This is a revised version of a story I originally posted almost a year ago.
‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’
From William Blake’s poem, ‘The Marriage of heaven and Hell’.
Sometimes, Dean would think about Robbie.
When Dean was seven he would go to Robbie’s house to play. Robbie would have been about five. Robbie’s parents had a dam on their property. It was ‘protected’ by a dilapidated paling fence. It was strictly forbidden for Robbie (and, by extension, Dean) to play anywhere near the dam. That, of course, made it a magnet for the boys.
Dean and Robbie would pretend to fish there, with sticks for rods and string for fishing line. They would construct ‘boats’ from any materials available and attempt to launch them, only to see them inevitably sink. They would fantasise about great adventures across to the other side of the dam and what magical lands they would find there.
One day, Robbie’s mother called them. Dean headed home, assuming Robbie would take his usual circuitous route home to disguise where he’d been.
Later that afternoon Dean’s father came home later than usual and from his bedroom Dean heard his mother ask his father where he‘d been.
‘I’ve been talking to Wally Bayliss. The Henderson’s boy, Robbie, drowned in their dam. Must have slipped and fallen in and couldn‘t swim.’
Dean made a sound that didn’t seem to come from his mouth but from somewhere in his stomach. His mother came to stand in the doorway and turned back to his father.
‘He must have heard you, he‘s gone as white as a sheet.’
‘Come in here, son.’
His father’s normally gruff and seemingly permanently angry voice had softened in a way Dean had never heard before. Walking into the room, Dea saw his father pat his thigh and tell him to come and sit with his Dad for a while. Dean hesitated and his parents looked at him helplessly. Death wasn’t ever talked about in their house.
He ran from the house to his secret gully with its permanent spring and watched the water ﬂow, until he felt safe again. He curled up in there and started to cry like a baby. He was still there when his father found him and carried him home, without a word.
As an adult, this experience would sometimes return to Dean. And he would start to think ‘What happened? Did I push him in after an argument? Did he slip on the bank and fall in after I left? Did I see him fall in and, knowing neither of us could swim and neither of us should have been there, leave him, so I wouldn’t get into trouble?’ He would go through these hypotheses and ultimately conclude it was an accident unrelated to him.
Until the visit. His parents and an aunt and uncle were in town to attend a family reunion and Dean had prepared a special meal for them at his home, along with some special wines. After dessert was consumed, Dean related in some detail his memories of he, as a young boy, and his father and grandmother visiting his aunt and uncle when they were living interstate.
As he was relating his tale, he began to notice his parents and his aunt and uncle exchanging puzzled looks and looking somewhat disconcerted. When he’d finished there was a pregnant pause before his aunt said ‘Dean, yes, you came to visit but none of those other things you mentioned happened.’ The expression on his uncle’s and parents’ faces made it clear that they agreed.
His wife intervened with ‘Coffee, anyone?’ and the moment passed. But not for Dean.
Those ‘memories’ were etched in his mind as facts, each with emotions attached to them. He replayed the scenes and they seemed no less real.
So was he wrong or them, or was it simply a different perspective in hindsight? Was it black or white or some sort of collective memory formed of grey? Was, in fact, any of it real? (whatever that means now).
That night, Robbie re-appeared in Dean’s thoughts and he spiralled downwards into thinking ‘Did any of my ‘life’ really happen?’
It took him a long time to put the hinges back on all those doors of perception and close them firmly.
But, sometimes, he would still think about Robbie.