March 21, 2017

John Soldier, By Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

The following contains a personal record relating to experiments performed by an unnamed scientist believed to have been in the employ of the British army at the time of the Crimean War.  This journal was discovered among records of the 18-- theater disaster in a private collection and was donated to the university library on condition of anonymity.  The other documents mentioned in this text have not been located.  Attempts made to discover the historic location of the Godwin or Goodwin Street Laboratory have thusfar been unsuccessful.

3 April 18--
Godwin Street Laboratory
The experiment was as successful as I'd hoped.  The soldier has regained consciousness and is able to sit and stand, with assistance, and to feed and dress himself.   I've shown him how to affix and remove the prosthetic.  The amputation site is healing well, with no sign of the previous infection.  The prosthetic, iron coated with a tin alloy - of my own design - is sturdy and I believe will meet the present need sufficiently.  It should be much less prone to rot or pests or other damage than the wooden variety. 

7 April 18--
Godwin Street Lab.
The soldier is making gains in his recovery, which I suppose is to be expected in one in the prime of life and health.  He has now taken several steps at a time before needing to rest.  He pushes himself manfully and I believe is as eager for a full recovery as I am.  He still does not speak, and I am uncertain whether that is an unforeseen effect of the resuscitation method, or due to the damage inflicted prior to my acquiring him.  I have every hope that speech may return and have begun language lessons along with daily calisthenics.

14 April 18--
Godwin Street Lab.
The solider still does not speak, though he can cross the laboratory quite easily now.  His movements are surprisingly swift with my prosthetic and the cane I've procured for his use.  He communicates roughly with broad and clumsy gestures.  I have decided to take him out to further exercise his limbs, and I am determined he should have every support in the recovery of the full use of the mind, if that is at all possible.  To that end, I have decided that I will take him to the theater in hopes that art may do for the mind what my own scientific endeavors have done for the body.

18 April 18--
Godwin Street Laboratory
The soldier was quite taken with the performance of two nights ago.  He sat rapt throughout, moaning and swaying to the music, and I believe I even saw a tear slip from closed eyes at the aria.  It is true that beauty may soothe the savage heart of man.  I will take him out again.

20 April 18--
Godwin Street
I took John Soldier, as I've begun to introduce him, to the ballet this evening, and it was, again, a resounding success.  He sat especially straight whenever the prima ballerina, the lovely and incomparable Leonie, came onstage.  After the performance, he tried to draw me backstage, but I explained to him that this was not possible, and returned him to my laboratory.

23 April 18--
Godwin Street Laboratory
John saw a poster for the ballet on our walk today and indicated by gesture that he should like a return visit, and so I will take him again.  He is moving quite well now with the continued assistance of the cane I procured for him.  One might think he was as any other returned veteran.  His dexterity has improved significantly as well, and he communicates quite fluently using signs of his own invention, though verbal communication remains beyond his grasp.  In future efforts, I will seek a specimen free of any trauma to the head to determine whether it is my methods that cause a loss of speech, or if some damage received prior to my receiving of the body may be permanent and irreparable.

26 April 18--
Godwin Street Laboratory
John was again the perfect audience member, giving total attention to the stage.  I must admit that I, too, quite enjoyed the performance.  Now that we have been out several times, I find I may relax more and give myself over to the joys of the theater rather than focus solely on, or worry overmuch for John.  He again tried to draw me backstage, and I reminded him that it wasn't to be done.  Although he does not speak, I've begun to wonder whether John might read and write.  I will purchase some additional writing implements for his practice.

27 April 18--
Godwin Str. Lab.
John is able to write!  I've asked him to write about what he remembers.  He has no recollection of the time before his coming to me.  I explained that he was a soldier in a war, and at this he tapped his prosthetic, I believe indicating his understanding that his leg was lost in the war.  I acknowledged that such was indeed the case, and asked him to write down what had happened to him there.  Of course, I have retained the official report that accompanied him to me; however, I did not wish to influence his own recollection.  In the end he only wrote exactly what I told him, that he had been a soldier in a war and that is how he lost his leg.  I asked him what else he remembered, and he provided a most accurate and moving description of the ballet, and asked the name of the ballerina.  I told him she is Leonie, our shining star escaped to us from the troubles across the Channel.  He asked if this was the war he had been in and I explained that, no, he had come to me from the Crimean War.  He nodded and became pensive and would write no more.  I suspect in my excitement I may have tired him.  Any new skill requires a rest of efforts to perfect!  Tomorrow I shall have him practice more.

28 April 18--
Godwin Str.
John has made some sketches in the night, which I have included in these files. One appears to be of the open ocean, which of course he must have crossed to reach the battlefields.  The other is a strange abstraction I can make head nor tail of.  I asked him to describe them to me and he wrote, they are nothing, and asked to return to the ballet.  I will take him again tonight - I admit, I may be a bit of an indulgent parent - but I have told him he must complete all of his assignment and exercises first, and we will make an effort at speaking some of the words he writes so eloquently.

29 April--
Godwin Street Laboratory
Last night John enjoyed the ballet as always, and came straightaway back to the laboratory without any tugging or reluctance or interest in the backstage area.  I had no suspicions of him, and returned to my own flat after wishing him a good evening.  I arrived at my laboratory early this morning, eager to resume our efforts at communication, and bringing with me a book of poetry that I thought he might enjoy, when I found that the door was unlocked.  He was not inside.  He was nowhere to be found.  I asked the vendors on the street and asked in at the shops, but no one had seen John Soldier.  I returned to my laboratory to investigate further whether anything else was missing, and to try to understand who might have known of my experiment and stolen this most crucial and critical part of my research, when John himself arrived.  I asked for his account of what had occurred, and he wrote that he had gone out.  I asked him, out where, and what did he mean by this?  He wrote down that he had been to see Leonie, that he had given her a letter he had written, that it was not my concern what was contained in that letter (I have included all of his writings with this report, some of which was in answer to my own spoken questions), and that she was pleased with his calling on her.  He means to do it again!  I have explained to him that this cannot be.  He cannot have the liberty of the town.  I have explained that he is not like other men, though I confess I know not how to tell him just what he is; and likewise I have explained that there is keen need and great interest in maintaining discretion around his exact nature and strict control of his comings and goings and whereabouts.  This is where his writing becomes quite heavy and illegible, but he gave me to understand that my interest in controlling his movement is no concern of his.  It is a fit of temper, understandable and passing, I am certain, as he comes to regain his strength and vitality.  I have made him aware that he must, under no circumstances, go out on his own again.

1 May--
He has done it again.  I came and found the door unlocked.  He was here this time, thank God, but had clearly been out in the evening.  He insisted he had not broken his word, as my demand was not the extraction of his promise, and that he had not been out alone in any event, if his safety was my concern.   He was with Leonie and others from the ballet, so he claims!  I begin to understand the frustrations of heads of house when their heirs are prone to disobedience.  I've had a lock put on the door that can only be turned by a key from the outside.  I tried to keep him from seeing it, knowing it would upset him, but he followed me the door, and I heard his wordless yelling and beating against it when I left.

2 May--
Godwin Street Laboratory
He is sulking and refuses to go through any of his exercises.

5 May--
Godwin Str. Lab.
A letter arrived - from the ballerina! - asking where he is and if he is well.  Of course I read it first, and when I showed it to him, he cheered some.  My financiers have requested an updated report and an inspection, so I must have him behaving well.  I've told him if he will perform all his exercises and answer any questions put to him, I'll take him to the ballet again, and he has agreed.  I will put my faith in his word as a soldier.  I don't know that I have any other choice.

8 May--
All is lost!  The culmination of so many years' effort and research, gone!  I do not know by what power I may recover from this blow.  John performed masterfully for the inspectors, and wrote as eloquently as ever, and made noises to demonstrate our efforts at restoring his speech, and I believe they were well satisfied.  As promised, I took him to the ballet.  Our elegant shining star danced as beautifully as ever - 

20 May--
Godwin Street Laboratories
I will own that I broke off in my previous record being fully overcome by emotion at the tragedy I have witnessed, as well as my own great loss.  The beautiful Leonie, in her performance - what was to be her final performance - passed too closely to the gaslights illuminating the stage.  Her flowing skirts lit up before anyone could stop it.  As she ran to and fro across the stage, screaming, John jumped over me and pushed into the aisle, where several patrons were already evacuating in case the danger spread.  I noted again that he had become very agile with his cane.  Then my brave Soldier climbed onto the stage, dropped his cane, and wrapped himself around the ballerina.  Yet rather than snuffing the flames, his coat caught, and then she stopped screaming, and he stood there, in brave silence, until he also fell.  I confess to being struck motionless in my seat, paralyzed by the awfulness of what unfolded before me.  The fire marshal arrived and put out the flames, and all were evacuated from the building.  The reports list John as an unnamed soldier who perished alongside Leonie in an effort to rescue her.  Was he returned to this land of the living only to once again meet such a sudden and complete end?  I have acquired a new specimen and find I am unable to achieve a similar result.

Kiyomi Appleton Gaines loves folklore and fairy tales for what they teach us about what it means to be human; more of her writing can be found on Medium.  She lives in New Orleans with her husband, and pet fish.


kathy g said...

Such a clever and beautiful twist!

Anonymous said...

Love it- Penny Jo McAllister

Anonymous said...

Outstanding parallels. The perspective of the one who thinks he can control love is almost sympathetic, yet diabolical in its apathy. -Rebecca van den Ham

Lissa Sloan said...

I love the concept. Clever, fresh, and well executed!

vstefani said...

This is marvelous; I love everything about it: the journal format, the voice of the scientist who is so brilliant but cannot comprehend the true dimensions and consequences of his "experiment," the representation of "John Soldier" . . . .