See also: Water, Part One.
When my daughter was two and three, our family lived on a tiny tropical island. Our island was a fifteen minute speed boat trip or forty-five minute ferry ride from the island that was also the capital city. We visited the capital (and other islands in the area) often, usually travelling by ferry. The ferries were slow and old. They coughed out fuel and bounced easily among the waves, a habit that unnerved me but left the ferry captains unphased. In fact, little bothered them. Regardless of the weather they kept one hand on the ship’s wheel and leaned the rest of their bodies out of the low, wide windows to catch the wind.
During these many ferry trips I would sit and clutch my daughter on my lap. It was sticky and hot and sweat often ran down the back of my neck into my collar of my top, but I couldn’t bring myself to let her sit on the seat next to me. She might fall out of the window and drown, I told myself. I didn’t realise this was an irrational anxiety. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. Occasionally, she would choose to sit on my husband’s side of the bench. He would let her stand at the window like the ferry captains, not leaning out but still breathing in the heady mix of ship fuel, tropical air and ocean breezes. I knew my husband thought I was being overly cautious with her around water so I tried hard during those journeys to let him look after her how he felt to be reasonable. Instead of calling her back to the imagined safety of my arms, I sat in terrified silence. I imagined her falling, us jumping in to try and save her. Us resurfacing with empty arms.
Later, when we moved back to our home country, I forgot all about those ferry trips. In fact, I didn’t think of them again until I began seeing a psychologist. In those meetings, I began unravelling the reasons behind my hallucinations and one of my most awful visions finally began to make sense.
There’s often no warning for this one, no tell-tale prelude of strange thoughts and stranger voices. One moment I am in the thick of my everyday life; the next, I see it. Something shiny and bright yellow in my peripheral vision. I turn face on to see more clearly, and wish I hadn’t. It’s our yellow bucket, or at least one just like the one we actually do own. It’s filled with water, too much water, and water has overflowed onto the ground. Slumped over it is the soaking wet, still-clothed body of my daughter. Her face is submerged and I know without pulling her up to look that she has gone already; she has drowned. Her hair spreads out in strands over the surface of the water, her skin grey. Even her fingers are pruned as if she has been in the water a long time.
There is so much to this picture, this hallucination, that doesn’t make sense. First of all, my daughter is in her bedroom with a friend and I can hear her squeals of laughter. Why would she have drowned? Why is her whole body wet if there’s only a bucket of water? How did it happen?
“You did this.” A voice says suddenly. “It couldn’t make sense any other way. You must have done this.”
“You murderer,” says a second voice coldly. “You did this to her.”
She’s alive she’s alive she’s alive she’s alive. I run the thought on repeat through my head, deliberately and steadily. I know this time, I’m fully aware this hallucination isn’t real, but that doesn’t make it not awful.
Breathe. Listen. See? She’s fine.
Aside from my PRN meds, there isn’t much else to do. I make an excuse to go into my daughter’s bedroom and check on her. She’s bright eyed, caught mid-giggle as the door opens swishing a toy through the air. Her hair is pulled up into a messy ponytail, not forming a watery halo around her head. She couldn’t be more vividly alive if she tried. She stops giggling for a moment to complain I’m interrupting their game, and I leave them to it. Laughter resumes.
I wander back and forth in the house, acutely aware that if anyone were watching I’d look strange. I’m trying to see if the hallucination is always there, if it works at all angles, if it comes and goes or is static. Trying to change angles and perspectives to force it away. But it won’t go. She’s in every room: my dead daughter, in clothes I recognise, in a bucket I recognise, drowned in half a foot of water.
I focus on what the psychologist told me: this is not about you having awful murderous desires. This is about your unresolved anxiety about your daughter drowning. Is that right? I’m desperate to think this is the truth. The voices disagree. “Murderer, murderer, see what you did!” They crow together. They sound gleeful now, they don’t care how terrible this is. Or would be. I can’t get rid of the hallucination, or the voices, so I just sit as far away from it all as I can get.
I pick up my needle and bag of threads and locate a half finished embroidery. It’s an easy one; flowers. I work on them in silence. This hallucination is hard, this one is so hard to deal with. I pick out my daughter’s voice, my real daughter’s voice, above the insistent mocking of the voices that come from my head. She’ll come out of her room soon, I tell myself. Probably wanting snacks or to show me a drawing she’s done with her friend, or maybe to ask if she can go round to his house to play now.
In any case, she’ll come out soon, so don’t cry.