Strange, strange dreams for me last night. Everything in here happened in the dream, which seemed to go on a very long time. It was staggeringly lucid and clear, and I can only present the first half here as it went on for so long a time. I've put it into story form rather than bare description to do it justice. It was one of those dreams that I think will lodge inside my brain for a while. I usually have rather splendid dreams, but this was something rather odder.
I suppose I resembled young Steptoe most of all, only without the hapless, embarrassed agony etched on my face. A young Harry, who had got his breaks, carved out a nice little life for himself, independent and with small dreams. It was the early 1980’s and in this dream I was a petty criminal. Hauled up before court, I used what money I had to bribe my way into a more pleasant spell in a secure sanatorium for the mentally ill.
The outside looked like a red-brick crematorium, only with a spire instead of a chimney, but still housing the carefully tended lawns and that atmosphere of morbid perfection. Two guards led me through the heavy grilled iron door, and I was shown into a sizable ornate hall, with a black and white chequer floor and a large stove in the middle, resembling a well with its copper peaked roof and turning spit. In dead centre of each side of the room lay a set of stairs that led up to a balcony, running the entire four-sided length. A gleaming red railing ran along the copper railings, and door-less cubby holes marked the small tomb like rooms, one black slot in each gleaming white wall. It was as silent as a mausoleum.
I turned in surprise to my guards, who grinned back at me. “You didn’t specify much in the way of company, now, did you?” said one.
“Or as to the particulars of the institutional building?” asked another. They both looked uncomfortably like me, and enjoyed their small power. I decided to be chummy, and handed them the last of my money I’d smuggled in, a tenner and a five pound note. “The fiver’s for drinks. The tenner’s for some groceries I’d be obliged in you getting me; beer, deli food, that sort of thing.”
They pocketed the cash and grinned more warmly.
My room, like the others, had no door. The bed was a thin mattress on springs, on a wrought iron bed. The sheets were like thin, white funeral shroud. I decided to explore. In one corner there was a wooden door leading to the staff quarters, locked of course, and only opening to admit a dour, old Scottish woman dressed in Victorian house-servant garb. She brought in the meals, cursed me for my wicked ways and left. There were no doctors, wardens, seemingly no other inmates.
It was next morning. There was another inmate. She’d come in through the wooden door. She was thin and jaundiced, face careworn and her cascade of frizzy hair the colour of bright rusted iron. Despite the wear, I guess her age a little older than mine, at mid-thirties. She was nervous, and walked the cold tiled floor barefoot, wringing her hands, dressed in a simple black silk gown. Like everything about the place, she seemed to be straight out of Victorian England. I talked to her and it turned out that she had been sent there by her father. He’d feared she’d poisoned herself – her drawn features, yellow skin and unnatural shade of hair being the evidence, and that she was clearly addled in her wits. He wanted her someplace quiet, out of the way, out of his life. She’d been there for a long time, had forgotten the art of human contact.
In that place, time would cease to have meaning. There were no windows, a bell tolled the meaningless hours. When it was time for bed, the dour woman came in to clap her hands sharply. The lights, shining bright from a utilitarian chandelier, never dimmed. There was, however, a mystery. The first night with my new housemate, I awoke to find her asleep on the top balcony. I woke her and guided her back to her bed, unusually tucked out in the open on the ground floor next to the stove. The following night she was asleep another place, and again and again. Sometimes I was awoken by the sound of her crying out, sharp and sudden. When I found her, she’d be thrashing upon the floor as if from some terrible nightmare. I’d awake her, and she’d fall into a brief, listless state, with no memory of the night terrors, or of moving from her bed. Her father, a respectable looking fellow in a nice suit, bald and with a moustache, would visit in the day from time to time. He would share no words with me, and seemed to express little concern about his daughter’s condition.
I must have been there a month, and then one day I chanced to awaken earlier than usual, and I wandered from my cell. A thrill of fear jolted my heart; there she was, floating serenely across the floor and up the stairs to the balcony landing.