“I see this isn’t your first time here,” the technician said, as he attached the electrodes to my head.
“So?” I said. “Is that a problem?”
He tapped some data into the computer at the side of the bed. He had a round, bald head and I sensed a look exchanged above me, between him and the white-coated assistant.
“No problem at all, Mrs Russo. We’re happy to have you back with us again. And may I ask how your last visit was? I gather there were some issues?”
“Issues..?” I spluttered. “You sent me into the middle of an earthquake! Eight hours it took you to bring me back. Eight hours! I made a complaint, you know.” I closed my eyes, remembering the screams and the heat and the confusion as the ground had shaken underneath me.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. You must understand that despite all the technology available, there is still a margin of error.”
I snorted at this. Technical error, my foot. Those idiots had messed up the destination. I winced as they inserted a thin needle into the back of my hand, and then braced myself, ready for what was coming next. The assistant glided the white machine towards me and the technician strapped down my legs and arms.
“You’ve set the date to June 11th 1981?”
“Try to relax, Mrs Russo.”
“And it’s Rome. Which is in Italy,” I said. There was a pause and I saw him shoot a quick glance at his assistant.
“It’s okay. We know where Rome is. Please, try not to talk.”
I closed my eyes. The room was starting to melt, my thoughts were slowing. Their voices seemed further and further away.
“Are you ready?”
I nodded and let out a long, measured breath. Then everything went white and I was spinning and falling, with no sense of what was up or down. The world was twisting in on itself. A piercing noise hit the inside of my ears and just when I thought I could stand it no longer, I felt heavier and heavier and then: thump, I arrived.
It was Rome. And it was exactly how I remembered it. There was our fountain; the statues and the water drawing me in, as they always did. The smoothness of the stone astounded me still. How could I have forgotten such beauty? And the smell, oh the smell. I breathed in, filling my nostrils with the sweet mix of garlic and lemons and, joy of joy, fresh air. I took a few tentative steps towards the fountain where people were sitting, eating white ice cream from little cones. A man in a faded suit walked past me holding a single red flower by its stem. To my utter surprise, he offered it to me and I took it, marveling at the brushing feel of the leaves and the soft petals. “Bellissima,” said the man as he walked away.
I went and sat on the cool stone beside the greenish water. There were tourists throwing coins over their shoulders and I wished I had been able to bring some money with me. I had nothing except the simple white dress I was wearing.
I looked at the clock above the pharmacy. It was almost time for him to arrive. I strolled over to the Trevi Café. The tables were already set outside, patterned cloths fluttering in the breeze. I leant against the wall opposite and prepared to wait. High above the rooftops was a milky blue sky and I stood there, feeling the warmth on my skin, without a care in the world.
He arrived at noon, as I knew he would, and took up his usual seat at the far table. He was wearing blue jeans and the striped shirt that I loved so much. My heart jumped so hard, I feared the technician would be alarmed and bring me back in. Not yet, please not yet.
I knew I could not speak to him; they had told me not to talk. So I simply walked up to the table and pulled out a chair. He looked up with a smile that made me weak with remembrance. I motioned with my hands to my mouth that I could not speak and he understood perfectly. I was still holding the red flower. I gave it to him and he took it from me, making a big play of sniffing it and then putting it in the little vase on the table.
He ordered a carafe of red wine and we drank it in the sunshine. Once more, he told me the story of the fountain, explaining, as he held my hand, how the beautifully carved horses signified the changing moods of the sea. He ordered more wine; I tried to say we’d had enough. Then he looked at my fingers and stood up in a fury.
“Where is your wedding ring?”
I shook my head wordlessly. How could I explain? I needed him to calm down, I stroked his arm, looked into his eyes, but they were hard and distracted. He pushed me away and I fell to the ground. I called his name aloud. I could not help myself. “Giovanni, Giovanni”.
And that was when they brought me back, in a surge of light and pain, tumbling and screaming until I was on the bed once more, with the moon-faced technician looking down at me.
“Mrs Russo, Mrs Russo, try to lie still.”
“Send me back, I need to go to him. Please. Send me back.”
He held my arm, then all my muscles relaxed and I could not move any more. They wheeled me along the corridor, the lights blurring above me like shooting stars.
“One more time. Please, just one more time.”
“No, Mrs Russo, that was the last of your ECT treatments, remember? All finished now.”
Everything was lost. I felt a silent scream inside my head, echoing across time and space.
Sandra Davies Baker has been a journalist, a copywriter and a full time mummy. Now she’s studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University, working on a novel (aren’t we all) and enjoying getting back into the real world.