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“Its alright, Cli. Everyone needs a little help every now and then. Happens to the best of us. Happened me when mam died. They’ll just give you a little something and it’ll cheer you right up.” Mom and I paced down the footpath, the sun glaring into my eyes as I studied the pavement before me. I feel horribly exposed as cars zoom past. I haven’t been outside in a while and knowing that the people in the cars can see me makes me feel uneasy.
After a few moments of flicking through old dog eared issues of Hello! Dr Atkinson bustles past the door and yells over her shoulder for us to go upstairs and that she’ll be up in a minute. Mom looks over to me and pulls a face. “My God…” she mouths, referring to the doctor’s harassed appearance.
I sat on the stiff leather chair, propping my elbows on its sturdy arms uncomfortably for a moment before sliding them off and sighing. I glanced over at mom and she glanced back, her mouth forcing a strained grimacing smile. The doctor bustled into the room, her large bulk swathed in material that tailed on the floor as she moved rapidly to her desk.
“Hello Cliona!” she chirruped in a nasal voice. I smiled at her weakly.
“So, what seems to be the problem?” she asked, reclining back in her swivel chair and eying me from beneath a fuzz of untidy ginger hair. I gazed back blankly. Where do I start? I look to mom desperately and she quickly cleared her throat, sitting up straight and batting her blue lined eyes rapidly.
“Well doctor, Cliona’s been feeling a little down lately, she’s finding it hard to sleep… she’s dreaming a lot… we know you referred us before, but maybe this time you could do something for us without having to go through the school?” I feel a surge of embarrassment as these words escaped her tight lips. We had been given forms to be filled out, having been under 16 at the time but my mom couldn’t stand the shame of the staff knowing. There would be whisperings in the staff rooms, she assured me. It might get back to relatives. She didn’t want to be drawing negative attention to me. The humiliation welled within me. I felt dirty and disgusting; a complete freak whose worthless life had been diminished to merely eating and sleeping. Every day felt like a tiresome chore. I was no longer living but simply existing. Dr Atkinson studied my mother for a moment and then turned her attention to me.
“You’ve been feeling down, have you?” she asked gently. The softness of her voice made hot tears rush to my eyes, blurring my vision. I surprised myself. I thought I could at least force out an uncomfortable ‘yes, I suppose.’ She proffered a box of tissues under my nose and I mumbled thanks before dabbing furiously at my eyes and balling the tissue tightly into my fist.
“Yeah,” I sniffed. I don’t know what to tell her. I don’t know how words could possibly describe the panging pain in my chest, the choking sensation that rises in my throat, the feeling of being surrounded by people yet feeling so lost and empty. Tears slid down my face.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see her this way,” I heard mom say, her voice breaking. I can’t bear to look at her. The doctor remains monotone and aloof and starts listing questions. She asks how I’m doing in school and I feel slightly insulted when she seems surprised by the fact that my results are good. She then turns to mom and reels off more questions. Finally, mom addresses her quietly.
“I don’t suppose… there’s anything you can give her, is there? For her sleep?” My ears prick. The doctor exhales exhaustedly.
“I really can’t justify giving a sixteen year old benzodiazepines, I really can’t. It’s very easy to develop a dependency on them… no… I’m sorry. But there are plenty of natural remedies in the health food shops. I’m sure you can find something there.” I feel deflated and tired by her merely talking about it. I’d be better off chewing on mom’s tulips out back then wasting my money on that crap. She must have noticed me looking disappointed because she began to address me again. “Look, Cliona, don’t worry about it- as bad English as it sounds, it’s very… fixable!” Oh God. She’s trying to be cool. I force a smile.
I’m told to come back for a blood test and to write down my feelings for the next week. Oh great. That’ll be interesting- she’ll think I’m mental when she reads it. I notice mom smirking when she refers to it as writing a diary.
“She should have no problem with that,” she smiled at me. You’d think she loved me, the gooey looks she was shooting me. It’s sickening. I glared back. The doctor tells us to take care and book another appointment. Her friend is apparently very good with ‘these kinds of things’. She’s making a phone call. There’s an air of contention when mom digs around in her wallet and produces a fifty euro note. I’m angry for the uncomfortable guilt that I’m feeling. I’m angry that it’s just this big secret. I’m angry that she told me to go and munch on a hemp tree when she’s got things that can take all this pain away. I rest my head against the window in the car. Mom babbles on about how great this counsellor is going to be and I try to be enthusiastic about it. After all, she’s paying dearly for me.
I feel weary when we arrive home. The light melts away in the distance and I watch as the glow trickles through the rows of houses beneath my window. Tugging at my curtains I flop onto my bed and crawl beneath the covers, still fully clothed. I close my eyes but amid the silence I can hear faint whisperings hissing in the silence of the night. Too scared to move, I stay completely still, the soft padding of footsteps pattering on the carpet. It approaches me, coming closer and closer. I hold my breath, screwing my eyes up tight.
I suppose I should explain what It is. Come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation that is logical. But I can’t. All I know is that It isn’t a person, but a presence, and when I feel like my heart is about to burst with sadness and the night is dark and empty, It stands in my bedroom, looming over me as I sleep, the atmosphere heavy with its threatening aura.
It all began three years earlier when my elderly nana used to live in our house. During the day she was cheery and rosy, with delicate hands that trembled from her Parkinson’s and a halo of fluffy blonde curls framing her face. I would perch on the footstool as she sat in her recliner clicking the knitting needles and winding the yarn around her wobbly fingers artistically. After a few moments of careful observation she would pass the ball of wool to me and together we’d giggle as the pattern turned into a lumpy, deranged looking mess that looped and contorted in every direction.
But by night she would ramble around the house, like a ghost in her long flowing nighty, her body small and delicate. She would call out in croaks as she wandered the landing. I heard the gentle padding of footsteps and her laboured breath as she called out.
“Auntie Abby,” she would wail “Abby save me.” I prayed for her to return to her own bed, as the blood pounded in my head. Peeling the blankets from over me, I lay frozen as she loomed over my bed, her gentle eyes glistening in the moonlight, staring vacantly in the darkness. I scrambled upright, guiding her out towards the landing as she whispered frantically into my ear.
“Abby, they’re here Abby, they’re in my room,” she would croak. Her eyes would be wild, true fear permeating her voice. I shushed her and gently manoeuvred her onto the bed, her frail body shivering. I pulled the covers around her as her eyes bore into me, fear stricken. She grabbed my wrist tightly with creased fingers and drew me closer to her. Panicked, I attempt to pull away but she drew me closer and whispered in a trembling voice.
“They’re here Abby,” she would hiss “All around my bed. Joseph… Hannah… Mary… Abby, they’re all here.” Her quivering finger pointed towards the ring of darkness surrounding her bed, but there was such urgency in her voice, such wildness in her eyes and such firmness in her grip that I couldn’t help but look at that darkness with pure terror. I bolted from her bedroom and threw myself into bed, still hearing her weeping in the next room. Those people are dead. They’re dead. She’s imaging it. She’s crazy. They’re dead.
It wasn’t too long after until she died. My Aunt had stood over her casket, fat tears slipping down her cheeks as she wreathed her blonde fluffy hair around her trembling fingers and showered her golden locks with hairspray.
I felt numb as the whole process whirled before me. The tears, the handshakes, the feeble conversation and limp egg sandwiches. Our car crunched along the gravel, the hearse jerking and jolting before us, ambling down the winding country road, away from her darkened whitewash house and on towards her final resting place.