16th December

Inside the Whale

I had been walking a long time. I sat, dozed a while, then I heard the water and was awake again. Water was everywhere, the cavern roofs dripped with it and my feet splashed through salty shallows, but it was a deeper, threatening roar that got me on the move. First came soft, gelatinous tissue, then bony protuberances I had to clamber over. I suppose I kept heading towards the light, a yellowish glow that seemed always to be dimming but never quite went out. It was like walking through constantly parting, pale curtains.

I entered a long dry section, rising gently. A sweet voice floated down the tunnel. The tune seemed familiar but not the words:

Frankie and Johnny were lovers,
So the story goes if it’s true,
But Frankie got hurt and Johnny got worse
For breaking that old taboo.
He was his man,
Never done him no wrong.

A guitar was being strummed, simple, slow, bluesy. The tunnel turned and I came on a curly-haired boy bent over his guitar in the curve of the wall. He looked up and smiled but didn’t stop singing.

Frankie went down to the corner
To buy his Johnny a hat.
The people disapproved of his attitude,
They beat him and hurt him bad.
He was that kind of man,
So they done him wrong.

Johnny went looking for Frankie,
Found him under a tree.
He held his head, ‘Frankie,’ he said,
‘This don’t look good to me.
You are my man,
And they have done you wrong.’

There was something irredeemably sad in the boy’s voice. I had no money for him. I smiled back but he kept on singing, so I walked on up that tunnel, his voice fading behind me. I wondered if the light would ever get brighter, if I would ever get out. I wondered how that boy had got in. I heard the water roar, even as the last verse of his song pursued me.

The people came back for Johnny,
Hung him high in that tree.
Frankie never died, but he cried and cried,
‘Johnny come back to me.
You were my man,
You never done me no wrong.’

Reader: Neila Stephens & Sam Stopford
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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