Dr. Patterson handed me the report on a large wooden backed clipboard. I looked down at the report, started to flip through the pages. “Her name is Wendy Darling?”
Patterson nodded. “She’s the eldest daughter of the Darling family. Mister and Missus Darling are quite distraught. The mother blames herself, of course. All the stories she used to tell her as a child.”
I scanned the pages of the report. “She thinks she went to some place called Neverland?”
“Yes, where children never grow old. Imagine! She obviously has some issues with growing older and has reverted to a child like state, imagining things that don’t exist. I’ve seen it before; it’s quite common in families with a lot of children.”
“How many children do the Darling family have?”
“Well, there’s Wendy, John and Michael, Wendy being the oldest and Michael being the youngest. Perhaps she’s afraid of being replaced by her brothers? Starved for attention and love? There are all sorts of causes to this behavior.”
I looked at Wendy Darling through the one way glass. We could see her but she couldn’t see us. She sat at a table in the centre of the room, her hands placed primly in front of her, fingers linked, hands still.
She had long brown hair that flowed down past her shoulders framing a heart shaped face. Her skin was rose coloured and she was quite beautiful. Almost too beautiful.
Wendy didn’t look around the room, only straight ahead. She smiled then, almost as if she could see us through the glass; as if she knew we were talking about her.
“Have you spoken to her?” I asked.
“Well, that’s the strangest thing,” Patterson said. “I have and she seems remarkably lucid, as if she’s completely sane. Normally the mentally disturbed give off this air of…instability. But Wendy Darling seems really believe in Neverland. She can’t be persuaded otherwise.”
“She knows we’re watching her.” I said after a silence.
Patterson looked momentarily flustered. “Inconceivable. There is no way that she could see through the glass.”
“Even so, she knows we’re talking about her.” I said.
“Inconceivable,” Patterson said again. But he sounded less certain, unsure.
“I’d like to speak to her. Will there be someone else in the room with me?”
Patterson shook his head. “She hasn’t shown a history of violence, only a calm demeanor. So there will be no need. Other doctors who have talked to her have found her pleasant and even charming.”
I nodded and looked at her once more through the glass. She raised her right hand in a little wave, wiggling the fingers at me before placing them one more daintily on the table in front of her.
I felt a moment of fear, something not uncommon in my profession, and opened the door to the interview room. Wendy turned to look at me with eyes so blue, it looked as if they were filled with the ocean. They were a bright, brilliant blue; a colour I had never seen before.
“Hello!” Wendy said cheerfully. “Have you come to talk to me about Neverland?” Her voice was bell like, wind chimes being brushed by the wind. It sounded almost like music.
I nodded and held out my hand to her. “I’m Dr. Barrie.”
I took my hand in hers and was shocked by its warmth. I was used to the clammy, cold skin of mental patients. Wendy Darling’s hands were warm and soft, as if she felt no ill effects at her surroundings.
“I’m very pleased to meet you,” she said. “Everyone here has been so lovely to me. I don’t know how to thank you.”
I said nothing to this. In truth, her brightness made me slightly uncomfortable. I was used to people complaining about the cold, the drafts in the rooms; I was even used to the ramblings of an extremely unstable patient or two. But I had never been thanked by a patient, least of all for their place in a mental facility.
“You’re welcome.” I said. “I trust that you are feeling well?”
“Oh, very well, thank you. The food here is lovely and everyone is so kind. I feel as if I’m away on a holiday!” She smiled and the smile only heightened her beauty. “Did you want to know about Neverland?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Because everyone wants to know about it; it’s what everyone asks about. No one wants to know about my favourite book or what my favourite food is or what music I like. Everyone wants to know about Neverland.”
“Why do you think that is?”
She laughed, that tinkling sound of music. “Because you think I’m crazy. Everyone here thinks it doesn’t exist.”
“How can you be so sure that Neverland doesn’t exist? Have you seen it with your own two eyes? Have you ever been there?”
It felt funny to admit that I hadn’t been to a make believe place, but I answered her. “No.” I said.
“Then how can you tell me that it doesn’t exist, Dr. Barrie? Surely you must believe in things that cannot possibly be?”
“I believe in what I can see and touch, no more.”
She smiled at me and the smile seemed fairly indulgent. “Oh, Dr. Barrie. So ready to disbelieve, so quick and sure in your resolutions.” She reached forward and patted my hand. “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean something doesn’t exist.”
I stayed silent for a moment, knowing that Patterson would be in the other room, observing the conversation from behind the safety of the one way mirror. I wanted to keep Wendy talking, to hear her voice some more.
“Tell me about Neverland.” I asked.
“What would you like to know? There is a lot to tell and I doubt very much I could cover everything in a short conversation.”
I rummaged in my brain for a question and asked the first one I thought of. “How do you get there? How do you get to Neverland?”
“Why you fly, of course!” She said this as if it should have been the most obvious of answers.
“Oh, you don’t believe me Dr. Barrie, I can see it in your eyes. But yes, you fly.”
“People can’t fly Miss Darling.”
“Oh, but they can, they can! All they need is a bit of pixie dust.”
“Pixie dust?” I felt the conversation was starting to go into some strange territory, one that I was not entirely comfortable with.
“Yes, pixie dust. Oh, and happy thoughts. You must think a happy thought, you can’t forget that. That’s the most important part.” She closed her eyes in concentration and counted the steps on the fingers of her right hand:
“First, you sprinkle yourself with pixie dust. Then you think of your happy thought. It has to be a really happy thought, one that fills you up from your head to your toes. You should feel it tingling in your fingers. Then you begin to fly.” She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Well, I think flying is the wrong word. Perhaps the right word is floating. Yes, you float. And you can move yourself in different directions, almost as if you are swimming.”
“Flying is like swimming?” I could think of nothing else to say. Hearing her speak had robbed me of all rational thought. As she spoke, I pictured myself floating through the air. I wondered if I needed psychological help instead of Wendy.
“Yes, it’s lovely. Complete weightlessness. Then you have to fly towards the second star to the right of the moon. It’s best to fly at night so that you can see the stars. You head towards the second star to the right and fly straight on until morning.”
She fell silent and I could see it in her eyes that she was reliving every moment, that she was remembering, not imagining, herself in flight.
“Where does one get a pixie?” I asked.
“Why, I haven’t the slightest idea.” She said. She rewarded me with another one of her smiles. “Peter always has the pixie with him; I’ve never had to look for one myself.”
“Peter?” My interest was piqued, despite myself. “Who’s Peter?”
“Why Peter Pan of course! Surely you must have heard of him.”
I shook my head. “No, Miss Darling. I haven’t.”
“Oh, he’s lovely, but he’s so full of mischief. Sometimes I don’t think he will ever grow up. In fact, I’m sure he won’t. He’s so dead set against it.”
“He doesn’t age?”
“No one in Neverland does. They remain as they are when they arrived and age not a moment older. There are children that roam the island who would be hundreds of years old here, should they come back.” She looked at me with her bright blue eyes; they shone like beacons in the dark room. “I am seventy eight years old.”
I laughed before I could stop myself. “I don’t believe you.” I said. “You don’t look a day over twenty years old.”
“Oh, but it’s true.” She said. “Look at my papers, Dr. Barrie, they will tell you the truth.”
“I’ll do that, Miss Darling.”
“Oh, see that you do, Dr. Barrie. I would hate for you to think that I was lying to you. Neverland is such a marvellous place. I almost wish I had never left.” A look of sadness crept into her eyes. “Peter must miss me something terribly.”
I’m not sure what drove me to do it, but I reached out and clasped her hand. “I’m sure he knows you are alright.” I said, hardly believing the words coming out of my mouth. “I’m sure he’s waiting for you to return.”
Another smile graced her face. “Oh, Dr. Barrie! Do you really think so?”
I nodded, touched by the child like delight in her voice. “I do.”
She leaned in closer to me. “I know you’re supposed to be persuading me that Neverland doesn’t exist, that I’m making it all up. But you’ve been there before. I can see it in your eyes.”
I shook my head. “Impossible, I would have remembered. Besides, I cannot fly.”
She laughed again, that wind chime sound. “Dr. Barrie, everyone flies in their dreams. Haven’t you ever dreamt of a place more beautiful than any place you’ve been? A place where your childhood fantasies come true? Where mermaids swim in the water and pirates lay in wait for you?”
Something occurred to me then, a brief flash of memory and dream: A brilliant golden ship floating through the air, the sky black and blue behind it. The clouds parting way for it so that it could make its silent progression through the depths of the sky.
Wendy grinned, a flash of teeth. “Oh, Dr. Barrie. You do remember. Don’t you? I can see it in your eyes.”
“So what did you think of her?”
I turned to see Patterson entering the staff lounge. He had a grin on his face. “Wendy Darling?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “You believed her, didn’t you? You walked out of the interview room so quickly, and you had yet to really delve into her problem. You looked unnerved when you left.”
“She…she got to me.” I said.
Patterson nodded, agreeing with me. “I will admit that she does have a certain charm, a certain something about her. But surely you agree that it’s all nonsense, Barrie? Floating ships and mermaids and people who don’t grow a day older? Poppycock,” He laughed, a broken cackling sound so different from the tinkling of Wendy’s laugh. “Absolute poppycock.” He said.
I laughed with him. And as I laughed, I felt as if I were betraying Wendy. Despite evidence that she was crazy, I didn’t think she was. I had only spoken to her briefly but she wasn’t crazy.
I had spoken to mentally disturbed people before and I knew she wasn’t that. She wasn’t mentally disturbed. She spoke with a clarity and resonance that spoke of sanity. I had no doubt in that.
Wanting to do no more than satisfy my curiosity, I went to the file room and pulled out her file, flipping it open to the first page. I ran my finger down the page, trying to find her date of birth; and then I found it. After a quick calculation, I discovered she was seventy eight. She was seventy eight years old.
I felt a heat begin in my stomach and rise up to my chest. How she could be seventy eight was beyond me, but there was the truth in black and white. Papers could not lie, facts could not lie. I had always depended on fact to prove what was right.
Now I was hoping that fact would prove what was not possible. I thought of something she had said during our brief interview: “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean something doesn’t exist.”
Without thinking, I grabbed the file and walked down the long tiled hallways to her room. I knocked on the door and heard no answer. I knocked again and still heard no answer.
Taking a set of keys from my belt, I unlocked the door, already knowing that I would find it empty. She wasn’t there.
I felt a momentary pang of loss at her disappearance. There was so much I still wanted to ask her, so much I still wanted to know. I looked around the room again and something caught my eye.
Sitting on the bed was a small cloth pouch and a piece of parchment.
Inside the pouch was a glittering substance that looked like dust. I took a pinch out of the bag and let it fall from my fingers. It twinkled in the half light of Wendy’s room and dissolved into the air.
With nothing left to do, I stared at the parchment, taking in the one word printed there in a curving, spidery script: