BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP - Exclusive deleted scene

Hi!

I promised everyone an exclusive, deleted scene from Before I Go to Sleep. Here it is…

(By the way, if you’ve recently signed up, you’ll have received this as part of your ‘welcome’ email. Apologies for the repetition!)

I first sent Before I Go to Sleep to my agent in December 2009, having worked on it throughout that year. (Except back then Clare wasn’t MY agent, but AN agent, and the book wasn’t called that – it was called The Seahorse Diaries). Between then and publication in April 2011 the book underwent several substantial edits, mostly to tidy up the plot and bring the book into sharper focus. The end result was a far better book, but along the way it lost several substantial scenes and even a character or two. I thought it might be interesting to share one of these scenes with you, and I’ve pasted it below. 

This is definitely ‘early draft’ stuff. Some of the writing makes me cringe, some of it I think stands up pretty well. But I’ve resisted the temptation to re-edit it. I present it here, warts and all. 

The scene is taken from the beginning of Part Two of the book – Christine’s first diary entry. I’ve chosen it because here Christine recollects some details from her childhood, and much of this material was lost in the edit. 

I hope you enjoy it.

THE SEAHORSE DIARIES

Thursday

But what am I going to write? Dr Nash told me to write whatever I like, to treat my book as a sort of diary, but does he really expect me to simply chronicle my days, with their endless repetition, or describe his attempts to treat me? What good would that do, apart from bring my situation into sharper focus? It would do nothing apart from show me how helpless I really am. 

Perhaps I need to give myself a history, where I have none. I need to fill in the missing years. 

It will not be easy. At the beginning of the session this afternoon Dr Nash explained that I have a severe impairment of something he called my episodic memory, which means I can't remember events, or autobiographical details. This is usually due to some kind of neurological problem, he said. Structural, or chemical. Or a hormonal imbalance. It is very rare, and it means that every day I will have to read everything I have already written before I can even begin to pick up my pen and carry on. 

But if that is what I must do, then so be it. I think again of what he said. You can’t remember autobiographical details.

What am I, if I am not my autobiography?

I have kept a diary before, as a little girl. It was purple, and had a tiny silver padlock that held it closed. I wrote in it almost every day. I detailed which of the other girls had been nice to me, and which nasty, and which boys had paid me attention. Silly things. Things that it felt important to document, somehow, though I didn’t know why. I used to decorate the margins with pictures - flowers, fish, butterflies and tiny seahorses - and then I hid it carefully, beneath the ballerina in the wind-up jewellery box I’d been given for Christmas. One day, I thought, when I am dead, someone will find it, and they will read it, and then they will know me. 

That is what I must do again now. I must create myself from nothing.

My pen flows across the page. I will start at the beginning.

***

But where is that? Birth?

I do not remember being born -- no one does -- but I know I came late, that it was a difficult birth. My mother told me she was in labour for three days and in the end I was delivered with forceps. I was blue, she said, with the cord wrapped tight around my neck. Until I screamed she thought it had all been for nothing, and even when I did she vowed she would never go through it again.

I was born in nineteen-sixty. I can remember seeing only one photograph of myself as a baby, though there must have been more. It was black and white, taken the day I came out of hospital. I am in my father’s arms and we are outdoors -- behind him there is a black car and grey hills under a grey sky. I look tiny, and have my eyes closed. I do not look real.

We lived in Manchester. Not the poorest area, but not the richest, either. My earliest memory is brief. I am lying in my pram, in the corner of the dining room. I am looking up, at the ceiling. I see my mother’s face come into view. She comes over, to where I am lying, and looks in at me. She is wearing  a dress in pastel yellow with huge buttons and has a pageboy haircut.  She smiles, and then she looks away, over her shoulder. I don’t remember anything else.  

 I told Dr Nash about it this afternoon. He’d shown me a photograph of the house in which I grew up. It had looked different, but I recognised it.

‘That isn’t uncommon’, he said, when I told him. ‘Very few amnesiacs lose everything. Most of your memories seem unaffected, until you reach the age of nineteen or twenty, at least.’

Nineteen or twenty; I remember less than half my life.

He asked me to describe the house and I told him what I remembered: that the front door opened directly into the living room, that there was a small dining room at the back of the house, that visitors were encouraged to use the alley that separated our house from the neighbours and go straight into the kitchen at the back. 

He nodded, but asked for more.

I told him the back door had been painted yellow. That it was only locked if there was no one in the house. That the bath and toilet were through the kitchen, at the very back of the house, in what had been a separate building until it was joined to the rest with two brick walls and a roof of corrugated plastic. That my mother kept a jar in the pantry with the word Sugar written on it in which she kept her money.

‘More?’ he said, and I shook my head. He wrote something in the file in front of him and said, ‘That’s good. You’ve remembered a lot more than usual. I think because of the photograph.’ 

He paused, and then said, ‘Right. Can you tell me your earliest memory?’

It was then I’d told him about my mother in the pastel dress. When I finished he asked me how old I had been.  

I’d told him I must have been very young. ‘I asked my mother once,’ I said. ‘A few years later. She told me that when I was first born she did park my pram in that corner of the dining room, and if I was asleep when we arrived home she would leave me in it while she prepared the dinner or did the laundry in the kitchen. But that only lasted for a year or so, she said. Two, at most.’

‘Most people’s earliest memory seems to date from around three or four years,’ he said. 

‘It’s very definite,’ I said. ‘Very clear.’

He nodded. ‘Yes. But there’s the possibility that you’re remembering something you’ve imagined. It’s a well known phenomenon, particularly with childhood memories. Suppose your mother once told you that she used to park your pram in a certain place. You would have thought of that place, imagined the view that you would have had as you lay there. You may well have thought of your mother coming to check you were okay. Do you see how you might now be remembering the scene that you in fact imagined when you were much older.’

‘I do,’ I said. ‘But I remember what she was wearing, what she looked like.’

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘But don’t forget you would have seen pictures of your mother, or she would have told you the kind of clothes that she used to wear. You would have formed an image of what she must have looked like when you were a baby, and naturally incorporated that image into your imagined scene.’

I said nothing. I felt a childish petulance bubble up in me. I have lost so many memories. Why did he want to deny one of the ones I still had?

Besides, he must be wrong. He has to be. The memory feels too real to be imagined. If I close my eyes I can see it now; the paint flaking on the ceiling, my mother’s heavy-framed glasses. My father, moving through the doorway behind her. How would I know these details, if I had imagined them?

In any case, this is not the image of my mother that I usually carry with me.  I usually think of her wearing a housedress, an apron tied around her waist, and shifting hair out of her eyes with the back of a rubber gloved hand. I have carried this memory of her in the lemon dress with me for so long precisely because of how different she had looked to how I remember her the rest of the time. 

  I remember I asked her about it, once. Years later. We were in my room in London - one of the few times she ever managed the journey - and, as she was packing to leave, she pulled out a photograph album.

‘I bought you these,’ she said. ‘I thought you might like to have them.’

I had laughed, not altogether kindly. ‘You make it sound like you’re going to kick the bucket!’ I said. She winced, either at the phrase or at what it meant.

‘I am, eventually,’ she said. She handed me the album. ‘Anyway, they might remind you of home.’

My unkindness had come from nowhere, and I regretted it. ‘I’m sorry, mum,’ I said. I patted the bed beside me. ‘Let’s look at them together?’ 

One of the first photographs was of her wearing the yellow dress -- now with a pillbox hat -- standing next to my father. I asked her when it had been taken.

She smiled. ‘That was your aunt June’s wedding day.’

‘You look nice,’ I said. 

‘I borrowed the dress from June. We were the same size. She wanted me to wear it.’

I wondered what might have persuaded my mother to wear a dress borrowed from her sister-in-law.

‘It suits you.’

She smiled. ‘Thank you, dear. I was worried I wasn’t going to get into it. You weren’t very old, then. It took me ages to lose the weight I’d put on when I was carrying you.’

‘Was I at the wedding?’

‘June had asked that we didn’t bring you,’ she said. ‘Typical of her. But your father hadn’t wanted to upset her so we went, and left you at home with one of the neighbours.’

It was then I’d first remembered her coming to check on me. ‘I remember you coming home,’ I said. ‘You’d parked my pram in the corner of the dining room.’

She laughed. ‘Probably. We often put you in there. It was near the kitchen, so I could keep an eye on you. I didn’t enjoy the wedding at all. I spent the whole day anxious to get home to check you were alright.’  

I laughed. ‘You worry too much, mum,’ I said. She said nothing, and did not smile. Instead she turned the page, showing me more photographs, and together we drifted back into the past.

I think of that day now. I wonder why she came down to see me that weekend, why she brought the photograph album, why she waited until she was about to leave before showing it to me. It is almost as though she was saying goodbye.

In a way she was, though she can’t have known it. I don’t remember anything of her after that, and though it feels like the other week that she was sitting with me looking at photographs of the past, it was not. It was decades ago.

I realise that, somehow, I feel sure she is dead. I cannot say why -- she was not that old when I was born and I am not that old now -- but still, she has gone. I know it with a certainty I cannot explain, as if the knowledge has somehow become part of me.   

I wonder if I ever did say goodbye.