Juliet was struck once again by the beauty of her mother, she was willowy with long limbs that hung comfortably with none of the slouch that Juliet had to work to correct. Her hair settled in dark waves around her shoulders and her features, illuminated by the kitchen light, were reminiscent of an Egyptian queen, straight and distinctive with little need for defining make-up. Her mother looked alert and intelligent, not as if she had been asleep in her room all day, she opened to door of her child’s bedroom and stepped inside the room, closing the door behind her, shutting Juliet out.
Juliet opened her eyes, shocked and disorientated at what she had just witnessed. “I don’t understand, have I blocked great sections of my life from my memory?”
“It certainly looks that way” It was somehow reassuring to see that Victor was still there, waiting for his imaginary train.
Juliet didn’t want to believe that this version of events was the truth but she knew it was. Her memory was now flooding with infinite afternoons spent in the wardrobe, from when she first started going to school, until well into her teenage years. The feeling was overwhelming, as if a switch had been flicked within her enabling the memories to enter her consciousness for the first time. That had been her routine at ten years old. She spent the day at primary school with her teacher, Juliet searched her memory for a name, Miss Cook, she arrived home at four after a lengthy walk for a lone ten year old, remained in the wardrobe until seven, ate tea by herself, and then went to bed. She had no memory of being visited by her mother after bedtime.
Julia felt lost and emotional. This wasn’t what she had been expecting, she knew that her childhood had not been happy in the conventional sense but she hadn’t been ready for this revelation and she didn’t want to continue.
“Try going back a bit in time, you might get some answers to what you have discovered.” Victor was trying to keep her going in this quest for understanding but Juliet wasn’t over keen on finding out more. “You might find it easier to process if you stop being a witness and start being involved. Can you put your mind into yourself as a girl? Juliet felt like she was willing to try anything and tried to focus on the image of the girl walking through the front door.
This time there was no instant appearance in her hallway.
Everything was black.
The darkness was almost suffocating, it was cold, although it was too dark to see her own breath, and there was an earthy, musty smell about her. She was sitting on a hard surface and Juliet’s senses told her she was in a small space.
Realising that she was actually now in the hall wardrobe, Juliet again felt the onset of rising panic. Inexplicably she understood that it was the adult Juliet fighting the panic, the child Juliet’s physical form was calm and untroubled, in an almost meditative state. Juliet tried to gather herself together, using techniques to calm herself that she had drawn on regularly over the last few days. She listened to the sound of the clock and smelled again the air in the wardrobe, this time the familiar smell of musty clothes was soothing.
Juliet’s memory allowed her to remember the time spent here so that the experience would not seem frightening. Juliet had never been scared of the dark and she began to accept that there was no reason why she should be scared now. She could only sense the presence of the other person that occupied the wardrobe and the feeling of sharing space felt very familiar. Juliet was unable to see what the child was doing, she could only sense a feeling of complete calm and peace, but was aware that there was an element that made up this child that wasn’t actually there.
It dawned on Juliet that it might be the child’s mind that was absent but she wasn’t sure whether this was a fanciful conclusion during a highly emotional experience or an actual understanding of what was taking place. Juliet searched her memory to try and understand what was happening but was unable to access anything that gave solid answers.
Juliet didn’t want to be fanciful, it wasn’t in her nature to enjoy fiction fantasy literature or believe in ghosts, but she had to accept from the evidence of what was happening now, and events throughout her life, that it looked as though she had somehow been able to detach her mind from her body from a young age and this answered a lot of recent questions. Questions such as how she had been so accepting of what Victor was telling her, how she was unconcerned when presented with proof that her mind was in the coffee shop while her body was fighting for life in the Intensive Care Unit, and how she was able to be here occupying the body of herself many years in the past.
The answers to her questions seemed obvious but, to Juliet, they were so far away from her ordered life that any kind of reconciliation with the truth was close to inconceivable and she struggled to accept what was happening.
Juliet had read enough human life stories and watched enough weird life documentaries on television to know that voluntarily separating the mind and body was seen as a protective mechanism to shield oneself from whatever unacceptable events were happening in their lives. This, of course, begged the question as to what had happened in Juliet’s life that was so extreme that it had led to her doing this.
Had she experienced such a major shock that she had blocked out and now had no memory of it whatsoever?
Juliet made the decision to step outside of what was clearly a comfortable place for herself as a youngster and she found her small hand reaching up to push open the wardrobe door.
The house was quiet, clearly deserted. All Juliet could hear was the steady ticking of the clock. She looked behind her to the mirror and saw a girl, younger this time, maybe eight years old, not quite as thin as she was to become by ten.
Juliet walked slowly towards the bedrooms, opening the door to the one that had belonged to her brother first. It was empty. Completely empty of furniture, toys or decoration and it felt empty of any atmosphere or emotion. Juliet tried to remember at what point her father had left with her brother and what had happened to him but she was unable to recall.
Frustrated by a memory that was intent on revealing itself more slowly than she wanted, Juliet opened to door to her own bedroom. It was a large room with twin beds, Juliet had some vague recollection of her father telling her that her room would double as a room for guests, but she had no memory of there ever being guests in the house. The room wasn’t as clean as Juliet liked to keep it now. This was her room but very different from how she knew it, at this time it was the room of a small child. A doll sat on the bed but any other items that might be described as toys were not obvious. There was a lot of paper and coloured pencils strewn over the carpet. Pencil shavings in a small neat pile, in contrast to the random distribution of the pencils, had been placed beside a metal pencil sharpener. The owner of this room was reluctant to make a mess, even at eight Juliet had known that if she left things untidy, there was no one to clean up after her.
Juliet looked at the drawings, page after page of immature impressions of woodland. The colours, greens, browns and yellows were chaotic but vibrant and every object was oversized as if looking up from the ground.
Juliet sat on the bed in a quiet moment of reflection for the lonely girl that occupied this room. The light in the room was subdued, the curtains were closed although little light would have entered if the curtains were open, due to the large fir tree that towered over the corner of the house, she remembered its lower branches scratching on the glass on windy nights as if trying to get into the room with her.
Juliet left the familiar security of her room and opened the door to her parent’s room, the curtains were drawn and the room was dark but Juliet could see the shape of her mother lying in the bed. She moved tentatively towards the bed watching the steady rise and fall of her mother’s breathing. Juliet looked at her mother’s serene face and instinctively and suddenly knew that her mother’s mind was somewhere else.
“Is that where my mother was throughout my childhood? Somewhere else entirely? Where did she go?” Juliet jolted back into the coffee shop.
“I don’t know the answer to that” Victor wanted to acknowledge the progress she was making. “Could it be that you inherited an ability for detachment from your mother?”
Juliet’s thoughts had moved beyond this and anger began to take the place of the curiosity. “I have spent most of my life caring for a mother who, I had thought, was in a permanently depressed state of mind, when actually it wasn’t that she was unhappy, it was just that she didn’t want to be there at all.”
“Do you think you had the same ability? The afternoons that you spent in the wardrobe, did you go somewhere else in your mind?”
“Yes I think I probably did, but not for long as it seems I was needed to be there to look after my mother’s physical form while her mind wasn’t there!” Rage had taken over, a wasted childhood was all that Juliet could see. Assumptions rushed in, crowding her mind and her memory. Her father had probably left, taking her brother with him, because he wasn’t being looked after, but he had left her there because she had begun to show similar symptoms of detachment and she was old enough to look after her mother as well as herself.
“Perhaps your father trusted that your mother would keep you safe. She must have prepared your evening meal at some point in the day while you were at school after all.”
“But I barely saw her!” Juliet knew she was raising her voice out of frustration and resentment to the wrong person.
“Perhaps she thought that you were using your ability to the same effect?”
“Well perhaps she should have bothered to ask me!”
“Do you know that you weren’t?” Victor’s voice was calm.
Juliet looked up. “What do you mean?”
“Where did you go when you were in the wardrobe for three hours Juliet?”
“I don’t know, I don’t remember going anywhere”
“You must have been able to, you’re here aren’t you and you’ve just spent the last hour inhabiting the body of a young girl in the past.”
Juliet thought back to the drawings on her bedroom floor and decided to test just how far she could push her memory.
The woodland suddenly crowded her perceptions. Shafts of light created angles against the vertical tree trunks. A strong smell of damp earth and composting vegetation was everywhere. Juliet felt very small against the massive oak tree, her heartbeat furiously inside her chest, intent on rushing it’s way through a lifetime. Instinct and panic drove her into the small hole under the trees roots. The nest inside was cosy. Lined with soft brown fur and moss, Juliet realised it fitted her form perfectly and smelled of home.
Tempting as it was to curl into a ball and sleep, hunger gripped her and a quest for food made venturing outside necessary. Juliet intuitively knew it was dangerous, her whole body was on high alert with senses searching for both food and hazards in the encroaching twilight.
Juliet opened her eyes, the stress of being so small and vulnerable was more than she was able to manage for long. Victor smiled at her, his reassurance was welcome and she was, for the first time, glad he was here.
Looking at Victor, Juliet suddenly realised that this wasn’t about the coffee shop and how long he’d been here. It wasn’t about her body in ICU. Something major and traumatic had taken place in her teenage years and her memory wasn’t yet showing it to her. As a method of protecting herself, she had hidden the pain deep inside an impenetrable part of her consciousness. Juliet supposed that this was why her later teenage years and early adulthood were so vague, how she’d progressed through that part of her life on automatic pilot, only really regaining a reality and discernible memory when her Mother had finally died.
“I think you’re right” smiled Victor. “This is bigger than both of us.”