I dream that I am flying like a great bird. I can’t turn my head, I didn’t need to. I trust my instincts and follow them without question. I can hear the sound of the wind as my wings spread out, caressing the warm and potent air that allows me to soar closer toward the sun. I’m free and happy and know that I am loved. I have no cares to worry about. I’m young and vibrant and full of life with my world stretching out before me. This feeling of freedom is new. I’m merely a fledgling, protected by my parents with their barrier of devotion that keeps all harm out of my reach. I am alive, truly alive, and the dark is long gone.
All at once I feel the blistering heat against my skin. I climbed too high and without warning the sun is burning me, causing me to shrink away from it, as I envelope my face and body with my wings to protect myself. Thus I fall towards earth; no longer caressing the sky but plummeting to my doom. I know that there is no-one to catch me and nothing to break my fall. I will die alone.
I wake with a shudder and the bed jolts as though I’ve landed upon it. I curl up in a ball and weep. I am abandoned. All hope is lost in my ability, and fear has taken hold. I have fallen.
I will never return ...
“Emily? Emily, my lovely, come on, you lazy thing. Wake up and hear the birds sing!”
I heard the words drift into my dream, but I was warm and didn’t want to open my eyes, safe and away from the nightmare that was my life if I kept my eyes tightly shut. However, the insistent rocking back and forth, accompanied by the unrelenting singing of my name over and over, forced me to crack open one eye and glare as best as I could at my roommate.
“There you are, sleepyhead. Come on, Emily, out of that bed. It’s time to eat and breakfast is ready. So come on, Emily, ready and steady ...”
I should probably have pointed out at this stage that my roommate had a dependency to speak in rhyme. Much to mine and everyone else’s annoyance, it was apparently her only coping mechanism, though I had no concept of how rhyming words helped her cope with her trauma?
“Come on, come on, it’s a beautiful day, hip, hip, hurray!”
“Oh, fuck off!” I snarled and pulled the covers back over my head. Sadly for me, Mary, who’d always been nice to me, was passing the open doorway at the time.
“Emily, you not up yet? Feeling okay, child?”
I heard her soft footsteps approach my bed, and with a loud sigh, I peeped out from under the covers. “Sorry, no, just getting up if Jane would leave me alone for a moment ...”
Hearing my hint, Jane clutched her arms around herself and drifted off into the corridor, “Oh my, oh my, time to fly ...”
I sighed again and caught Mary’s eye. She was one of the kind nurses, and although I was twenty-six, she still called me ‘child’ as she did everyone else. I liked it. It made me feel loved, and I’d told her once not long after arriving.
“I’m glad,” she’d said, “because to me, you’re someone I’ll strive to protect and care for, as if you were my own ... but don’t tell the other nurses, they don’t like us getting too close. Know what I mean?”
She’d winked at me then and given me a friendly nudge. Now, Mary looked down at me with concern and just a hint of disgust at hearing my choice of language.
I immediately felt contrite. “Sorry for my language, Mary. Jane was annoying me.”
“Oh, I see. Being woken isn’t pleasant, but let’s consider our language in future, if you please, Emily ... Good dream was it?”
I nodded, but found I couldn’t form the words to describe my adventure. I could feel the dream drifting away and knew that soon I’d have forgotten it. I felt a strange sadness at the thought, as if I needed to keep hold of how it had made me feel -- like it was important. However, it was already fading.
“Well, you know the rules, child. Time to get up and have something to eat. The canteen closes in half an hour. They have that yogurt you like. I saw it this morning.”
I smiled and pushed myself into a seated position, and yawned. “Okay I’m up. I’ll do anything for one of those yogurts, you know me so well, Mary.”
Smiling, she left the room and the happiness left with her. I gazed out at the empty corridor, feeling the terror return with the dreary prospect of suffering another day in that hellhole. I swallowed hard and licked my lips as I forced down the urge to scream and shout at the injustice. After some deep breathing, I felt able to get out of bed and visit the bathroom. Washed, with my golden-brown hair brushed and tied back, I dressed in jeans and an Alice Cooper T-shirt. My slippers finished my ensemble, and I followed the nauseating aroma of fried food.
After my small breakfast of yogurt and red berries, a large mug of stewed tea and a piece of Galaxy chocolate, given to me by a fellow inmate, I wandered back down the corridor towards the common room. Today was my turn with the psychiatrist Doctor Marian Griffiths and I had half an hour to kill before my appointment. However, because they didn’t like us going back to our own rooms, we had to congregate in various places to keep the staff happy.
Upon entering the large room, I was surprised to see it empty. It was rare to find anywhere in this place unoccupied, even for a moment. Always someone drooling, crying or wandering aimlessly around the room – all because of their meds - or merely sitting and staring off into space, lost in their own little worlds. That in itself wasn’t so bad, considering the scenario’s I’d witnessed since my arrival nearly three months ago. Still, another person invading my space annoyed me, when all I wanted to be was alone with my thoughts.
I wandered over to one of the large oval windows that lit the room with morning sunshine and closed my eyes against the warm glare. I didn’t need to see outside to appreciate what lay before me. Central, was a perfectly mowed lawn that stretched out for about an acre. West of the lawn was a waist-high bush of blooming rhododendrons, while on the east, a perfectly cut hedge of lavender and rosemary. Planted close together there were no gaps between the herbs, the scent exquisite as you passed by. Along the bottom of the lawn stood the ten-foot-high brick wall made to look pretty with red and pink roses creeping up and over.
The old hall had been built in the early nineteenth century for some rich person, who’d died without having children. Apparently his wife had suffered from depression and hallucinations and, as he couldn’t bear to see her go into some insane asylum, he’d turned his own home into one. On her death years later, still screaming about the “visitors,” he’d handed the hall over to the local authorities, before dying himself of cancer. All in all, the place was dripping with irony.
I’d read the brief history in some pamphlet left lying around the ward and asked if anyone knew who those visitors were? No one had given my question the time of day, fobbing me off with some incoherent answer, I’d not asked again. I had my own theories anyway. I was convinced that the place was haunted. I mean, it was the perfect setting, wasn’t it? Old hall with a tragic history, and now a home for the sick and insane. So much negative energy must have conjured up the presence of some kind of spirit? It simply lurked in the eerie air and clung to you like a heavy, woollen winter coat.
Besides, I’d heard strange noises in the night. Footsteps were normal, as were groans, moans, screams and profanities, but those footsteps echoed and were loud, as if a giant were roaming the hallway.
I huffed loudly, opened my eyes and looked at the younger woman staring at me with intense interest. “Mia, what does it look like I’m doing? I’m leaving this place in my head.”
Excited, she nodded and hugged her raggedy doll tighter to her small chest. “Oh, okay. Well, come back soon ...”
I smiled. “I will, but first I have to go to see the doc. Are you all right?”
Mia chewed on her inner cheek for a moment and rocked herself before leaning forward as another inmate shuffled in. “Not really. My baby won’t wake up, and they’re blaming me ... again.”
“Ah, I see.” And I did, of course, as Mia told me the same thing whenever we met, which was most days. Her doll clutched to her bosom – and the sheer sadness and grief of what she had done etched into her face.
“Well, maybe she will soon. I’ll see you later, Mia. Goodbye.”
Picking up her doll’s hand, she made it wave at me before shuffling off into her favourite corner of the room where she’d make a little den of the chairs to play house with her baby. The nurses would encourage Mia to put the chairs back, but after a few minutes, she’d make another den and it would begin all over again.
I’d been horrified the first time I heard the reason for her incarceration. Aged seventeen, she’d become pregnant after a gang rape of four boys, aged between fifteen and nineteen, who’d done it as a dare. Mia had been considered a little slow by the children and adults in her village, and nobody believed her until the evidence of that night became clear.
Her father owned a farm and, on seeing her swollen belly, had taken a shotgun and found the boys one by one, blowing off their weapons and leaving them to bleed to death. One boy survived, but he’ll never rape another woman again. Afterwards, Mia’s father turned the gun on himself, leaving Mia and her mother to cope with the aftermath of his actions, and the consequences of the attack.
Five months later, Mia gave birth to a healthy boy. Her mother left the room for a few minutes to visit the bathroom. On returning, she found Mia alone, calmly sitting up in bed holding a raggedy doll to her breast. The hospital staff searched high and low for the child, eventually finding his tiny broken body in the bushes beneath Mia’s window, ten stories up. She’d flung him away like garbage.
I watched her for a moment as she began to turn the chairs to make her little den that would help her feel safe for a short while. The horror of what she’d done three years ago was not evident on her face, as it hadn’t been the night she killed her baby. She’d never admitted it or shown remorse for her actions, but had merely slipped away into her own safe world and not returned.
The evil of men had brought her to this. Despite her action, Mia was an innocent, yet it felt like nobody had considered that. If the boys hadn’t attacked her, she wouldn’t have been pregnant. Though Mia’s father had dealt out the justice, the boy’s parents demanded her incarceration for life because the death penalty was not allowed in Britain anymore. Personally, I wish it had been, for rapists as well as murderers. Would those parents have still wanted it then if Mia’s father hadn’t provided his own? I doubted it.
Movement near the doorway caught my eye, and I turned to find one of the nurses watching me. One of the newer ones who still wasn’t sure if this was the job she really wanted, and always became anxious if a patient espied her. This one nurse would quickly glance around to check where the other nurses were in case we mad bastards lunged at her.
“You have an appointment this morning with Doctor Griffiths in ten minutes ...”
I continued to stare at her. “I know.” I couldn’t keep the contempt at being reminded out of my voice, and I saw the flicker of fear on her face.
“Right, okay then ...”
I watched, and smiled, as she quickly left the room, and then I let out a long breath to try and help relax my shoulders. It felt like I had a permanent knot in them, and my neck was sometimes so rigid from tension it hurt my head. I gently rolled my shoulders and gazed out of the window. I could hear Mia mumbling to her doll in the far corner - a sound of surreal sweetness that comforted me. It was a few minutes’ walk to Doctor Griffiths office. I wasn’t in any rush.
I didn’t move as more inmates tottered into the room in ones and twos, like Noah and his Ark. Bibles littered the bookshelves around the room, but nobody read them. We had a priest who came once a week to “save our souls,” but I never gave him much thought and from what I saw, neither did anyone else. He came to make himself feel better. Or perhaps he got a perverse joy at seeing so many troubled souls in one place making him feel superior? Who knew? I didn’t, nor did I care.
Eventually, I huffed again and departed, the corridor no longer silent, as people filled it. Most were moving at some pace, either coming or going, usually escorted by orderlies, heavily built security guards or nurses. A few stood looking lost, staring up at the whitewashed walls, or down at their feet. Eventually someone would come to them, but they weren’t in a rush. Those poor souls were harmless, doped up to the eyeballs, and I often wondered how they even managed to stand upright.
I hurried towards the double doors and was met by a security guard and an orderly who, after checking the appointment book, escorted me through the secure door. Together we climbed the two flights of stairs, as I preferred them to being cramped in a lift with two men; all the while cameras following our progress. We entered the corridor where the consultants and specialists were housed. Carpeted, it smelt clean and fresh, with windows – a few that someone had left open – running the length of the corridor, letting in beautiful sunlight and fresh air.
The security guard left us here with a nod to the orderly. Returning the way we’d come in, while the aloof orderly and I turned right. We moved to the side as two women orderlies escorted a patient from another office. The elderly woman looked fairly sedated, a newbie – you could tell them a mile off.
I knocked on Doctor Griffiths door and opened it before she bade me enter. My one rebellion, my one tiny bit of control in this place – which Doctor Griffiths readily understood. I slammed the door in the orderly’s face and grinned to myself.
As always, Doctor Marian Griffiths was dressed impeccably in a loose black skirt and a white shirt with a maroon scarf hanging around her slim neck. I couldn’t see her feet, but guessed she would be wearing short heels to lift her five-foot-six stature just a couple of inches. Her dark ginger hair was piled high on her head and, somehow, it always looked perfect, even though loose strands fell all around her head. I wondered if she spent hours in front of a mirror to make it look that way. She never wore much makeup; she didn’t need to. Quite attractive, I guessed her age to be late forties. No wedding ring, possible lesbian. I’d ask her one day.
“You checking me out as usual, Emily?” Marian smiled, and I grinned back, having been caught in the act. Admittedly, we both were more at ease in my referring to her by her first name – save the initial formality of “Doctor Griffith” while the burly, surly orderly was still in earshot.
“Of course, Marian, you always impress me with your wardrobe.”
Marian inclined her head in what I presumed to be a “thank you” whilst indicating the armchair opposite her desk. I sank down into it, listening to the squeak of the leather and shuddered as the coldness penetrated my thin T-shirt.
Marian noticed. “If you prefer the couch ...?”
I glanced at the beige two-seater that sat along the far wall and shrugged, “This’ll do for now.”
“Okay then, where would you like to start today, Emily?”
I shrugged again. “No idea. I wish I could remember stuff to tell you, but, I can’t.”
Marian looked down at her notes. “Is that true? Do you really want to tell me? Can you recall our last conversation?” At my nod, she continued, “You became quite upset with me when I pushed you to remember. How do you feel at this moment?”