I was always a teddy bear person, not a doll one. With their little hard bodies and glassy, unseeing eyes. My younger sister was the opposite. Her bed was always covered in dolls of all shapes and sizes. Some with brightly coloured dresses and dungarees. Others simply adorned in frilly pants, with the unyielding shells of their torsos exposed.
I suppose there had to be some attraction to them. Maybe to see these little human replicas was to want to protect them.
But I never got it.
To me, they were just hollow and lifeless.
I would choose Pippadew, my giant yellow ted, over an army of dolls any day. Pippadew, with his soft warmth and fur that I could disappear into when real life got too close and nobody else noticed.
I haven’t thought of my sister for years, so I don’t know what made me come here today. To the scene of the accident on that frozen winter morning so many years ago. Tragic, they had called it. A simple missed step on the hard, stone staircase.
The doll is perched on the windowsill opposite the curve of the bannister, black ringlets with red ribbons, in a spotty blue and white dress.
It’s the tilt of her head though. Almost accusatory, but mocking at the same time.
Like she knows.
Like she saw what really happened.
I am cold. I am cold even though it is bright outside. It looks warm. I have lost track of time. Is it Summer already? Inside days merge. Some are even lost completely. The irony is that just when time has suddenly become more precious I find it a fleeting entity, hard to keep hold of as it slips through my fingers like grains of sand. My hourglass is filling up exponentially but all I can do is sit and look; watch, wait and reflect.
Visitors start to arrive as I continue to gaze out of my window. Sure enough, there is Paul’s battered red Ford squeezing into a narrow parking space between a lurid green Mini and a gold Range Rover. He, Molly, and kids tumble out. For a second his guard is down and I notice how tired he seems. Then he looks up and catches me watching. His face lights up in an over bright smile that, even from this distance, I can tell doesn’t reach his eyes.
As I wait I adjust my scarf and ask for my pillows to be plumped up for more support. I want to be sitting up properly when I see them. I want to remember today for as long as I can and ensure a strong memory lingers. I want them to remember me and not my illness. I have passed through a spectrum of emotions; disbelief, numbness, anger, guilt, fear and terrible crippling sadness. Why me? Why my family? I have already started grieving for what I am leaving behind. But today is different. Today I am at peace and I am in charge for once, not this disease. Me!
I know I will only have a small window of lucidity before I will have to self-administer more drugs, which are only ever a temporary relief from pain. But although it has won I won’t be beaten. My family enter and Paul comes straight over to take my hand. He is gentle, like I am made of glass and could shatter into a thousand pieces at any second. His smile is sad and this time it does reach his eyes.
“It’s okay,” I say, “It will be okay.” His Adam’s apple is bobbing up and down furiously and his top lip quivers slightly. “I don’t want you to go.” His voice catches and I can see him struggling for composure in front of his girls. “I know,” I smile. “I feel it all; from what you want to say now but can’t, to what you may later wish you had said. Promise me you won’t ever look back in regret as I know your heart and love you for it. All of you.”
They stay for half an hour and I turn my head to watch as they slowly walk back towards their car. Paul stops, looks up, and places one hand across his heart.
I close my eyes and press for more drugs. It is time to say goodbye.
I hide behind the stone pillar as the car sweeps down the driveway then dart behind it before the heavy electric gates swing shut. Avoiding early detection is always the hardest part.
I know where I’m going. I’ve planned this for some time. In my room I have stashed leaflets including the bus timetable, a cruise line brochure and a map of the docks. Although I have lost contact with most of my old crew, I’m certain my message got out to them and know they will meet me there.
I begin down the long, shadowed street. There are not enough residencies in this part of town to justify expenditure on regular street lamps, so great swathes of night envelope me for most of the journey and I’m glad of it. I reach the bus stop at the end of the street but keep walking. The next stop will be less obvious should anybody check up.
Two bus rides and a short walk later I’m here. I know from the cruise itinerary that the ship will be docking here overnight to refuel and that means that most of its crew will be ashore to get a break from their life on the sea. They don’t understand it’s majesty like I do. I scorn them, but simultaneously am grateful of a skeleton crew tonight. It will make things easier. I long to be back out there, to have my senses revel in the constant rolling of the waves, the sharp air cleansing my body and soul.
I instructed my crew to wait for me behind the warehouse nearest the quay, but all is silent. I am not too concerned; they won’t have let me down. Probably just got impatient and headed aboard as an advance party. There’s no point waiting.
I make it to the bottom of the gangplank before it all goes wrong.
They appear out of nowhere. I recognise four of them but there’s another man too. Five against one; I’ve beaten tougher odds before.
I turn slowly, careful not to leave my back exposed to them as they start to close in, circle formation. The new one is bringing up the rear and carrying something draped over his arms.
It’s all over quickly as I catch my foot on the base of the gangplank and pitch forward clumsily. “Idiot!” I curse under my breath. The four men pounce and pin my arms to my side.
“Got you a new suit,” one of them says, nodding in the direction of number five. “Let’s hope it fits you better than the last one after all the trouble you’ve caused.”
Despite my resistance they bundle me into the coarse white material. I don’t like it; it feels too tight on the shoulders. They drag me to the waiting vehicle where they pull on the straps.
I know where we’re going, back to the big house on the dark street.
“So Captain Norman,” one of them sneers, “what was your plan this time?”
I glare at him; resent his disrespect. “The name is Captain Jack Sparrow, as you well know,” I hiss back, “and when my crew come for me you’ll be sorry.”
He laughs as the van passes through the large gates that say ‘Ferntree Psychiatric Unit’.
“Welcome home,” he says.