First Extract of the Year

The Daughter’s Tale

Towering Oaks



The oaks towered above me in the hospital grounds.   I explored everything that week. I explored the bowling green, the tennis court, the gym, the crumbling main building, the sloping lawns and the green, neatly trimmed hedges. There was even a hospital cat – a flash of white that streaked through the grounds. Before it became familiar and tedious.

That first week at the hospital was awash with sunshine.   The rest of the world, the city with its bustling crowds seemed centuries away. Had it ever existed?   Or was it only in my imagination.   The hospital was a separate world with its own language, its own rituals, set apart from everything else – alienated, set apart from everything else.   Some of my fellow patients revelled in being different, revelled in being apart from everything else.   Trains crashed, planes crashed, volcanos erupted, wars broke out all over the planet. Explosions in the middle east rippled round the world, barely touching us. We were far, far removed from that.

The hospital would not exist for much longer, I was told.   Tesco had made a bid for the land.

I sat in the patients’ lounge in the morning meeting, the sun on my back.  Someone was talking about bathing his face in the morning dew, about how healthful it was.

‘I won’t be here for much longer,’ I told a nurse who responded: ‘You may not have much choice in the matter.’

I would come to look back on those first sun-washed days at the hospital with nostalgia.   I was lethargic from the medication but strangely happy.   There was nothing to worry about: no essays, no tutorials, no lectures.

I felt free, liberated of all responsibilities.  Nothing bothered me.   I was oblivious to the rotund man with the hearty laugh and the toothless old crone in the corner.   I did not see the man who called himself Nostradamus Reincarnated and ran round the ward shouting: ‘The world is a process of disintegration.   The world will end. The world will end.’

I felt serene. The orange flowed gently through my veins. I had no desire to do anything but lie on my bed with my palms upturned, staring at the ceiling. June was nearly over, term was over.   There was nothing left but myself – the only character in this one act charade.

I could barely move.   My limbs were leaden and yet in some strange, sick way I enjoyed feeling like this.

I enjoyed the feeling that boundaries had been established.

One can only handle so much freedom.

I could not walk without assistance.   I felt the hand of the nursing assistant around my arm. There was no flesh, her hand gripped only bone.

The medication had temporarily banished history.   I sat up in bed. However they did mean that on some mornings I woke feeling as though someone had bashed me on the head with a sledge hammer.

I had lost herself. I was a floating sheet of paper.   Blank, of course.

I was having my life cut and spliced by the omnipotent author governing the universe. Who was this being?   I imagined it as a monolithic video recorder. That recorded every word you voiced, every action you initiated.   I hoped it included features like play, pause, forward, back and, of course, erase.

And when I slept, I dreamed.

I dreamt of walking on a beach with my father, hand in hand, the sand yielding beneath our bare feet.

‘It’s been a long time,’ my father  said.

‘Too long,’ I replied.

The magical kingdom was still within I. Roses blossomed. I was being smothered by so much beauty.   Music poured out of the speakers.   Voices whispered: ‘You are special.’.

I was coasting along, floating.   I had escaped academia.   The academic layer of my being had been painlessly peeled away.   No more screaming over unfinished essays.   Apparently my tutors had all granted extensions for me.   I was willing to bet that I wasn’t going to be a name on their Christmas card list. But all this was done but at a price: I was sacrificing my personality and possibly my very self.

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