Cut flowers

The thin curtain with its faded little roses billows away from her as she opens the door. Feeling for the lock (the bulb has gone) she shuts it behind her and sits on the closed lid of the toilet seat. She sits still for a long time, examining marks on the skirting board where it fits around the bottom of the archway. This room, once part of a larger area, is dominated by an incongruous archway which is now situated just behind the toilet door. The jaundiced city haze filtering through an unreachable skylight (jammed permanently half-open) blurs the hard edges of the stains that can be found everywhere in this small room. And they are everywhere. None of them are hers – she has no idea how they all appeared. Other people must have made them over the years – yes, others have left them. She invents a past, layering over the hidden agony of real memory.

She continues to sit. She doesn’t know what time it is – she only knows it’s morning, and the sun is shining somewhere. She gazes for a long time at a join in the floor covering. One sheet is red, mottled, and brittle with age; the adjoining sheet is beige with a regular geometric pattern picked out in pale grey. The older sheet is stiff with clotted memories – not hers, but reminders of people who pass through, telling themselves next month, I’ll be out of here. Further back, before the room became a toilet, they would have seen this building in a brighter light, new and eager for the first footfalls of an anticipated future, ready to breathe each breath up to the brim, with no hint of the staleness that now pervades the house. Like everyone else who lives here, she moves as little as possible so as not to stir it.

She feels an urge to tell her story, to leave her mark on the floor, on the newer stuff. But she knows it is inanimate, and has not departed so far from reality to imagine that it might listen to her. For a moment she compares herself to the floor covering. Passive, undemanding, neutral. Indifferent. Like her? Perhaps. But no, she’s not neutral. She has a wish-life, just like anyone else, and isn’t about to throw it all in just because of this. After all, dreams are only unfulfilled desires, so she can afford as many as she likes because as long as they remain dreams she has no way of telling whether they’re within or beyond reach. As is always the case, the best are the simplest. This morning, she allowed one or two to escape with her breath into the steam from the kettle.

Heavily she stands, as if her skeleton were packed with lead (it probably is, she tells herself, by now it probably is). Her spectral form turns rigidly, as if carrying a great mass, to flush away a few more precious drops of her remaining life. Unconscious suicide, that’s what someone told her once and now she’s conscious of it, and of how long the process takes, doing it this way. Unseen, the curtain billows up behind as the door closes behind her, and the little roses fall back into place.


t o p