Picture by slrjester: Bank Tube
William Jenkins is born tall. When he first unfurls his damp pink limbs, his mother laughs in astonishment that she could ever have contained them. She holds him for two days and a night while his father searches all of London for a long enough crib.
They’re not tall themselves, Mr and Mrs Jenkins, and they watch their gangle-legged son as he learns to roll and then to crawl and then to pull himself upright, waist-high to them already the first time he stands unaided. He doesn’t walk until he’s two years old, and clumsily at first, as though his hands and feet are too far away to pay them any mind; but once he notices they exist, he’s quick and clever in their employment. He learns to write early, and does it very neatly indeed — especially sums, holding the tiny chalk in his large hands, inscribing the elegant curls of his numbers on the slate.
He makes friends easily, and at school his height is nothing special; just a gift of easy access to high-branched apples. He goes for long walks with Emmeline Grady, who takes two quick steps for each of his long, lazy strides, and he looks down at the top of her head, biting his bottom lip to stop himself laughing in delight, safe and high where she can’t see.
And he keeps growing, and still it’s never a problem. He gets a job at the Bank of England as soon as he leaves school, sitting on a tall stool at a high table. He’s happy, most of the time, though there’s a few hard months when Emmeline gets married to another, shorter man; and a harder year when she dies in childbirth soon after.
And there’s the surgeons, of course. In good years and bad, there’s always the surgeons.
They knock on his door at all hours; they send him letters. One of them, a cheery-faced man with messy blond hair, offers two hundred guineas for his corpse.
“That’s kind of you,” William says. “I’m not in fact dead.”
“Oh, of course not, of course not! Very much alive, Mr Jenkins, I can see that. And I’m glad of it, too, though admittedly it’s not ideal for my purposes; but it can’t be helped. And I wouldn’t want to help it! I’m very happy to wait, Mr Jenkins, the hospital isn’t going anywhere.”
William is always polite and careful, but for over a decade the surgeon comes weekly, and sometimes it’s hard to stay calm. “I don’t know why you’re so interested,” he says once. “I can’t be very different inside from anyone else.”
“Come now, Mr Jenkins, we don’t know about that until we’ve had a look, do we? Who can say what’s inside your vasty deeps? For all I know you might have any number of kidneys, and in any case, Mr Jenkins, the students do love a freak.”
William stays longer at work to keep the surgeons at bay, arriving and leaving at unpredictable hours; they find the window closest to his desk, and climb a ladder to batter for his attention.
“Mr Jenkins! Open up! You’re bound to die sooner or later, Mr Jenkins, and if we don’t get you now we’ll just get you then! You might as well make some money while you can, because you can’t stop us for ever!”
But he can at least ignore them for a while. He keeps working in the Bank, rising through the ranks of the clerks, and he’s kind and careful and well-liked. When he falls ill in 1797 he comes coughing in one morning, pale and scared; and the head of the clerks touches his cold cheeks and looks at his cloudy eyes, and promises to keep him safe.
“They can bury you,” the surgeon yells in at the window, “but they can’t stop us digging you back up! It won’t be long, Mr Jenkins, your sort alway dies young!”
He does: in 1798, at thirty-one years of age. But the Bank takes his six-foot-eight body and lays it in a seven-foot-six coffin, and buries it in a garden hidden deep inside their walls, very early one morning. His parents stand in the cold and watch, their breath clouding above them. When they leave, the blond surgeon is already there; but the gate is locked behind them with a three-foot key, and there are tunnels and vaults and thick wooden doors on the other side.