Lovely book for sensitive children, and anyone who loves a good story. We have readers who have read this book over and over again.
I awoke, terrified, sweat pouring off me. I was screaming, screaming, screaming. I don’t remember if I was screaming words or simply screaming. I have no memory of the dream. I never did. It happened frequently. A nightmare would creep into my sleep but I would remember nothing except the utter sense of terror.
Mum came to me in her dressing gown. She sat me on her lap and wrapped her arms around me. She would rock me and sing to me. She didn’t sing words she just hummed beautiful tunes that she made up. It was so beautiful it always made me think of angels. Gradually my heart quietened and I felt peaceful and safe in Mum’s arms.
When I was a child of ten I came to this island full of fear. Fearful of being alone – never having known true solitude, fearful of the dark – never having known darkness without any man-made light; fearful of something out there that was going to get me – yet never having faced the wildness that is nature.
We came to this island the first time for a holiday. My mum and dad were tired and needed to get away. Mum was exhausted from constantly disturbed sleep caused by my nightmares. I had been having nightmares since I was a young child. I could never remember a time when I had not had them. But over recent months they had been increasing in frequency. Every night my parents were woken by my screaming. Sometimes two or three times a night. Every time my mum lovingly took me in her arms and sang to me. She always stayed until I was soundly asleep. Sometimes she fell asleep there with me.
No one could understand why I had these nightmares or why I was so fearful. My parents had taken me to the family doctor who had referred me to a child psychiatrist. But no one could find a reason.
I remember one night Daddy came into the room. Mum still held me in her arms singing softly. I was beginning to drift off into peaceful sleep. But I wasn’t asleep. My parents thought I was and they spoke in whispers.
“Chris, Chris, Chris,” Dad sighed my mum’s name and sat on the end of my bed. “What is to be done with our little girl? I can’t stand it. I can’t stand the disturbed sleep. I can’t stand the exhaustion on your face. I can’t stand the pain in my little girl.” And he wept. I could feel my mum’s tears, also, dropping on to my face. I didn’t cry myself, although I wanted to. My parents would have been embarrassed to find I was awake.
After a while Daddy stood up and came over to us. He began to stroke my hair softly. “Why don’t we go away for a break?” he asked.
“There’s no point,” she said. “You know how holidays only add to Abi’s fear and stress. And to be honest,” she held her hand out to my dad, “it only adds to mine.”
“Someone at work was telling me about a place in Canada, on Vancouver Island, that is utterly beautiful,” he continued, ignoring my mother’s objections. “He’s been feeling under a lot of pressure and he said he’s come home really refreshed. He said there was a peace about the place. “Almost like paradise” he described it. Christine, maybe it’s a place where we could be refreshed. You and me. Ben could run around to his heart’s content. Maybe even Abi might find some peace there too.”
Mum sighed and yawned. “Abi would never go in an aeroplane. And I can’t see that it would do her any good.”
“I can’t stand it. I want to do something. To do something different. It can’t make anything worse for Abi – it might help. We’ve tried doctors and pills and counselling. None of it’s worked. Let’s give this a go.” Daddy was pleading.
“I can’t think about it now. Let’s talk about it another time.” Mum gently laid me back in bed, kissed my forehead and they left.
I lay thinking, gazing at my night light. I understood how difficult my nightmares and my fears were for my parents. I thought about the place Daddy had described. It did sound lovely. But it would mean a journey and unknown places and I was scared.
I don’t know how Daddy persuaded Mum. But clearly they talked about it. A few days later when Mum picked me up from school she had obviously decided to tackle me as we were driving home.
“Did you have a good day, Abi?”
“Abi, would you like to go on holiday?”
I panicked inside and didn’t answer.
“Would you?” my mum tried again.
“Where?” I managed to ask quietly, remembering I wasn’t supposed to know.
“There’s a place in Canada your dad would like to go to.”
My heart was beating hard. I was expecting it. I had been thinking about it all day and every day since the night I heard Daddy talking about it. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I lay awake much of the night looking at it from every possible angle. I lived the journey, the holiday in every detail I could imagine. My nightmares intensified. I did not want to go, I could not go. I wanted to cry and stamp my feet. I wanted everything to stay just the way it was. Looking back, it wasn’t much of a life, but I could manage it. It was like living in a square with thick black lines marking it out. This holiday would mean stepping out of my clearly marked square. “Where is Canada?” I asked. I knew, I had looked it up in the atlas we have in the lounge. But it meant not having to give an answer yet.
“It’s across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s north of the United States of America,” Mum replied. She was trying to sound light-hearted. I could tell it was really important to her. I felt everything was pressing down hard on me.
“Will we have to fly?” I asked. I knew we’d have to fly. But it delayed the moment I would have to answer. It felt like there were voices in my head screaming “no”. But somewhere deeper than my fear I knew my parents really needed this. I couldn’t bear to be the reason they couldn’t go. And though everything in me did not want to go, somehow, something stronger than my own selfishness and my own fear compelled me to say “yes”.
“OK,” I said very quietly.
“Oh, darling,” my mum said with tears in her eyes. Mum was amazed it could be that easy to get me to agree. But, unknown to her, I had been battling this for days. “I know how hard it is,” Mum continued through her surprise. “But we will take care of you all the way and maybe you’ll love it.”
I wasn’t very hopeful.