“ I’m not going to bed,” said John — which startled his wife. Children are never ready for bed, but grown-ups like John are usually hankering for their pillows and eiderdowns from the moment they finish dinner. “I’m not going to bed!” said John again, and so ferociously that his wife knew he was very frightened indeed.
“You have been dreaming again, haven’t you?” she said tenderly. “Such a trial.”
John scrubbed at his eyes with his knuckles. “I told you. I never dream! What does a man have to do to be believed in his own house?”
His wife stroked his shiny head and went to turn down the bedclothes. And there on John’s side of the bed, something bulged up through the coverlet. It wasn’t a hot-water bottle or a teddy bear or a library book. Mrs. John folded down the sheets. It was a cutlass.
With a sigh, she hung it on the hook behind the bedroom door, alongside the quiver of arrows and John’s dressing gown. Both she and her husband liked to pretend it was not happening (because that’s what grown-ups do when they are in trouble), but secretly they both knew: John was dreaming of Neverland again. After every dream, something was left behind in his bed next morning, like the stones around a dish after a serving of prunes. A sword here, a candle there, a bow, a medicine bottle, a top hat…The night after he dreamed of mermaids, a fishy smell hung about the stairs all day. The wardrobe was piled high with the dregs of dreams — an alarm clock, an Indian head-dress, an eye-patch, a pirate’s tricorn hat. (The worst nights were when John dreamed of Captain Hook.)
Mrs. John plumped up the pillows with a brisk blow of her hand — and a gunshot rang out through the whole house, waking the neighbours and terrifying the dog. The bullet shied about the room, bouncing off the lamp-stand and smashing a vase. Cautiously, with two fingers, Mrs. John drew the pistol from under the pillow and dropped it into the bin, like a kipper found to be not quite fresh.
“They are so real!” whimpered her husband from the doorway. “These wretched dreams are just so real!”
I love the beautiful subversions in this opening of Geraldine McCaughrean’s sequel to JMBarrie’s Peter Pan. The presence of the ever pragmatic Mrs John is essential for the comedy to flourish. John has married wisely. His wife is the practical ‘carer’ of her dream- afflicted- husband, whose suffering emanates from the unexpected return of the past, in delightfully eccentric, yet nonethless ‘real’ ways.
Dreams we learn, leave residue. Don’t you love the alliterative ‘dregs of dreams’ ? They leave clues to support their essence, and to remind the real ‘grown up’ world that dreams are real too! Imaginatively dreams are conceived as tidal, depositing ‘signs’ of their storylines upon the shores of reality, validating the truth(ironically!) of NEVERLAND!
How wonderfully arch is the opening line of Geraldine Mc Caughrean’s Peter Pan in Scarlet, ‘I’m not going to bed..’ Our expectations are teasingly reversed, yet in a plaintively serious manner! The child still lingers on in the adult! I love the wise assertion that ‘grown-ups..are usually hankering for their pillows’. Here the narrator reminds us that staying awake holds little appeal once you ‘grow up’! Yet going to bed early does not protect you from the pull of Neverland!
Pathos and comedy dance delightfully together throughout this opening.
Mrs John’s pragmatic acceptance of the ‘dregs’ left over from dreams, carries with it the merest hint of stoic yet comic resignation too: ‘With a sigh she hung it on the hook..alongside the quiver of arrows.’ How beautifully controlled is this writing. The narrative pays homage to the original Peter Pan, yet makes its own compelling story too. McCaughrean embraces ‘what if?’with a wonderfully knowing, but light touch. She enjoys the value of the parenthical aside, which gives representation to the age old combat between childhood and adulthood. (The voices in our head harkening us back to younger days and ways!)
Mrs John has her boundaries though. She will not tolerate a loosely deployed pistol! ‘ …dropped it into the bin, like a kipper found to be not quite fresh.’ Here the simile shows the fastidiousness of Mrs John, as well as being a marker for the historical context. (Kippers are no longer as popularas they once were!) There is a slight awkwardness about the whole line as the syntax mimics the decisive fastidiousness of the character- mind you, who would tolerate such an errant kipper? !
A witty, wonderful return to Neverland.
The Woman in Black
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