Jack-Knife: A Melodrama Inspired From Life, in Fourteen Vocal Tableaux

JACK-KNIFE
A Melodrama Inspired from Life, in Fourteen Vocal Tableaux
Best Heard in a Dark Room, the Doors Locked


TABLEAU ONE: CORRESPONDENCE GONE UNANSWERED

A WOMAN'S SCREAM. It begins with a gasp and peaks until ragged, breaking off at its height, then trails into an ugly, liquid gurgle, and is gone.

THE MAN KNOWN AS JACK
 (Very clear, polite)
From hell, Mister Lusk, I send you half the kidne I took from one woman, prasarved it for you, tother piece I fried and ate it; was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate while longer. Catch me when you can, Mishter Lusk.

A LARGE SPLASH dies away slowly, the drops of water dispersing over the stones by a river's side.

FADE UP, very slowly, a HISSING, PULSING noise—like the sound of the sea but darker, more interior.

BRING UP a HEARTBEAT. The sound resolves itself into that of blood circulating inside someone's head.

JACK
 (Slow, sleepy whisper)
It's so. Cold.

HOLD the BLOOD SOUND a few more seconds.

MODIFY it to become— 

***

TABLEAU TWO: LESSON THE FIRST—UNMENTIONABLES

—the soft sound of a cloth squeezing water into a basin.

A CLICK, like a lid opening. Pure, slightly warped MUSIC begins in mid-phrase: A MUSIC-BOX tune ("Oh, Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms...").

A woman (JACK's MOTHER) HUMS ALONG.

MOTHER
(Soft)
"...that I gaze on so fondly today/Were to fleet in an hour and fade in my arms..."

YOUNG JACK
(Outside the door)
Mother! Mother, I'm home!

MOTHER
In here, darling.

YOUNG JACK
(Bursts in, out of breath)
Mother, it was wonderful, we—
(Sees the basin)
What's that?

The lid shuts, with a SNAP; the music stops.

MOTHER
My washing. Tell me about your trip.

YOUNG JACK
(Distracted)
Yes, we—
(Peers closer)
—but it's all...red.

MOTHER
Dear, you're flushed. Really, you mustn't concern yourself...

YOUNG JACK
(Realizing)
Red—it's blood, isn't it? It's full of blood!

MOTHER
(Soothing)
There, there—
(He continues to gasp; she shakes him)
Stop that! Listen to me, will you? Will you listen?

YOUNG JACK
Of course, I...
 (A beat)
Whose blood is it?

MOTHER
Mine.

YOUNG JACK
Oh no, oh God! I'll get Father—

MOTHER
(Sharp)
You will not.
(Soothing again)
No need to trouble him; it's nothing to be afraid of, you know. Simply an indignity we ladies must suffer, now and then.

YOUNG JACK
 (Fascinated, despite himself)
All ladies?

MOTHER
Every one of them. And I'll tell you a secret—as long as we do, the babies come.

YOUNG JACK
 (Pause; whispers)
But you'll die.

MOTHER
 (A little sad)
We all will, my precious boy. Eventually. And there's no cure for that.

She tips the basin out into a sink.  The SOUND OF WATER GURGLING away down the drain.

***

TABLEAU THREE: NOTOREITY, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

FADE IN, OVER:  NIGHT SOUNDS, London, 1888.

JACK is WASHING his hands at a public sink, breath fast and rough. A HORSE NEIGHS and shies behind him.

MAN
(Yelling)
Here, over here! Christ, it's awful!

WOMAN
Get the Peelers!

VOICES
The Ripper! The Ripper! The Ripper!

POLICE WHISTLES, SHOUTS, RUNNING FEET.

FADE UP the GURGLE OF WATER down the drain, DROWNING OUT the rest.

A new woman's voice surfaces, OVER:

MRS. BENTHAM
Was that true?

JACK
I can't remember.

MRS. BENTHAM
Whether it happened that way, exactly? Or whether it happened at all?

JACK
...either.

MRS. BENTHAM
 (After a moment)
Then...I suppose you'd better tell me what...might have happened next.

FADE INTO the rush of a river in flood.

***

TABLEAU FOUR: TWO LADS AT PLAY

FADE IN the sound of two BOYS LAUGHING by the river's side.  COUNTRY NOISES, BIRDS.  They are dragging the river for things to sell.

FIRST BOY
I found a shoe!

SECOND BOY
(Appraising it)
Too big for me.

FIRST BOY
Nice leather, though—

SECOND BOY
(Dismissive)
Too big for you, too.
(Ducks)
'Ey, easy with that stick!

FIRST BOY
Coward.
(Sees something)
Here, what's this?

SECOND BOY
(Uninterested)
A deadfall full of weeds, molly-brain.

FIRST BOY
No, look closer—

He SPLASHES into the river.

SECOND BOY
(Alarmed)
Wait up! Wait—ah, to hell with it.

He joins FIRST BOY.  They try to shift the deadfall.

FIRST BOY
(Grunting with effort)
It's under—here—

SECOND BOY
(Grumbling)
What is? Nothing, that's what. Split your bleeding gut over noth...

He trails off, spotting JACK pinned underneath.

SECOND BOY
...ing. God almighty...

FIRST BOY
Nothing, eh?

SECOND BOY
Come on, give us a hand! Jesus, a drowned man. Don't just stand there, get him up on the bank!

FIRST BOY
What for? Not like we can help.

SECOND BOY
It's not what we can do, fool, it's what he's got on him!

SPLASHING SOUNDS as he starts dragging JACK out.

FIRST BOY
All right, all right—I'm not stupid, y'know.

MORE SPLASHING as they get JACK onto the bank; TWIN THUMPS as they collapse.  SECOND BOY begins going through his pockets.

SECOND BOY
Bloody hell, what's this? No rings, no cutter, no bloody nothing!

FIRST BOY
Looks a right toff, though. And that red hair.

SECOND BOY
Unlucky. Besides—

A WATER-CHOKED COUGH interrupts him.  Dead silence.  Another, deeper cough.

FIRST BOY
(Dumbstruck)
He's alive!

SECOND BOY
I see that, booby! All right, all right. Run and get the doctor.

FIRST BOY
Up at the madhouse?

SECOND BOY
Is there another? Come on! I'll stay and watch him.

FIRST BOY runs off.  JACK keeps coughing until his fit subsides.  Ragged, uneven breathing sets in.

SECOND BOY
(To himself)
Yeah, I'll just watch him.
(Rummaging in JACK's coat)
Hah! Knew he'd have something.
(Pulls out the WATCH)
Nice work. Bet it keeps good time. Only fair I have it, really, seeing how I saved him and all—

He flips the lid open with a CLICK.  The same tune JACK'S MOTHER sang begins to play, WARPED AND DISTORTED by its time under the water.

SECOND BOY
(Surprised)
Isn't that pretty.

Jarred by the sound, JACK stirs.

JACK   
(Hoarse)
Am I...alive?

SECOND BOY
(Terrified)
Sure you are, mister. Lucky to be so, too. That river's a killer.

JACK
(To himself)
Alive.

He SCREAMS—a long, inarticulate howl of triumph, rage and despair.  The watch's lid SNAPS shut; the MUSIC CUTS OFF.

FADE UP: THE RIVER, over JACK's scream, until it drowns him out.

***

TABLEAU FIVE: GENTLE MEDICINES

FADE INTO the NOISE OF A GURNEY, being wheeled quickly through the ECHOING HALLS of DR. PURL'S ASYLUM.

BOWKER
(Breathless)
Got his head?

LEAN
(Equally blown)
Just. Christ, this fucker's strong!
(JACK BITES him)
Ow!

BOWKER
Watch the teeth.

LEAN
Thanks, ever so.

They BUMP THROUGH DOORS into PURL's operating room. The gurney SQUEAKS into position beside PURL's "Machine", an electric generator used for primitive shock therapy. We can hear it HUMMING FAINTLY.

BOWKER
(To JACK)
Here we are, darling, all safe and sound. We'll just wait here a while for the Doctor to come fry your bloody loony brain.

JACK howls and thrashes.

LEAN
Stop baiting him, Bowker! He's going for my hands again, and I only got the two!

BOWKER
Easy cure for that, mate—

DR. PURL and MRS. BENTHAM enter.

PURL
I hope you're not assaulting the patients again, Bowker. That'd be two times this week alone; I might have to let you go.

BOWKER
Won't be necessary, Doctor. I was just—

PURL
I know full well what you were "just", Bowker, so do be quiet. Mrs.. Bentham, the
headpiece, if you please.

MRS. BENTHAM
Doctor.

PURL
Where'd they find this man, Lean?

LEAN
Picked him out the river, sir. Been like this ever since.

PURL
From London, then...probably a failed suicide.

JACK screams again.

LEAN
I'd top myself too, I had a headful of whatever he's got.

PURL
I don't doubt it. Well, we'll soon clear his cranium. Mrs. Bentham!
(To BOWKER and LEAN)
Hold him straight.

SOUNDS OF STRUGGLE, as they do.  MRS. BENTHAM fastens the headpiece onto JACK, with a SNAP; JACK'S cries become muffled.

PURL
(Through gritted teeth)
All right, that does it. Mrs. Bentham, the switch!

MRS. BENTHAM
Yes, Dr Purl.

She pulls the switch. The faint HUMMING of the generator RATCHETS UP; a SHARP, ELECTRIC CRACKLE erupts over it.

JACK'S cries become a SUSTAINED, MUFFLED YELL.

The CRACKLE stops, the HUMMING dropping back to its previous level.  A THUMP as JACK collapses onto his gurney.

BOWKER
Here, he's bitten through his lip—

PURL
No matter.
(To MRS. BENTHAM)
Again!

The same crackle, LOUDER this time.  JACK HOWLS THROUGH CLENCHED TEETH, in even more pain.  The crackle stops. JACK THUMPS to the gurney, harder this time.  He MOANS softly.

LEAN
Doctor, his eyes are gone all white!

PURL
(Excited, vicious)
You really must show me your license to practice medicine sometime in future, Lean.
(To MRS. BENTHAM)
Again!

The LOUDEST CRACKLE YET.

***

TABLEAU SIX: AND I AWOKE AND FOUND ME HERE

FADE INTO the sound of a cloth being TORN, then DIPPED into yet another BASIN OF WATER.

BRING UP the SOUND OF BIRDS outside the windows of JACK'S room.

JACK
(Gradually stirring awake)
Uhhh.

MRS. BENTHAM
Sssh. Don't try to move.

JACK
Who—

MRS. BENTHAM
I'm Mrs. Bentham. You're at Dr. Purl's, in the country, and you're here to get well.

She squeezes the cloth out, and daubs his forehead with it.

JACK
(Barely awake)
I...the river....

MRS. BENTHAM
That's all over now. You were saved. With God's grace, you'll soon be yourself once more.

JACK
You're kind.

MRS. BENTHAM
As my position requires. What's your name?

JACK
(Freezes)
I—I don't...

MRS. BENTHAM
...wish it known? Understandable, given the circumstances—

JACK
No, what I mean is—I don't believe I know it myself.

MRS. BENTHAM
Not at all?

JACK
(Not really answering)
Mmm. And yet...my mind's so clean, suddenly. So clear.

MRS. BENTHAM
That would be a result of Dr. Purl's treatment. Well, it will all come back, I promise you.

JACK
Must it?
(A beat)
Perhaps I don't want it to.

MRS. BENTHAM
(Smiling)
You will, soon enough. Go to sleep now.
(Puts the cloth back in the basin)
Stephen—that was my husband's name. I'll call you that for now, shall I? How does it sound?

JACK
(Falling asleep)
Very... nice.

As MRS. BENTHAM squeezes out the cloth once more, water in the bowl SLOSHES back and forth. OVER WHICH WE—

BRING UP the SOUND OF WAVES LAPPING GENTLY, drowning out the BIRDS.  HOLD for a moment.

OVER, as before:

JACK
I remember that.

MRS. BENTHAM
As do I.
(A pause)
But...what about this?

FADE INTO: the SOUND OF BLOOD in JACK's head again, propelled by a DARK HEARTBEAT.

***

TABLEAU SEVEN: IN MILLER'S COURT

FOOTSTEPS on courtyard stones; a woman (MARY KELLY)'s DRUNKEN LAUGH.  She fumbles with a key.

MARY KELLY
(With a faint Irish lilt to her speech)
Here it is, your honor. Not much, but I call it home—when I've the rent.

They move inside. While staggering around, in a bad parody of genteel hospitality:

MARY KELLY
Fancy a drain of gin? Only got the chamber-pot to offer it in. Still, we're all friends
here, ain't we? What with me in nowt but my unmentionables, an' all...
(She giggles again, as though amused by her own repulsiveness)
Or p'raps you're admiring my etchings. That's what I call 'em, there's been so many 'round to see 'em.
(JACK doesn't laugh)
Not much fun, are you?

JACK
No.

A CLICK as he opens his bag.  His HEARTBEAT SPEEDS UP.

MARY KELLY
'Ey, a bag. You a doctor? What d'you got in there, anyways?

JACK
A cure for anything.

There's a WHICKER of air as JACK whips his knife out and around, striking in the same motion.  A SOUND OF IMPACT. 

MARY KELLY GASPS, then CHOKES LIQUIDLY, GURGLING.  This comes at almost the same time as a THUMP: Her falling onto the bed.

Cloth rips, chased by a WETTER, MEATIER sound, like a butcher at work.  Liquid SQUIRTS and SPLASHES.

Finally, JACK'S HARSH BREATHING and RACING HEARTBEAT drown out the sounds of his work.

A LAST BREATH comes up, MODIFYING into the ELECTRIC CRACKLE of PURL's Machine. It PEAKS.

SILENCE.

OVER:

JACK
(At last)
Oh yes, that happened too—
(Quieter)
—more than once.

***

TABLEAU EIGHT: WHEN THE GREEN FIELD COMES OFF LIKE A LID

BRING UP the SOUND OF BIRDS in PURL's garden. JACK is planting rosebushes, humming slightly, atonally (the MUSIC-BOX tune).

FOOTSTEPS ON GRASS, as MRS. BENTHAM approaches.

MRS. BENTHAM
Good morning, Stephen. A lovely day, isn't it?

JACK
Very. Won't you sit down?

MRS. BENTHAM
Just for a moment. Did Dr Purl tell you to plant those bushes?

JACK
Bowker said I might, if I kept out of his way.

MRS. BENTHAM
Such a heavenly smell. I'm told you do very good work here, in the garden.

JACK
As my position requires.
(Off her reaction)
The truth is, I enjoy it. That makes me try harder.

MRS. BENTHAM
Fair enough.
(A beat)
Oh, I had meant to ask you: Did you tamper with Asa's bandages last night, by any chance?

JACK
I rewrapped them, yes. They had been tied much too tightly; it was cruel, not to mention unprofessional.

MRS. BENTHAM
You must trust the Doctor with his own work, Stephen. He knows best what needs to be done.

JACK
You think so? The man's knuckles were black with blood. Any first-year charity ward intern might have done better.

MRS. BENTHAM
(Surprised)
Stephen, were you...are you a physician?

JACK
I...don't think so. My father...
(Pauses)
...no, forgive me. It's gone again.

MRS. BENTHAM
(Rises)
I must tell Dr Purl.

JACK   
Must you?

MRS. BENTHAM
Well, certainly—this might be a clue to your identity. Don't you want to know who you truly are?

JACK
No.

MRS. BENTHAM
Whyever not?

JACK
Perhaps because...I may already have some idea.

MRS. BENTHAM
I don't take your meaning. Besides which, I must confess, I would still like to know.

JACK
Are you so sure?
(Tired)
Go on, then. Please. Don't concern yourself about me.

MRS. BENTHAM
But I do, Stephen; knowing your true name won't stop me from continuing to do so. Until supper.

JACK
Until then—goodbye.

She leaves. He starts humming again. It begins as a snatch of the MUSIC-BOX tune, but soon trails off into the barest beat of a rhyme: A, B, A, B, A... JACK begins to sound it out aloud, hesitantly.

JACK
I'm not...a butcher, not a Yid, nor...yet some foreign skipper...But I'm your own dear loving friend, yours truly...

He stops, puzzled. Then repeats—

JACK
Yours, truly. Truly yours. Yours truly, truly, truly...

SILENCE.

***

TABLEAU NINE: LESSON THE SECOND—NAKED, YET IN RAGS

A CLICK: The watch's lid, opening. The MUSIC-BOX theme starts yet once more, warped at first, then gradually purifying. It echoes slightly, as though being played in a large, bare room.

FOOTSTEPS hurry down the corridor, then enter; a door SHUTS behind them, with a hollow sound. The watch SNAPS SHUT as well, music cutting off in mid-note.

JACK'S FATHER
Late again, I see.

JACK
Yes. The traffic was—

FATHER
Don't give excuses; patients brook none. Bear in mind that yours would be dead by now.

JACK
I will, sir. Are we—is it ready?

FATHER
Of course. Are you?

JACK
...certainly.

His FATHER snorts and throws back a sheet, revealing the corpse they are about to dissect.

FATHER
Let's begin, then.

JACK
(After a pause)
That's a woman.

FATHER
How astute.
(Impatient)
It was a woman, yes. Now it is merely a subject, the same as any other you've dissected thus far.

JACK
Mother would have disagreed.

FATHER
Your mother is dead.
   
JACK
So I recall.
(Turns to go)
Goodbye, sir.

FATHER
Stop where you are.

JACK does.  His FATHER CROSSES to him.

FATHER
I must admit I don't entirely understand such squeamishness; how can one possibly expect to operate on a live patient, if one is unable to face even a corpse? Yet I suppose I should have foreseen this inherent...infirmity of purpose, in you.
(A beat)
The fault lies in my own judgement; overestimating    your abilities, I had hoped to postpone any thoroughgoing discussion of such tedious and disgusting matters until it might prove utterly unavoidable. Now I see that day has come.

JACK says nothing.

FATHER
There is science and there is superstition: These twin currents, alone, direct the flood of history—hot blood through the world's vessels, refreshing and animating what religion and suchlike poppycock seek to render a dead and rotten corpse. All else is mere sophistry.
(Indicates the body)
Regard this—object, with care. All of us stink the same once the worm's been at us, petticoats or no. My wife, your Mother, could have told you as much.
(A shaky breath; careful)
Do you think this a mystery? Only cold meat on a slab, with no more power than you give it. Don't be blinded by desire, for it is skin-deep at best; you're fated to go so much deeper. To finally see what lies beneath—not just the clothes, but under the skin itself.
(He hands him a knife)   
Make your first cut.

JACK
I can't.

FATHER
(Grabbing his arm)
You will.

JACK
(Tries to break away)
I won't!

FATHER
(Hisses)
You will.  I've lost too much already to let you fail me now!

They GRUNT in STRUGGLE; then FATHER forces JACK'S hand down.  They plunge the knife in together with a SICK LITTLE SOUND.

JACK
Let go, sir!

FATHER
(Gritted teeth)
No. You have to see.  Look!
(While JACK still struggles)       
LOOK!

A LONG WET RIPPING SOUND as FATHER PULLS THE KNIFE DOWN, parting the woman's chest.

MODIFY to become the SOUND OF CLOTH RIPPING.

MODIFY to become a LOUD ELECTRIC CRACKLE.

OVER, as it FADES:

MRS. BENTHAM
And there we have it.

***

TABLEAU TEN:  SLIGHT DIFFERENCES OF NOMENCLATURE

BRING UP the NOISE OF BIRDS outside PURL's office windows.

PURL
Have what, exactly?
(Unimpressed)
So your "Stephen" has a bit of medical jargon under his belt.  He could be a sideshow quack for all we know.

MRS. BENTHAM
You don't find it in the least...intriguing?

PURL
Intriguing, yes. Hardly proof positive.

MRS. BENTHAM
I'm aware I can't match your expertise in these matters, Doctor, but I feel—
   
PURL
You feel too much, Mrs. Bentham. That is your sex's curse, and its charm.
(Dismissive)
At any rate, you've spent too much time with this man already. He's taken to the treatments, does his work and stays quiet; there are many more who don't. It is they who require your attention.

MRS. BENTHAM
...yes, Doctor.

She EXITS, her BOOTS TAPPING AWAY down the hall.

BOWKER
Sir—
(Hesitant)
—this "Stephen", he seems quiet enough, but...well, you've been to London.

PURL
What has that to do with anything?

BOWKER
I'll come right out with it then—

PURL
I wish you would.

BOWKER
Lean and me, we think he's the Ripper.

PURL
Well, how stimulating: Two equally absurd theories in one day.

BOWKER
But it fits, don't you see? It's been all over the Peelers think he's a doctor.

PURL
Or a butcher, or an abortionist, or a Jew, or a Freemason...

BOWKER
You can laugh all you want, sir. Still, what if—

PURL
I'd have quite an achievement on my hands then, wouldn't I? The river brought us a howling-mad harlot-killer, and we clipped his wings—with science.
   
BOWKER
Did we, though?  That's what I'm worried about.

PURL
(Bored)
Put your mind at rest, then; I'm sure you need it for other things.

He rises, moving to exit.

BOWKER
You'll tell Mrs. Bentham what I said, though, won't you?
(PURL brushes past him, not bothering to answer)
Won't you?
(Nothing. Under his breath)
Bastard.

BOWKER stalks away, in the other direction. A door SLAMS shut.

BRING UP the NOISE OF THE RIVER.  HOLD a moment.

OVER:

JACK
Did he need to?

MRS. BENTHAM
Warn me? I suppose. Yet I'm uncertain whether it would have helped. Like the Doctor, with his theories—we tell ourselves tales, then bend the facts to fit them.

JACK
For men such as the Doctor, their work comes to depend as much on faith as it does upon science.

MRS. BENTHAM
Yes. Well, then...
(A beat)
...tell me.

***

TABLEAU ELEVEN: RIVER-SIDE

BRING UP the NOISE OF THE RIVER.  HOLD a moment.

FADE DOWN the RIVER. FADE UP the BACKGROUND NOISE OF LONDON—muffled hooves, wheels on cobblestones, newsboys crying the latest headlines. Slowly, these become audible, though overlapping:

FIRST NEWSBOY
In the earliest hours of the morning, while all Whitechapel lay asleep...

SECOND NEWSBOY
...he drank the cup of his strange obsession to the dregs, perpetrating...

THIRD NEWSBOY
...most horrid and abominable slaughter, perhaps brought on by...

FIRST NEWSBOY
...a softening of the brain due to rampant venereal infection...

SECOND NEWSBOY
(Quieter, a commentary)
Sin is a contagion upon us. Inhuman minds breed inhuman deeds, as the Good Book holds.

THIRD NEWSBOY
(Almost sad)
Surely, these are Judgement times.

CHILDREN's VOICES slide in OVERTOP the shouts, a ragged choir singing a sniggering tune—

CHILDREN
Jack the Ripper's dead!
And lying in his bed!
He cut his throat with shaving soap!
Jack the Ripper's dead!

This doggerel dissolves into cruel laughter, trailing quickly away. At the same time, we BRING UP JACK's BOOTS coming down a deserted street.

JACK
(Shivering)
So cold...

From a nearby alley, a familiar voice.

MARY KELLY
Here, who's that?  I'll soon get you warm, mister.

JACK
I beg your pardon?

MARY KELLY
Oh, you should.
(Moving closer)
Don't be sorry, though—just come this way. The sure cure for cold's right up my alley.

JACK
This fog's so thick, I can barely see you.

MARY KELLY
Aw, but you don't need your eyes for the close work, do ya? Just your hands, and...whatever else.
(A beat)
What's wrong with you, anyway?

JACK
I'm lost.

MARY KELLY
Step under the light.

JACK does. MARY KELLY RECOGNIZES him.

MARY KELLY
Oho, well; that's as I thought.  You are lost.

JACK
Do you know me?

MARY KELLY
Don't you know me?

JACK
I don't—think so.

MARY KELLY
Fair enough.  Take my hand, mister;  I'll show you where you ought to be.

FOOTSTEPS, as they walk together.  The RIVER'S noise becomes LOUDER.

JACK
God, I'm so tired.

MARY KELLY
Gets to you, does it?  The walking?

JACK
The searching.

MARY KELLY
Mmmm. Well, we're all lookin' for something, ain't we?
(Their FOOTSTEPS STOP; they're at the RIVER'S edge)
Here you are, then: Try it over. Maybe you can rest, you do it right this time. Or maybe you never will.

JACK
Who are you?

MARY KELLY
Oh, we've met before.
(The sound of a dress being PULLED OPEN)
Take a good look. 

JACK
You've...no face.

MARY KELLY
No face, no belly—not much of nothing, now. Cleaned me right out, you did.

JACK
I—I don't even know you.

MARY KELLY
Don't suppose you do; not by name, any roads. None of us. Not Polly, nor Annie, nor Long Liz, Kate or me. But I've a name, mister.  It's Mary Kelly, Marie Jeanette to you. I never wanted to die. Just needed money for a glass, and my rent, with winter coming. And my baby.
(Quieter)
Remember this? "What's in your bag, mister?"

JACK
A cure...

MARY KELLY
...for anything?
(Mocking)
Oh, and I'm cured now, all right. Ain't I? But you know, I think you liked the doin' of it just a bit too much for comfort, my lad. A sight too much to call it anything like mercy.

JACK
Get away from me!

MARY KELLY
Easier said than done; can you get away from me, that's the question.  Are you still that slippery?

JACK
(Not listening)
Get away!

He STUMBLES, FALLS.  A HUGE SPLASH. Bring up the SOUND OF THE RIVER as he sinks deeper, MARY KELLY's voice FADING IN warped, through the water—

MARY KELLY
There you go, love. There you go...
(Colder)
But don't come up again, for you'll just end up here, eventually. And I'll be waiting.

MODIFY to the PULSE OF BLOOD in JACK's brain.  BRING UP his HEARTBEAT until it's VERY LOUD.  Then stop.

The RIVER'S NOISE, CLEAN again.

***
 
TABLEAU TWELVE:  MORE GIFTS FROM THE WATER

FADE IN the sound of TWO PEOPLE—a local POACHER and his son, the SECOND BOY—WADING in the river.

POACHER
Best catching's a little more this way.

SECOND BOY       
Hold on, I can't keep up—

POACHER
Not trying then, are you?

SECOND BOY
Aw, Dad—

POACHER
(Hisses)
Keep it down!  You want the whole bloody village to know?

SECOND BOY
(Grinning)
Think they don't?  Half of 'em were down here last week.

POACHER
You shut up, or I'll take my stick to y—ow!

He has STUMBLED OVER SOMETHING.

SECOND BOY
What's wrong?

POACHER
There's summat caught ‘neath the water.
(He fumbles around)
Wedged under a stone.  Help me, will you?

SECOND BOY
Oh Lord.
(Quiet)
Not again.

With a GRUNT OF TRIUMPH and a great SPLASH, the POACHER pulls something out.

POACHER
Look, it's a bag!  Must belong to that Doctor Purl.

SECOND BOY
What'd it be doing here, then?

POACHER
Who cares?  Might be a reward.  Come on!

He SPLASHES towards the bank.

SECOND BOY
To the madhouse?

POACHER
There and back again, with coin to show for our troubles.  Here, boy, catch.

A THUMP as the bag hits the SECOND BOY; he clutches it, reluctantly. Muttering:

SECOND BOY
And here we bloody go....

They SPLASH away. A rumble of THUNDER. It starts to RAIN HEAVILY.

FADE UP the rain, until it becomes louder than the river.

***

TABLEAU THIRTEEN:  LESSON THE THIRD—RED ALL OVER

MODIFY to become the sound of RAIN on PURL'S OFFICE WINDOWS. There's a KNOCK at the door.

PURL
Come in.

MRS. BENTHAM and JACK enter.

MRS. BENTHAM
See who's come to see you, Doctor.

PURL
(Rises)
The famous Stephen. To what do I owe this visit?

JACK
Your roses bloomed. I've brought you some.

PURL
Well.
(Takes them; at a loss)
I suppose I'd better put these in water.

MRS. BENTHAM
I'll do that.

She FADES into the background, pouring WATER from a pitcher.

PURL
You're happy in the garden, then?

JACK
Very.

PURL
This recent weather must have spoiled your work somewhat.

JACK
It comes back, though. That's what I like best about flowers.

PURL
The triumph over Death.

JACK
Facilely enough, yes. It's what we all strive for, isn't it? Cut and burn and innoculate as we may, eternity remains in all its vastness, uncharted: Decay, rot, nothing left over. The end of all flesh.

PURL
Ah, but then we can serve as fertilizer.

JACK
I've had worse ambitions.

PURL is slightly taken aback by this revelation. Luckily for him, MRS. BENTHAM intrudes.

MRS. BENTHAM
(Placing the flowers on his desk)
Here we are. Very nice, aren't they?

PURL
Indeed. I hope—

The door BANGS open. BOWKER, LEAN, POACHER and SECOND BOY enter.

PURL
Has knocking become a foreign concept, Bowker?

BOWKER
(Surly)       
These men want a word, is all. They say they've found something—

POACHER
(Offers the bag)
Here 'tis. We thought it was yours.

PURL
This? Whyever would you?

POACHER
Well, uh...'cause you're the Doctor. An' all.

PURL
(With fine contempt)
Oh, of course.
(He examines it)
You got it from the river, I presume.

POACHER
(Suddenly wary)
...yes.

PURL
Calm yourself, man; I'm not about to ask on which side. However—Mrs. Bentham, have I lost a bag, recently?

MRS. BENTHAM
Not recently, no.

PURL
No. And on closer examination, I don't believe this is mine, either. At least...I can't be entirely sure, one way or the other.

LEAN
(Helpful)
Why don't you open it up, and see?

PURL
Why not, indeed.

As the clasps SNAP open, a BOLT OF LIGHTNING strikes nearby with a searing crackle. Everybody gasps.

SECOND BOY
Holy Christ.

MRS. BENTHAM
Oh, ah.
(Sick)
Is that...?

PURL
No.
(Shakes head, tries to close it again)
Oh, no.

BOWKER
(Grabbing it from him)
Let's us just all have a good look, shall we?

He spills the contents out across PURL's desk: A RATTLE OF KNIVES, blunted by cloth, plus the sound of a GLASS JAR FULL OF LIQUID, sliding over wood.

POACHER
God, what a stink!

MRS. BENTHAM
So much—blood.

LEAN
What's that in the jar?

SECOND BOY
I think it's...a baby. Before it's been born, like.

BOWKER
That last one—she was expecting, or so they said.

LEAN
What d'you mean?

BOWKER
Obvious, isn't it?  What kind of doctor hauls around a bloody bunch of knives and a baby in a bloody jar?

PURL
(A touch of fear)
Bowker, please don't do this.

BOWKER
Oh, it's not what I've done, doctor.  Sir.

MRS. BENTHAM
Whatever you're suggesting, Bowker, it can't be true and you know it.

BOWKER
Do I?  Why'd he come down from London,  anyways?  Because of his treatments, his research? Or was it because the heat got a bit too high 'round Whitechapel way, eh?

POACHER
What're you saying?

LEAN
That he's the Ripper.
(To BOWKER)
Ain't you?

BOWKER
Take a good look.
(He raises the jar, lets it fall with a sick THUD)
Draw your own conclusions.

PURL
For God's sake, you can't believe him!

LEAN
Sure I can.

POACHER
So can I.

SECOND BOY
But Dad—

POACHER
Shut up, you!  There's his bag, that's good enough!

BOWKER
(Taking control)
Right then—let's go.

MRS. BENTHAM
Have you all gone mad?  Where to?

LEAN
To the river!

BOWKER
That's right—the river!

PURL
(As they drag him past)
Mrs. Bentham, for the love of God, the constables—

BOWKER, LEAN, POACHER
The river! The river!  The river!

Chanting it, a ROLL OF THUNDER blends all their voices together in a SINGLE HOWL. They seize PURL and drag him SCREAMING from the room. The door SLAMS.

MRS. BENTHAM
Doctor! Doctor!
(Dazed)
But they can't—my God, it's monstrous. It's not his bag, it couldn't be.

JACK
No.

MRS. BENTHAM
It simply couldn't be, can't they see that? It's just not his!

JACK   
No, you're quite correct: It isn't.

MRS. BENTHAM
(Turns, finally hearing him)
And how would you know, exactly?

JACK
Because it's mine.

MRS. BENTHAM is shocked into silence. 

We hear FOOTSTEPS, as JACK approaches the desk.  Something has changed in his voice; "Stephen," whatever there was of him to begin with, is gone.  The KNIVES RATTLE as he runs a finger across them.

JACK
My father gave me these. Said my talent was for surgery.  Anatomy lessons—practice on the dead to make perfect on the living. To cure death itself, as though that were even possible. His whole life through, he never gave up trying. But...I did.
(Picks up the JAR)
My mother said this was the one thing no one could cure, and she was right. Something inside, the wonderful secret. Blood. Babies. It turned against her, and she died.

He dashes the jar on the floor, suddenly; it SHATTERS, SPLASHING over MRS. BENTHAM's shoes.  She draws back, with a CRY OF HORROR.

JACK
That scares you?  It's just meat. You were married; you should know the depths of men's depravity. Or think of your Doctor, with his experiments—he knows we're all alike under the skin, all the same color. My father taught me the same. When we look at each other, we see only the surface; we feel desire pulling us together, to make life and  death in a rush of blood.  But the real power lies inside, in mystery.  Blood and flesh, miles of tubes and organs which pulse and writhe down deep in the dark where we can't reach them, without our knowledge or consent. Desire comes upon us like a fever, feeds on us, changes us.  This terrible power.  I saw it in myself, and it scared me senseless. All I ever wanted was to see it in someone else, just once to catch a glimpse of it. But there was never anything but meat, but blood.  And this rage would come over me, this awful fear that perhaps there is no force behind it at all, nothing to direct or drive us. That it was me, only me and always me, alone. Alone. Alone.
(Quieter)
Then it was enough to see red, everywhere. Red streets. Red walls. Red hands. All mine. All mine.

MRS. BENTHAM
Stephen—

JACK
Do you think calling me that will make me him if you only keep on doing it long enough? No more than me calling you by another name would make you her: Mother, perhaps. Or...Mary.

MRS. BENTHAM
Stephen, I—

JACK
What is your Christian name, Mrs. Bentham? If I might make so free.

MRS. BENTHAM
...Clarissa.

JACK
Very pretty.
(A beat)       
My name is Jack.

MRS. BENTHAM
Oh...God.  Oh, my good God.

JACK
(Muses)
Is God good, do you suppose? He made the flowers, true enough. But then—he also made me.

He chooses a knife and paces, shifting it from hand to hand with a very light CHINK of polished steel that increases steadily with the rate of his agitation, like a Satanic metronome. Is he even talking to her, anymore? Or just to himself?

No matter. Throughout, MRS. BENTHAM—rooted to the spot by fascination, terror or a combination of the two—fights to slow her own frantic BREATHING, as though trying to will herself invisible.

JACK
(Faster and faster)       
Steam under stopper, super-heated. My urge to peel away the skin of the world undone by finding only red garbage underneath—the basest     carnal urges, so low they contaminate whatever  they touch. Rendering flesh just a shallow mask over life's hideous facts: What can be fucked must be fucked, always and forever, the result of that fucking being not life, but death. Death in childbirth. Death in abortion. Death by syphillis. Death by cancer. Death by murder. Death by death.
(He rounds on her)
But this talk of a "cure"—all poppycock, a stupid sham, a coward's way out and nothing more. D'you understand? I might have done the first merely to see, yes...yet why go on, as though more might be learned? Why all these others, worse and worse and worse, 'till SHE—
(Stops short; then)
Because...it's what I want. All I want. Nothing more, or less.

He GROANS, horribly. MRS. BENTHAM gives a gasp, shies from him--he stops again, fixing her. Then gives a small, mirthless smile.

JACK
Oh, I am a sad object, without doubt. But you do well to fear me.
(Brings the knife up again)
Shall I show you why?

He EVISCERATES HIMSELF.  Layers of sound tell the tale: FLESH PARTING, SPRAYS OF BLOOD, punctuated by corresponding GASPS, MOANS, and THUNDER.  The RAIN drums on, as background.  MRS. BENTHAM whimpers.

JACK
(Describing the cuts as he makes them)
Glandula...thyreoeidea.  Sternum.  Plica...umbilicalis...medialis. Messenterium...dorsale...commune. Vesica...urinaris.

A SICK, CRACKING SOUND as JACK takes his own RIBCAGE in both hands and PULLS IT APART.

MODIFY the RAIN to the sound of JACK'S PULSING BLOOD.  BRING UP the BEATING of his EXPOSED, NAKED HEART.

JACK
(Screaming)
Here I am; here I am; here I am!  Take a good look!

He and MRS. BENTHAM SCREAM one more time, together. Their cries, the sound of RAIN and JACK's HEARTBEAT all peak at the same time.

FADE TO SILENCE.

OVER:

MRS. BENTHAM
And so we say goodbye?

JACK
(A very faint whisper)
Yes...
(After a long moment)
...goodbye.

MRS. BENTHAM
Always the gentleman.
(Moves away, voice DIMMING)
No place now but the water, for both of us. Don't you think, my Gentle Jack?

But no answer follows, only a splash. Which makes a sort of marriage.

FADE UP INTO:

***

TABLEAU FOURTEEN: LETHE

The RIVER's steady ebb and flow, giving way to the WHEELS of a travelling gurney. It STOPS, with a screech.

MEDICAL STUDENT
You'll swear to its freshness?

MORGUE ATTENDANT
Dead a day at most, sir—and there's nobody will miss its company, neither, not even were they to check the roster. Still, I wouldn't worry too hard over legality, I was you...your professors turn a blind eye already, don't they? Only stands to reason the Law'll soon follow.
(He folds back the sheet)
So. How d'you find her?

MEDICAL STUDENT
Very beautiful indeed. A suicide?

MORGUE ATTENDANT
Picked from the river just this morning. Unlucky in love, as the old cant goes—but we can't know that, can we, sir? Be nobody left upright in London, if that was all it took.

MEDICAL STUDENT
I suppose not.
(A pause)
One always wants to say words over a body; death should mean more than just a chance for further study. And yet...any eulogy I might consider seems so trite next to the sight of her lying there like that, all alone. So—cold.

MORGUE ATTENDANT
(Shrugs)
It's a cold old world. Ain't it?

MEDICAL STUDENT
...I suppose.

He SIGHS, reaching for his scalpel.

THE END