James was having another one of his nightmares. They always occurred after a day of treatment, and this one was just as vivid and confusing as usual. It consisted mostly of frantic, swirling colours, blended with the distorted faces of people he knew or once knew, sometimes he heard voices- but never ones that he could understand- they were always muffled, like someone was smothering them.
James had been in the institution for six months, and these nightmare’s had never changed, they never made sense. They had begun to terrify him more than the treatment itself. Not because they hurt- but because they made him feel like he was truly going mad.
All of a sudden, the distorted images and noises stopped and all James could see was the blinding white colour of his room’s ceiling. He couldn’t help but gasp at the sudden and shocking change of colour.
“James?” A young woman said in surprise “Darling, are you alright?” She leapt up from her chair on the other side of the room and quickly made her way to his bedside.
James didn’t turn to look at her, instead his eyes stayed on the ceiling. It was then that he remembered why it was so bright. Some mornings, when the sun shone brightly enough, the white walls of the hospital room seemed to light up.
The dark-haired woman moved into James’s line of vision, disrupting the colour of the ceiling. “James?”
He met her eyes. “I’m not sure I’ve seen you on duty before.”
She sighed. “I’m not a nurse, James, I’m your wife.”The woman picked up a photo frame from James’s bedside table and held it up to him. It was a photo of the two of them together. “My name’s Olivia, and you’re my husband.”
“Yes, Darling, you’re James Bligh,” She smiled at him. “And don’t worry it’ll all start coming back to you soon, it always does.”
James looked into her eyes, he could feel a faint sense of familiarity. “Am I due for another treatment, yet?”
“You don’t remem—.” She stopped suddenly and looked away. “Of course you don’t.”
“Don’t what?” James asked.
She held onto one of his hands.“James, you’re going home! The Doctor told you yesterday, He believes you’re cured.”
“Cured.” James repeated.
“Yes... cured.” Olivia’s smile was different this time, it seemed put on... like she was trying too hard, or she didn’t believe what she was saying.
“I can leave now?” James sat up slowly.
Olivia placed her hand on James’s cheek. “You’ll get to leave later today, but you have to wait until your father comes to pick you up.”
James nodded in response.
“Also,” Olivia walked over to the other side of the room to move her chair closer to James’s bed. “There’s a fair on at Circular Quay in a few days time, and I thought we could go in celebration of your release.”
“... I can’t remember the last time I went to fair.” James looked at her distantly.
Olivia broke eye contact with him again to look at the door of his room. When she looked back at him, James could see tears in her eyes. “I’m so glad that you’re finally getting out of this place. It’ll be better from now on. You’ll see.”
In the very late afternoon, James was released; His father led him out of the institution- making sure to keep his arm around James’s shoulder the whole time- As if he were worried that if he let go James would run off or get lost.
James felt like a child again, and he hated it. His mind was not how it used to be, but he was not an idiot. His father dropped them off at their Sydney apartment, promising that he would be around tomorrow with the rest of the family after giving them time to settle in. The apartment seemed new to James, even though Olivia told him that he’d been here before, but he couldn't remember it. To him this whole scenario seemed crazy. It was like walking into someone else’s home- their life for that matter. He sat down on the couch, cradling his knees with his arms.
“Did you want something to eat or drink?” Olivia said from the next room.
He didn’t respond. Instead he looked around the house trying his hardest to remember anything from it.
“James.” Olivia said, she was in the room now. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I don’t want anything, thank you.” He stood up cautiously, like he didn’t trust the house. “I might go look around.”
Olivia looked at him suspiciously. “Alright... well, let me know if you do need anything, okay?”
James nodded and walked out of the room. He checked the house out room by room, eventually finding the bedroom; he shut the door behind him and sat down on the bed. Everything felt odd- especially the size of the apartment, coming to place this big after living in a small room for so many months made him feel like he didn’t deserve it.
Suddenly, The bedroom door opened, James looked over to the door where Olivia was standing- he was surprised to notice that the Hallway behind her was dark. He hadn’t realised it had grown dark so quickly. He stood up to go look out the window at the dark street.
“Are you feeling alright?” Olivia asked as she finished changing into her night-clothes and got into bed.
“Mmm” He said distantly from the window.
Olivia noticed his response. “You’d tell me if anything was wrong, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m just... I’m trying to get used to being out of the institution.”
“I understand.” Olivia said sympathetically. “It’ll take a while, but eventually you’ll feel at home... just give it time.”
James smiled. “You’re right.”
“I know.” Olivia said with a grin on her face. “Now come to bed.”
His nightmare was different this time, It was darker and more frightening than his previous ones. He was standing on solid ground- but he wasn’t sure where, There were no voices this time- instead, all he could hear was the sound of a river, and it seemed to be getting closer and closer. He tried moving away from the noise, but it was like he was being weighed down by something- he looked around for whatever it was weighing him down, but found nothing but darkness, and as time went by the sound of the river grew nearer, until he could actually begin feel the water starting to move up his leg- like he was sinking in it. He frantically searched his body for whatever it was weighing him down- that was when he felt the large rocks in his pockets- he tried pulling them out as fast as he could, but the water was rising too quickly, and when it rose to his neck James woke up.
He lay in bed soaked in his own sweat for a few minutes until he could properly regain his breath. Olivia was still asleep when got up and had a shower. The day moved by slowly- most of James’s time was spent with his family. They had all come over at the same time to visit him- which he found more counter-productive than productive; because he couldn’t reminisce over anything with them. His sister Anna told him fantastic stories of their childhood, and how mischievous they acted whenever Grandmother was away from home, which in any other case he would have loved hearing, but the fact that he couldn’t remember anything she told him just upset him. He felt like he’d been cheated out of not just a childhood, but his whole life.
There was one woman at the house who James struggled to remember meeting before. Her name was Sarah. She was beautiful blonde woman, who kept very close to his father’s side the whole time. James deduced for himself that they were together- he also deduced that everyone but Grandmother was a fan of her. During the day he kept looking at her- hoping that she’d come and talk to him, and it must have worked because eventually she did. When James was pouring himself some tea in the kitchen, she walked in and joined him by the teapot.
“It must feel weird to be home.” Sarah said to him warmly, Leaning herself against the bench beside him.
“... It does a bit.”
“I assume more than a bit.” She said, never taking her eyes off him.
James looked around the kitchen. “Alright... It’s really weird.”
“Do you remember much?”
“Not really, I know who my family are, but everything’s either not there or just a blur.”
Sarah looked at him sadly, but with a hint of anger in her eyes. “I don’t like it. Actually, I hate it. I hate what those people do. There was nothing wrong with you, James, and if I was able to visit you in there more, maybe I could have convinced you before you almost lost everything. ”
James looked at Sarah. “I wouldn’t have put myself in there if there was nothing wrong with me.”
Sarah was about to respond, but James’s father walked in and interrupted them.
“Are you ready to head back home, Sarah?” George said.
“Yes.” She looked at James sympathetically. “We’ll see you again soon, James. And have fun at the fair tomorrow, try to enjoy yourself.”
It was night time by the time family left and all he wanted to do was sleep. He decided on skipping dinner and went to bed instead. He lay alone in his dark room for a while, thinking about how he would handle the fair tomorrow. It would be the first time in six months that he’d be out in public, which was a fact that daunted him. He hoped no one knew about his stint in the institution besides his family, but being in one of the more well-known families in New South Wales made that seem less likely.
Eventually he drifted off to sleep, and during the night he was greeted with the same nightmare he had the night before.
He had been at the Fair for ten minutes and he already hated it.
It was far louder than he expected. James’s hospital room was always so quiet, but there were too many voices here, and too many conversations that could be about him. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.
When he opened his eyes, they immediately locked onto the eyes of a man walking towards him. He was tall, lean- but very muscular, with short-chocolate brown hair that fell onto his forehead. His dark brown doe-eyes were probably his most notable feature, they had a certain sweetness to them that James hadn’t seen before. A feeling of familiarity washed over him, for some reason his body seemed to grow warmer as the other man got closer. James stopped in the middle of the walkway trying to remember anything about the man who was now almost in reach, but nothing was coming to mind. The brown-eyed man walked past James, but looked back at him for as long as he could before turning a corner.
“James?” Olivia said. James looked back at his wife who stood in front of him with a worried expression on her face.
“I-I’m fine, I just got distracted, I’m sorry.”
Olivia looked at him with a hint of worry. “It’s okay,” She grabbed onto James’s hand. “Now, I noticed a funny looking game over there. For some reason- the objective is to put as many balls as you can in a sculptured clowns mouth,” She laughed. “We must try it!” They spent half an hour playing most of the games at the fair, well, Olivia did most of the playing and James watched. The fair was not his kind of fun anymore; he liked it as a child, because no one knew the things about him that they do now. He wasn’t sure what would happen if someone confronted him about it... or if someone confronted him at all- especially someone he had known before the treatments and couldn’t remember now.
“James? Are you listening to me?” Olivia said, standing right in front of him. “I’ll be back in a moment, I’m just going to the Bathroom, okay?”
James had been unknowingly ignoring her for God knows how long. It took him a moment, but eventually he looked up and nodded.
“You won’t go far, will you?” Olivia asked with concern.
“No,” James smiled. “I’ll just look around.”
Olivia kissed him on the cheek and left. James looked around the fair while he waited, and then something caught his eye; there were six mirrors were lined up together by a shed not too far away, he decided to check it out. The sign above them read: ‘Distorting Mirrors?’ He walked in front of the first one and couldn’t help but laugh when his legs grew twice as long as they were, with every new mirror his appearance changed dramatically, until he got to the last mirror, which seemed to be an average one, because he could see no alterations to his body.
“That’s my favourite one.” An oddly familiar voice from behind him said.
James quickly turned around, and was surprised to see the man from the walkway standing next to him. “Uh ... Why’s it your favourite?” He said, his face beginning to get flustered.
The other man smiled, revealing a set of perfect teeth. “Well, you spend five minutes looking at all of these different versions of yourself, and then you come across the last mirror- and you wonder; maybe, this is an alternate version of me as well, so you spend longer than you have at any mirror, trying to work out what’s different about you.”
James looked back at the mirror. “So, what’s different about me?”
The brown-eyed man chuckled. “Nothing, It’s just a normal mirror.”
“Ah,” James laughed and looked back at the other man. “So, I assume these your mirrors?”
The other man shook his head. “No, I just find them kind of fascinating.”
James crossed his arms “How... fascinating?”
“Well, I like what they stand for. People are always trying to change themselves, but in the end, the reflection they prefer to see in the mirror the most is the real them,” The other man chuckled. “Although, that doesn’t apply if you’d prefer your legs to be five feet long.”
“Ah.” James chuckled. “You certainly have these ‘mirrors’ worked out for someone who doesn’t own them, Mr--”
“Harry Polson.” The other man looked troubled about having to introduce himself for a moment, but covered it well with a smile.
“I’m James Bligh.” he put his hand out for Harry to shake.
Harry kept eye contact with James as he shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.” He said pleasantly.'
“You too.” James grinned, though he wasn’t sure why. It was then that he realized he still hadn’t let go of the other man’s hand. He released it immediately and crossed his arms again. “Uh... so, what are you doing at the fair, did you come with someone else?”
“No, I’m here alone. I was just about to leave actually.”
“Oh.” James tried hiding his disappointment. “Well, you could always join my wife and I... if you like?”
Harry chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. “I... really couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you did.” James nearly slapped his hand over his face as soon as he said that.
Harry chuckled. “But your wife might. I am a stranger after all.”
James eyes flitted over Harry. “I feel like--.”
“Who’s this?” Olivia interrupted from behind them.
James turned back to his wife. “Uh, this is Harry Polson, I just met him. He’s quite the expert on these mirrors.”
“Nice to meet you, I’m Olivia.”
Harry shook her hand. “Nice to meet you too, but I was actually just telling James how I was about to head home, So if you don’t mind, I’ll have be off now.”
“Maybe, we’ll see each other around sometime.” James said a bit too quickly.
Harry shook his head. “I doubt it. I start a new building job in Surry Hills tomorrow, so I won’t get time off for a while.”
“What are you building?” Olivia asked.
“A group of us fixing up the west wing of the Surry Hills Hospital,” Harry only seemed to direct his answer to James.
James nodded and watched Harry as he walked off. He snapped out of it when Olivia grabbed his hand and led him to the confectionery tent. He felt like he was in a daze for the remainder of the day. He struggled to concentrate on anything; it was like his mind was hiding something, something about Harry Polson.
The next few days were no different either, even though he was in his own bed, in his own house with his wife, he still felt something was missing and he needed to go out and find it.
“Isn’t this much better than the treatment center, Darling?” Olivia asked one morning when they were eating breakfast together.
Olivia looked at him suspiciously. “Are you alright? You’ve been even more quiet than usual lately. ”
James looked down at his cup of tea. “I’ve been thinking about going out.”
“Whatever for?” Olivia asked.
“Just... to look around, I can’t remember much of Sydney since the treatment, So, I thought I might go for a drive- to get my bearings again.”
Olivia nodded. “I worry that you’ll get lost.”
“I’ll catch a taxi if that happens. There’s really no need to worry. I have to start resuming my normal routine sometime.”James got up and went straight to the car. Without a second thought; he drove to the Surry Hills Hospital.
Walking into the hospital was like walking back into the institution again, everything was so white- it made his eyes strain. He followed the signs to the West wing, but the closer he got to it, the more his head started to hurt, it felt like the after-shocks of treatment. He groaned and sat down on the nearest bench to close his eyes and massaged the sides of his head- where they used to put the electroshock pads.
“James?” A familiar voice said from nearby.
He looked up to see Harry walking over to him.
“Are you alright?” Harry asked with concern.
“Yes, yes. I just needed to sit down for a moment. I was getting a headache.”
“Is that why you’re at the Hospital?”
“No,” James shook his head. “I was... looking for you actually.”
Harry’s eyes widened. “Why?”
James kept his eyes on the ground. “I was hoping to speak to you... could we go for a walk or something?”
Harry sat down next to him, there was a certain pain in his eyes. “Only if you really want to, James, if you don’t you need to tell me.”
“I do.” James cut in.
Harry sighed, the tiniest smile curving his lips. “As long as you’re sure.”
James stood up and reached out for Harry’s hand to help him up.
Harry thought for a moment before grabbing hold of it. “Where should we go?”
“Anywhere you like, I’ve bought my car here.” James said, he noticed that Harry’s hand was still holding onto his when they were both standing, but this time he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to release it.
“I haven’t been to the beach for a long time- and it’s not too far from here.” Harry suggested.
James smiled and let go of Harry’s hand. “It’s settled then.”
Harry had to run back to the construction area to tell his colleagues where he was going, but once he’d done that they were off to the beach. They parked at a car park overlooking the beach, off to the right were a lot of steps that descended all the way down to the sand.
“And I thought this was going to be my break.” Harry laughed.
James jumped out of the car with a smirk on his face. “You decided on the place, I just got you here!”
Harry walked over to James. “True.”
“Although, I’m glad you did choose the beach.” For some reason the crashing of the waves and the crunching sound of sand under his feet made him feel incredible, he wasn’t sure what it was- but he knew something good happened here.
Harry was trying to hide a smirk. “You like beaches, huh?”
“I think so.”
Harry laughed, like he knew something James’s didn’t. “Well, we should get down there as soon as possible, then,” Harry ran over to the top of the steps. “You up for a race, Bligh?”
“Are you serious?” James asked, mostly to stall from the fact that his fitness wasn’t what it used to be before his stay in the institution.
James joined Harry at the steps. “You do realize how ridiculous this is, right? We’re not children.”
“You’re stalling.” Harry accused with a huge grin on his face.
“Absolutely no-,” James wasn’t sure what came over him at that moment but before he could finish his sentence he began running down the steps. He could hear Harry dying from laughter behind him.
“Cheat!” Harry teased.
“You’re stalling!” James called back, and kept running.
Harry shook his head and joined James in the race to the beach. James stayed ahead of Harry for the majority of the race, until he slipped and fell down a few steps.
“James!” Harry yelled with worry.
James was standing up when Harry got to him- he was holding onto the rails and looking over the side of the cliff.
“Are you hurt?” Harry noticed that James’s shoulders were shaking.
James turned around, Harry noticed James had a small cut on his head that was bleeding, but as soon as he saw James’s expression, every ounce of fear Harry had in him went away- there were small wrinkles around James’s blue eyes and a magnificent smile lighting up his face.
“Did you see that?” James blurted out. “I went down so hard.” He laughed.
Harry snorted. “Jesus... I thought you were seriously hurt for a moment.”
“Oh, it hurt. It hurt alright.” James laughed.
Harry looked at James, he couldn’t decide if he was shocked or entertained. “You’re bleeding.”
James wiped the blood off his forehead. “It’s not that bad is it?”
Harry shook his head. “I think you’ll live.”
“Would it be sad if I said that that was the most fun I’ve had in months.” James laughed.
“Uh,” Harry watched James who was crying with laughter. “Yes... very.”
James smiled. “I haven’t been allowed to do anything like that for a long time.”
Harry’s eyed widened. “I should hope that you haven’t been allowed to fall down steps for a long time.”
“No, not just-,” James leaned back on the rail. “I haven’t done anything like THAT... running around, I mean.”
Harry leaned on the rail right next to James. “Why not?”
“I suppose, it’s not the way I should behave.”
“.... but how do you want to behave?” Harry asked.
James turned his head to Harry. “... In every way that I shouldn't.”
Harry looked James up and down. “Come with me.” He got off the rails and started walking down to the beach. James followed closely behind.
“Have you been here before?” James asked.
Harry got off the last step and turned to face James. “Only once, it’s been my favourite place since then though.”
“Because of what happened here.” Harry started walking towards the water.
James followed him. “What happened?”
Harry didn't respond. He sat down on the sand a few meters from where the water was coming in
James walked up to him. “Harry?”
James looked at him oddly. "We'll get covered in sand."
Harry looked up to James with a grin on his face, Come on, Bligh. Where's your sense of adventure?"
"Does adventure have to involve getting sand all over my pants?"
Harry laughed and tugged at James's sleeve. James eventually gave in and joined him.
"So, what did happen here that makes this place so great?" James asked.
Harry looked out at the waves for a moment, ignoring James's question. "... Have you ever really loved someone, James, like really loved them?"
James was surprised by his question. But took a moment to think about it, he thought fondly of Olivia, she had always been incredible to him, but did he love her?
"If you have to think about it," Harry turned to James. "then, you haven't."
James looked down. "... Why do you want to know?"
"You asked me what makes this place my favourite. Well, a person who I loved, like, really really loved, kissed me here for the first time. The place was deserted, like it is now and we were having so much fun that they just forgot about everything that could stop us from being together and did what made them happy. And if a place has the the power to help someone realize exactly what they want. How could anywhere else even come close."
"I understand." James smiled.
"I do." James met Harry's eyes. "So, what's her name?"
Harry's face dropped immediately. "Uh--," He made a choked coughing noise "We should probably... head back now, my lunch break's almost over."
James squinted at Harry. "Uh... okay."
Harry got up and walked back to the car- staying a few meters in front of James the whole time. When James got to the car Harry was leaning against it with his arms crossed, his expression suggested he was having an internal battle with himself over something. James knew that expression all to well, because he often did the same thing. The ride back to the Hospital was uncomfortably quiet. Harry looked down at his hands the whole time and never spoke a word. James kept his eyes on the road, only sometimes glancing over at Harry.
When he pulled up, Harry finally looked at him. "Thanks for taking me for a drive."
James tried giving him his best smile. "No problem."
Harry nodded and got out of the car.
"So, when can I take you for a drive again?"
Harry stopped for a moment, then turned back to James. "How about tomorrow?"
James grinned. "Same time?"
Harry couldn't help but give James a goofy smile. "Yeah."