Jack of Diamonds
There was a Jack of Diamonds posted under my door. I got home this afternoon and saw it at once, an urgent surprise like a sneeze or a lightning bolt. There it was, slightly creased and gaudy with its primary red and yellow. How very strange! Someone must have hand delivered the thing. It certainly was not mine.
I sunk to my knees there in the hall and came face to face with my visitor. Lying, unwelcome on my welcome mat, was a dandy with a thin prissy moustache and hair all curled under like a girl. His tunic was a geometric smear and the simple downward slope under his eyes spoke of untold weariness and anxiety. It struck me as a potential slight to my masculine dignity that I did not get sent a King. Was this Jack meant to be me, perhaps?
What irregular circumstance had taken the trouble to tease me in this way? What unknown hand had knocked on my door and left a Jack as its calling card? My throat ran with sudden premonition. Wasn’t that the sort of thing a criminal might do? Was this a signal from some underworld heavy? What better threat than a totally incomprehensible one, which left your imagination to fill in where clarity failed? Oh god, these thugs who wanted to kill me were ruthlessly intelligent!
Well, he was merely a boy, I realised with surprise, as I picked him up. I felt myself relax slightly. I’d never thought of the Jack as a boy before. Always, rather, as a young man, perhaps 32 or 31, irresponsible and pampered. All the benefits of monarchy without the burden of duty. But now I saw different as I peered at his little whiskerless chin and large stoned eyes, the pupils flooding the irises with pools of moony concern. I felt a wash of benevolence, like a householder opening their door on Halloween to find a stocky toddler ghost with an empty basket. What do you signify, little fellow? What do you want?
It must be a message, of course. Impossible that he should have landed here by accident. So, deliberate then. The Jack was a sign, for me to interpret. Not like a rose on my pillow or a horse head in my bed, the kind of established symbol impossible to misunderstand. No, my correspondent was resistant to stating their case as clearly as that. Ambiguity, it seemed, was intended. No one sends a single playing card through a door and expects its significance to be immediately grasped. No, and here I felt my heart start to beat faster. No, it seemed that the sender of this little Lost Boy believed me to be capable of working out the meaning of the message. Otherwise why send it at all? Someone who knew me then? Someone who had detected in me a capacity for abstract thought?
Well, and why shouldn’t they have detected that? I know that to many, my solitary and childless life, here in my small flat, unvisited by friend or lover, would seem to be a waste, an irrelevance, and in my darkest hours I can’t argue with them. Believe me, I am the first to point out how disappointing and futile my life appears to be, and that’s unlikely to improve, I suppose, now that more than half of it is gone. But still. I am not an unintelligent man. I may have done nothing with my brain, but it still reads for pleasure. It still leaps to understanding with a smooth mechanism, like an expensive lock. I am still capable, I hope, of deciphering the hidden codes of this world, of seeing beyond the literal and commonplace. What had seemed like a threat on first sight now appeared, (of course!), to be a gift, a summons. Someone had noticed me.
What adventure then awaited me, at the other side of this Sphinx’s doorway? Once I had proven myself worthy, what would be my reward? I felt suddenly tearful with nervous elation. Of course! All this time I had told myself that boredom and loneliness were my lot in life, and not so bad, and all that I could expect given the nature of the world. Now here was a sign from another stream of reality, a concurrent one, one in which the exceptional are picked out and tasked with acts of great importance. Of course that was what I had been waiting for. Of course nothing else would do – how monstrous to be stuck in a narrow lane of dull experience to be endured until death. Here was my mason’s handshake, my MI6 hand on the shoulder, my wizard come at last with my quest into the misty mountains. Ah, thank god, thank god! I wept a little, and held my little friend tenderly in my hand, cupped like a babe in its cradle.
And now I found myself hoping and expecting that the mystery would lead somehow to the door of a woman, of personable qualities, in mild need perhaps, desirous of assistance which I could inexpensively, reliably provide. Behind this whole business, surely, lurked the female mind, some woman afflicted with love and the inability to express it. Poor lady! How well I understood her shyness! What fun! we’d say to each other and friends, in the future, what fun that we met in such an original way! We could call our children Jack and Jacqueline and Jacky and Jake and oh, the joke would run for years! I giggled a little at the deliciousness – no more awkwardness, no more sullen silence at lunch, someone to help me choose trousers and have opinions about Christmas dinner, someone to walk with on a Saturday in town, someone with a nice face and a soft body, nothing too fancy, someone for whom I would be more than enough, all her dreams come true.
But as I settled to the task in hand, it wasn’t long until I felt a familiar shiver of dread run through me. I’m afraid I had not one idea. Not one. Nothing stirred at all, nothing, and the more I begged my mind to cooperate over tense minutes, the more I froze and berated myself and stared with lifeless eyes at my 2D tormentor, swimming in and out of focus. As time passed, and the light failed, and the street outside became still, more and more of my truant brain slipped out of my body to float above myself to observe critically, without compassion, the hunched and useless man, brought to his knees by a playing card. My selves and I gathered around the ceiling like tobacco smoke. We were in a position, unhappily, to note the patch of receding hair on the crown of the head which bowed towards the welcome mat like a monk at prayer. At about 9 o’clock, bumping shoulders with a crowd of hecklers, all me, all muttering and sniffing and losing interest, it suddenly occurred to us that we left no one below to be observed . I’d accompanied myself up to join the sneering mob which despised me, and nothing of myself remained below inside my body, to act, or understand, or even to give up.