Friday, June 9, 2017

Rattled by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character goes for a break in the country to recover from her husband's mental collapse, but the strain has affected her more deeply than she realises.

1.

It started as a peaceful break at Holly Cottage. I'm always a bit rattled when I stay in a new place for the first time. But Dev and I often return to the same self-catering cottages after I've cleared the vibes and I feel ok there. Friends probably think we're stick-in-the mud types with little imagination but they kind of miss the point. Whenever I go to a brand-new place the first couple of nights are an ordeal. I rarely sleep well and I'm constantly alert for anything that unsettles me.

Anyway, back to Holly Cottage. It's in a small hamlet in the Yorkshire Dales with many good walks straight out of the back door, no need to drive all the time. I'd been here three times before with Dev and we'd loved it. Our last visit was two years ago, only a couple of months before he got his diagnosis. Around that time, I'd thought that he wasn't himself but I hadn't seen it coming, not at all.

We booked this next holiday a good ten months ago hoping that an autumn break would set us up for the winter. Dev started to relapse in early August, no high mood this time, just a deep dark depression. One night I woke up to find the bed empty. He was nowhere in the house and I eventually found him on the flat roof of our garage curled into a ball and weeping. I don't know to this day how he got up there. I lugged the ladder round from the side of the garden shed and climbed up to try to talk him down. It was then that he decided that I was the devil and he lurched across, circled his massive hands around my throat and squeezed tight. Fortunately for me our neighbour, Jed, came back from his night shift and saw what was happening. He leapt up the ladder and kneed Dev in the back. The shock made Dev loosen his grip, and Jed pulled me clear. My memories of the next few hours are a blur. There was frantic activity with police, ambulance staff and doctors and then Dev was sectioned later that morning. That was six weeks ago now. He appealed his detention at his Mental Health Review Tribunal last Monday but the members of the tribunal upheld it. Since then he hasn't wanted to see me, he blames me for the fact that he can't come home. Though his rejection hurts, at least I've got a break from the crushing routine of work and hospital visits.

I'd almost forgotten about our holiday booking in all the worry and upheaval but I remembered two days before it was due to start. If it had been a new place I'd have given it a miss, but I knew it was fine. I arrived at dusk and relaxed as soon as I got out of the car and stretched. Bats swooped above my head, darting silhouettes in the rosy light of sundown. An owl's cry echoed from deep in the woods on an adjacent hillside and in the meadows sheep bleated with lazy curlicues of sound that lacked the urgency of their bleats in the lambing season. I needed to rest and I was convinced that I'd come to just the place.

That first night I didn't bother to cook. I ate fresh bread, hummus and olives picked up from a farm shop on my drive up from Birmingham. Over the course of the next three hours I saw off a bottle of Corbières and savoured every drop. It was a relief not to be exposed to Dev's resentment that I could drink when he couldn't. Unfortunately alcohol didn't agree with his meds so I rarely indulged in his presence. When I did, there was little pleasure to be had. At midnight, I climbed the narrow stairs with my night things slung over my arm; I hadn't bothered to unpack properly, that could wait until the morning. After a quick pee I brushed and flossed in the low-ceilinged bathroom under the eaves and then went into the main bedroom. The lonely expanse of the king size bed depressed me and I retreated to the box room. I flopped down on the narrow single bed, pulled up the duvet and slept for nine hours solid. I must have dreamed, but nothing carried forward into the waking day.



2.

The next two nights proved equally restful and undisturbed. I filled the days with low level walks and reading, and I started to write poems. It shocked me to realise that I hadn't put pen to paper for over eighteen months (privately I called myself a poet). Hour by hour I became more at ease in my own skin. I knew that eventually I'd need to make decisions about me and Dev, our marriage and his illness and how far I could go living as his carer. But that could wait for now. At forty-eight I was not inclined to be impulsive.

On the third day, I needed to go into Hawes to buy food. I backed my old estate out onto the lane that ran down to the main road. I drove with care on the rough surface and as I rounded a corner I saw a youngish man leaning against a drystone wall. He had his back to the lane and looked over the valley. His clothes were old fashioned; his trousers were tight like leggings and he had a long loose shirt of coarse cloth held snug at the top of his body by a tweed waistcoat. He glanced across as I drew near, raised his hand in a half-hearted greeting and then turned back to his original position. He reminded me of someone but I didn't know who. I wondered where he lived and what led him to cut such an anachronistic figure, unusual even for a countryman. As I joined the sweep of traffic on the A road, I focussed my attention on driving and forgot my odd encounter.

Hawes was bustling that day and the sun lingered, telling me that summer had not ended. It took me a while to park and then I joined the throng and worked my way through my shopping list. When I returned to the cottage, I decided to sit out in a deckchair in the garden. It was small but filled to the brim with hollyhocks, sweet williams, snapdragons and lupins. Though many had gone to seed, a few brave, desiccated blooms maintained their watch and their bleached petals and leaves rustled in the lazy air. I shut my eyes and threw my face back to bask in the remaining rays.

I must have drifted asleep; my brain floated between random, unremarkable images. I surfaced to an easy wakefulness a couple of times, sinking back down to the lilt of bird songs. Then my dreaming sharpened. The young man from the morning came to me. He approached me from behind as I stood by the stone wall that overlooked the valley. At first I saw only his linen clad arms as they circled my waist. As he held me, the cloth scratched my bare skin, I smelt pine sap and soon I was in a trance of desire. I leant back into his body and he lifted my skirt and entered me from behind. I bent forwards supported by the wall and absorbed his thrusts with delight. When he withdrew, a sticky trail ran from my cunt down my legs. I tried to turn, but he held me firmly. I was desperate to see his face, kiss his lips, know his name, yet he blew hotly in my ear and said:

'Not yet, not yet.'

Then he was gone and I woke up with a jolt. Aroused and aching I retreated inside and lay on the couch to revisit my fantasies. Afterwards I couldn't sleep and I was ravenous so I snacked on salted nuts as I prepared some hot food.



3.

The rest of the day passed quietly and by evening I felt drowsy in a pleasant, mildly drugged sort of way. My perceptions were smudged with a general sense of well-being and in spite of my afternoon nap I went to bed early. The sound of the wind as it rushed through the branches of the old oak tree in next door's garden was hypnotic and I had no trouble getting off to sleep.

The wail that woke me was shot through with grief. As I struggled to surface I could not be sure if it had been a dream or something real. Silence reasserted itself and it left my heart pounding. Seconds later, through the gap in the partly drawn curtains, I saw an electric-orange flash of lightning split the sky. A boom of thunder followed barely a minute later; as it resonated in hollow blasts it swiped away my memory of the sound that had woken me. I began to reason: I must have been woken by the build-up to the storm, whether wind, thunder or rain or the impact of one of these on the nearby land. I was wide awake in any case so I padded downstairs to make a cup of tea.

I listened as the tempest reached its height and I imagined Dev asleep in his hospital bed. Dev had interested me from the first because he was a mixture of contradictions. That was before his rapid mood swings had blossomed into full blown bi-polar disorder. His illness made him a different man entirely and I did not feel at all certain that I had the strength to stay with him. His extreme moods, whether high or low, were always distressing and challenging. But the worst time was immediately after he'd been an inpatient and he was drugged up to the nines, quiet and erased. Had I the patience to wait again? Wait until the medics cautiously reduced his meds and he stirred back to some semblance of his life? The life of the man I'd fallen in love with. And, what if they renewed his detention this time? What if he didn't come out for years? I'd seen it happen to others and after the circumstances of his current admission, when he'd nearly killed me, he'd be considered a danger to others when unwell. They wouldn't be taking any risks. I hadn't grieved since that night on the garage roof, but I cried in the early hours of that squally dawn. The elements seemed to flash and crash in sympathy and my own emotions boomed loose. Finally, I relinquished control.

At some point, I must have run out of steam. I woke with a stiff neck as I lifted my head from my arms that rested, entwined and heavy, on the stripped pine table. As I moved, pins and needles shot down from my shoulders to my hands and I wriggled my fingers to unleash the electric stings that signalled the returning blood flow. The storm had vanished and left the sky fresh-washed and blue enough to clad many sailors with trousers. The air had shed its stifled weight and become oxygenated again. It was light and hopeful and so was I. I decided to spend the morning writing, have lunch in the garden then take a walk in the afternoon.



4.

I sat in my room with my pen in my hand. Influenced by the watershed of the previous night, I began to work on a poem about loss and transformation. It chimed with changes that were seeding in me. The work absorbed me and each word apparently inked itself onto the page, for the writing came from a place beyond my consciousness. I surrendered to a creative wave that carried me away. I allowed myself to be, be alone and not defined by Dev.

I worked for a couple of hours and then, as I waited for the next phrase I felt a light touch on the nape of my neck. Rough, work-hardened hands stroked the sides of my face. I smelt old, lived-in tweed, and once more, coarse linen brushed my bare shoulders. Above the woollen cloth, I smelt a piny musk with scents of brine, strange in this inland place. Lips moved against my right ear.

'Sweet love, you came, you returned. Remember, there will be no end.'

I should have felt freaked, but instead calmness settled in my body and wrapped me in peace.

'Retire and I will join you. Cover your eyes for you must not see me, my darling.'

When I eventually turned, the spare bedroom in which I stood was empty. I rose from my desk dazed; my heart hammered and I picked up my lavender eye mask from the tiny bedside table. The curtains flotsammed against the open window as breezes swirled gently outside. I walked across the landing to the master bedroom room, stepped out of my clothes and settled on my back on the cool cotton sheets. I pulled the mask over my eyes and stretched out my arms and legs and waited.

He pressed into each inch of my body and yet he was weightless. My body skittered pulses and warm, viscous liquid seeped from my body and dampened the bedding. He touched my clit and I thought I would die, and as my back arched ready for my orgasm to break he entered me and together we climaxed. Our love-making had been wordless and complete. Afterwards, I had the notion that we flew, hand in hand, amongst the stars in an ink black sky.

At length, I surfaced. I lay on my right side and he was curled around my back. He spoke inside my head.

'Do you know my name yet, sweetheart?'

I mouthed softly, 'No, but I have known you forever.'

'You are right, you have. I am Viātor, the traveller, and each time I come back to you. In our many lives, I've taken myriad names but I am always Viātor. In this life, that I am soon to leave, you know me as Devlin.'

The air left the room and I struggled to breathe. I ripped off my eye mask and turned towards him. I was alone in my bed. Naked and raw, I wept.



5.

Much later, I took myself off to shower. I was light-headed with sex and grief in equal measure. Worse, I was worried that I might be ill. Was Viātor an hallucination, sprung from my own brain? Had lack of sex, stress and loneliness tipped me into madness? As the needles of hot water stung my skin, I relived my three meetings with Viātor. They had all been good, until today's ended with his announcement that he would soon pass. Was the whole thing a fantasy? Must guilt sabotage my pleasure? Dev was on a locked ward in a psychiatric unit, how could he and Viātor be connected, except in my imagination? But how could I indulge in the best sex I'd ever had while he was desperately ill and in a chemical stupor? Maybe the strain of my efforts to support Dev had stirred an old badness inside me? Maybe I was very sick?

I emerged from the bathroom, and pulled on the towelling robe that hung on the back of the bathroom door. On automatic pilot, I returned to my desk and started to write. This time, I tried to capture what had happened to me at Holly Cottage. I urgently needed to understand what had happened, what was happening. Three hours later, with my shoulders tight and stiff, I sat back to read what I had written. It was obvious to me that my sub-conscious was paying tricks. Exhaustion, yearning and guilt accounted for the whole thing. The fact that I was alone for the first time in years had set the stage for my psyche to let rip.

In spite of my rationalisations, I felt bereft and desperately wanted Viātor to return. I couldn't make myself let go of him and the lust that joined us. I forced myself to get up and get dressed and went down to make a meal. Hunger was unlikely to stabilise my mind. As I scrubbed some new potatoes my mobile rang. I pressed 'answer' and heard a woman's voice.

'Hello, is that Bridget Marsden?'

'Yes, speaking.'

'Bridget, this is Anna Constantine. I'm a staff nurse calling from St Mark's Clinic. Your husband, Devlin Marsden -'

I dropped the phone, my grip weakened by trembling. He must be dead. Somehow, I managed to pick up the mobile and put it to my ear.

'Bridget, are you still there?'

'Yes, sorry, I dropped it, I mean the phone.'

'Ok. Right, well I need to let you know that he is being transferred to an open ward. He's responded well to his new medication and we want to test him out in less restrictive conditions. Of course, he is still detained and he will not be at liberty to leave the hospital unless his doctor gives him special leave. Do you have any questions?'

'No. No thank you. I am on holiday just now, but I'll visit as soon as I return. That is, of course, if he wants me to.'

'Yes, well as always we advise relatives to liaise with us before coming in. Goodbye, then.'

'Goodbye, and thanks for calling.'

I felt more guilt because the news that Dev was making progress had filled me with dread. If he was getting better, he might be back home soon and the thought was appalling. What sort of selfish woman was I?



6.

That night I returned to sleep in my bedroom-study. I couldn't bear to lie in the king size bed, to smell sex on the rumpled sheets and to recall the afternoon. I sank into a leaden sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and I didn't surface until I heard the morning chorus. My throat was sore and my mouth dry so I went downstairs to make tea and carried the tray back to bed. My mobile was on the desk and it flashed me a message alert. I dialled 1571, then 1 to listen to my voicemail.

'This is a message for Bridget Marsden. Bridget, please call the ward at St Mark's as soon as you get this message, thank you.'

I wondered if this pre-dated the call that I'd had with Anna Constantine the previous evening. Probably. My voicemails often lagged in coming through. But I thought I'd dial, just in case.

'Hello, Ward 6 please,' I said.

'Ward 6,' said a man's voice.

'Hi, this is Bridget Marsden. I've picked up a voicemail asking me to call. I think it might be an old one, but I wanted to check,' I said.

'Bridget, you're speaking to Dr Smythson. We met at your husband's tribunal the other day? I'm afraid I have bad news for you. Devlin left the hospital during the night. There is no easy way to tell you this.'

'What, what?'

'We found his body in the hospital orchard this morning. He was hanging from an apple tree. I am so sorry. He was doing well. We genuinely thought the move was in his best interests. I really am so sorry.'

I had done it. I had killed Dev as surely as if I'd skewered him with a knife in his heart. I knew I had. And now, worst of all, with blood on my hands, I was relieved.

At first everything was unearthly and still. Then I heard soft banging noises in the master bedroom. I swayed towards it and saw the duvet flapping up and down, someone was thrusting beneath it. A gasp followed, then a groan of satisfaction. The bedding settled and went flat. There was no room for a human, even a small one, to be lying underneath it. I dragged the duvet back: nothing except a fresh, wet patch. As I sniffed the semen stain, Viātor's voice lisped into my ear.

'I'll be back. I always will.'

Of course, they didn't admit me to St Mark's. It wasn't deemed to be an appropriate therapeutic environment for me, all things considered. But St Hilda's is pretty much the same.

8 comments:

  1. a frank and totally credible tale of a woman´s breakdown. some brilliant writing,`..sky fresh-washed and blue enough to clad many sailors with trousers` to give but one example. a story to make one think. Well done Ceinwen
    Mike McC

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  2. A remarkable story - so beautiful and well told, with sadness and truth so vivid. Thank you, Ceinwen.

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  3. Great story! My laughter at the final sentence was I believe an uncontrollable nervous response - the relief of the whole thing being wrapped up...though not entirely, the timing thing with the mobile messages is unsettling, but time doesn't travel in straight lines however strong a signal ones smartphone has! Gosh, I felt I was there at every thrust, heave, murmur, and the 'flapping of the duvet' is more than worthy of MR James! Sumptuous writing; 'lazy curlicues of sound,' and many others. I shall now go and 'let my psyche rip.'!
    B r o o k e

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  4. Thank you so much, Mike, Nancy and Brooke. I am delighted that you enjoyed this story and humbled by your generous comments. Warm wishes,
    Ceinwen

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  5. A gripping, superbly written and courageous story with great insight into the human psyche. The best story I've read for a long time.

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  6. Thank you very much Bruce, for your kind feedback. I am very pleased that you liked 'Rattled' so much, warm wishes, Ceinwen

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  7. A most enjoyable telling Ceinwen of a woman's mental unravelling. At least she had some pleasure along the way! You have used fine imagery and powerful writing to take us on the journey with her. You haven't held back, so well done for this honest story. Jane Swan

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  8. Thank you, Jane. I really appreciate your generous comments,
    Best wishes,
    Ceinwen

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