between their dreams and reality – suffering is built in. And the human race is terrified of existence in the main Jack, and particularly the specter of death. These fears keep them in their dreams, it is just too painful to wake up. Society also does its part in keeping people asleep – consumerism, endless entertainment, in fact, any distraction will probably find a ready market, because the human race needs to be distracted.”
Jelly fell silent, smiled at Jack, and continued to look at him. For his part, Jack had nothing to say. All the things he suspected, the things he thought no one would ever talk about were suddenly out in the open.
“So tell me about your dreams Jack.” Jelly asked without any warning.
“I want to be free Jelly. Above all else, I want to be free.”
“And what would being free look like?”
“Free of the domestic hell I’ve landed myself in, and free of being a wage slave.”
“You could do that tomorrow if you really wanted. What is stopping you?”
“Obligations, commitments and I don’t want to hurt or let people down”
“Do you think anyone considers you in all of this Jack? Or do you think they are taking what they want without any consideration of you at all?”
Once again Jack felt like he was being put on the spot – it was the spirit of his father speaking. He could feel it.
“No, I don’t think they consider my needs for a minute, but that doesn’t mean I have to be like them.”
“So you are full of consideration for other people’s needs, but not your own. The only responsibility you have Jack, is toward yourself. Despite your grandiose illusions that you can make other people happy, you cannot.”
Ooh, that bit deep. Jack flinched at the thought of grandiose illusions. His immediate reaction was anger and indignation. But he looked at Jelly and there was no denying he was right. Jelly continued.
“Talking with me, and people like me, because there are others, will not make you a good member of society. The people who use you will become angry. In any case the freedom you talk about is not real freedom, but we’ll talk about that another time. For now you need to see how you are lost in your dreams. Dreams of freedom, dreams that you are making other people happy, and the dream that you are a good reliable guy like your father.”
That was it. Jack got up and looking at Jelly said, “I won’t hear anything bad said against my father, he was an honest decent man. I’ll let myself out.”
Jelly said nothing, and poured himself another cup of tea.
When Jack got home he was ready to explode. He needed sex. Helen had fallen asleep on the couch, and there was a wine glass on the floor. Sure enough he got what he wanted – but it didn’t satisfy. Helen was surprised by his aggression, and actually, rather liked it.
The next day Jack was still boiling over with indignation. He didn’t bother with the morning insult ritual, and Barry simply read the paper while Jack paced up and down. Suddenly Barry got up.
“Come on you self-important bastard, lets fight.”
Jack froze. There was no way he would fight Barry, but Barry was insistent.
“Come on, before old fat guts gets here. I’ll let you win.”
Fat guts was the name for their boss, a man they had no respect for, and a man who was cheating on his wife and on the tax man. Barry grabbed hold of Jack, putting his head into a lock. Jack suddenly ignited; punching, swearing, pushing, kicking. Barry was gentle with Jack, until finally the rage spent itself, and Jack started to weep.
“Get the fuck out of here.” Barry screamed at the other two mechanics.
Barry held Jack while grief surged up from the depths of his being, manifesting as uncontrollable sobbing. As the emotion slowly exhausted itself Jack eventually looked at Barry and simply said, “Thank you.” For the rest of the day Jack was subdued, although when he arrived home Helen was preoccupied with getting ready for another party – a hen party this time. But she had not forgotten the passion he had displayed the previous night, and kissed him on the cheek as she left the house.
Jack had changed. Helen saw it, but said nothing, and his mates saw it. He was much less accommodating, less willing to put himself out to please others. It frightened Helen, but also made her respect him more. No he wouldn’t go shopping with her on Saturday for her hundredth pair of shoes, and yes he would like to cook an evening dinner for them both on Thursday, despite Helen’s complaints that he would make a mess in the kitchen. Last week she would have pecked away at him to get what she wanted. This week she thought it better to lie low. Jack was aware of the change too, and he liked it. He would see Jelly again.
On the next visit Jelly went through the usual ceremony with the tea, although his demeanor seemed different. His expression seemed harsher, and he looked tired.
“So Jack, I really thought I might not see you again, but I’m very glad you are here. How has your week been?”
“Pretty much the same as any other week, although I’m less willing to take other people’s crap.” Jack said looking for approval.
Jelly’s expression did not change.
“Do you need approval from me Jack? I hope not, I’m just an old fart who doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
Jack was immediately put on guard. This old fart could read people. He was lethal. But Jack was emboldened.
“Yes, I can’t deny I was expecting some level of approval, but now that you mention it, I can equally do without it.”
“Good.” Responded Jelly.
“Do you ever watch the news or read newspapers? Because if you do, you cannot come to any conclusion other than we live in a lunatic asylum. Do you ever wonder why we live in a lunatic asylum and how this whole thing has come about? People killing others by remote control, the greedy finding ways to deprive the average person of even a modest income, the narcissism of social media, and I guess you know the rest as well as I do. There is a reason for all of this, and understanding it will challenge you. Do you see how generations come and go and how in just a hundred years from now no one will remember you or your father. It will be as though you had not existed. You might get some ancestry freak plugging your details into a chart, but that will be facts – not a memory. And today around a quarter of a million people will die from various illnesses, many of them having suffered intolerable things for a long period before death. Fifteen thousand children will die today from drinking unclean water or contracting malaria. This planet is a pain factory. What do you think to all of this?”
“I don’t usually think about such things.” Jack admitted. “If I did, I think I would just go hang myself from the nearest tree. What is the point of thinking about such things?”
“It depends how you think about them.” Replied Jelly, emphasizing the word ‘how’. “You need to be able to consider these things as you might study engineering or some other subject – without emotion. And you need to study these things to get an accurate account of life on this planet. You cannot live meaningfully if you think everything is just fine.”
Jelly continued on this theme for well over half an hour, stressing that a full and rounded knowledge of life gives a person power, and not least the power to wake up from the dream, and stare life in the face. And then he dropped a bombshell.
“Jack, your life as it is, is nothing more than a used condom. You will live, suffer, serve nature, and die. Next time we meet I want to reveal the beast that generates life on this planet. You have to see it and understand it. I think you can do that. Anyway stay close to Barry, he’s a good man, and he will help you.”
With that, Jelly showed Jack to the door and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder as he did so. Jack was reminded of his father doing the same thing.
Next episode here.