Voices On Her Shoulders
“The stars are dark on this moonless night. Although plenty of glass litters the room, no moonlight exists to glint off it. This place is as lifeless as my soul.”
Mary read the quote for the third time, or perhaps the fourth.
She had never experienced depression before and this quote seemed to be a taste of what it might be like. Her homework, to develop the idea in the quote, created a streak of rebellion. She looked back at her childhood. Her father would always march out of the room and do something else if a play or drama was about to be broadcast.
‘I don’t want to hear about other people’s terrible lives,’ he said. ‘I want to be entertained. I would watch Tommy Cooper doing his magic tricks, but not this rubbish!’
In disgust he would depart. Mary tended to agree with her dad. What was the point of watching or reading about something that might give her nightmares? She preferred a light touch too. Certainly she wanted to be aware of the dark side of life, but not to be entertained by it. There are shades of black that she had no intention of ever exploring. Depravity and depression, disgust and decay, disillusionment and darkness, they all seemed to begin with a D and she wanted none of them.
As she sat wondering what could be done with the quote, she became aware of two voices, one coming from each shoulder. There was a mean, harsh, nasty voice coming from the left side, and a soothing, serene voice on her right.
‘Call me Jock,’ said the mean one.
‘I suggest you don’t listen to him and you can call me Serena,’ said the other.
‘Is that what you want? A really boring life? No thrills or spills or ills?’ Jock interrupted, ‘I could show you a few things. How about what a corpse looks like after a month underground? I got great pictures. They are all in your mind already, see? You just have to flick through the catalogue.’
Mary shuddered. Why would she want to see such things? At that moment the picture of the cool clear mountain cascade flashed through her inner screen.
‘Thanks, Serena,’ she said out loud.
‘Och away wi ye Miss Perfect Paws !’ growled Jock.
Mary glanced to her right and saw to her surprise a contented looking feline washing her feet with great delicacy.
‘Serena?’ she queried. The cat merely turned her attention to cleaning her ears.
‘How about a nice bit of blood and gore?’ asked Jock, ‘ A real life RTA?’ *
‘Go away!’ said Mary, ‘I don’t like your hideous pictures. How could they possibly improve my life? I like to sleep peacefully at night.’
The glimmerings of a blue flashing light, a body on the road and the sound of sirens started to impinge on Mary’s inner screen.
‘Get lost!’ she shouted out loud.
Stern faces looked at Mary over their copies of ‘The Times’.
She felt herself blush, ‘Oops, sorry. I got carried away with my book,’ she lied. She had completely lost track of her sense of place. She was in the public library reference section, where so many folk go to get a bit of peace or to do some writing or their homework.
She stood up and placed herself between two long rows of bookshelves. If the dialogue between the entities on her left and her right shoulders was to continue she had to give them some privacy. A sense of peace settled over her as she thumbed through a copy of ‘Gardeners World’. A snowfall of white plumb blossom seemed to engulf her.
‘Thanks, Serena!’ she whispered, giggling at her success. She had no desire to view a road traffic accident just for fun. What kind of fun would that be anyway?
She thought she heard the sound of splashing water. Puzzled, she looked about. It wasn’t raining outside and anyway there was a floor above her; she couldn’t be hearing rain. It became louder and the sensation of something like a shower curtain touched her face, she suddenly felt claustrophobic, then she saw the glint of metal, a blade piercing the curtain, a knife slicing downwards towards her.
‘Serena!’ she shouted out loud. Sounds of streaming shower water turned into a heavy, contented purr. The wet curtain morphed into the feel of warm fur, and the blade became a cats claw, gently withdrawing itself.
‘I’ve got to get out of here!’ she said to no one in particular. The librarian asked her if she was all right as she rushed past the desk.
‘Yes thanks, fine, just late for a lecture, sorry!’
Outside Mary recalled a scene from the one and only horror film she had ever watched; it had preyed on her mind for years.
‘Now I know who Alfred Hitchcock * was listening to,’ she said.
The cat purred. ‘You all have a choice, you know. You can choose beauty and truth or you can go for delusion, destruction and death.’
‘Those Ds again,’ thought Mary. ‘I agree Serena, I’m with you all the way, I’m not going to look at those D words, ever.’
As she walked along she pondered, ‘Hmm, delicious, delightful, delectable, desire, ‘oh well, some of the D s might be okay, but I will need to police them carefully or Jock will be back with his nasty pictures.’
‘You called?’ said a coarse Glaswegian voice.
‘No! Bu*ger off !’ shouted Mary.
She saw the very slightest twitch of a cat’s tail on her right shoulder and then there was peace.
* An RTA is a Road Traffic Accident
* Alfred Hitchcock made horror films, in one of which, ‘Psycho’, the shower scene was shown.
Questions to be added
My grandfather used to tell us stories about all sorts of things. Sometimes the stories were funny, sometimes a bit scary, but they never gave us bad dreams. They never made us afraid nor gave us fears. Grandad’s stories came from words from his mouth, but the pictures were the ones we found for ourselves. They formed from our imaginations and were as colourful and bright or as dim and hazy as our minds wanted them to be.
When it came to watching the television our parents were very careful about what we saw. They did not allow us to see scary, nasty or shocking programmes and I’m sure they were right.
When the mind sees pictures on the screen, it can be badly affected by those pictures. Unnecessary fears and worries can be created in children’s minds, and even in the minds of many adults.
I have listened to many conversations between young people and even adults, when people are discussing their fears. People can develop fears of all sorts of things such as spiders, snakes, birds, heights, open spaces, enclosed spaces and so on. The strange thing is that they seem to love to discuss their fears almost as if they are proud of them, or even attached to them. They do not want to let go of them it seems. Irrational fears can control the lives of some people, preventing them from doing things or going to certain places. They hand over their power to someone else who is then expected to take control of the situation – to move the spider, climb the ladder, or get rid of the bird.
When we watch frightening things on television we can begin to think that certain things are dangerous and will harm us. We may have nightmares about them. They start to control our lives. The pictures and situations seem so convincing that they create real fear in us and affect our everyday lives.
People can also pick up fear from their parents for no good reason. A mother who is afraid of mice may pass this fear onto her children.
My advice would be do not watch horror films, don’t deliberately make yourself scared or uncomfortable. Be at peace, be rational, be calm and realistic. Certainly things can harm us, but the kinds of things that people fear will not normally be harmful at all. To be in control of your emotions is far better than being attached to your fears. That buzz of ‘dread energy’ that you get from fears could be achieved in different ways which are much more useful and constructive. When we challenge ourselves to achieve something and set about achieving it, the buzz that we get from our success will be far more satisfying and long-lasting than any fear induced adrenaline rush.