The predator dreams have returned. Dreams I call them though their lucidity is so frightening that they wake me; gasping for air, blinded and paralysed.
A week ago a friend drove me to another town to see a psychic. “You’ve got plenty going on,” he’d said. “Go and see this bloke. My shout.”
The psychic, or seer, I’m not sure what he calls himself, his face was round like a coin and he told me that he used to be a cabinet maker. Silver and turquoise feathers hung around his neck. He sat opposite the table to me and nodded when I asked him if we could turn off the flute music. Then he slipped a cassette into the player and pressed record.
That day, the psychic went over my body without touching me; my organs, limbs and brain, piece by piece, speaking very fast and casting out all sorts of invisible slithery, scaly critters with rather theatrical flourishes. He described my personal archetypes: Kali, freedom fighter, queen, witch.
“Anyone can just look at you and see those guys,” a sceptical friend said later. “Did he mention Boadicea?”
The psychic worked on me for nearly two hours. I began to understand how he operated. The mimed evictions of gremlins that were attached to me or cork screwed into my body - creatures that he claimed to see in those moments when he quietened and his eyes became blank - were mere physical suggestions for an emotional purging. His was not dissimilar in method to a placebo effect. I felt peculiar release as he extracted a snake from my heel, ordered the Minotaur standing over my left shoulder to blunder unhappily from the room, removed porcupine spines from beneath my shoulder blades that had once been inserted by a woman who wished me ill. The sustained attention to my physical and psychic self felt like a reiki session or a massage.
As he progressed, the man became more confidant. He described my addictions and expressed concern for the health of my thymus and my left ovary. Finally he was quiet for almost a minute and then said, “I could be wrong here and forgive me if I am ... I don’t want to offend you but you were harmed as a girl child. Yes?”
I didn’t say anything.
“There is a tiny black snake curled into your tailbone, your coccyx. You’ve been carrying this snake for a long time.”
“Would you like me to remove it?”
Knock yourself out, I thought, suddenly exhausted. But I nodded and as he sat opposite me and enacted dragging out the tiny black snake, I felt part of me break away. The loss produced in me a relief – and a most perverse grief. As he bit the head off the black snake and threw its body into the corner of the room, tears leaked from my eyes and then poured, until I was sobbing and unable to stop.
He handed me a box of tissues covered in pictures of panda bears, and waited.
I am climbing down a cement manhole. I know I’m climbing down into a kind of hell where he waits for me at the bottom but I can’t stop going down. I can’t go up. The rungs of the ladder are rusting steel and my steps are unsteady. The cramped cylindrical space is lit a greasy yellow. In each square space between the rungs of the ladder there is a picture sticky taped to the concrete. As I go down, the pictures become more graphic. Flesh. A woman’s tortured flesh, her face, her blood, and her mouth twisted in pain. Every picture is worse as I go down but I can’t stop. I can’t stop going down to where he is waiting for me.
I can’t save her.
My week was bookended by the psychic and then the psych. With each session she begins “How is the family/book/Phd?”
This week I told her about the dreams and how, in these dreams I am never protected. Even potential saviours tend to run off.
“When did these dreams start?”
“When I was a teenager, maybe younger. They came back when I was with my son’s father.”
“You were afraid of him?”
“Not really. Sometimes, yes. Yes, I am.”
“And now your dreams have come back again?”
“About a year ago, they came back.”
“Describe one to me.”
“Okay ... I mean, they are all different, different places, different people, but they are all the same too. A recent one, I was in a little fishing shack behind the dune of the beach. I stood in the doorway as two men drove past in a four wheel drive. The passenger saw me standing in the doorway. He was blonde, a bit ferrety, you know. Soon he came back, on foot, alone. I knew he would. He started coming for me and he cornered me in the back room of the shack, where light came through the windows and it was all dusty in the air. Somehow I got past him and ran outside. He chased me. There was a heap of scrap metal outside the door in the long grass and he picked up a length of steel with this bit of square steel welded to the end. All I could do for a moment was stare at the steel corners and think he’s going to fucking brain me and he’s going to rape me, whichever comes first. He’s going to kill me. I picked up a piece of wood but it was too short, shorter than his length of steel. He smiled at me. Then two middle-aged women walked down the track with a dog. They both wore pale shorts and their hair was brown. I asked them to witness because I needed someone to see what was going to happen. But they were scared and ran away. Then he started swinging for me with that piece of steel.”
“That man when you were a kid, he used to corner you in a shed.”
I nodded. “But there’s no particular reason why he should be coming up at the moment.”
“What about those sealers and Aboriginal women you are writing your thesis about?”
Could he? Thought Bailey, as he wiped his hands over the little girl’s face with her lying like a corpse, cold and still. He could. He could do whatever he wanted. He put his hand on her flat chest and felt her galloping heart. He could do whatever he wanted.
Moennan, lying a few metres away in the dark, watched as Bailey swept back the little girl’s hair and whispered to her.
“You want to go home, hey little Weed? I’ll take you home. I’ll get you home Weed.”
Weed could see the whites of Moennan’s eyes. She nodded at Bailey. Then Bailey crawled across the skins to Moennan and her eyes were obscured Bailey’s body. The sounds of the dark sea became second to that of the grunts from his throat and the fleshy thuds from his fists.
In the morning Moennan was bleeding from her nose and Weed stared at her and went down to the rocks on the skirts of the island to wash herself. She scooped fresh water from the spring that seeped under the granite and poured in streaks down to the sea, brought handfuls to her mouth.
“I’m completely stalled with that writing. I just don’t want to go near it,” I whined. “Straight history is easy. ‘He did that in such and such a year’ etcetera. Fiction is different. You have to be emotionally available to your characters. It becomes like channelling. I can’t write about these guys at the moment. I don’t like them. I don’t want to hang out with Samuel Bailey every day. When I do, he does my fucking head in. I feel crazy by the end of the day. I just want to climb out of my own brain.”
“This might sound pretty left of field coming from me but what do you think about an afterlife?”
“What do you think happens to people when they die?”
“I think people can stick around for a while after they die. I think their spirits can attach to the physical realm in some way. Other than that, I don’t know. I’m quite unsure.”
“The men you are writing about from the 1820’s ... and believe me I know them today, I’ve worked in the corrective services ... they don’t see themselves as bad men but rather, hard done by the system or by life. They always have a justification for abusing another human being, if they admit to it at all. You are working on these people, long dead, writing them ... you mentioned channelling ... have you ever wondered if you might be stirring them up?”
“Has anyone else in the last few hundred years given them the same, sustained energy that you are right now?”
“What you are doing, getting into their skin, it is a powerful invocation. They might be getting upset about your investigations. They may not like what you are saying about them. They may be trying to attack you.”
What I love about this therapist is her courage to say outrageous things.
“And you are wide open. Wide open. Your ah ... other foibles, your inability to set limits on yourself are making you pretty vulnerable. You’ve also told me before that your moral centre is, well, there is no centre. You don’t even know what the rules are anymore. This state will also make you weaker.”
When I told a friend about the session she said, “You’ve been writing and thinking about this story for a long time now. Those characters must hold some kind of resonance with your own journey.”
Michelle is an artist who works with Jungian archetypes and so the word archetypes came up several times. I have long felt suspicious of labelling the beings within me; witch, wife, waif and whore feel too convenient to pigeonhole the shambling chaos of my mind. “Some psychological technologies suggest we arrest these beings, count them, name them, force them into harness until they shuffle along like vanquished slaves. But to do this would halt the dance of wildish lights in a woman’s eyes ...” Estes, 39.
“When I first heard the story of the sealers and the Aboriginal women they abducted from the beaches, I was immediately hooked. I thought of the selkie myth,” I told Michelle. “It’s like the women’s skins were stolen, as well as their bodies. They were taken to islands and they must have longed for their country and kin and language. And like the selkie myth, the women’s stories have resonated with me. They were owned. It goes back to the fear of the masculine, of being appropriated, my spirit annihilated. Sometimes I think that my fear of the masculine has been my driver, however dysfunctional it all is. These kinds of men are also really attractive. There is a thrill in taking them on. I can never win but it is the battle and the glamour of it all ...”
But selkies, sealers, victims and dangerous men are all external factors. Despite the psychic’s best efforts, my inner stalker, that insidious little black snake, is still unfurling in my spine.
Later Michelle sent me an email with a quote.
The critical key to resolving these powerful images is 'paradox'. I don't want to say too much because it's something you need to encounter in your own way - just remember that word though.
Faith that arises at points of near-unbearable suffering is a faith born by sustaining absolute paradox.
(Cedrus Monte, At the Threshold of Psycho-Genesis)
Then she sent another one. In the shower, I just thought of Bluebeard. Remember that story? Would that one work for you?
I am towing a boat from Darwin to Perth. In the red evening I drive towards a dusty town and when I get to the bridge that is the gateway to the town, the trailer breaks and the boat begins to fall off the trailer. I have to stop on the bridge. The town ranger drives up behind me, gets out of his car and helps me push the boat back on. He says that I must stay the night here and not drive any more. He leads me to a bush camp on the outskirts of the town where I can camp. He goes into the bush and brings back some firewood. I think he is kind, for a stranger. He gives me some food to eat. Then he goes away. I light a big fire and sit there alone.
In the middle of the night, as the light of the flames loom against the trees, the ranger comes back. I know then that he was not being kind or attentive: he had set me up in a kind of boudoir, for his own use.
After twenty years of carting it around, today I got out my dusty copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves, opened it to ‘Bluebeard and the Natural Predator of the Psyche.’
“The predatory potentate shows up time after time in women’s dreams. It erupts in the midst of their most soulful and meaningful plans. It severs the woman from her intuitive nature. When its cutting work is done, it leaves the woman deadened in feeling, feeling frail to advance her life; her ideas and dreams lay at her feet drained of animation. Bluebeard is the story of such a matter.” Estes, 40.
Bluebeard wooed three sisters, unsuccessfully at first. They were afraid of him and his blue beard but he was dogged and cunning in his pursuit of them. He invited them on a ride through the forest and met them with three horses festooned in crimson ribbons, bells and brightly coloured plumes. He fed them a picnic of delicate morsels in the forest and finally the sisters thought that he was a civilised man who was interesting, if a little eccentric and dangerous. The two older sisters were still frightened of his blue beard but the youngest sister was attracted to him and said to her sisters ‘his beard is not quite so blue as you would think.’ Her intuition was blinded by his bright glamour and, perhaps because they both recognised the feral within each other, he took her for his wife.
Of course there is a forbidden room in his magnificent castle. Of course Bluebeard leaves for a few days and entrusts his new wife the keys. She invites her sisters to keep her company and they roam the castle in his absence looking for the forbidden room because they are naturally curious and they have the key. When they find the room, they discover that it is filled with the dismembered corpses of Bluebeard’s past wives.
Of course Bluebeard returns and knows from the key that bleeds and bleeds and cannot be staunched, that his new wife has discovered what is in store for her. He drags her by her hair to the bloodied, stinking chamber. She pleads with him for her life and when that doesn’t work, for fifteen minutes to pray and say goodbye to her sisters, which he grants her.
In the movie The Piano, a Bluebeard production is staged in a small church hall. The young Maori warriors in the audience see Bluebeard return with his axe to murder his wife and they seize weapons and storm the stage in what is represented as a comical confusion between theatrical and actual violence. But in the original story it is the brothers who storm the castle when they are summonsed by the three sisters. They attack Bluebeard just as he is coming for the young wife, and dismember him, ‘leaving for the buzzards his blood and gristle.’
I am as guilty of romancing the predator as the little sister, star struck by promises of excitement and paradise and ignoring the danger with the qualification ‘well, his beard is not quite so blue’, to the point where I have experienced my erasure; a rubbing out from the inside.
‘Say for instance, a naive woman keeps making poor choices in a mate. Somewhere in her mind she knows this pattern is fruitless ... At another extreme, a woman involved in a chemical addiction most definitely has at the back of her mind a set of older sisters who are saying “No! No way! This is bad for the mind and bad for the body. We refuse to continue.” But the desire to find Paradise draws the woman into the marriage with Bluebeard, the drug dealer of psychic highs.’ Estes, 50.
“You seem to almost justify the behaviour of these sealers, like ... ‘they’re not that bad’ ...” the counsellor said to me once. “It’s like you are identifying with the abuser. It’s not an uncommon trait in victims of childhood abuse. People often really love or admire their abusers and then how are you supposed to reconcile that regard with how much they have damaged you?”
The thing is the locked rooms are pressing to be discovered and when they are opened up to display the carnage, I will no longer be able to say ‘well, their beards are not quite so blue’. Perhaps she is right about my invocation of Samuel Bailey ... Bluebeard returns from the past to find the bloodied key and so takes a fistful of my curious womany hair ... In my dreams the fear of being prey still seems to outweigh the need to know the truth about my predator, but only just and not for much longer.
I have seen both dark and light in this story of the sealers. I have the saviour brothers in the form of the Major and a Maori man called William Hook, who initiated the rescue of the two Aboriginal girls from the island by testifying against his own crew mate. But to mangle yet another metaphor, when you shine a light in a dark cave, the crevices and corners become all the more darker. This seems to be the nature of writing men like William Hook and Samuel Bailey back into existence.
While investigating what motivates a man to kidnap a seven year old girl and imprison her on an island, the predator dreams returned. Please make it as simple as that. I stopped writing this story recently and busied myself with plenty of other fascinating projects. Samuel Bailey was too much to bear and I decided the best thing for me would be to go to sea; sail off in a boat to somewhere. Meanwhile the dreams are becoming more frequent and so is my panic at looming deadlines and my apparent inability to exert some control over my flight desire, to step off, so to speak. The whole time I am stalking myself in my head.
‘Ironically, both aspects of the psyche, the predator and the young potential, reach their boiling point. When a woman understands that she has been prey, both in the inner and outer worlds, she can hardly bear it. It strikes at the root of who she is at centre, and she makes plans, as she must, to kill the predatory force.’ Estes, 59.
Despite the quote and the sentiment, there are still no conclusions to this story. I am just beginning to identify what the hell is going on in my dreaming and my writing. Hopefully I can get back to the work without the paralysis or the anticipation of annihilation that has been dogging me, on and off, for a long time. Calling up ‘the brothers’ - as Estes describes them, the animus, my better male side, my psychic ‘muscle men’ - to neutralise the predator may be a useful image to work with, next.
It’s a funny thing that today while I’ve been writing all this stuff out (and after a relatively snake-free summer) a little black dugite has been hanging around on the back veranda, sluggish, refusing to leave. I have to stamp my feet every time I go out to the washing line, to let her know that I am approaching.