Threnody: Closest to Heaven – Chapter 2

April 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm (Threnody: Closest to Heaven)


That was my first memory of being born for the second time. With hindsight, I can certainly understand the wisdom behind forgetting about being born – I can only imagine it, but I am sure that the first birth is by far the worse. Certainly, God knew what He was doing when He arranged things so that we’d forget as we grow up.

I did not wake completely after that, for a long time. I was strangely sentient during the long hours lost within my own torpor of unchanging darkness – I was aware of the way the cool air on my cheeks sometimes alternated with a warmer tingle that seeped through my skin and reminded me of the huge neon ball my brain told me was called the sun; the smells changed and lost the acridly clean paleness of hospitals and on one day scented my blackness with the loosened petals of pink roses blown on what I remembered was called the wind; but what tallied my never-ending sleep was the sound of faint voices carried to my ears along ebbing threads of awareness.

There were many of them. I let them wash over me when they came, and they roused no emotion within me – they simply existed, as did the darkness that surrounded me and the occasional whispers of red light that glowed through my empty, quiescent world. They were words and phrases, interspaced by great moments of thick fog, and sometimes they made sense to me while at other times they did not – but they never meant anything. They were merely floating through the ever-flowing river of darkness that carried me along its lulling current.

Words had no meaning to my heart. I had no heart any more. It was peaceful, finally, inside of me – there was no more raging grief, no more bleeding thorns. The maelstrom had shifted and left my personal epicentre storm-free: uprooting everything in its wake, leaving only clean, polished surfaces that only reflected echoes of my surroundings at me. I was grateful. I was aware of my prayers of thanksgiving strewn here and there between my hours of stasis. God had blessed me, finally, with the ultimate miracle: peace.

It was really almost as good as disappearing from existence would have been.

When I first re-opened my eyes after that dreamless slumber, I awoke to bright light once more, but this time it had a vermillion glow to it and I was aware that it warmed my skin and made it hum from within – I could hear bees buzzing around my grandfather’s cherry plants, and I knew it was early morning and another fresh spring day was ahead of me, to prance and skip rope and climb trees and pluck tomatoes in. I closed my eyes again and exhaled contentedly – I had awoken from the long nightmare that everyone had tried to convince me was reality. Of course, none of it was. Here was the proof, in the very tingle of my skin, in the freshness of my young child’s mind, in every cell of my body that recognised the rightness that finally surrounded me once more.

I peeked through my still sleep-heavy lids, and tried to adjust to the morning sunlight that slanted into my room. Something tickled my nose – I breathed in, sniffed, and abruptly sneezed. Whatever it was made my nose itch, and I brought my hand up to rub it, squeezing my eyes shut momentarily and focusing on the simple act of rubbing my nose. Not for the first time, I understood why my dogs had that expression of utter gratification when they scratched away at a persistent itch – there were few things this rewarding in life.

Something cool and foreign brushed against my cheek, and my eyes flew open, in surprise. I tried to focus on my hand, but I must have slept for too long, for it was all blurry no matter how hard I tried, so I sighed and let my hand fall back to the bed, as I blinked and patiently waited for my eyes to start working properly.

It was slow, but I was not bothered. I was safe, in the haven of the real world – the nightmare was over. If anything came for me, I would simply call for Mum, and she would come over from her adjoining room, and she would whisper prayers for me to repeat after her to keep away the bad dreams. I was safe.

The world came in focus in blotches and speckles of fog and colour and light – my vision was an artist’s palette, on which the angel of rain had shed a few unruly drops haphazardly here and there, to make everything run together in some places, forming bright stains and tangles of thready watercolour, that gradually stopped running into each other and began to re-affirm themselves into distinct outlines.

I was in a room I did not recognise. The ceiling was not the cracked white paint I had woken to every day of my childhood, but was flawlessly papered with a beautiful photo of softly pink cherry blossom flowers. The walls were not familiar beige – they were faintly blue, the colour of Esrafel’s walls – someone had confused our tastes again. The furniture was disturbingly painted over in white – an aberration, for no one in my family would ever tolerate painted furniture. We loved wood and its pure stripy patterns far too much. There was a wardrobe next to me, a small table not far to my right, and two chairs next to my bed. To my left was a window, and I stared out of it at the azure sky that generously donated bright light to my room, while I reflected on the incongruity of my surroundings.

The room was empty. There were no signs of life in it – there was no newspaper and no half-full glass on the table, there were no cushions on the chairs, and the furniture was stiffly in place as if no one had ever touched it.

I must have lain there a long time, staring out unseeingly at the sky. By the time my gaze slipped slowly to lie on my hand, which rested absently on my belly, and I registered the clear plastic tube that linked my wrist to a bottle hung up on a stand next to my bed, my cheeks were already wet with tears.

I had been wrong. The nightmare was still real. I had awoken back into it.

I don’t know how much later it was that the nurse came into my room. The sky had changed tones by then, and was a deeper, more sober ultramarine, with small puffy orange clouds, and my room was glowing faintly reddish, with bright streaks of flame-coloured sunlight on my ceiling.

‘What medication am I on?’ I asked her, as she checked the bottle and made notes on a blue clipboard.

She jumped violently. Her reaction betrayed her – she had not realised I was awake. I must have been inanimate for a long time, because nurses did not easily get into routine assumption that their patients were unresponsive.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Auriel,’ she said, in a flustered, fakely cheery voice. ‘How do you feel?’

I made no reply to this question. My voice had not been at its clearest, but my words were understandable. She was deliberately avoiding my question. I wondered if my face was still covered with tears. I had a feeling it was, and I wished I could wipe away the tell-tale traces of my weakness.

I gave her a while to answer my question, but she smiled steadily and blankly at me before her expression began to waver into uncertainty. I repeated, ‘What medication am I on?’ My eyes were working perfectly now, so I focused on her name-badge, on which was neatly engraved Julia.

‘You’re currently on fluids and nutrients, Miss Auriel,’ she said, with patience and cheerfulness, in that bright nurse voice that was jarringly familiar to me. ‘You were unconscious for many days, and since we could not feed you any other way, we’ve been getting you your nutrients and liquid through the tube.’

I was not really paying attention to her. Instead, my gaze slid back to the bottle that she had been checking before I interrupted her. My IV line went up to a big clear plastic bag labelled ‘saline’, but connected to the outlet of this sac was a small bottle, with an inscription that was too small for me to read.

‘I know this,’ I said. ‘What I want to know is, what is the medication I’m also receiving?’

She followed the direction of my gaze and latched on visually to the tell-tale little bottle with the blue cap. I knew what she realised: she could either lie to me and hope I was not lucid enough to remember it later, or she could tell me the truth and risk… whatever reaction she feared the news might rouse.

‘Oh,’ she said, in a would-be dismissive tone, ‘you’ve been put on a benzodiazepine because you were agitated in your sleep. It’s not harmful, you needn’t worry. On the contrary, it will -‘

‘I know what it does,’ I said, in a voice full of quiet steel that took even me by surprise. ‘I don’t want it.’

‘Well, I’ll mention it to the doctor when he does his round,’ she promised.

‘I want it stopped now,’ I said, through gritted teeth.

‘Miss Auriel, I’m only a nurse and unable to change your medication – as I said, I’ll bring it up with the doctor as soon as possible and -‘

I wished I could sit up, but everything about me felt all wobbly, and I knew it would not work the way I wanted it to. I must have been on benzodiazepines for a long time, to be feeling like this – that, or they had me on a strong dose which, now I started to recall what had happened, was probably justified from their point of view. I could remember the bright lights and hospital. I’d lost it. Hysterical patient… needed benzodiazepine… I could visualise the reasoning that must have followed my outbreak.

I felt for the nurse, I did. She was only doing her job, and she was not, strictly speaking, lying to me. She just assumed, as doubtlessly the other healthcare professionals had decided, that I was not in possession of my senses and was only making my demands because I was unreasonable and probably still under shock.

‘I don’t want to continue this medication,’ I said, quietly but clearly. ‘If you need a doctor to be able to stop it, then I request a doctor now. Please ring for one.’

‘Miss Auriel…’ she sounded nervous but determined. ‘It’s late and there are no doctors in at the moment. You’ve been on the benzo for over two weeks, and a few more hours will really not harm you. As I said -‘

I exhaled slowly. She obviously did not know my background. If it came to a battle of ethics, I had already won, hands down. ‘Nurse Julia, I’m not bringing up concerns about harm. I am quite simply refusing this medication. As an able individual, it’s within my rights to refuse any treatment, and no one can force it on me if I decide I don’t want it. It’s actually illegal.’

There was a long silence. I’d put her on the spot, and she couldn’t bluff her way around this one – she had to know the law about consent and refusal as well as I did. Her expression was not a happy one. She looked half-angry, half… frightened? I understood her anger, but the rest did not quite fit in.

‘I… I will get the doctor on call fetched,’ she said, finally. I saw her eyes move from the bottle of medication to my motionless form lying on the bed, covered up by a pale blue blanket, and I knew she was wondering whether I was able to move or not.

Eventually, she turned and walked out of the room, a hurried, uncomfortable pace, as if aware that I was watching her.

Maybe, after all, the dose of benzodiazepine I was on was not that blatantly high. Maybe my stupor had not been deliberately induced by the medication. I looked up at the blue bottle and shuddered. It was poison to my system. I had never thought I would ever be at the mercy of doctors, to the point where I would get forcibly maintained on sedation.

I was well. I was fine. The benzodiazepine was making me a stranger to myself. Once they released me, everything would be fine. I was not ill. I repeated the words over and over in my mind, a litany to soothe away the demons that the little blue-capped bottle fed into my veins.

I might have lain there in the crisp hospital bed for half an hour, waiting – but whatever the length of time that elapsed before footsteps sounded along the corridor that was outside my field of vision, I knew that it was not enough time for a doctor to have been called from home or another hospital. The nurse had lied deliberately – there had been a doctor about on the ward, or they would not have come back so quickly.

Sometimes I felt this insane urge to teach people how to deceive convincingly.

The doctor came in first, a tall freckled-faced young one, twenty-something by my guess, and certainly not a consultant. I took a good look at his face to double-check that he was indeed young, and glanced down at the identity badge he wore at his belt, and despite the fact that he was moving, I made out the word Registrar before he was too close to the bed for me to surreptitiously keep my gaze on his name-badge. In the situation I was in, a registrar was probably going to be easier to bully than a consultant, unless he took the same stance as the nurse and tried to feed me the same rubbish about needing a more expert person’s opinion before taking me off the medication.

I was no expert on benzodiazepines, but if a competent patient refused a treatment, it was illegal to force that treatment on the patient. And unless they had a trump card of some sort on me, I was fully competent.

‘Hello, miss,’ the registrar said, checking the IV tubes as if those were more important than me – but I was not fooled. He’d given me one sharp glance as I’d been looking at his name-badge. He’d already realised that I was lucid enough to be checking his identity. ‘The nurse tells me you wish to be taken off the benzo.’

I appreciated the direct approach. I looked up at his sincere freckled face, and reflected that maybe this might actually work out. He was looking at me assessingly. I met his gaze and said with determination, ‘That’s what I asked. I don’t want this medication. I want it stopped.’

He sat himself in a chair and placed his clipboard across his knees. ‘Miss Auriel, I understand your point, however -‘ He noticed my faint roll of the eyes and the subtlest wry smile touched his face ‘- there is always a however. With your background, you’re probably aware that this request is within your rights, but you may be unaware of other circumstances. Under the NHS guidelines, if someone has been put on benzos due to an adverse hospital event that required heavy sedation, they will require assessment before they can be taken off the benzos. You will need to have someone qualified for it perform an examination on you and pronounce you fit enough for us to remove the benzos. You see, if we take you off them and you do have another crisis, we will have to put you back on, and who knows how much greater a setback that will be?’ He paused. ‘I do hope that makes sense to you.’

I shifted my gaze briefly to the blue-capped bottle that dripped steadily into my veins, and then looked back at him. He had a spark of intelligence in his grey eyes, something I’d rarely seen in psychiatry doctors so far, but tended to see more often in surgeons. This was someone on whom word games would not work – he was not going to fall for any old tricks. He was too intelligent to be led around.

And unfortunately, what he’d said made complete sense.

‘Who is competent for this examination?’ I asked, finally.

To my surprise, he smiled coolly and said, ‘I am, Miss Auriel. All it would take is an assessment of your orientation and cognition.’

I propped myself up a little higher on the pillows, wishing I was sitting and not lying back. ‘What do you need me to do to prove that I don’t need sedation?’

He pursed up his lips and looked thoughtful. ‘Before we do that, Miss Auriel, may I ask, why are you refusing the treatment? With the knowledge you have, I take it you know that the benzos will not harm you.’

It was poison. ‘I just don’t want any medication,’ I said, simply and stiffly. ‘I’m fine. I need no medication whatsoever.’

He considered me for a very short amount of time before shrugging. ‘Very well. May I ask you your full name and date of birth, please?’

‘My name is Auriel and…’ I faltered and had a moment of blank confusion. I couldn’t really recall my name. In fact… if they hadn’t been calling me Auriel, I am not sure I would even have known this was my name. Something cold gripped my heart and set my hands trembling, but I ignored it and determinedly searched through my mind for the answers which, I knew, had to be blatantly there.

I met with fog, thick, absolute, impenetrable. I was Auriel and the rest was not there.

The doctor was watching me expressionlessly, and behind him, the nurse’s gaze was also on me, although she had a mixture of incredulity and fascination on her features, which sickened me. I was a guinea pig once more.

‘Look, I have the name,’ I said, with a small laugh. ‘I just only woke up a few minutes ago. It’ll come back to me. Medication… sedation always makes me confused anyway.’

The doctor leaned forwards very slightly, and took a deep breath. ‘Miss Auriel… You’ve had a rough time in hospital. You can’t even really recall your name yet. It’s early days… let’s give it a little while before we take you off the benzos, shall we? They won’t harm you, and in fact will keep you relaxed until you are in full possession of yourself.’

Panic was slowly but irascibly coiling itself inside of me. The doctor’s voice was soft-toned, rational, and countered me in a way that left me reeling. There was a finality there, an irrefutable logic that I could counter in no rational way. I felt a growing urge to scream and try to rip out the IV line myself, and run out of the hospital, but something warned me that this would… what was the word he’d used? I had a feeling that this would be a greater ‘setback’ on the recovery front. I could not really recall what had happened to bring me into hospital or on the benzodiazepine, but I must have done something regrettable to be on sedation, and I could not afford to repeat that mistake.

I bit my lip and forced myself to ignore that powerful dread that now gripped me like a vise.

Don’t lose it.

‘How many days do I have to remain here on the medication?’ I asked dully.

He was watching me with an attention, a sharp focus in his clever eyes that made me feel as if he was seeing more than me – it was as if I was a collection of puzzle pieces and that under his gaze, he could see the pieces coming together. I felt for a moment as if I could see this puzzle in his eyes and I could see the pieces coming together just as he saw it. And then he blinked and smiled affably, and the moment was gone.

‘You’ve made remarkable progress already, Miss Auriel. I expect that any estimate I give you will be a lot more than what you will actually need to recover. I don’t believe you are the kind that recovers slowly – I think you will move in leap and bounds. That in mind… we will probably have a definitive answer about you in a week or so.’

A week? Seven whole days? ‘I will be home a lot sooner than this,’ I said, flatly.

He looked at me in a very strange way, as if he felt sorry for me. It put a seed of unease in my stomach. ‘Miss Auriel, as much as it pains me to say this… I would warrant you don’t even know what or where home is for you, right now.’

It hit me like a physical blow. No… I didn’t know. All I knew was the beige of my bedroom walls back home, and my mother’s gentle voice and reassuring words, the trees and the summer bees… and even as I tried to grab for these fragile fragments, they seemed to be slipping away from me. My home… where was it? What was it? Was there a hitch to this? Was this some sort of trick question that I could not grasp? I bit my lip and tried to keep my breathing steady, in a vain attempt to ignore my growing panic. I gritted my teeth and inhaled deeply, opening my mouth for a question that took its time coming.

The doctor prompted, ‘Yes, Miss Auriel?’ There was an eagerness in his eyes, as if he expected something wondrous to spill from my lips.

I said, ‘You forgot to introduce yourself.’

His avid expression vanished to be replaced by surprise and some discomfited ruefulness. ‘Oh. My name is Jonathan Meisland and I’m a senior registrar – I work underneath Professor Stroyd, who is in charge of your case. I’m the doctor on call right now.’

A big part of me wanted to ask him what ‘my case’ was, but right now I was focused on not appearing clueless, and I affixed a calm smile onto my face, feeling as if my skin was made of plastic and I had to force it into this huge blank fake smile, like a grotesque carnival mask. Ignore the needle in your vein. I could feel it there, very tangibly, something between an itch and a burning pain, and try as I would, I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there. It was too much there.

‘When do I start eating?’ I asked, flatly, because that was all I could think of to distract both myself and the registrar.

‘Oh, we’ll start you on liquids and soup tonight and move you up the ladder step by step,’ he said, with a genuinely reassuring smile.

I didn’t smile back. I simply lay where I was and debated where to look – I finally settled on meeting his gaze, which forced him to avert his too-curious stare and clear his throat in polite embarrassment. I had a sudden moment of clarity when I realised that we weren’t that far apart in age – how old was I? Twenty? I felt about a hundred, with the poison that coursed through my veins, lying in a bed with covers tucked carefully around me. And yet, I felt like a little child and all I wanted was my mother to come to me and shake me awake from this nightmare – a desire that I’d held for a good few years now.

This much I knew.

‘Is there anything else you wish to ask, Miss Auriel?’ the registrar said, after a silence that was carefully calculated to a count of ten seconds.

‘No, thank you,’ I said, in a forced voice, shifting my gaze onto the nurse who’d stood behind the registrar all along. She smiled but she looked completely unnerved – I found myself wondering whether I was very ugly or dishevelled, and decided that it could go either way.

‘I’ll be taking my leave for now, then,’ the registrar said, briskly, getting to his feet. ‘If you need anything, there is a buzzer next to you – if you ring it, a nurse will come and can fetch me, or my colleague who will start the next shift in a few hours. Otherwise, the nurses will bring you dinner tonight, nothing complicated, and the professor will be in tomorrow morning.’

I nodded silently. There was nothing to be said – he’d won and the benzodiazepines remained hooked up to me, and that was really all that mattered. I was going to be their dummy until I managed to recover myself from the fuzzy blurs in my mind.

They both left, the nurse after fussing a little over the drip and checking that I needed nothing – finally leaving me with the buzzer on the otherwise empty bedside table at my right. I closed my eyes, exhaled slowly, trying to ignore the discomfort of the needle on the back of my hand, and focused on the slightest tingles of sounds around me. There was the occasional chirp of birds from outside, and something inside of me ached – back home, sunset would be marked by the most perfect cacophony of birdsong and flutter of wings. Everything was fake and dilute here – it was a life of empty pretence.

Who was I? What was ‘my case’? I opened my eyes and focused on the incriminating blue-capped bottle floating above my head. If only I could convince them to take me off it, I was sure my memories would return. Anxiolytics had never worked for me – I remembered vague dark forms, and a sickeningly wide expanse of open flat space. I was standing on a huge featureless plain, and around me was emptiness. I looked up, and there was another plane there, but it was transparent, so that I could see the people who walked on that level. They strode on purposefully, a crowd in a street, intent on getting to places. I reached up, tried to touch that level, but I was stranded on the huge empty plain instead, and no matter how far I stretched, my hands met only air. I shouted, I jumped up and down, but no one heard me – I simply didn’t exist. The emptiness… the emptiness was swallowing me. Everyone else was going away, was in a different world, leaving me stuck on the wrong plane, in the wrong dimension. I was falling, down, into the emptiness, tipped wrong side up.

I woke up sweating and cold, still falling but landing with a bump. Around me, all was dark and silent, in a hushed way, as if something was swallowing the noise of the world. I lay still with clenched teeth, shivering violently, and when I finally mustered enough courage, I snatched my hand out and grabbed hold of something at my right, that I remembered voices telling me would bring help.

They came, but they were so loud I tried to run from them too – there were words but they meant nothing to me, they were distorted and were just strange sounds linked together to form a parody of speech. The voices jumped around me and shadows fell across me, before whiteness blinded me and I sank slowly but irrevocably into the endless abyss of feather-soft whispers. And amidst them, I recognised his, the softest of them all – sucking me deeper into the nightmare of purple bruises and fading thorns.

I woke and fell, I slept and dreamt – it was a cycle and I must have been trapped within its spokes for several more days. I had lucid moments when I pressed the buzzer to demand to be taken off the poison, and I had less lucid moments when I had no notion of who I was and what ‘to be’ even meant. I had moments when I was completely his again and moments when his voice meant nothing to me. There were always words around me, and they dripped onto my ears and made little sense to me, sometimes floating around me and lingering into my dreams. The people in green shouted at me and shone more lights, but I grew to intensely dislike them and simply hid from them, behind the shadows, where they could not reach.

One morning, I opened my eyes to the sun slanting into my room onto my pale blue bedcovers, and the world came sharply into focus, every speck of dust floating in the air, every molecule mottling the beams of light. I knew who I was.

Auriel Denevier.



  1. Sheila said,

    Heya, tis me.

    Before I forget:
    found a typo here – “huge featureless plain, and around me was emptiness.” plane maybe? And hah – recycling words! I love it.

    The prologue is lovely, as I’d said back when you first posted. Chapter One had me grinning like an idiot, so much did it remind me of “Embers of Memory”. From the biological standpoint, your version makes much more sense – Auriel isn’t coherent, whereas my nameless girl is coherent but amnesiatic and in pain.

    Chapter 2 was really quite interesting, but one thing bothered me: Auriel keeps mentioning “her background”. She remembers her “background” and the laws but not her name or age or home? And the background – at first, I thought medicine, since she knew about benzo, but then I thought law, when she mentioned laws, and then I was a bit confused, since it takes time to do both, and if she’s in her twenties, that’s rather unlikely, isn’t it?

    Otherwise though, I really did enjoy reading so far. Maybe your writing this will give me the push I need to write something.

    • exillior said,

      I’ll correct that typo pronto tomorrow! (too late today, if I get into it, I’ll never go to bed XD

      I know what you mean about Auriel mentioning “her background” so confidently while she seems unable to recall anything at all. But that’s the… ambiguity I want to project. There are many other things she is doing which show that… she’s not actually got amnesia. The prologue hints at it – the following chapters will explain it. I do believe I mentioned it in my journal anyway – she had part of her memories removed. Not everything. I don’t think she’s actually “remembering” her background etc. She’s just “falling into the habit” of behaving as… whatever profession she is learning/working under.

      Basically, if this bothered you, it’s excellent, because, well, it should :D

      And teehee. If you’re wondering about her background already, I’m doing something right :D

  2. kira said,

    You actually re-stimulated my imagery which had been already locked in a corner of my brain, after a long long time. Impressive. I think I want to re-read these again, and hopefully, you can have the next chapters too. :)

    • Exillior said,

      I am so happy!!! :D

      • kira said,

        Lol! Hey, my appreciation is all yours to take. It’s one of the most beautiful ones I’ve read in a long while – hopefully that’ll also push you to make some new chapters. :)

  3. jukthe said,

    This is amazing! I really love your style ^_^ It’s… well, predictable. Not because I can tell what’s going to happen, mind you (I’m struggling to keep up with what is happening so far!) but because I know that each section is punctuated with small moments of revelation and clarity, and that you will end each part in a strong, yet simple manner.

    The fogginess is conveyed well, especially seeing as the abstract style in which you write leaves the reader as clueless as Auriel for most of the time. Keep it up! xx

  4. Hanah said,

    My favourite part:
    “The world came in focus in blotches and speckles of fog and colour and light – my vision was an artist’s palette, on which the angel of rain had shed a few unruly drops haphazardly here and there, to make everything run together in some places, forming bright stains and tangles of thready watercolour, that gradually stopped running into each other and began to re-affirm themselves into distinct outlines”
    So beautiful! Even though shes confused about what she sees, the imagery you used is wonderful.

    As for the rest of the story, amazing! I’m reading this before I go to bed and I can’t turn off my computer, its so gripping.

    • exillior said,

      I did my absolute best to put myself exactly in her shoes and experience what she must be experiencing. How do I explain… it’s like, she’s seeing everything perfectly… it just doesn’t make sense to her. Or she doesn’t want it to. I hope I’ve managed to do justice to that! :D

      And haha, thank you. I’m amazed that it’s working so well. ^^ I hope to write some more in a couple of weeks. Really hope to.

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