“In the Mind’s Eye”

An excerpt from the novella "In the Mind's Eye" by Orono author Barbara Ponomareff

Barbara Ponomareff
Barbara Ponomareff

Barbara Ponomareff has been a child psychotherapist by profession. Since her retirement, she has been able to pursue her life-long interest in literature, psychology and art.

She has published a novella on the painter J.S. Chardin, several short stories in various literary magazines, as well as poetry in anthologies and professional journals.

Barbara is a member of the recently founded Peterborough Writers group.

Her most recent novella, In the Mind’s Eye, was published by Quattro Books in 2011.

Cover of In the Mind's Eye by Barbara Ponomareff
Cover of In the Mind's Eye by Barbara Ponomareff
An excerpt from In the Mind’s Eye by Barbara Ponomareff (Quattro Books, 2011)

Strange, how hard it was for Caitlin to believe in the light when nighttime hung like a dense curtain just outside the streetcar window. Although on her way to work, she had not shaken off the aftereffects of yet another dream, more a nightmare really in its insistent return to the past. Beyond the window no trace of the day to come. Nothing but a sullen black which kept the world outside out of focus. Caitlin’s face, as reflected in the window of the streetcar, appeared no more than a patch of ill-defined light.

Outside, hardly anyone was about. She could not help focusing on the dispiriting silt left on the road by winter’s slow retreat. There in the dirty, frozen rims of snow all kinds of rubbish had become trapped; a derelict look that was echoed in the unending procession of smudged doors and grimy store windows. Everything she noticed seemed designed to reinforce a feeling of stagnation, even repugnance. As she got closer to her destination, the first streaks of daylight lit up the horizon and the blur of the small shops on either side of the street gave way to more familiar landmarks, the Trinity College grounds, the library. She would be there soon. Stepping off the streetcar, she lowered her face against the bitter March wind and crossed the road.

The very size of the building still jolted her, intrigued her. What had the architects been thinking of in designing a building of such gigantic dimensions? Its seemingly endless façade of light brick was ornamented at either end with graceful rotundas and topped by a reassuring cupola. It seemed to belie its true purpose, to house and treat the insane. Only the solid brick walls, on the average sixteen feet high, with their confining geometry, created a sharp division from the rest of the world and made one pause and hesitate to enter the spacious grounds inside. At this point in time, 1919, the Hospital for the Insane, Toronto, housed 1,269 patients as she had been told, and if not exactly welcoming, it seemed to have a sense of its own dignity and purpose.

Inside, greetings of “Good morning, Dr. Winstrum” met her on all sides. Being the first female staff member conveyed instant recognition and instant notoriety that she hoped would subside in due course. At this point the novelty of her being here was such that she felt her every move observed intensely, by the senior staff members, the nursing staff, and those patients who were well enough to take in that this young woman was one of their doctors. On the whole, she tried to ignore the small stir she caused, focusing instead on her professional purpose, which she hoped would lend her the necessary gravitas to make up for her youth and her sex.

As she hung up her heavy winter coat, heavier yet for being damp, she became conscious of the unnatural, almost thick silence of the room. Some parts of the building seemed to have a way of swallowing up daily existence and leaving instead a sense of life stilled — of time arrested — while others seemed to vibrate with tensions she could not as yet name.

Her immediate supervisor, Dr. MacLean, had obviously remembered to leave the files he had promised her on the desk. “Mainly numbers, statistics” he had said wryly, “but a way to start, to get to know what to expect here. Guidelines and some treatment protocols, to give you a sense of how we like to do things – come and talk to me about anything that does not make sense,” and with that he had been off on his rounds. Friendly, helpful, paternal.