Andrea was a major part of my life for a long time after that. All through the late eighties and nineties we were together... more or less. Mind you, I don’t think you can ever say you can truly 'have' a woman like Andrea. She was one of the most self-possessed people I ever met. We travelled quite a bit together though, through the Middle East and East Africa. Or else we were at festivals - she giving massages, me doing very little of anything, mostly watching her. We always had plenty to talk about – a love of exotic food and live music and skinny-dipping. I didn’t see her very often – just a few weeks here and there but it was always memorable.
For a long time – years, I really thought we might get it together properly one day – become an actual couple. I kept trying to get her to come over and spend the summer with me at my place in Lewes, and she always said she’d like to do that, but she never did.
I think I was in love and I’m sure she knew it but she somehow managed to brush me off without me ever feeling totally rejected. She took it as a compliment and I accepted my role with all the dignity I could muster. The fact is I don’t think I could have spent more than a few weeks at a time with her. I would have burned up. I counted it all up after we lost touch. I knew her for about seven years all told but I don’t think we spent much more than about six months in each other’s company in total.
But she was always there in the background, no matter how flat and featureless the rest of my love life was at the time.
Last I heard she was working out in Africa again. I think she had a child. To be perfectly honest, I think I wasted a lot of time waiting for her, and messed some good women about in the process.
I look over at Alison, waiting for me to begin and for once I can’t think of a single thing to tell her.
‘What’s up Gabriel? Guilty conscience?’
Alison evidently suspects something. I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this. It’s over and done with surely. I decide to sidestep the issue and tell her about some relatively harmless experiences with all-night parties and drugs.
‘Andrea always knew where the raves were – there was the whole dance thing in the late eighties and nineties you may recall...’
‘I hadn’t pictured you being up all night dancing to techno, popping Es.’
‘Well, not so much the Es, but the rest of it... I think I must have missed out on it last time around. I guess it’s who you know. I remember once turning up in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in North Wales, getting out of the car, walking up a hill in the pitch black, in complete silence, miles from anywhere and then suddenly, coming over a ridge – lights, music, action. Amazing...
I didn’t really do the drugs though. There was something about them... I took mushrooms a couple of times. There was one time I was at someone’s place in Brighton and I remember losing my way coming back from the loo. It was this big old three-storey Victorian semi they were doing up but what I didn’t realise was that it was actually two houses being knocked into one, and I went down the wrong staircase.’
I take a moment to remember the horror.
‘So suddenly I was coming down what I’d thought was the stairs I’d gone up but now it was dark and deserted, and, get this – it was the mirror image of the place I’d come from. I was totally freaked out.’
‘Well, understandably’ she says smiling. It wasn’t funny at the time.
‘Have you ever done mushrooms?’ I say.
‘Acid, once. Never again.’
‘I know, it sounds like just a normal bad ‘shroom experience doesn’t it, but there was something else. I remember looking back up the stairs and knowing there was something wrong, and looking at the empty lounge to my left and I just knew it. Every door I looked at...’
‘What about the front door?’
‘Locked. I tried.’
I can still feel it now – that sick panic. I remember sliding down, my back to the front door and crouching there, waiting, with a smell of blood and shit all around, too afraid of being heard to shout for help.
‘Then I noticed there was another set of stairs below the ones I’d come down, going down to the basement, and, I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed before – there was a light on down there, and music playing.’ I see her relax and smile. She’s evidently been on the edge of her seat too.
‘No, you don’t get it’ I say. ‘I knew that’s where the demons were, and I knew they’d come and get me when they were ready, and nobody would ever see me again.’
I can’t speak. It was all so real. They came for me in dreams for months after that - their smudged faces, their pale bodies... I used to wake up paralysed with fear, sweating, crying...
‘I don’t know’ I mumble eventually.
‘What did you do?’
‘I broke a window, cut myself quite badly actually, getting out.’
‘It sounds like you gave yourself quite a scare.’
‘Yes but the point is, somehow, I knew they were real. It wasn’t just the mushrooms, or, maybe they’d freed something, let them out. It wasn’t just in my head. It was something that had really happened, somewhen, somewhere... I never took anything again.’
She looks at me quizzically. ‘You think it brought something from your previous lives, somehow, into your current life?’
‘Or from the afterlife, maybe, do you think?’
‘I don’t know. It’s plausible I suppose...’
‘Maybe that’s what hallucinations are. Maybe that’s what schizophrenia is, and nightmares?’
She purses her lips and frowns, thinking it over for a minute or two. ‘Could be’ she says, shrugging. ‘It’s an interesting theory. I could look into it.’
‘Thanks. I don’t know, maybe it was just my old worries about losing control, like if I got stoned or pissed it would all come back, all that past life stuff. That’s what I was afraid of – going back, getting trapped.’
We’re almost out of time. It’s a relief. She looks through her notes again and it occurs to me that in her eyes I’ve gone from interviewee to patient – from biography to case history, or possibly even charge sheet. Is it my imagination? Her whole demeanour seems to have shifted.
She mutters, slowly turning the pages. ‘Hmm’ she says ‘well we seem to have covered a lot of what I wanted – your parents, your time at school and art college and what you did afterwards... It all seems to have worked out well for you this time. But the issue that arises in previous accounts again and again as I see it, is this thing about your relationships with women, or the lack of them.’ She looks up at me. ‘Do you feel you dealt with that part of your life successfully this time?’
I huff and look about the room evasively. She knows she’s on to something.
‘You’ve told me about Yve and Andrea...’ she goes on. ‘Do you have anything to add to that? We can talk about it next time.’
And that’s it. That’s where we’ve been heading all this time. Judgement day. I can almost hear the bells toll.