We were back again. Through the mist of fields in affluent Cheshire, followed by grey hazy tower blocks to a hospital in inner city Manchester. The doctor said to me,
‘Do you still think it’s a dream?’
I replied, ‘It’s a weird dream. Where people keep asking me whether it’s a dream or not.’
‘Can you feel that?’ He said, poking my cheek with something shiny.
‘No,’ I said. ‘what are you doing?’
‘I’m taking the stitches out of your face where we reconstructed your cheek’ he said. ‘There are bits of glass in there still, but they’re too difficult to get out.’
Then he addressed my parents as if I weren’t there. ‘It’s normal she can’t feel anything. The nerves have been severed. It’ll take some time to get the feeling back, if at all.’
‘Why do I have glass in my face?’ I asked.
‘You were in a car accident.’ he said gently. ‘Two months ago. You were unconscious for a few days. But here you are, safe and sound. Awake.’
I smiled at this man dreamily because I wasn’t awake. My mother would be impressed at me dreaming about a doctor though. A car accident never happened surely. I was still asleep in the car on our way to church to sing at midnight mass. I had been going to worship God.
I remembered passing the bridge. Then nothing. A car accident would be something I remembered. It was too big not to.
But here was another curious thing. My parents were together in the same room. Yet they were divorced. My father was around a lot more often in my dream, it seemed. And they were going to the supermarket together. What was that all about?
‘Why is Dad driving us around?’ I said.
My mother said ‘Our car was wrecked. Totalled. And even if it weren’t, do you think I could ever drive with you again? I’ll never be able to.’
‘Are you still divorced?’ I asked my mother.
‘Yes,’ said my father from the front seat of the car. His voice was short and bitter.
This dream was becoming more vivid. But if it wasn’t a dream then it must be true. And how could I prove it?
‘Give me money.’ I said to my mother.
No please, no thank you. If it was a dream she would give me money even though I had asked for it in the rudest way possible. Meekly she opened her purse and fished out a few pounds.
‘If you’re wanting that Sweet Valley High book you’re missing, then you’re out of luck. It still hasn’t come back into stock.’ she said.
I was dumbfounded. Approbation for the Sweet Valley High series that my mother had formerly delegated to the trash pile along with radio one pop songs and my new preference for low quality clothes from Top Shop proved beyond reasonable doubt, that this was indeed a dream.
‘Ah well I’ll stay in the car.’ I said.
‘Okay then we’ll be back soon.’ they said.
As soon as they disappeared in the supermarket, I scavenged through the car for items which would prove the reality of my existence. Receipts, cardkeys for my father’s office, anything that seemed…well dreamlike. I memorised numbers thinking that if and when I woke up, they would have changed. Then I thought,
‘If this is a dream, no one will hear me if I press the horn.’
I beeped the horn intermittently in Sainsbury’s supermarket car park. And was ignored by everyone passing. I could hear the horn. But no one else could. I was invisible.
As I lay miserably on the back seat, trapped in a dream I didn’t like, I saw my parents coming out laden with shopping. My father approached the car and I slammed both my hands down on the horn. He dropped the bags and I heard a glass jar crack. Then hewrenched the car door open and said in his best Clint Eastwood impression
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
I beamed beatifically at him and thought ‘Okay, not a dream.’
Later, I asked my mother.
‘What happened to us?’
‘We were in a car accident as we turned into church. It was a bad one. The driver crashed into your side of the car and the glass pulverized your face and you smashed your head. It could have been worse of course. You didn’t break anything. But you were struggling so hard with the ambulance men that they couldn’t attend to me. I have very bad whiplash which means chronic back pain, probably for the rest of my life. ‘
She was right about that.
I said ‘But the doctor told me I was unconscious.’
‘Off and on maybe. When you woke up, I came to visit you. I leaned over and said, ‘How are you darling?’ and you said ‘Push off.’ To me. Your mother. I stood up and said to a passing nurse, ‘Did you hear what she just said to me?’ …they said, ‘She’s been saying a lot worse.’ I didn’t even know you knew those words.’
She started crying.
‘Sorry’ I said. ‘But can you tell me how the accident happened’.
‘I’m not a good night driver.’ she said. ‘We turned right, and that driver wasn’t as far away as I thought. Of course no one can prove what speed he was going. You can sue me. Legally they say it’s my fault.’ She cried harder.
‘It’s not your fault’ I said grinding my teeth. I saw her pain jarring with my own anger. ‘You’re not a good night driver. These things happen.’
‘I’ll give you five thousand pounds anyway. It’s more than you’d ever get from the insurance. After all, it wasn’t really a life damaging accident.’
She held my face in her hands and said ‘The scars are fading now. Make sure you put cream on them every day like the doctor said.’
I recoiled at her touch and thought ‘I don’t want to put cream on them. I want them to stay there so you see how ugly you made me.’
Then she said ‘Do you remember how you insisted on sitting in the front seat of the car that night? I should never have let you. It was my fault for letting you sit in the front. If you’d listened to me, none of this would have happened.’
‘So it IS my fault?’ I said.
‘Well in a manner of speaking.’ She said. ‘This is what happens to you when you disobey me. I didn’t want it to happen. But God moves in mysterious ways. ‘
And so it was that at aged 12 I learned that my disobedience had been punished by God with facial disfigurement.