It is on a morning when rain falls like a judgement, when the forest trees drip in syncopation and all wild things forebear. It is upon the birthing of a day behind veils of mist that creep, seeking, and the ground would slip beneath your feet like a frightened thing.
I walk alone, remembering, and here in the high woods it is meet I should remember, for my mind and my heart I left here, long ago. Here, you see, in this tiny glade beneath these solemn branches Jacob lies. Here, in this dark loam, he rests.
How many years have drifted by since last I walked this path? Why is it, after so long, the tangling vines seem to know me, so that they reach out to wrap themselves about my ankles? The questions are intrusive. I cannot concentrate. Questions…questions…
“Two-three, eyes are opening…”
Where am I? Not woods, not trees…
“Four-five, fully awake, now…”
A smiling face near to mine. Jacob is fading. “Jacob?”
His hand is on mine, reassuring me. “No, Jacob isn’t here anymore. I’m Simon, remember? This is my consulting room. You’re back.”
Back. Back in a restful room with warm old paint, dark furniture, soft carpet. I take a few minutes and Simon allows me the time, letting me adjust.
“Where did I go?” I ask him at last. I seem to have forgotten.
He smiles his brilliant smile. “You talked about a village, and trees. Who is Jacob?”
“I don’t know anyone called Jacob.”
“While you were under you returned to that name many times. Jacob seems to have been someone who died. You described a climb through a forest to visit his grave. Would that mean anything to you?”
“I don’t think so.” I have propped myself up on the couch and Simon sits before me in his chair, engaging me with his kind, gentle eyes. I could lose myself in those blue oceans – so deep, so deep. He looks thoughtful. “I explained, didn’t I? I used a hypnotic technique we call age regression, which guides you back to a stage in your life where something happened – something your conscious mind buried because you couldn’t cope with it. Hypnosis can free your subconscious to express what is troubling it, but it seems the technique did not work on you. I’m unsure of the time or the place you just described to me. Has your memory of it gone?”
“I don’t remember anything,” I say.
“Well, it may be no more than your imagination, but then…” My psychiatrist relaxes in his chair, his right hand on the arm, fingers stroking – yes, caressing – the brown leather. He talks in his even, quiet voice, almost to himself. “Maybe, just maybe?”
“Maybe what?” I ask.
His penetrating gaze seems to seek out my soul – softly, but insistently, too; like a mist – like a mist in a forest.”
“No. No, nothing. We’re looking for some traumatising experience from your younger years, but you seem to have been describing a time long before you were even born; at a guess around one hundred and fifty years ago.” He says. “The way you spoke, the way you constructed your sentences was archaic. Some of the words you used…” My face must express my shock, for he raises his hand in a placatory gesture. “This probably isn’t real, simply your imagination playing tricks.”
Simon gets to his feet, perches himself upon the edge of his desk so he is looking down on me, allowing me to dwell, as I have so many times, on the nobility in his face; so assured, so wise!
“You may or may not believe in reincarnation?” He picks up an antique letter-opener from his desk and holds it delicately between his fingers. It is a beautiful thing, and he is a man who, I know, has a love of beautiful things. “I’m not sure I do, but now and again sessions like ours throw up little mysteries…
“You aren’t serious?”
“Maybe only half-serious,” He acknowledges. “I’m reminded that a long time ago, in the 1950s, there was a book; ‘The Search for Bridey Murphy’, I think it was called. It’ll be out of print now, but for what it’s worth if you can get hold of a copy it might help you to better grasp this subject. It concerned a woman who, when under hypnosis, described herself in a previous life. The book was widely criticised and spawned a lot of lurid fiction, although the subject matter was never really disproved.”
“So I’m returning to a previous life? How is that possible?”
“I certainly didn’t intentionally instigate it, but if there is such a thing as reincarnation then maybe, yes. The way you talk about your clothes, for example, the freedom you feel, the way brambles catch and mud smears the hem of your dress, as though you are wearing something ankle-length. Strange; very provocative.” He sighs regretfully, replacing the letter-opener on his desk. “Not ideal wear for a woodland walk. Anyway, that has to be all for this week.”
So it is time to part. How can I express the desolation I feel? “Already?”
“We have had an hour. We’ll pursue this further next week, I promise. In the meantime, if you remember anything…” Simon comes to me, takes my hand, supports me as I regain my feet and I am trembling – but not from any lingering state of trance unless you count the thousand sensations that rush through me at his touch.
Back on the street my car awaits me and I reassume the mantle of my work. Although for much of my life I deal with fools I am a responsible woman with a job that demands my time, and in many ways it is this which carries me along, helps me to cope with the panic in my brain, the physical pain that assails me, without any medically explicable cause, for every waking hour. The sessions with Simon, if they are not curative, are intellectually stimulating and a beacon in that busy life, an eagerly awaited entry in my diary each week.
Do I dream of him? In the delicious richness of his voice I know we will find the reason for my pain. Yes, I dream. Not a day passes when I do not think of him, long to be with him. We have been seeing each other, a session a week, for some months now, and I know the feelings I have are not unshared. That declaration will come. It is merely a matter of time.
I am woken again. “We’re getting close,” he says, “I have to admit, I’m fascinated. I’ve seen brief snatches of a similar phenomenon before, but never with such clarity. I don’t regress you at all now, you go back there by yourself!”
“I’ve discovered a new skill, then.” I touch his hand affectionately, letting his electricity shoot through my veins. “I haven’t been able to find the book,” I tell him.
“That doesn’t matter. The circumstances of your case have very little in common with Bridey’s, as it turns out.”
I am in the kitchen, cooking, when Jacob comes to me, pressing his body to me, urgent, wanting. Though I may laugh and push him away he knows me well – he knows I will put the pan aside and he will not be waiting, or wanting, long. When we are together we are not close, we are one; a sweetly moving, lithesome thing that seeks to spring new life in me, a life that I will treat with gladness when it comes. Jacob is love and more than love. Jacob is truth. Jacob is my world. For one, transcendent moment, Jacob is Adam, and Adam is Jacob.
“Four, five, fully awake…” Adam laughs. “At least we know who Jacob is,” he says; “Although I’m not sure where it gets us.”
Another week is where it gets us. The dreams are changing, now. It is no longer Adam’s dark blue stare that obsesses me.
“The sun has nearly set,” Susannah says, “Your Jacob isn’t home, then?”
“No. He’s lampin’ up on the hill. ‘Tis the best time, now, for rabbits and such.”
Susannah is my friend in the village. She eyes me darkly. “He’s been doin’ this for a month or so, now, leavin’ you alone. Catches a lot o’ rabbits, does he?”
“Aye, off an’ on. He doesn’ get lucky every night, but it helps. He’s not poachin’, up there.”
“Still, you expectin’, an’ all…”
“I can look affer meself, Suze. Don’ you worrit affer me.”
“D’you remember Merry Wilson, from down Four Cross? Came over wi’ us on the Squire’s Christmas Party t’other year? Strange thing, I hear she been disappearin’ on an evenin’ or two. Her husban’ John, he’s right concerned.”
“Two, three, eyes opening…”
No! No, not yet!
“Four, five, wider awake.”
Fight it! Stay in the darkening cottage, in the village beneath the hill, looking up at the quiet green blanket of the forest!
“Six, seven, fully awake. My, you were really deep this time!” Adam is holding my hand so I can feel his pulse running through us both. “Are you with me, now?”
“Did I give you what you wanted?” Can I give you what I know you want?
“We’re getting really close,” he says.
Yes, we are, my darling. I want you so much! Next week I will tell you. Next week, in your arms…
Jacob isn’t home. He came through the door for only a moment or so, barely touching his food.
“Oh, aye?” I responded. And he was gone, gun in his hand, striding out towards the hill.
There is a part of me that does not want to know – the sun will soon be setting and I dare not know. Yet the path is there, and I am bearing a child – his child.
I retreat to the kitchen, fall to butchering our share of the hog neighbour Aaron and Jacob slaughtered yesterday. Cutting and jointing for the smokehouse will busy my hands, keep my thoughts from turning – or should. But it does not; nothing does. My head is filled with thoughts of Jacob up there on the hill, and how I must try to trust him, and not believe the rumours in the village, or the looks on people’s faces when they avoid my gaze.
I must find my husband: my mind is made up – I must know the truth. Abruptly, without further thought, I turn from my work, leave my house and tread swiftly up the trail towards the forest. Only when I am amidst the trees and beguiled by their whispers can my doubts be answered. Jacob is there; Jacob is lamping, as he said. I almost run.
How quickly does the music of the woods placate me! Birds, in soft evening chatter about their nests, fuss over their broods, settling down to roost. Unseen creatures flit and rustle through the fallen leaves, boughs creak as trees interpret the breeze’s secrets, twigs and bracken crackle beneath my feet. I listen for the crack of Jacob’s gun without too much expectation, for the productive hour of evening is not yet come, and meanwhile there are herbs to gather, mushrooms and toadstools in plenty! I wander aimlessly, plucking the wild bounty to fill my apron. Thus diverted, I do not hear the voices at first.
Then, as I round a bramble thicket they come clearly enough. A woman’s laughter; a man’s voice, my Jacob’s voice filled with passion! There, in the clearing before me they are lain together, Jacob with the woman from Four Cross, and I need no education to see what it is they do, but I will not be so betrayed – cannot! In my fury, in my despair, I reach for Jacob’s gun where it rests against a stump, almost within my grasp. I have fired it often, I know it well…
Everything is black, then grey, and I am waking. I do not want to wake, no-one is guiding me, but I must turn away from that glade. Yet in my retreat it seems I must turn from one desolate path onto another !
“Don’t! Adam, you foolish man, she might hear us!”
“Don’t worry! She’s a deep trance subject – she can only hear me when I speak a few inches from her ear! I left her happily picking mushrooms. She’ll be fine! What are you giggling at?”
“Oh, nothing. I just had this picture in my head of her, of all people, picking mushrooms. Now look! Stop it! I’m sure what you’re doing with that hand is unprofessional. I hope you don’t do that with her!”
“Her? Good god, no. I am the model of propriety.”
“Oh, so you do fancy her a bit, then!”
“A powerful woman, always a little bit intriguing. No, I am yours, my darling.”
“I should think so. I’m going to take myself home now and cook us something special – let you get on. Sweetie, finish early if you can, all right? Love you!”
“You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to that! Love you back!”
She is leaving, the woman from Four Cross, closing the door, which is the way it should have been. She should not have cried out her love for the man who was and is mine by right! She should not have sobbed as we stood together over Jacob, and there should have been no second cartridge in the gun.
So here I am.
I have been sleeping, for how long I do not know. I was tired, I have slept. My eyes will open on their own, I will sit up on the couch, I will see how the consulting room door stands open, and the silhouette of my chauffeur who has come to find me, anxious because I have not returned to my car at the appointed time. If I blink once, I can even see the look of frozen horror on his face, but he does not return my look, for he is staring at the inert figure of Adam on the warm, thick carpet and the exquisite handle of the antique letter-opener which is buried to the hilt in my psychiatrist’s back.
He looks up, at last, to see how Adam’s sticky red blood is already drying on my blouse, and his throat is dry as he forces out the words:
Photograph: Andrew Neel on Unsplash
© Frederick Anderson 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content