It's a good thing that by the time my own particular Prince Charming entered my life, I was far too old to believe in fairytale heroes. Otherwise, I would have demanded a refund, or at least a replacement, for the defective model I was sent. In addition to the fact that he was singularly lacking in charm, the whole situation couldn't even remotely be referred to as happily-ever-after material.
I am willing to admit, that in classic fairytale fashion, I was sleeping when my prince arrived on the scene to awaken me. Although, it would probably be more accurate to substitute the word comatose for sleeping. And I think it's only fair to add that I was lying on a hospital bed in a private care facility with a staggering amount of tubes and machines attached to me, rather than in a lovely glass case in the woods, or in the turret room of a remote castle.
But at any rate, on that Someday that every good fairytale princess waits for, my prince did come. Except that, instead of awakening me with true love's first kiss — that magical blend of tenderness and the promise of a lifetime of sweet yet passionate devotion — the love of my life shattered my innocent dreams with ear-piercing screams. Or at least, they would have been ear-piercing screams had I actually heard them outside of my head. As it was, the horrifying noise inside my skull was enough to catapult me into instant consciousness, and sent several of the machines to which I later found I was attached into an uproar. For a moment, I simply lay there in shock, keeping my eyes tightly shut. The mechanical beeping sounds, which I recognized as alarms of some sort, were quickly silenced. But the screaming continued.
At first, I thought the screaming was coming from someone standing nearby. When my eyes flew open, I fully expected to see a man standing over me, shouting like a maniac. But instead of a deranged, psychotic, and deafeningly loud male, I saw only the concerned and quite kind-looking face of an older woman dressed in a nurse's uniform. As I stared at her in astonishment, she smiled.
"It's good to see you awake," she told me. "I'll fetch the doctor."
She struck me as being oddly calm for someone standing in a room filled with the sounds of someone screaming at the top of their lungs, but as I looked frantically around the room, my mind began to clear, and focus. The door closed behind the nurse. And I realized with a sense of sickening dread, that there was no one else in the room. There was no one screaming my name, except inside my head. I closed my eyes and tried to organize my thoughts, and at the same time the screams suddenly fell to a whisper. And inside my head, I could hear a man's voice whispering my name, over and over, almost like a chant.
"Aimee . . . Aimee . . . Aimee . . ."
There was an urgency to the voice. I could hear it clearly in the tone. Almost unconsciously, I responded.
A thought formed. I wasn't speaking aloud; in fact I was biting my lip so hard that I could taste the blood. Yet still, somehow I was communicating. And although I can't describe it properly, words and feelings were expressed, just like in a normal conversation.
It was the universal response to the sound of one's name.
I could feel, as well as hear, the relief in that voice flooding my mind like a warm tide. I began to form another thought, a question. Before I could finish, this voice, this other presence in my head, interrupted.
"Listen, Aimee," he said quickly. "I've come to help you. There's a man on his way to you now. He's going to tell you that he is your father."
I stiffened, both physically and mentally. I had no idea why I was lying in a hospital bed. And no rational explanation whatsoever for why I was suddenly hearing a voice conversing with me inside my head. But I knew for a fact that I had no father.
Before I could reply, the voice continued.
"Play along, Aimee. Pretend that you believe him. Pretend that you can't remember anything, before waking up."
"Why?" I asked.
"No time to explain," he said. "You have to pretend, and you have to be convincing."
He didn't tell me that I was in danger, but I sensed it all the same. And apparently he could sense in turn my fear and confusion.
"I'll come for you," he promised.
And then he kissed me. Not really, of course. I was alone in a hospital room. But flooding across my mind was a wave of tenderness and longing that was so intense and powerful I felt completely undone. It lingered like a caress, and then slowly faded away, leaving me breathless in its wake. I found myself almost relaxing for the first time since I had awoken to the sound of someone screaming my name. I opened my eyes again and looked carefully at my surroundings.
It occurred to me that perhaps this was a psychiatric hospital, and that I was here for a good, certifiable reason. Maybe I was suffering from schizophrenia, or some other disorder, and this was a rare moment of lucidity, where I could recognize my sickness. But the memory of the voice inside my head was so strong that I dismissed the thought. If I were mentally ill, would I recognize the fact because I heard a voice inside my head? And wouldn't it be female, anyway? I mean, if I were going to have a split personality, wouldn't I at least stick with my own sex? And would I even be thinking of questions like this in the first place?
My head was spinning, and I became aware of a dull throbbing pain in my head. Puzzled, I lifted my hands to my scalp and found bandaging material. I felt slightly nauseous, but it certainly explained the headache. And quite possibly the reason I was here in the first place.
The sound of the door opening, caught my attention. The same nurse entered the room, along with a man who was clearly a doctor, judging by his white coat and stethoscope. I looked at him with interest. Here perhaps was someone who could help answer the millions of questions I had, begging to be answered.
"Hello Aimee," he said gently. "Do you know who I am?"
His voice was pleasant, and his smile was warm, but I was disappointed all the same. It was not the voice I heard in my mind. And I did not know him.
He looked confused, and I realized that I had automatically answered him in French.
"A doctor?" I repeated, this time in English.
He smiled broadly.
"I'm Doctor Martin, and this is Fairdale Hospital," he added, "You've been with us for some time."
"How long?" I asked, as he checked my vital signs.
"Almost four days," he replied. "You've been in a coma."
Doctor Martin looked directly into my eyes.
"Your father has been quite worried," he continued. "He's on his way to the hospital right now."
"Oh," I said weakly.
So much for the schizophrenic theory. I might certainly be hearing a voice, but it was frighteningly accurate.
"Do you know why you're here?" he asked. "Do you remember anything that happened before you woke up?"
"No," I said honestly.
"You slipped on a patch of ice and hit your head," Dr. Martin explained carefully, his eyes never leaving mine. "You lost consciousness, and no one could rouse you."
"You're healing nicely," he added. "Although we'll need to do some testing, before we can release you to your father."
"Oh," I said again.
I didn't know what to say. Something in my tone must have alerted him, because his expression became quite grave.
"Do you remember your father, Aimee?"
"No," I replied. "I don't."
I spoke the words without thinking, but as soon as Isaid them, I realized that I had said exactly the right thing. I knew full well that I had no father. I could hardly gaze up at some man who was claiming to be my parent and happily exclaim "Daddy!" Because of the simple fact that since I knew that I couldn't possibly be his daughter, then it followed that whoever this person was, he certainly knew that he wasn't my father.
The doctor said something else, but the edges of my conscious mind had begun to blur. I heard his words, but it was as if from a great distance. My eyelids felt heavy. I gratefully drifted back into sleep.