Emily awoke at some point, from what felt like a truly horrible nightmare, and stared at everything that was around her, noticing that she was in what appeared to be a hospital room, all white and shiny, everything smelling clean and new. That dream, she thought, it felt so terribly real, so present, she felt as if she could still smell the smoke that had been billowing around her. She remembered being in Yorkshire, the smell of Yorkshire on fire, how it all seemed so tangible, like an alternate reality. But where was she? Was she in Yorkshire? She could still see the faces of all the people from her dream, but she couldn’t remember any of them, they seemed like ghosts of some nightmare she was glad to have exited. It was all too strange, really, how alive everything had felt. But it couldn’t have been real, we’re not at war, England is safe and sound, for the moment, she thought to herself. It made her worry that her mind might be going to places she didn’t wish it to go, yet she was unsure of how to stop it from drifting away. Everything from the dream had begun to feel like it was fading, slowly, and she had trouble recalling key moments, which she truly believed had been real. Yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling that the dream, the nightmare, would haunt her future somehow, in some way. She couldn’t recall how she had gotten where she was, or why she was there, all she knew was she felt calmer and more at peace than she had in ages.
She got up from her bed, and began to look around at everything that was there. She saw a small sink, several pillows sitting on a chair, what appeared to be a collection of poetry, and then she saw it. She saw the copy of The Bell Jar, resting on the desk that was in the corner, by the window. She picked it up, and thumbed through it, looking at her favorite novel, and feeling comforted by its presence. Something familiar, something that she was connected to in some way. She remembered purchasing it last year, around the time it came out, February, maybe March, of ’63, a somewhat sunny winter day, especially for London. She remembered returning to her flat, and reading it as quickly as she could, connecting with the main character in such a powerful way. She wondered why it was there, in that room, that hospital room, and then she began to wonder why she was there as well. She had had a nightmare, but why was she not in her bedroom at home, in her flat in Knightsbridge? That’s when it occurred to her that hospital rooms do not usually have desks, writing desks, where people work. She turned to face the window, and saw the familiar sights of London in front of her eyes, and yet that’s not all that she saw. To her shock and horror, she realized very quickly that they don’t usually have bars on hospital room windows, at least the hospitals that she had been in before. She felt the panic in her chest begin to rise, and she began to have trouble breathing. She swore she could smell the smoke in her nose again, feel it burning her lungs. Emily lifted her copy of The Bell Jar again, and was stunned when she smelled the faintest traces of smoke, confused, since she herself was not a smoker. She flipped through the pages, wondering, and that’s when she saw it. When she saw the publication page. There it was, a single sentence, written in a lovely hand, and that’s when it came rushing back to her.
“Emily, darling, I promise to read this book, your favorite, even though I think it’s still a great trick that the publication page says 1963, I love you, William. xx”
She felt sick. She felt disturbed. She felt unhinged. It was all a dream, she thought, it had to be, none of that had been real. October 13, 1944, what bollocks, she thought to herself. Someone is playing a great trick here, trying to confuse me, make me feel like I’m losing my mind, she thought, with great fire burning in her chest now. That familiar anger began to rise, and consume her, and although she hated it, it felt better than pain, or loss, or grief. She threw the book down, not wanting to hold it in her hands again, not wanting to see that sentence anymore. William, she remembered him now, the only one she could place from that dream. He was her husband, or was he? She wasn’t sure if she remembered a wedding, everything feeling so fuzzy and lost again inside of her mind; it felt like all of her thoughts were swirling around, mixing and confusing her, and making her question herself, and her existence. She then spotted the other item that occupied the desk, and realized it might be time to look through it.
The small leather notebook sat carefully on the writing desk which had also held The Bell Jar. She was terrified to see its contents, but knew that she inevitably and no choice, she had to look. She ran over and tore it open, desperate to see what was written inside. That’s when it all came crashing down. All of it. Every moment came flooding into her mind, and she felt as if she might drown, suffocated by all of the memories she was forced to relive. The first date in the notebook was January 1, 1945. The last date was yesterday, October 13, 1964. But it was truly the title page that destroyed her, and cracked her mind open like an egg, all of the contents spilling out everywhere, until she felt like fading into nothing but a memory.
From the Diary of Mrs. Emily Jane Turner, Widow, Patient Number 13, Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, England.
She knew it all now. The word Bedlam was scrawled all over random pages, and she felt herself sinking into the ground, quickly, losing herself and her sanity once again. The first page, January 1, 1945, tells the tale of what happened on October 13, 1944, in North Yorkshire, England, and the bomb that destroyed David and Margaret’s home. She remembered now. She remembered that last night wasn’t a dream at all, it was a memory. Every single page in this diary, this journal, was riddled with memories that she had written, over and over again, as if they had just happened for the first time.
Each date for the last 20 years was filled with the mad thoughts of a mad woman, on the brink of always losing her mind again. Her wedding day to William on April 15, 1942, their weekend in occupied Paris where they made love as gunfire went off outside, the summer of 1943 when she suffered a miscarriage, the time they spent in Yorkshire, older memories of growing up with her mother, father, and brother in her lovely family home in Cheshire. The accident that took her parents, the battle that claimed her brother. William fighting in Italy, and Poland, and everywhere else on the continent that the war waged on. The time she thought of having an affair, but decided against it. Time spent in pubs with friends and her husband, especially the one they loved in Bloomsbury. Memories of moving into their flat in Knightsbridge, the one she remembered still living in today. Although, from the looks of things, and where she was, it didn’t appear she had spent any time there recently. Memories of a life lived, of love lost.
After 1944, everything seems to have simply stopped for her. There are no entries in this journal, no matter the date, that mention anything happening, other than what had already happened in the past, prior to October 13, 1944. And then she knew. This wasn’t a journal of events that she had kept. This was the journal she wrote in every time her mind slipped, and she fell back into the past. That’s what she did when she lost her mental footing; she sat down at the desk, and wrote about where she was that day, whether it was her wedding day, or some random day in 1943, it didn’t matter. She had lost herself to her memory. And last night, Emily Turner lost herself to that fateful day, October 13, 1944, when she lost everything. Emily realized quickly the reason for this. Because yesterday was October 13, 1964, the 20th anniversary of William’s death. Of everyone’s death that was in that home in North Yorkshire that terrible night. She had been the sole survivor, and yet, she couldn’t explain how she could still smell the smoke, or how that sentence was written in The Bell Jar, in William’s handwriting. She had lost too much on that day, and all the time before, and it was clear that her mind had refused to ever let her move on from that point. That’s why she was there, in this institution, clearly recovering from another episode, another breakdown. Maybe she checked herself in because she knew it was the 20th anniversary, and she had assumed that she would breakdown again. It appears that was the right call in the end. She was stuck in a loop of memories and nostalgia, of mental instability, and debilitating grief. She realized from this notebook, that maybe there was no real way out. Maybe, she would be fighting this for the rest of her life, like a disease, a disease of the mind, her mind, so riddled with holes from the poison that had been eating away at it. She felt fine now, as the day had passed, October 13, and she felt well, as long as she didn’t read that sentence on the publication page of The Bell Jar, the one William had written, which she still couldn’t explain. Her hair still smelled of smoke, as did her skin, something else she would never be able to explain. But maybe that was ok. Maybe some things weren’t meant to be understood, maybe that had to happen for a reason. Maybe now she would be able to let that memory go, at least until the 30th anniversary, in ten years time. She looked back at the title page of the journal. Patient 13. Fitting, she thought, as she remembered that night; 13 sets of eyes, 13 people, 13 strikes on the clock, October 13…it all made sense. 13 strikes must have been the hint her mind gave to itself that it was all a memory. Yet, how could it all have been just a dream, when William wrote in the book? She decided to stop wondering, and accept it, accept that she had gotten to see her husband again, no matter how it had happened.
Emily was feeling well, until she look down on the desk, and saw the thin gold band, the one that had been on her finger last night. It made her throat catch, and she reached down, picked it up, and placed it back on her left ring finger. She felt it in that moment, the tight, tight string pulled once again inside of her head, as hard as it possibly could. She smelled the smoke again, wafting around her, as she inhaled strongly, allowing it to fill her. And that’s when she was gone. Gone again, the poor, mad woman from Cheshire. Emily Jane Turner was lost to the ages.
And finally, that last string snapped, and Emily awoke, groggy, and a bit lost, on what appeared to be a lovely spring day, at a charming registry office in Chelsea, London, that had a calendar on the wall that read April, 1942.
Kelsey H. October 2014