by Nathan K. Hensley
There looms, within abjection, one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable.
–Julia Kristeva, The Powers of Horror (1982)
Get him the hell out of here.
—President of the United States (2016)
Interior, 1,000 foot hole near Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. Via YouTube.
Hold my hand; I’m scared. Grab it, please. Hold it – seriously. I know, they’re cold. It was a long walk here, past Coketown. That shaft there, look how black it is. What is it? A well? It’s like, nothing; I think there’s garbage in it. Or water? Anyway I came as soon as I heard the news. Is there really a person down there? I’m glad to be here, I don’t know why. Don’t let go.
She shuddered to approach the pit; but she crept towards it on her hands and knees, and called to him as loud as she could call. She listened, but no sound replied. She called again and listened; still no answering sound. She did this, twenty, thirty times. She took a little clod of earth from the broken ground where he had stumbled, and threw it in. She could not hear it fall.
It’s so deep. There’s nothing down there. It’s just: nothing. Let’s get closer.
When they came to the Old Hell Shaft, they found it as lonely as she had left it. The men called and listened as she had done, and examined the edge of the chasm, and settled how it had happened, and then sat down to wait until the implements they wanted should come up.
So Blackpool’s in there? The indigent, you know—the drunk, who talks how you can’t understand. I don’t think he’s like us. His name already told us he’d end up there, didn’t’ it — in some abyss. Where none of us could see him. Maybe it’s where he belonged.
There being now people enough present to impede the work, the sobered man put himself at the head of the rest, or was put there by the general consent, and made a large ring round the Old Hell Shaft, and appointed men to keep it. Besides such volunteers as were accepted to work, only Sissy and Rachael were at first permitted within this ring; but, later in the day, when the message brought an express from Coketown, Mr. Gradgrind and Louisa, and Mr. Bounderby, and the whelp, were also there.
It’s better we’re here together. Gathered. It makes me feel like, I don’t know. Even if he’s down there, we’re up here. Right?
[T]here was not a breath among the one or two hundred men and women looking on.
I think he’ll be dead. He has to be.
The rope came in tight and strained; and ring after ring was coiled upon the barrel of the windlass, and all eyes were fastened on the pit. The sobered man was brought up and leaped out briskly on the grass. There was an universal cry of ‘Alive or dead?’ and then a deep, profound hush.
Holy shit I think he’s moving. Look.
When he said ‘Alive!’ a great shout arose and many eyes had tears in them.
Whoa. Well he’s sober at least, finally – I heard he lived on crumbs of meat down there. Wait why are you crying? Are you? Oh my god, I am too.
‘But he’s hurt very bad,’ he added, as soon as he could make himself heard again. The Old Hell Shaft, the pitman said, with a curse upon it, was worthy of its bad name to the last; for though Stephen could speak now, he believed it would soon be found to have mangled the life out of him.
This is insane. It’s awful – he looks so…. helpless. How did he get down there? He must have been drunk.
A low murmur of pity went round the throng, and the women wept aloud, as this form, almost without form, was moved very slowly from its iron deliverance, and laid upon the bed of straw.
He’s barely, like, a person. But I’m glad we got to see him, to look at him. You know? And that he’s sober now! For some reason it cheers me up, seeing him. Hold on, he’s talking. Don’t let go. Shhh.
‘I ha’ fell into th’ pit, my dear, as have cost wi’in the knowledge o’ old fok now livin, hundreds and hundreds o’ men’s lives…
Can you hear? Hold on. Is that even English?
…they ha’ pray’n and pray’n the lawmakers for Christ’s sake not to let their work be murder to ’em…
I don’t think it’s English. I can’t hear.
…See how we die an’ no need, one way an’ another—in a muddle—every day!’
Did you get that? Well of course they’re dying, these people, it’s awful. But what are we supposed to do. I mean, I came here. And I feel bad. But — what’s his name again?
He faintly said it, without any anger against any one. Merely as the truth.
I know, I told you: I feel bad. But what did I do? I mean — I came when I heard, to watch. I’m here, right? You’re here. You saw me crying. Wait now they’re picking him up, everybody’s doing it. Do you think we can get over there. Hold on – wait – stay with me – okay, I’ve almost got my hand on the thing, I’m touching the wood thing, the bower. He’s got Rachael’s hand I think, there’s something on his face. I wouldn’t touch him. I don’t want to touch him.
They carried him very gently along the fields, and down the lanes, and over the wide landscape; Rachael always holding the hand in hers. Very few whispers broke the mournful silence. It was soon a funeral procession. The star had shown him where to find the God of the poor; and through humility, and sorrow, and forgiveness, he had gone to his Redeemer’s rest.
Whoa—that was crazy. But you know what’s weird? I feel better somehow— like… cleansed. Want to get a tea or a cake or something, go shopping? I could use it. They seriously need to cover up that pit. Probably they never will.
Stephen Blackpool recovered from the Old Hell Shaft, Hard Times (1854); detail.