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Note: This story has Australian spelling and colloquialisms.
“Wake up, Lucida. We’re here.”
With a yawn I stretch my arms and legs in front of me. A glimpse of the garden through the windscreen calms the usual simmering panic I feel upon waking. It scratches at my throat but turns into a jitter of excitement when I turn my head and see the house. We’re here. We’re actually here.
In the driver’s seat my mother, Senna Green, has her phone up to her frowning face as she attempts to read something without her glasses on, probably a missed text message. She tends to leave her phone on silent and so she misses them. She glances up at me. “You ready?”
I take in her tight lips and furrowed brow. The floral cotton dress she bought a few days ago should make her look tropical and relaxed but the tension in her pale brown eyes ruins the illusion. I know that look. She expects me to mess things up so my convincing nod is more than she deserves. Even so it fails to soften her expression but then nothing would today. Our visit to Nan’s place is a task for her so she expects me to get my act together right away and not make it any more difficult than it has to be. For me, there’s no difficulty. This is the homecoming I’ve longed for so making it easy on her is in my best interests. Smile, Lucy, I tell myself. Act normal. Ha, right.
Plucking my earphones out I shake off tiredness. “Stop worrying,” I say. “I’m fine.” She doesn’t know it yet but I’m not going back to Brisbane with her in two weeks. I’m going to prove I’m better so I can stay. That’s no small task given my history with the place but I’m done with city life. Our visit to Yandina is a lifeline and I intend to make the most of it. Things are going to be different this time.
In the back seat of the car my cat, Kettle, meows and scratches at his cage. It’s less than two hour’s drive to Yandina but you would think he’s been cooped up for days with the pitiful cries he’s subjected us to. Now that we’ve arrived he’ll keep scratching until he’s let out.
The passenger door falls swiftly open when I push it. A warm breeze wafts in carrying the heady scent of jasmine. It smells like home. A rare moment of bliss locks me in the seat where I inhale the lingering fragrance to carry with me forever but it fritters quickly away leaving me exposed to the past. The wind rustles through thick foliage that walls the garden and trims the sky. It draws an invisible path to where the fig tree stands silent and watchful, its pale limbs spread wide and welcoming. It knows I'm here. I can feel it noticing me.
Caught between now and then my fingertips tap my thighs as I try not to picture Bijaka with the sun showing through him, waving to me from its thickest limb as we drive away. The distance between six years and now closes, leaving me displaced. I pull the passenger door shut but it’s too late. There’s no time to prepare other than squeezing my eyes shut as the rippling air announces a shift in time and space and I’m changed.
“Lucida? Are you okay?”
“Yeniki,” I croak my secret name with a dry throat. “My name's Yeniki.”
“That’s not your name,” my mother says softly. “You’re Lucida.”
“You’re wrong. I’m Yeniki. Yeh-nik-eye. It's my code name so they can find me.” It’s the truth. She knows it.
Lines of frustration and disappointment crease my mother’s otherwise smooth forehead. “You don't have a code name and no one is looking for you.”
She’s confused. “They are looking for me,” I insist. There are more of them now and they’re close. My mother needs to understand how important it is that they know I’m back. “How else will they find Bijaka so he can save us all? You know it, Mum. You're one of us.”
With a stern look she shakes her head. “Did you take your meds this morning?”
“I’m not sick! Why are you so scared of the truth?” She knows more than she lets on. I just wish she’d stop the game-playing and admit it. This double life has already taken too much of a toll on my mind and body. It’s like I’ve got strings that stretch from my skin to my bones that tension plucks to send shockwaves through me. It takes ages to recover.
“You’re having an episode,” my mother states bluntly. “Do your deep breathing to control yourself.”
“You’re the one who’s lost control!” She’s not listening. “I’m not making this up! I know what’s real and what’s not.”
“Then why are you talking about Bijaka?”
“Because he's real!”
My cat wails.
“Shut up, Kettle! I’m not sick, Mum. If I don't carry on the legacy we’ll all die.” Already the darkness shows in the edges of things that look like someone has attacked them with a thick black marker. “Look around, Mum. Everything’s turning bad. You know it.” My temples throb enough to cause my stomach to churn. The urge to flee comes on strong.
Mum puts down her phone and sits back in the seat with a sigh. “Think about it, Lucida. You haven't mentioned Bijaka since we were here four years ago. If it was so important that you find him then why haven’t you remembered until now? The minute we pull into the driveway look what happens. It’s psychotic behaviour. This place is bad for you. I'm taking you home.”
My heart pounds as she turns the key in the ignition and the engine starts up again. A cold wave of desperation drenches me. “No! We need to stay so they can find me! Take the key out, Mum. Stop the car!” As I reach for my door, my mother presses the central lock button. Jumping up and down in my seat fails to make a difference. “Unlock the door!” I scream.
“Stop it, Lucida!” she yells.
“Don't call me that!” My vision blurs. I slump in the seat as my breath comes in gasps.
“Deep breaths. Relax.”
“I'm fine.” As the strings in me stretch to breaking point I hold still and tight. I’m not supposed to feel pain but I do. All the time. I don't understand it. My mother’s heartfelt groan takes my attention from my confusion. Her hands look dark against her face as she holds them over it and bends forward. I want to comfort her but I want her to comfort me more. She's tired from trying to convince me I'm wrong but she doesn't realise it's more tiring convincing her I'm right.
Weariness looms as I make dents in my denim shorts with my fingernails, imagining them sinking into my flesh, blood smearing them like red tie-dye. Something’s not right. I’m not right. Knowing real from fantasy starts with choosing sides but that’s never easy when what I want to believe rules my decision-making. I sit back and close my eyes. Grey haze spins behind my lids. A white dot in the centre grows and shrinks at my command. I grow it with my mind until it kills the grey. Bam, gone.
Soft words guide me back to reality. “Lucida, think before answering my questions, please, and be honest: are you grounded?”
Am I grounded. On a scale of one to ten when one is unstable and ten is stable, how firm is reality? Squeezing my eyes shut I open them to a shaky view of my hands clasped on my thighs beneath the glove compartment. Above it the vista outside wobbles like it’s been stretched thin and released to waver, like my strings.
“Three,” I say.
She doesn’t know about my self test. “I’m not grounded.” I float in hazy ether.
“Okay. That’s okay. What’s your name?”
Yeniki. Lucida. Neither fits. I close my eyes and rock to and fro until the shuddering stops.
“What’s your name?” she repeats.
“Yeniki.” No, that’s not what people call me. “Wait, Lucida. Lucy for short,” I remember.
“Yes, good. Is Bijaka real?”
He appears in my mind’s eye with trees showing through him. “No.”
“Can you name the people looking for you?”
Trying to mentally identify them reveals no faces or names. They’re a fading feeling. “No.”
“Are you here?”
“Good. Do your breathing, get your head in the right space, and then open the door again.”
Kettle continues to meow and scratch as I tame my short breaths and stretch them out until they flow uninterrupted by nerves. Mum knows better than to touch me during the process but when I turn and smile she smiles back and opens her arms. I lean towards her and she holds me tight. ‘It’s okay, Precious Girl. It’s okay.”
“I fell asleep.” I didn't get a chance to lock my headspace so the bad stuff just walked right in. “I have to stop this madness," I say to myself but Mum has supersonic hearing.
“You do. There's no one looking for you. Bijaka’s not real. It’s all in your head but you have the power to control it.”
It's all in my head. "Yes. I'm getting better." I am. With my strongest invisible armour on I slowly open the door, keeping hold of the handle until I’m certain the outside air holds no threat. I let go of the handle and let out the breath I’m holding. “It’s over,” I tell my mother.
“Good, but I think you need a trial.”
I groan. “No!” Typically her trials mean I have to carry the full load of my torment to prove I’m strong enough. It’s the tough love approach. Usually I fake my way through them but the strain takes its toll. It would be better just to let it out and get it over with but that’s not how therapy works and my mother doesn’t cope with mania.
“It’s best this way,” she assures me. “Here’s the deal: “Get your head in the right space and keep it there. If you don't, we go home in the morning. Do your exercises, take your Nan’s herbs and oils, whatever it takes to get it together. You've got until dinner.”
“That's only a few hours away!”
“It's a lifeline, Lucida. Take it or leave it.”
The thought of going back to Brisbane almost triggers another episode. Whatever it takes to stay is what I need to do. At eighteen, legally I’m an adult but my mother’s my carer so the final word is hers, which sucks. She knows she’s got me.
“Do we have a deal?"
I press my lips shut on a pointless protest and then mutter, “Deal.”
Mum takes the key out of the ignition and opens her door. “Wheelchair?” Thick curls of dark hair fall over her cheeks as she leans over to grab her handbag. A frown creases the space between her eyes when I shake my head. I’m moderately tired and aching but I swore to myself that I would begin this visit by walking. The wheelchair is only supposed to be for when my chronic fatigue flairs up but anxiety and psychotic depression tend to wear me down on a regular basis so I’m in it most days. I’m not one of those cheerful people who eagerly prattles on about mobile freedom. I have two perfectly functioning legs so I want nothing to do with it.
“Are you sure?” she prods. “You still need to unpack and you won’t have time for a nap before dinner.”
What she really means is she doesn’t want me to have a psychotic break in front of everyone. It would reflect badly on her parenting skills and she’s out to prove that she’s got me under control even though she doesn’t and never will. She’s expecting a flair-up because Nan’s place is where it all started. It’s been three months since my last episode, a week before I last left the psych ward. As we left the hospital I promised myself it was the last time.
“You shouldn’t risk it, Lucida,” she insists.
I shake my head. “I want to walk.”
“Can we not do this?” I hate how she tries to control me with my illness. The wheelchair doesn’t define me and yet no one takes you seriously when you’re in one, not even when you’re an A student. I’m not big on attention but living in society’s blind spot makes you bitter after a while and unwarranted judgements makes me volatile.
Kettle’s sorrowful cry takes me out of myself. “Okay, okay!” He scratches at his cage the moment he sees me but when I open it he doesn’t move. As though he can’t believe he’s finally free he hesitates for a suspended moment and then casually saunters out of the box, leaps out of the car, and makes a mad dash for the grass.
While my mother unloads the boot I follow him across the gravel of the carport to the edge of the garden. As he does his cat thing I kick off my sandals. One foot and then the other, I sink my toes reverently into the grass like I’m on sacred ground and breathe in the garden. I miss trees. In Brisbane we live in an apartment with my step-dad, Doug. The only trees are a few token gums in the narrow garden beds between us and the other apartment blocks either side of us.
The urge to rush down to the fig tree comes on strong so I focus instead on the duck pond and then take my attention to several big black pots holding large and boldly shaped foliage and flowers. They’re new, so is the pebbled path speckled with white pavers that weaves through ground ferns, bromeliads and ornamental gingers up the hill to the house. I fondly recall hopping barefoot on crooked pavers. Holding out my flowery dress I’d make the daisies on it dance across the grass. I wonder what else has changed.
Kettles rubs against my ankles as I turn to face Nan’s gentle giant of a house. Why have you been gone so long? it seems to ask sadly. You know why, I answer. You saw everything. I wish you could talk.
Six years, I count since my Uncle Rom disappeared. I haven’t been back since, except that one time when I was fourteen and Mum caught me at the fig tree but we only stayed a couple of days so that doesn’t count. A lot has changed since I’ve been gone but the house remains timeless and comforting. The mental picture that’s been my happy place in the psych ward doesn’t do it justice. I nailed the sweeping verandas and the ornate balustrades that give it that grand manor from an old film feel but I didn’t capture its charm or its gift for making me feel like I belong. Everyone who visits leaves feeling better than when they arrived except for my mother. She’s never liked it here.
“Lucida, come and grab your stuff.”
Leaving my sandals on the grass, I retrieve my suitcase and drag it up the ramp towards the house. I lower my head to resist another glance at the fig tree. Just thinking about it causes the air to bend. No, I tell the changing the world. From now on I only see what’s real. Nan appears on the veranda madly waving. Shaking off illusions I hurry desperately towards her.
© Taya Wood 2017. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.