our_lady

Sunhill Asylum, February 12, 1957

Hardy ambles down the dinner hall and sits alone at blue Formica table. He slumps on the chair with weary sigh, plonking his tray before him. He pauses for a moment, surveying his dish through misty spectacles. Then he smothers his food with a liberal dusting of salt and pepper. He’s about to eat when a woman says:

‘Too much salt. That’s bad for the heart.’

He looks up and beholds a Seraphim in a sunbeam:

‘Mind if I join you?’ she asks.

‘Not at all. Please do.’

She sits opposite, smiling politely as she pours a glass of water.’

‘I’m Selena Fulbright.’

‘Yes, I know who you are. You’re not exactly hard to miss in this place.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I mean, I see the world in black and white – but you – you’re in glorious Technicolour. You stand out like a flower in a wasteland.’

‘Thank you doctor Hardy. That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.’

‘A girl like you? I don’t believe it for a moment.’

‘Are you flirting with me?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. I’m old enough to be your father. Besides, there’s only one woman for me, and she’s dead and gone.’

‘Faithful to the end. I like that.’

She winces at her food, drawing her fork through a mound of stodge that almost overflows the plate:

‘Oh my god! This is so gross. What is this stuff?’

‘Bubble and squeak.’

‘What?’

‘Cabbage and potato.’

‘Yuck!’

‘You don’t have that in America?’

‘Waffles. We have waffles for breakfast.’

‘Potato waffles?’

‘No. Egg waffles. With maple syrup.’

‘No cabbage?’

‘Absolutely not.’

‘It’s an acquired taste. You’ll get used to it.’

‘I pray that day never comes.’

‘You could always eat the sausage and the beans.’

Repulsed, she turns the sausage over with the tip of her knife:

‘It’s not even cooked.’

‘I’ll eat it.’

He stabs it with his fork and takes a bite:

‘Delicious. Perfectly delicious. Pardon my manners. You settling in all right?’

‘Yes thank you. Apart from the cold.’

‘You’re a long way from Texas.’

‘You’ve done your research.’

‘The accent is unmistakable. I knew a G.I. from Texas in the war. A great friend of mine. He died at the Battle of Metz.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘You’re working with doctor Pontius aren’t you?’

‘Yes. The drugs trial.’

‘What drug exactly?’

‘Don’t you know?’

‘I’m not party to such information.’

‘Aren’t you going to the induction?’

‘I’m not invited.’

‘Why ever not? You’re the senior consultant, aren’t you?’

‘Yes. But that counts for very little in this day and age. You see, Pontius and I come from very different schools.’

‘How so?’

‘I don’t approve of his invasive methods. Lobotomy and E.C.T. – their both barbaric. I’m old school, you see. So they’ve put me out to grass. And you? What’s your speciality? You look very young – and far too glamorous for this grim hole, if you’ll pardon me for saying.’

‘I’m a hypnotist.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘I’m feeling sleepy – and very misled.’

‘You don’t approve.’

‘Of hypnosis? Absolutely not. Like Freud, I prefer a psychology devoid of simple suggestion.’

‘But Freud himself used hypnosis.’

‘He abandoned it. And his reasons for doing so were entirely justified.’

‘Such as?’

Hardy slurps his tea and enthuses:

‘Freud feared patients would loose contact with their present situation, or become addicted to hypnosis like a narcotic. Under hypnosis, a patient can suggest to himself whatever he pleases.[i] Besides, hypnosis is unsuitable for hysteriform conditions, and not all patients can be hypnotised.’[ii]

‘Ah, but that all depends on the hypnotist. Perhaps Freud wasn’t as good a hypnotist as he liked to believe.’

He slurps again:

‘Hypnotic effects are capricious and impermanent.[iii] Hypnotic treatment might strengthen the required repressions to cure a patient, but it still leaves all the mental processes that lead to the formation of pathologies unresolved.[iv] Hypnosis conceals the very resistance that should be unearthed and tackled in psychoanalysis.[v] I think Freud’s exact words were: “in using hypnosis we are dependent on the state of the patient’s capacity for transference without being able to influence it itself”. If I’m not mistaken…’

She bristles:

‘Well, I am happy to disagree with you, doctor Hardy.’

‘You’re quite sure of yourself, aren’t you, young lady?’

‘Hypnosis has come a long way since Freud. I find hypnosis to be a very powerful therapeutic tool. Especially for releasing patients from trauma.’

‘What sort of trauma are we talking about?’

‘Abusive parents. School-yard bullies. Phobias.’

‘I use basic Freudian analysis for that. Most patients are helped just by talking it out.’

‘I agree. But hypnosis is far more powerful – especially when dealing with repressed memories and the roots of pathological behaviours.’

‘I’d like to sit in on one of your sessions.’

‘Oh, you’d have to ask doctor Pontius about that.’

‘I see Pontius has you under his thumb already.’

‘No. But my work here is confidential.

‘Top secret eh? How exciting.’

‘Do you enjoy undermining your colleagues? Or is it because I’m a woman and a hypnotist?’

‘Don’t be absurd. I’m allowed to have a professional opinion, aren’t I?’

‘If you must know, I’m working with one of your old patients.’

‘Oh? Who?’

‘Jack Vallis.’

‘You mean The Parisian Lady.

‘I’ve been through his file. Can you tell me anything more about him? What’s your personal opinion?’

The Parisian Lady is a very troubled man. I can’t imagine how hypnosis will help. His personas have all the hallmarks of acute schizophrenia.’

‘What if his personas are real?’

‘Real? The Parisian Lady? How can she be real?’

‘She might be a memory of a past life.’

‘Oh dear. I can see where this is going. You’re one of those avant-guard analysts who try and explain pathological behaviours as results of past-life experiences.’

‘Hypnotic regression is a perfectly legitimate treatment.’

‘In America perhaps. But not here. I once had a patient who had a fear of water. She claimed she was ducked as a witch in a previous live. But her mother tried to drown her in the bath when she was two. She could not accept that her own mother would do such a thing, so she invented a past life to explain it away. I’ve treated victims of stage hypnosis: patients whose “previous personality” did not vanish when instructed. The subjects were left in altered states of persona that lasted several months.’

‘My methods are perfectly safe. I’ve been using regression as a past-life recall method since 1952. Have you heard of Virginia Tighe? She’s mentioned in the literature.’

‘No, can’t say I have.’

‘She was born in Colorado and regressed back in time beyond the date of her birth. The extraordinary thing was this: she started talking in a very specific Irish accent. She claimed her name was Bridey Murphy and that she lived in Ireland in the year 1890.’

Hardy stuffs his mouth and scoffs:

‘Yes, but how do you know all these details were not suggestions of the hypnotist?’

‘What about her accent? She accurately described Irish society in the late 19th century.’

‘She probably read Dubliners by Joyce on holiday and forgot all about it.’

‘Bridey Murphy wasn’t from Dublin, she was from Cork. Virginia Tighe had never been to Cork, yet she described the locale perfectly – the place of her birth, the streets and shops – everything.’

‘I’ve no doubt that her past life persona was very convincing to the hypnotist – and to those who investigated her claims. But it’s just cryptomnesia: forgotten facts unavailable to the conscious mind often resurface during hypnosis. Either that or paramnesia – she was credited with having more knowledge of her past life than she actually had. I’m sorry, but hypnotically evoked personalities are completely bogus.’

‘So you don’t believe in The Parisian Lady?’

‘I can assure you, The Parisian Lady was created in dreams. Manufactured by the Id. A classic example of wish fulfilment. Jack Vallis is a textbook case: expansive paranoia; inventive paranoia; religious paranoia; erotic paranoia – you name it. Not to mention his periodic manias, hysteria and hallucinations.’

‘What about his extrasensory perception?’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘Yes you do. Don’t pretend that you don’t.’

Hardy says nothing but munches on his sausage.

‘Tell me Doctor Hardy, does Jack Vallis frighten you?’

‘Frighten me? Why should he frighten me?’

‘What if his secondary personality is not a past life persona, but an imposition.’

‘Imposition? I don’t follow.’

‘The imposition of a discarnate person.’

‘I don’t deal in the occult Ms. Fulbright.’

‘Nevertheless, his claims are quite extraordinary. Even a devout atheist would find them disturbing.’

‘Not at all.’

‘Do you know why he jumped from the train?’

‘There were many reasons.’

‘I’m curious. Most cases of reincarnation include a violent death. And subjects often have vengeful inclinations to some crime related feature of their previous life. Has Vallis ever mentioned anything like that?’

‘This is a psychiatric hospital, not a Spiritualist church. There are countless inmates of asylums whose insanity can be traced to belief in Spiritualism; they number in the thousands, if not tens of thousands. Although, as a dispassionate scientific man, I cannot say how many became insane by reason of their addiction to Spiritualism, or how many became Spiritualists by reason of their insanity. Believe me, I have exhausted every reasonable test which science has led me to take, and I can assure you that The Parisian Lady is a fiction. Forget reincarnation. The case is plain and simple: Jack Vallis lives in the Old World as a woman because he cannot accept being a man in the New. Transsexual pathology and nothing more. His journal might include some accurate historical details regarding the Cathars, but all these are derived from books, radio and television. Pontius agrees with me on that, at least. Have you hypnotised Vallis yet?’

‘No. I was given another patient to start on.’

‘Who?’

‘Tommy Perry.’

‘An electrician, if I recall. I remember the day of his committal: New Year’s day, 1950. He was found naked in a graveyard.’

‘Your memory serves you well.’

‘So what have you surmised? Did hypnosis reveal the root of his psychosis?’

‘Yes, I believe it did.’

‘Well, aren’t you going to tell me about it?’

‘What’s the point? You don’t approve of hypnosis.’

‘I’d like to know all the same.’

‘Do you remember the case?’

‘Vaguely.’

‘Tommy Perry suffers from psycholeptic attacks dating from an episode which occurred seven years ago and which he has completely forgotten. At that time he was working at Mullards in Blackburn. After leaving the New Year celebrations he was sent back by his employer, a woman, to look for a ring which she had lost in the ballroom. His way led along a lonely road and into a graveyard. As he was passing amid the tombstones, he was struck with mortal terror, and fell, partially unconscious, his right side completely paralysed. As you know, he was found naked in this condition at dawn, and taken to hospital. And ever since that night, he has recurring attacks of paralysis and spasms.’

‘Yes, but where does hypnotic regression come in?’

‘During hypnosis I was able to revisit the event and determine the cause of his fright and subsequent paralysis. Under hypnosis he relates a recurring dream which he always forgets after waking. This is the dream: he is back at Mullards on New Year’s Eve; he sees his employer with outstretched hand commanding him to search for her ring. Once more he makes his way through the graveyard. But then he spies a bright orb hovering amid the trees. Overcome with terror he flees and trips on tombstone. Then he awakes, with oblivion for the dream, to find his right side paralysed and in spasms.’

‘An orb? Light phenomena are often induced by epileptic seizures.’

‘This orb was not induced by seizures.’

‘Well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explantation. The sexton with his lamp perhaps?’

‘It wasn’t a human light. It was supernatural – like a Willow-the-Wisp – flying above the trees.’

‘Marsh gas. The moors are full of bogs.’

‘No, not marsh gas. Tommy claims he was abducted.’

‘A mugger then – lurking in the graveyard. Tommy was knocked out and suffered a delirious concussion.’

‘You deny he saw an orb?’

‘I deny a supernatural cause. I once saw lights myself – up on Shining Tor. But they’re a perfectly natural geological phenomena. Something to do with the rocks around here. Piezoelectricity they call it. Ball lightning.’

‘You can’t get abducted by ball lightning…’

‘Indeed not. Case solved.’

‘– Which means only one of two things: either Tommy Perry imagined he was abducted – or the orb was something else entirely.’

‘There’s more?’

‘Once abducted by the orb, Tommy found himself in a strange white room. The walls and ceiling were obscured by a thick white mist.’

‘That would be the ambulance no doubt.’

She slams her palm on the table:

‘Oh! Will you shut up a minute! I’m trying to tell you something!’

He flinches, chastised:

‘Very well. Go on, Miss Fulbright…’

‘From out of the mist there appeared a small creature who looked like a goblin.’

‘Classic schizophrenic dissociation.’

‘You’re not listening to me.’

‘Because you’re talking nonsense.’

‘Am I? The goblin wasn’t the only thing he saw in that mist.’

‘Oh? What else did he see? A little green man? Rip Van Winkle?’

‘Jack Vallis. He saw Jack Vallis.’

Hardy glares in disbelief. She grins:

‘Ask yourself doctor Hardy, how is that possible? This was seven years ago, before Vallis was even committed.’

‘Tommy Perry is a very muddled man. He’s confused time and place, that’s all. Perhaps he was friends with Vallis but doesn’t remember. Vallis claims to have worked at Mullards himself. Did you know that? But only as a cleaner, I’m certain of that.’

‘You’re certain about a lot, aren’t you doctor Hardy? Don’t you believe in other forms of intelligent life?’

‘No. Especially not goblins and Willow-the-Wisps.’

‘You’re an atheist, I take it?’

‘Of course I’m a bloody atheist. What’s that got to do with it?’

They remain on tenterhooks, staring eye to eye. She smoulders:

‘Tommy has night terrors. He’s too frightened to sleep. He believes the goblin is watching him – and sometimes within him, like a parasite or possession. He’s feels powerless to stop it, even under hypnosis. It comes through the walls at night: a dark entity whose purpose he cannot fathom. That is the root of his trauma.’

Hardy wags his fork:

‘Possession? Listen to me young lady. I wouldn’t go repeating that tale to Pontius if I were you. He’ll send you straight back to Texas. He abhors the supernatural as much as I.’

She rises to leave:

‘Thanks for the tip.’

‘Aren’t you going to finish your breakfast?’

‘I’ve lost my appetite. Good day doctor Hardy.’

She marches off. Hardy pulls her plate towards him and furrows the dish with his fork:

‘Bubble and squeak,’ he grouses. ‘Bubble and squeak.’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2020.
Plasma Entity montage © Nicholas Shea.

i. Freud, 1917, pp.451-2. (Freud’s Relevance to Hypnosis: A Reevaluation by Rachel Bachner-Melman & Pesach Lichtenberg, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 44:1, July 2001).

ii. Freud, 1925/1959, p.41. (Ibid).

iii. Freud, 1917/1963, p.449. (Ibid).

iv. Hardy is paraphrasing Freud. (Ibid).

v. Freud, 1917/1963, p.292. (Ibid).