“Do you know who I am?” The old woman in the bed stares back at me, her face worn and faded against the white pillow. She opens and closes her mouth as if trying to speak. I lean down to catch her words but she turns her head away from me to stare at the wall. I look around the room to find out if anyone else can answer my question.
There are three other beds in the room and two of them are occupied. In one sits a woman with white hair. She is wearing a pink dressing gown and watching a television fixed to the wall opposite her bed. The sound is turned up loud and I see two people dancing on the screen. The other woman is reading a book. Every now and then she glances up and yells something at the television. I move towards the white haired woman because she is closer.
“Do you know who I am?”
She doesn’t look away from the television. “You, my dear, are the Queen of England, and this is Buckingham palace.” The woman in the other bed laughs, and I turn to stare at her. Her mouth is open wide and she reminds me of something I saw a long time ago. I don’t understand what is so funny so I move to her bed.
“Do you know how I got here?”
“You flew in on your broomstick one night, and now we can’t get rid of you.” She laughs loudly at her own words and I have a sudden image of a clown, its head moving backwards and forwards, its mouth open wide. There are swirling colours and the sound of music on a summer’s night. It is beautiful, this fairyland of lights and music. I want to ask her how I can get there, but she has gone back to her book, and I don’t think she can help me.
I hear a sound behind me and turn around to see a young woman with glasses coming through the door. She is smiling at me. It is a nice feeling to be smiled at.
“What are you doing out of bed, Rachel?” she asks. “Come on, let’s get you back in.” She takes my arm and leads me towards the vacant bed.
“Am I the Queen of England?”
She shakes her head. “No, you’re not the Queen of England. Have these ladies been giving you a hard time again?” She pats my hand and I don’t know how to answer so I just stare at her. “Come on guys, be nice to her, you know she can’t help it.”
She helps me into bed and as settle in I slip my hand under the pillow and feel something. Lifting the pillow I find a photograph and I wonder who it belongs to. I pick it up and examine it closely. It is of a tall man with curly dark hair standing in front of a boat. He looks so much like someone I used to know.
I search through my memory but it is like looking for something in a thick fog. I can see his outline in the distance and I run to catch up to him, but he is very fast. When I finally reach him I extend my hand out to touch him and he turns towards me, but before I can see his face the fog swallows him completely.
“Who is this?” I ask the young woman.
She looks at me sadly. “That’s your husband, Rachel.”
Husband. My husband. I am married.
We are standing on the deck of a boat, the wind in our hair, his arms wrapped tightly around me. He lets me go and drops down on one knee and I am so surprised when he pulls out a ring that I almost fall overboard. Before us the ocean stretches on endlessly.
Our wedding cake topples over before we even get a chance to cut it, but we don’t care because it is our special day and nothing can ruin it. Our house is made of brick and we joke that it can never be blown down. It is so big we almost get lost in all the rooms, but that’s okay because one day we will fill these rooms with children. Sometimes in summer we go fishing at the river or just lie on the grass and watch the clouds drift by. Me and my husband. My husband and I.
It’s as if the pieces of the puzzle have clicked together. Now maybe I can finally go home.
“Do you remember, Rachel?” asks the woman. I open my eyes and smile at her. Behind her is a mirror and in it another young woman is reflected. She is very pale with long fair hair and she is wearing a blue nightgown. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed I move towards the reflection. It’s me, it has to be me. How I used to love brushing my hair and arranging it in different styles. It seems like such a long time since I’ve done this.
“Yes, I remember it all now.” I reach out and touch the glass. It is hard and cold beneath my fingers.
“Do you remember all of it?” Something about her voice makes me look away from the mirror to her face. The fog is back again, flooding my brain, making it hard to think clearly.
“Where is my husband? When is he coming to get me?” I ask. By now the fog has filled my throat and I can hardly breathe.
“He’s never coming to get you,” says the white-haired woman across the room. The other woman laughs again but this time she looks frightening, like a wild animal.
“Why isn’t my husband coming to get me?” I have a cold feeling in my stomach.
“Because he’s dead,” says the white haired lady.
“No, he can’t be.” I try to block my ears but it’s no use.
“Come on, Florence, don’t be cruel,” says the young woman, trying to lead me back to the bed.
“He’s dead and you killed him.”
Angry voices split the night. A bottle smashes, wine spills across the rug. He says he is leaving. I try to follow him but I stumble and fall. A firecracker goes off in my ear and the sharp smell of gun powder, and then red...so much red. I can’t stop it…..I didn’t mean to……I’m so sorry….
I open my eyes to find a young woman staring at me. She looks familiar but I can’t place where I have seen her before.
“Where am I?” I ask her, but she just pats my hand and helps me into a bed. She turns away from me as if she is going to leave.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
“I have to get back to my shift now. You’ll be okay, Rachel.”
I feel frightened at the thought of being left on my own in this strange place.
“Who am I?” I ask.
“You are Alice and you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” says an old lady in a pink dressing on the other side of the room.
“She’s the white rabbit, and we are Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” says another lady, bursting into laughter, and pointing at a third woman lying very still in her bed.
“But I don’t belong here,” I say, looking around at their faces.
“Of course you do. We’re all mad here and you’re as mad as the rest of us,” replies the woman with the loud laugh.
“How do you know I’m mad?”
“You’re here aren’t you?”
“How can I get away?”
“It really depends where you want to go,”
I thought hard. “I don’t know. Anywhere, I guess.”
“Then you shouldn’t have any trouble finding anywhere,” she says. Her laughter fills my ears as I turn to face the wall. I close my eyes and feel like I am being pulled down a long, dark tunnel. I am falling, forever falling and the only thing I know is that there will never be any light at the end of the tunnel for me.