A Peaceful Place

The voice tells me to close me eyes and imagine myself in a calm place, somewhere peaceful, somewhere I feel safe. I see myself on a beach. It’s sunset and I walk along the shoreline picking up shells. When it starts to get dark I run across the beach to a vast sandcastle, with turrets and a moat. I kick it once, then laugh as one side crumbles. Then I run to the cottage.

It’s warm inside and I can smell flowers, although there aren’t any to be seen. There is no one else there. I go upstairs to my room, wondering what I am doing there. This is not a peaceful place, not for me.

I see the flowers now, in a vase on the window ledge. I blink, just once, but when I look again they are dying.

I try to open my eyes. The voice says something I don’t quite understand. It sounds very far away. I allow myself to sink.

It is raining heavily now and the windows have started to rattle. It is also getting colder inside. I put my dressing gown on and sit on the bed, staring out of the window. I’m not here, I think. I’m not really here. I can open my eyes at any time. I start to try again, but then I remember something. Something about what I’m wearing. I look down. It’s my shoes. I was wearing these shoes the first time we came to the cottage. It was years ago, just after the wedding. We were going to stay in the cottage every summer, that’s what we had planned. We loved it there, it had seemed so idyllic. So peaceful, away from the rest of the world. It was perfect. We’d be so happy there. But we didn’t come back. Not the next year, nor the year after that. Nor ever again.

I get up and go to the dressing table. My wedding ring is still there where I left it. I don’t know why I took it off that day, why I decided to leave it behind. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted to leave everything behind.

The voice is saying something else now, telling me to wake up. But I don’t want to wake up. I can’t. I still have things to do here.

I put the ring on. It’s much looser than it was when I got it. I don’t eat as much I once did and as a result I am considerably thinner that I used to be. It isn’t vanity, but I’ve never quite got my appetite back after that summer. I always feel as though I have a lump in my throat.

It would be ten years now. Ten summers. Ten anniversaries. But we never even made it to one.

I never could leave my past behind me. I seem to be stuck, stranded in the sea of my memories. I watch people move on with their lives after things go wrong and ask myself over and over again why I can never manage it. I can never seem to see what’s right in front of me, what’s happening now. I can only see what I’ve left behind.

I once had a picture in my mind of myself and a little girl – my daughter – waking up in the cottage one day in the summer. I’d cook pancakes for breakfast, then we’d go out for a walk on the beach. We’d have a dog that would run along beside us as we threw sticks for him to fetch. We’d collect shells and build sandcastles, and then we’d watch the sunset. It seemed like such a silly dream in the end.

I leave the cottage and walk out into the rain. I walk down the beach, dropping my dressing gown and the rest of my clothes by the sandcastle. I stand there for a while, getting soaked by the rain. Then I walk into the sea. I’ve never been a very strong swimmer but I do my best. I get further out than I have ever done before. It’s beginning to thunder now, and the waves begin to wash over me faster and faster, dragging me further away, until I can barely see the cottage anymore. I’m not afraid. I begin to feel tired and allow myself to sink. I should open my eyes now, I think. It must be time. But still I drift deeper and deeper into darkness. I reach out and feel something cold touch my hand, fe3l cold fingers grip mine. I do open my eyes now. I open my eyes and I scream.

Time’s up. I pay the woman in the armchair and we arrange a time for next week. I nod, not speaking, write the time in my diary. Then I take a tissue and leave. Someone else is waiting to go in. My time is up.

I have the dream again that night. I wake up crying, like I always do. I stare at my hand, at the ring that is too big for my finger. I thought I’d left it behind. I can’t bring myself to take it off now. I close my eyes again, wrap my arms tight around myself. I think of the cottage aby the sea, try to conjure up a happy memory. But it hurts too much to remember. I can’t ever go back there.

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