She was trapped inside her body. Paralyzed, as hypnopompia seized her and loud bells tolled in her ears. Her eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling, where three alien beings were staring back at her. The two on the outside looked like average greys, but the one in the middle was different.
It was white and larger, with a face that floated in front of its head, like a milky mirage! Delwyn tried to scream, but as usual she couldn’t move her lips. The scream bounced around inside her like an angry echo, and she thought she heard the one in the middle say “Not yet.”
Then they vanished! Now she could move, and she rolled out of the bed, finally able to scream - but stifling it - as she didn’t want to wake the other residents. It was morning, and she had spent her last night in the psych ward at Tarwood Hospital. She stumbled to the bathroom and jumped in the shower, hoping that the water would drown out her sobs. She tried not to care, as she was leaving. Her two month ordeal was finally over and she was going to stay with her Aunty Gwen in the country.
It had been two months since she had been committed by her ex-husband and her mother, after a prolonged foray into madness that had ended in the flash of a psychotic break. Suffering from narcolepsy - in particular: hypnopompic and hypnagogic hallucinations, didn’t help matters.
She didn’t dare tell anyone about her astral travelling and other mental splintering. The cat was already out of the bag. She’d let her marriage dissolve - out of resentment for having been talked into it in the first place. When her mother berated her and her husband turned his back on her, she withdrew into her own world, which had always been the way she dealt with problems.
After she shook off the episode, trying not to rationalize it too much or brand it as a psychic attack, she dressed in her favorite black velvet dress and red boots. She quickly brushed her long black hair and then rushed around re-packing her bags and double checking that she had all of her journals. Her psychiatrist - Dr Boyd, was coming down the hallway, as she checked the train schedule on the computer for the hundredth time. The heels clicking on the floor made Delwyn wince, as they reminded her of her mother - Nancy.
Dr Boyd was very much like Delwyn’s mother. She was well dressed, clinical and to the point, painfully thin, but blonde; whereas her mother was brunette and dyed her hair pitch black, to match her heart. Delwyn was sure of that. She was also pretty sure that Dr Boyd had a normal heart, as she had shown concern for her predicament - at times.
As the doctor walked into the room, Delwyn looked over and forced out a smile, although she didn’t want to be kept any longer than necessary. She could tell that Dr Boyd knew something had happened and that she was being careful with the framing of her questions.
“So, did you get enough sleep?”
Delwyn nodded “Yep.”
“How’s the medication treating you?”
“Fine.” Delwyn lied. She was fully dosed and it made her feel like she was cocooned in fluff and dipped in sleeping potion. She started fussing about her luggage to send a hint, but the doctor ignored it and decided to jump right in, with the issue she’d been trying to discuss since Delwyn arrived.
“Delwyn, I just don’t understand why you won’t tell me about the episodes you had as a child! It would help so much with the therapy, and my understanding of your situation.”
Delwyn walked over and pulled up in front of the older woman, who was a little too much like her mother. She had warmth, but shared it sparingly - as though the patients had to earn the scraps here and there. However Delwyn was no performing monkey, and did not want to be one of her ‘fascinating’ subjects in some silly memoir. Before she answered, she checked the train schedule she’d printed out and stuffed it into her handbag.
“You understand enough to know that I have narcolepsy and that my parents were horrible and neglectful. My marriage is over and I’m recovering from a psychotic break. I’m grateful to you and the psych unit but I’m going to my Aunt’s farm to recuperate and get back on my feet. That’s all you need to know, isn’t it? So, you can file me away as cured!”
She stormed off childishly and started grabbing her bags and suitcases, as Dr Boyd sighed and stared at her like a parent watching a child having a tantrum. Delwyn didn’t want to tell her about the spaceman who used to visit her when she was three years old, and how he would waft her blankets up and down.
She didn’t want to talk about the witch who would appear at the end of a hundred beds in her room, even though there was only one bed. She would never tell anyone about the jelly man who would come into her room and drag her off into the ether, trying to absorb her into his body!
Delwyn believed that some secrets were meant to stay in the shadows.
Dr Boyd - however, preferred to control the situation and it was obvious to Delwyn that she hated not knowing all the history of her afflictions. When Delwyn was a child, the adults had laughed and scoffed at her - telling her that she was having nightmares and to go back to sleep. After her parents’ divorce, when she five - her mother started telling her that the episodes were real. It was because she was naughty and that monsters were going to take her away if she didn’t do what she was told.
If it hadn’t been for her Aunty Gwen, who periodically looked after her when it was all too much for her mother, there was no telling what would have happened to her. Gwen had tried to set Delwyn straight, and continued saying that they were indeed nightmares and mental problems that the doctors could fix - one day.
They never did though, no matter how much experimenting with medication, therapy or testing. Delwyn just had to learn to live with it, and everyone thought that she was just “special”. Not that it was technically called narcolepsy, but it was under that umbrella - and Delwyn became used to calling them her “turns” or “episodes”. She preferred the word Narcolepsy, though. It had a nobler connotation than hypnopompic hallucinations.
Through her late teens and twenties, her friends had said that she was lucky that she didn’t have to take drugs to trip! After a while, she stopped getting angry and trying to explain it to them. She just kept it to herself and when she took days off from work, she told her employers that she suffered from depression. Now she was thirty years of age and made to feel that she had to explain herself yet again, and she wasn’t having it! She did one last check, thanked Dr Boyd and went off to catch her train.
Dr Boyd yelled out “I’ll be in touch, Delwyn! Keep taking your medication!”
Delwyn stood on the windy platform of Spencer Street station, flanked by raggedy luggage, with her long black hair lashing about her blank face. It was an overcast Melbourne morning, and she waited patiently for the 9:05 train to Gippsland that would take her to Magpie Meadows - the dairy farm run by her Aunty Gwen. There she would find respite from the tornados and tidal waves, still echoing in the caverns of her splintered mind. She had only just been given the thumbs’ up from her doctor and the divorce was finalized. The gate was open!
She had sold most of her share of the furniture, and the rest had already been sent to her Aunt’s, along with the boxes of books and forgotten relics. It had all been for the best, considering her mental state and her husband’s nonchalance as to what to do with her – until her mother intervened.
She contemplated all this as the train rolled in, squinting her hazel eyes at the flood of noise and movement. The hissing of the train and loud voice over the PA system made her wince, as the medication polarized her senses - yet numbed her at the same time. Even though she was considered fine to travel alone, she didn’t feel well enough. She didn’t feel that she could be trusted.
Although, what she couldn’t be trusted with or for eluded her. It wasn’t as though she wished herself or anyone else harm. Even her husband - Duncan, had been reduced to a pinprick in her mind. By the same token, it wasn’t as though she didn’t care; but what she did care for – she didn’t know.
She did know - however, that she wanted to escape to Magpie Meadows. Safety and warmth waited for her there. Aunty Gwen’s kind words and quiet strength would shore her up, and smooth away the wrinkles that had gathered in her wretched heart.
When the train pulled to a stop, she waited to be waved aboard and started piling her bags onto herself like she was a pack mule. Then she grabbed the two beaten suitcases, hoisted herself up onto the train and lurched towards her carriage. When she found it, she stowed her luggage and plopped heavily into the seat, plugging in her earphones so she wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.
Years ago she’d been far more likely to want to make new friends. Now she viewed people as insects; swarming towards her in order to consume her, cell by cell. She knew this thought was irrational, but went along with it anyway. For the sake of peace.
After they pulled out of the station, she stared out of the window in a trance, as the Melbournian cityscape rushed by in a blur. Her feline eyes weren’t fixed on anything in particular. She just stared into the distance as the city morphed into the outer suburbs, which then melded into industrial sites, and in turn - seamlessly blended into the rural landscape.
She craved peace, and Gwen’s farm was the magical, faraway place that had just the right ‘feel’ for what she needed. Delwyn’s relatives had said that Gwen was strange and a recluse, moving to the country with Uncle Shaun to start a new life, away from family and friends.
Delwyn remembered nothing but kindness and goodness from them, although Uncle Shaun had passed away some years ago. Yes, they had been eccentric, if you considered that to mean private and down to earth, but they lived simply and had no hangups. Gwen had always been patient with her, and that’s what she needed now.
As the train drew closer to the city of Sale, she could feel the atmosphere change. The landscape became simpler and quieter, and seemed unfettered by consumerism and pollution. The air was sweeter and time seemed to slow down, as though they’d slipped into a realm where previous concerns ceased to matter. Delwyn could feel her senses come alive, just like they had when she was younger. The excitement in her belly took over the gnawing and aching emptiness that had made a home there, which was such a relief.
She opened the window, peering out to see the familiar trees - such as the Banksias, Pittosporums, Grevilleas, Eucalyptus and Cypress. Even though she could see the old mixed with the new, the charm of the country town was still there. The train slowed and the brakes hissed as it pulled into the station, and passengers slowly rose from their seats and stretched. No one was in any particular hurry - not like in the city. It was as though they had teleported into a different dimension, which suited Delwyn just fine. It’s what she had hoped for.
She stepped off the train, following the other passengers as they meandered, one by one, onto the sun-drenched platform. As she walked along towards the car park, she could see her Aunt leaning against the old green Land Rover, with her large brimmed straw hat hiding most of her face; her arms crossed in her pale yellow cardigan.
She was wearing her sensible khaki pants and Birkenstock sandals. She waved a little wave when Delwyn got closer and went around the back to open the door for the luggage.
Delwyn appreciated that there was no pomp and circumstance; no questions or disappointed shake of the head. As she put her seat belt on, her Aunt squeezed her upper arm as a gesture of welcome. She was usually quite understated with her emotions, but never cold. They drove on in silence, through the streets of Sale, down Princes Highway - past the Catholic College, watching the pretty, ancient trees, shop fronts and unassuming homes, until the road stretched into the country via Sale-Maffra road.
Delwyn grew more and more excited - the further they drove away from civilization. As they drew closer to the farm, she realized that at thirty most women her age would’ve been mortified to be cut off from their friends and city life. But this was all part of her plan - to create a whole new life away from the nightmare she was leaving behind. She wanted to slip into another skin and start living as someone else. It was her second chance.
As the Land Rover turned into the long, winding driveway of Magpie Meadows, that private feeling came over her. It was like stepping through a portal to a faraway place. She felt like she was leaving her old self behind. She spun around in her seat to watch the road disappear behind them, like a child watching the past dissipate, half expecting to see her old self vanishing into the landscape.
As she turned back, she saw the familiar dirt road snaking through the old, gnarled Monterey cypress trees. She loved the secret feeling she got when traveling through this dark magic tunnel, and especially loved when it cleared to reveal the quaint little cottage nestled in the middle of the dark woods.
The dairy sheds, also surrounded by cypress trees - were situated further back, behind the main house. Dougie and Suze, Gwen’s two Blue Heelers, came running at the car, barking excitedly. When Delwyn was younger, she was afraid of the dogs, but now she loved their boisterousness. She leapt out of the car and they jumped all over her, greedy for cuddles and pats, sniffing and whimpering their greetings. She clutched at their dense fur and rubbed their ears – squeezing and hugging.
Gwen growled, “Ease down!”
Delwyn defended them, “Awww, they’re okay!” She let them lick and nuzzle her face.
Once the hellos were over, they started hauling the luggage inside. There was an old picket fence around the house - painted the palest blue, which was peeling and had vines attempting to take over. As they stepped through the front gate, it creaked gently and they continued along the pathway - past the sweet little patch of vegetables that contained silverbeet, carrots, tomatoes and potatoes.
On the other side was the Meyer lemon tree, which had yielded fruit for countless pitchers of lemonade that they had made together, over the years.
The path led to the screened porch, where Peter, the ginger cat - was sleeping on an old chewed up wicker chair. Delwyn rubbed behind his ears and he didn’t open his eyes, but stretched out his neck in ecstasy. Gwen unlocked the old front door and swung it open, standing aside to allow Delwyn space to carry the luggage inside.
As she entered the kitchen, she deeply inhaled the homey scents that hinted at lux soap, bacon, wood from the old fashioned stove, coffee, freshly-cut Daphne in the vase on the dining table, and many other lovely forgotten smells that congealed into a heady mix of happiness.
She plopped down at the table, watching her Aunt light the stove to put the kettle on for tea.
“Put your things in the spare room, where you used to stay when you came for holidays.”
Delwyn smiled and said, “Thanks, Aunty Gwen. I’m really grateful for everything you’re doing for me.”
“Don’t mention it, Love.” Gwen took out the big black cake tin from the larder and placed it gently on the old wooden table. She smiled warmly with her eyes. “How about some cake with your tea?”
Delwyn smiled back and nodded. She loved her Aunt’s language, her voice, and her movements. Everything about the way she existed was slow, soft and deliberate - wise and completely without panic or anxiety. Everything she did and said evoked peace and tranquility. Nothing was ever rushed or spur of the moment. She was like the trees, rocks and mountains. She was fifty three and had long black hair like Delwyn, but with streaks of silver along the front, which made her seem exotic.
She swept it up into a bun and had large green eyes. Delwyn’s mother, Nancy, had always been jealous of her sister-in-law, being quite a stunning woman, and different in every way. There was nothing mean about Gwen, whereas Nancy was cold, calculating and bitter. Delwyn had always wondered what had happened to make her so nasty, but neither her mother nor her Aunt would discuss it.
Gwen took the lid off the cake tin and cut two thick slices of her home made dark fruit cake. She slid the pieces on to the plates and passed one to Delwyn, along with a fork. Then she took the kettle off the stove and poured the boiling water into the teapot, slowly and carefully, and placed the lid on and covered it with an old red tea cozy.
She brought the tea pot over to the table and said in her firm yet gentle voice “Let it steep for a bit, Love.” They sat quietly eating their cake for a minute or two, then Delwyn heard Gwen take in a deep breath. She leaned back in her chair, studying Delwyn’s face for a short time - then spoke.
“Alright Sweetie. Just a few rules, okay?”
Delwyn nodded. “Okay!”
“You’re a good girl, so I know you won’t be much trouble!” They smiled at each other and laughed.
“I’ll be good Aunty Gwen, I promise.”
Delwyn meant it, she would behave. Also, Gwen knew that she would, but she could never be too careful, seeing as there was something in Delwyn akin to her own spirit, from another time - when Gwen was a different person herself. Delwyn understood that Gwen was the type of person you obeyed, simply out of respect for her character - which denoted gravity and solemnity. There was no escaping that!
Gwen took the cozy and lid off the teapot and stirred the contents, then replaced the lid and poured their tea. As she handed the milk jug to Delwyn, she said, “I just wanted to say that we don’t have to talk about your Mum or Duncan until you’re ready. Okay?”
Delwyn fought back tears and swallowed the lump in her throat, which was already doing battle with the piece of cake she just ate. She was surprised at the tears - so ready to flow at the mention of the two people who had hurt her the most, but also who she had carefully hid in the recesses of her subconscious.
She struggled to respond, which made her Aunt hop up and come around to her side of the table. She finally spluttered “That’s fine, Aunty Gwen. Thanks.” Out of breath, she added, “I nearly choked on my cake!” and laughed.
Gwen laughed softly and rubbed her back for just a moment, letting her know that she understood - without crowding her. She went back to her chair and sat down, taking a sip of her tea - studying Delwyn’s face - which was returning to normal. She could see that Delwyn had already programmed herself to flat line.
She knew that it would take time and patience for the pain of the divorce to morph into proper healing and acceptance. She also knew that now wasn’t the time to talk about the nightmares or sleep paralysis that were becoming more frequent. She would wait to see how they would eventuate, after settling in.
She wondered about Delwyn being so lost, so pretty and intelligent - but such a dreamer!
They discussed the sharing of cooking and other chores and that after Delwyn had settled in, they would find her a therapist close to town. Delwyn made a face but Gwen held firm.
“That was one of the conditions, Girly. You need to get through all this and get back on your feet.”
“I know, I know. I will. I promise. I just hate all that psycho babble horseshit.” She knew that she sounded like a spoilt teenager, but resigned herself to the fact that a deal was a deal. Gwen studied her for a moment, as though searching for any sign that would indicate betrayal, but she knew that this was the end of the line for Delwyn, who was no fool - after all was said and done.
“Okay, Love. Good!” They continued discussing the arrangement.
There was no internet, so if Delwyn wanted to use it she would have to go next door, which was forty acres away - to the Everson’s farm - now run by Greg, the younger son. He also helped out at Magpie Meadows when Gwen needed it. The older son - Mark, was quiet and reserved, and had moved out to run a farm of his own - but also helped out here and there.
They were pleasant enough and had been happy to play and share whenever Delwyn had been on holiday in years past, although Greg was the one she had played with the most. Mark was always dark and brooding. She was to be careful - as usual - when wandering around the farm, and as always - certain buildings were out of bounds, for safety and other reasons.
After tea, Delwyn went into her room to unpack. It was off the kitchen and quite large, as it used to be a sitting room. She closed the door behind her and looked around. Not much had changed since she had stayed the last time - eleven years ago - at nineteen years of age. Apart from a few more books stacked on the dresser and a new bed, it was the same dark room that gave her that mysterious feeling.
When she was a young girl, she imagined the shadows coming to life as they flickered through the glass double doors at night. The room opened to a covered verandah, with steps down into the herb garden in the back of the cottage, which was bordered by banksia and eucalyptus. She could open the windows and smell the lavender, rosemary and thyme wafting in.
The garden was surrounded by the old picket fence - and the gravel road ran alongside it, lined by more Monterey cypress trees. She loved the secretive atmosphere of Magpie Meadows and the magical house.
On the wall opposite the big bed was the fireplace, full of books and newspapers, and to the left of it stood the ancient desk - also stacked with books, old gardening magazines and more newspapers. It had always been funny to Delwyn that the bookcase standing on the right side of the fireplace was the only place in the room with the least amount of books in it.
For some reason, it wasn’t so strange now. It contained a few forgotten pairs of shoes, an old atlas, some maps, a few small statues, some boxes and jars here and there, a dried flower arrangement and a doll that had been accidentally burned on a barbeque one summer.
The carpet was old and grey, but scrupulously vacuumed. The walls were a pale mustard and the curtains were richly brown and out of place, as they were new.
The bed and blankets were also new, so they too stood out – brown and white and too crisp for the dream-like aura of the room. What had always given Delwyn the willies - was the taxidermy case in the corner; quite large and stuffed with a variety of birds, including sea gulls and sparrows.
Even though she had always loved sparrows, this collection unnerved her, and had done so since she was small. The eyes seemed to follow her, and she always felt as though they would spill out and peck her to death when she wasn’t looking! She dragged her suitcases to the desk and hurled them under it, and then dropped the rest of her bags on the floor. Opening the curtains to let the last of the afternoon sun in, she noticed the faint odor of lavender, dust and ageing books hit her nostrils.
It comforted her, just as much as the sight of the familiar garden and verandah - with the old cane chairs and wicker table. Delwyn stood at the door holding the stiff curtains open, eyes closed and remembering the times she had snuggled under the covers, listening to the crackling of the fire and the creaking of the old cypress.
For a brief moment she felt ashamed with herself for having lost it - for hiding away like a spider, and escaping to her Aunt’s farm to retreat from the prying and whispering that waited for her in ‘civilization’. Her Aunt had been kind in her offer of a home. Delwyn had dreamed of her opening her big camel coat like a great bird opening her giant wings, and she had swooped into the comforting darkness as those wings enfolded her.
The shame was also about being thirty years of age and feeling like she was back at square one - after having gone through a divorce, losing her job and losing face with friends and family - even though her isolation was self-induced. She thought back to one of her last sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr Boyd, who had reminded her not to get swept up in her fantasies of what happened, and to remember to keep checking the reality journal for reference.