Poor Little Regina
“Your Majesty, Doctor Freud is here.”
The queen was in her bed, her pasty skin emitting a strong smell. She had refused to bathe for weeks now, the lady-in-waiting had warned the visiting doctor.
“Are you the famous doctor who can read dreams?” the queen asked, not bothering to open her eyes. Her wincing face said she was in great pain. The queen had requested for his services after suffering from bouts of agitation triggered by a strange dream, a dream that recurred and refused to give her peaceful rest. He would be paid an obscenely handsome sum if he could cure her of its spell, he was told.
The doctor had done a thorough case study before arriving. The royal patient’s life had enough fodder to make even a battle worn veteran spiral into mental agony. When she was a tiny tot, her father had ordered her mother to be beheaded, suspecting her of adultery. Her parentage had been in contention and subject of many vulgar jokes. Despite having proven otherwise, in war and in administration, her prowess was always questioned because she was a woman. But the worst, according to this doctor, was that she was anointed the Virgin Queen, an unenviable sacrifice that was demanded of her to remain in her throne – never to know love without malice, never to experience devotion without expectation.
“I was told you can interpret dreams,” the queen’s rheumy eyes opened with a flicker and searched the doctor’s face.
“I can try to, Your Highness.” He replied. “Dreams are, but, rogue desires that are forcefully contained, because exhibiting them would be considered a sin, sacrilegious even. May I know what haunts your nights?” The doctor was authoritatively seated in a winged chair upholstered in satin and silk. On his crossed legs was perched a notepad.
When the queen began to recount, the doctor noticed that the queen was rotting from inside out, greenish grey gums with many teeth missing.
“It is the crying, always a faint sobbing that I hear first. A kind of whine hard to ignore, like that of a wounded animal. I hurry towards the sound, through a black void as it gets louder and louder, grating my nerves. There at the end of it, I see her. Hunched on her knees, she is naked except for her chemise. She is cold or scared, or both, and shivering. I try to run to the sniffling waif, who seems to be sitting still. Yet, I can’t reach her side. The nearer I go, the farther she gets away, without moving. I shout to her that I am Queen Elizabeth, the reigning monarch of England, and that I can give her anything she desires if only she stops crying and lets me sleep. But she continues to wail, saying that I don’t have the power to give her what she has lost.”
The sick queen wheezed and spluttered a dry cough.
“I think it is Mary who is haunting me,” she whispered.
Dr Freud looked up from his notepad.
“Mary, the Queen of Scots, who was beheaded by you for treason?”
The pale queen nodded. “Some say she is the rightful heir to this throne.”
“Why would you think it is Mary?”
“Because she cursed me with vengeance when I refused her the support she wanted from me to wage war against Scotland. The impulsive woman did not understand that I was trying to protect her from her own people, the Scots, who wanted her dead. They were using her as a pawn for their nefarious ends. I kept her under my vigilance for 19 years only because she was not safe anywhere else except in my prison.”
The doctor waited.
“Yet, finally I had to sign her death warrant because she plotted to usurp my throne.”
“Is it guilt that is rattling your mind? Do you think she is innocent?” The doctor nudged her subconscious mind.
“Ha. I did not say that, dear Doctor. She was only as innocent as a fox found with its teeth sunk into its catch. I am saying we were pitted against each other by our cowardly courtiers. Men who made us, queens, fight it out while they pillaged the spoils.”
The queen sighed, staring at the ornate ceiling of her bed post. “She was so much like me. Forced to prove beyond the calling because of our gender and kept in constant apprehension by men who are half the woman that we are. And just like me, she deserved better.”
The queen looked at the doctor now, “Tell me, Doctor Freud, is she the one who is haunting me? Can you exorcise her from my dreams? By God, she keeps tormenting my soul with her wretched cries.”
“Let me find out, Your Highness. Why are you sure it is a girl?”
“Her arms are as slender as dry twigs and her hair, flowing down her head, is long like matted ropes.”
The doctor made a note of it and queried the queen further, “Where is this girl when you find her in your dreams?”
“In a dark, cavernous room. The wrought iron chandelier has a lone candle to illuminate her and nothing else. Her hands are on the floor. She is bent over her knees and sobbing piteously. All I could see is the crown of her head.”
“You say her hands are on the floor. What kind of floor is it?”
“Very strange question, Doctor. Ermm…Do be patient with me. It is difficult to relive a morbid dream.”
After a while of appearing to be in deep thought, the queen blurted out.
“Chequered floor. Yes, I see it now. It is a floor of black and white chequered marble slabs.”
“But, according to my research,” here the doctor paused, to bend and pick up a voluminous notebook in which he had jotted down his case notes, “Mary was imprisoned in Carlisle Castle for most of her sentence and the castle had thrifty designs, and basic upkeep. It surely did not have chandeliers and marble floors.”
The queen’s brow furrowed, and she shook her head.
“Is there anything else you noticed on the floor, Your Highness?”
“Her hands. They are emaciated and drained of all colour and… and I see a glint of a ruby ring. Yes, a ring. It is hurting her finger. The ring is hurting her finger.” The queen screamed out with such fervour that it brought the guards and ladies-in-waiting rushing into the bedchamber.
The queen was immediately soothed with unguents and warm sponges. A venerable court lady gestured the doctor to step outside the room and whispered into his ears, “The queen is confusing her pain with the apparitions’. Her coronation ring had burrowed itself into her skin, for it was never removed since the day she was crowned. The finger is swollen now, threatening to cause blood poisoning, and yet she refuses to remove it. I think it is making her delirious.”
The doctor seemed to consider the information with curiosity and said, “On the contrary, madam, in her frenzy, she has revealed herself as truthfully as she can.”
It was an hour later that the doctor was called in again. The queen looked exhausted and frail.
“We can continue tomorrow, madam. You are thoroughly fomented by your dream, now. Further probing will only lead to distress.”
“Dr. Sigmund Freud, there can be no suffering greater than the one plaguing my mind. Please purge the girl’s piteous cries from my nights.”
It sounded like an order, and the doctor had little choice but to continue his therapy. He flipped through his notes for a second before asking, “The girl’s hair, the one that is flowing in ropes from her crown, what colour are they?”
“ Ermm..ermm.. It is… red… flaming red.” At this point, the queen’s tired eyes opened wide in realization.
“Just like your father’s, Henry the VIII’s.” The doctor ventured with boldness.
“And just like mine.”
The foreign doctor was relieved that the queen needed no explanation to say that the trapped girl wrecking her sleep could be none other than herself.
“But, why? I can have anything I want with a flick of my finger. Why am I crying like an afflicted fool?”
“Again, the answer to that lies with you and only you. Your repressed desires are demanding to be fulfilled, making their presence felt, by conjuring a din in your psyche.”
“You mistook the girl in your dream to be Mary, trying to mask some uncomfortable truth within you. Though both you and Mary have your similarities, it is in the difference that the answer to what you desire lies.”
“You mean what she had, and I did not, is the reason for my agony?”
The doctor nodded. The queen was as intelligent as his sources said she was.
The queen, though seemed hurt by the newfound knowledge, thanked the doctor and requested leave of him to take rest. The doctor returned to his sumptuous lodgings, but he could not get the royal patient out of his mind.
What a curse it was to be the most powerful woman in Europe. Surrounded by people who loved the queen, yet never the woman in her, her motherhood, a mere tool to wield power and not to nurture another being. Mary, Queen of Scots, had a taste of both the singular affection of a man and, through him, the joy of motherhood. But she, the virgin queen, was denied both.
He would return to his country shortly after briefing the queen’s physicians about her condition. But the doctor was not expecting any turn around in her health. Her repressed wants would get louder and louder, vying for her attention, clouding her judgment, marring her memory, and eventually be the reason for her downfall. The doctor felt a sudden sadness descend on him.
“Poor Little Regina,” he sighed.
It had been six months since Dr. Sigmund Freud met Queen Elizabeth I of England. He was back again, this time to follow up on her illness. He had come armed with potions and medicines that could calm the queen’s nerves, to ease the discomfort that was haunting her mind. He was worried that the queen, by now, would have slipped into a state of no return. Her disease was such.
And that was why he was surprised when he was informed that the queen would meet him in the Privy Halls of the palace, the sprawling rooms from where the country was run. His eyes widened seeing her, working on papers, making notes, giving instructions, signing orders, with such ardent control that the doctor had to blink twice to believe his eyes. No, he did not imagine the view before him. It did not dissolve and morph into the queen’s bed chambers, where she had lain six months ago, in a sorry state.
When it was his turn to approach her, he curtseyed and stood in awe. She was in pink of health, focused eyes and nourished skin. The coronation ring, still intact in her fingers.
“Good Morning, Doctor. How are you, today?”
“Pleasantly surprised at the scene before me, I must say, Your Majesty.” He exclaimed and added, “Still married to England, I presume?”
“Very much and committed to continue.”
The queen dismissed the court to have a word with her doctor.
“You are right, Doctor, on many counts. My womanly needs were the ones that were tormenting me – to be loved, to be a mother. She vexed me constantly. But at one point, I turned around and refused to feed her. I refused to be led by my instinct, which was determined by mere biology. I worked very hard to be here, to rule England with valour and courage, and I shall do so, even if it means relinquishing a part of me.”
The queen came closer to the doctor and whispered, “She still whimpers and whines. But I don’t intend to put up with her tantrums. I shut her up by slamming a heavy door on her.”
Leaning back comfortably in her plush chair, the queen said to the famous doctor, “Some of us have what it takes to slay the demons, dear Sir, whether they are of our own making or otherwise.”