Juliet waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the bedroom. Without any chinks of light coming from the curtains, it was impossible to gauge the time. The body she was in felt completely different from either of her own. There was no discernible energy coming from the limbs which felt heavy, flat and lethargic, as if they had spent a considerable amount of time in one position.
As Juliet got used to her surroundings, she realised there was an unfamiliar noise coming from another part of the house. It was a baby crying. Pulling herself upright, Juliet swung her legs over the side of the bed and instantly connected with slippers. She stood upright and looked down at her body, relieved that the nightdress was suitable for walking through the house and that she wouldn’t have to search for a dressing gown.
She was nervous about leaving the safety and solitude of the bedroom, unsure what she might find in the rest of the house. Juliet padded down the hall to the kitchen. “Good Morning Mummy” a very young Juliet was clearly pleased to see her mother.
“Hello…err” Juliet couldn’t remember what her mother called her, she didn’t want to use a term of endearment that her younger self might think unusual. She scanned the kitchen for a newspaper, an indication of the date would help her understand the context. Young Juliet went back to her colouring on the kitchen table, “Baby’s crying” she offered, clearly just expecting her Mother to agree rather than take action.
“Where’s Daddy?” Juliet felt her heart beating fast at the thought of seeing her father again after all the years.
The man walked through the door holding a small bundle of blue knitted blanket. His tone was gruff and short. His brow set in a frown as he rocked the screaming baby. He didn’t offer Juliet the child and she felt uncomfortable, out of place, as if she shouldn’t be there, standing in her own kitchen.
Juliet looked at her father. He was how she remembered, tall, handsome, strong but he looked broken and sad. She noticed he was wearing a coat. “Are you going out?”
Her father looked right at her, his dark eyes connected with Juliet’s but he saw only her mother. He frowned even more deeply. “Today is the paediatrician appointment, I can see you’re not intending to come.” He looked down at her nightdress.
“I’ll stay with Juliet.” She pointed at the child who looked up from the colouring and smiled. “We could dead head the roses.”
Her father looked surprised and his face softened. “OK, see you later.” The man turned and quickly left the house.
Juliet looked at the child who was now her charge for the morning. Her small face had lit up as if she had suggested they dress up as princesses and visit a castle. She bounded across the kitchen grabbing her mother’s coat from the back door as she pulled it open and moved into an addition to the original building made of glass with a corrugated Perspex roof. This part of the house had been removed recently, although Juliet struggled to remember when this had happened. It was nice to see it again housing an old top loading washing machine and spin dryer, a few chest freezers that were full of last seasons vegetables grown and prepared by her father. The floor was covered in a selection of vinyl offcuts and cheap kitchen mats.
“Where do secateurs live?” Young Juliet had already found two pairs and a basket to carry the seed heads to the compost heap. Juliet took the very sharp looking pair and they walked out into the garden.
Juliet showed her younger self how to snip the seed heads off the bushes and reminded her to leave the flowers and buds that were still struggling to blossom as a last effort before the end of the season. “What songs do you know, shall we sing and garden?” Young Juliet offered ‘Row, row, row your boat’ and they spent the next half hour singing and pretending to row around the rose bed, snipping at the dead heads as they danced, giggling at their inability to stay in time in the round.
The sun shone brightly around them, reflecting blue sky and green grass, with the red brick of the stone house absorbing the warmth for release in the coming colder months. Juliet wondered when she had ever felt more peaceful and content than she did now.
The lawn grass was soft under her feet and she encouraged young Juliet to sit down in the dapple of the ash tree. They talked of school and gardening and friends and sunshine and flowers and worms and clothes and Christmas, Juliet knew that she would have to leave very soon and wondered how she was going to do it.
“Juliet, are you ok?” Young Juliet looked bewildered
“OK?” It wasn’t a question she was used to being asked.
“Are you happy?”
Young Juliet gave a long sigh and curled her body around her mothers as they lay in the grass. Juliet listened to bees flying in the tree above her head and waited for the steady breathing that might suggest young Juliet was napping. When it came, Juliet reluctantly and gently moved the young limbs so that she could stand up and walk slowly back to her mother’s room. Juliet lay on the bed and closed her eyes, would it be so terrible if she stayed. Maybe not terrible for her, and not terrible for young Juliet but what would it mean for the actual owner of this body?
Juliet felt her body in the relative discomfort of the coffee shop armchair and savoured the wonderful memory of the time spent with her mother as it rushed into her current consciousness. It gave her an incredibly warm feeling only tempered by the realisation that the day had also been the one her father had left with the baby.
Victor and Sarah worked happily together in the hospital, Sarah was good with the elderly patients, reassuring them and enabling them to see a way through the event that was an important part of their life. Sarah often remarked how ill-prepared the old were for the transition. “They must know it is going to happen soon but when it does, they are not ready and it often seems to come as such a surprise”
“Perhaps they are expecting something else?” Victor replied.
Sarah was always pragmatic, “Move them along to where they are supposed to be as quickly as possible” was her method.
Victor took the people whose passing was more unexpected. They were many cases of accidents and illnesses. Outbreaks of disease came and went, sometimes decimating the population for a while, but never winning altogether. Children were the most vulnerable, but Victor was good with them and often they had received religious teaching from such an early age that they accepted Victor as a God-like figure and happily did as he instructed. Victor often thought it would be useful if someone who could understand guided mothers and babies who had passed together. Victor knew little about childbirth and the few times Sarah had tried to help an unsuccessful birth had left her too emotional to help anyone else for days.
The outside world passed them by and world events were of no consequence. They began to slowly see improvements in medical care and successes in new techniques introduced by doctors in the hospital that would have been miracles in Victor’s past. Victor and Sarah made an effort to ensure their dress was suitable for the time, so that they looked familiar to the people they were helping. The way they projected themselves had an effect on the success of their interaction with patients.
Victor was interested to hear, and often asked patients, what the month and year was. He never failed to be captivated by the movement of time, the changing of the seasons and the changes that time bought. He was very pleased to hear about the invention of the pocket watch and included it in his dress and used it in his daily life. Victor and Sarah regularly discussed what must be happening in the town that improved the health of the population, only occasionally did they venture into the town to look at how it was changing and growing.
“I’m ready, Victor.” Juliet’s experience as her mother had helped her understand that the key to everything was not why her father had left, or why her mother chose not to engage with her daughter, or even where Juliet went during her time in the wardrobe. The key to the whole puzzle was discovering what had happened in her mid teenage years which resulted in her forgetting or blocking most of her life’s events from her memory. She now realised that she had blocked it for a reason, it was likely to be traumatic and she knew it was going to be painful, but if she was going to get back into her body and move on with her life, she had to confront her past.