the medium | a short story

My mouth, something is in my mouth, something’s the matter with my mouth, I feel, it feels like wet dough, or wet sticky paper, yet dry somehow, it feels dry and yet too wet in a way, gluey. My legs feel very heavy too, as if they are weighed down by water, as if they contain too much water, it’s hard to breathe, I am coming to an end. Does that mean anything to you?

Elena looked at Doris with eyes barely her own.

Yes.

Doris says, swallowing bitterly.

I had three behind me. Now she is in the foreground. Above my right shoulder. She’s loud.

Elena chuckles. Doris tries to hold it together. She can’t see anything. She only sees Elena’s face that looks familiar because it’s not hers right now.

She was okay with it. Didn’t care that much in the end. She’s showing me a lot of images. She’s fast and impatient. Quite the temperament as well. She says that she was never harmless. She says that you know. That’s why you’re here. You know what happened in that room. She is very heavy. It’s hard to catch my breath. This sticky mouth, my saliva, it’s weird. Do you know which room she is referring to?

Doris is breathing heavily, but without making a sound. She looks down at her shoes, then back at Elena who is smacking her lips.

Yes.

She is showing me a wardrobe. Old wood. A rocking chair. It’s a yellow room. Wallpaper, she never liked it. There’s a bed for two in the corner. Little figurines and a clock that never stops ticking. She was fond of that clock. She says that you have it now. She wanted you to have it. Not the rest. Not the figurines. Out with it all. She seems angry. She knows what you want to know. What you want to ask her. But she’s silent now. She feels defeated somehow. I can’t quite pinpoint what happened here. It’s just her. But something’s wrong. Something happened. Yes, but what? She’s very hesitant to come forward. But she wants to talk. My fingers are tingly, my limbs feel as if they had been crushed to sleep. You know who she is?

Doris didn’t bat an eye.

Without a doubt.

Doris composed her face and kept her hands folded and squeezed in-between her thighs. She shouldn’t have had that second cup of coffee.

I’m asking her to show me what is in this room. Why it’s so important still. She’s showing me a little child. A girl. She’s scared. But why? Of what? She’s very evasive. The girl is hidden. It’s dark. She’s not playing a game. She’s terrified. She doesn’t understand what she sees. It’s never explained. It’s not verbalised. It’s done. It sounds bad. It makes her suffer. She familiarises herself with this foreign pain. Does that mean anything to you? This girl? Does that sound like someone you know?

Doris winces and wipes away some tears when Elena wasn’t looking.

Yes, I know who that is.

I’m trying to understand how they are related to one another. She feels distant towards this girl. Is it her daughter? She seems very careful now. Is that her child? Why is she not answering. There’s a reason she’s showing her to me. She is wearing a blue dress. She hates dresses, she says, but she wanted her to look nice. She braided her hair as well. She didn’t like that either. Yes, it’s her daughter. She seems sad and disillusioned. She feels heavy as well and she’s very young. What is going on here, tell me. She wanted the girl to see. She needed her to understand for herself. To feel what was being done to women, to girls. She needed to be warned. This is making me sick. I’ve rarely had someone here who made me feel this way. One second, please. This is heavy. She’s charged. She’s taking up this whole room, doesn’t she?

Doris chuckled to be polite. She sure did.

She says that she wanted her to get out of there. She didn’t know how to tell her back then. She didn’t have the words. She says that she looked at her as if she was to blame. That disappointed her, angered her deeply, she says. She felt betrayed. The air is very stuffy. I think I’m in a wardrobe now, the one in the yellow room, but it’s slightly kept ajar, there’s light coming in. He always wanted the light on, she says. He wanted to see everything. Well lit, she says. Every disgusting dirty part of her, he’d slur. She feels very painful to me. Humiliated. This is not a good presence. It’s a big man, she’s showing me, a drinker and a smoker, he stinks and he makes her stink, she says, and he’d make fun of her, she’d wash and wash, but it wasn’t any good, he’d always come back for her. Do you know who this man is? I assume it’s her husband?

No, he’s not.

Doris sat upright, leaning in, her face severe.

Elena’s face was consumed.

It’s her father.

Doris’s eyes didn’t blink, staring at Elena, who had her suspicion confirmed at last.

Why did she make me watch?

Elena teared up.

This is your mother?

Doris burned up.

Why did we not leave? Why did we stay there? Why would she stick me in that closet?

Elena’s breathing was irregular.

She is overwhelmed. She wanted someone to know and to remember what had happened to her and what had been done to her. She doesn’t know why you had to come. She doesn’t know what you want. She repeats that you needed to know. She needed you to see. But it didn’t stop there, did it?

No, it didn’t.

Doris replied, clenching her jaw.

She’s showing me an empty wardrobe. It’s empty now, you’re not there anymore. Just old clothes. Where are you then? She doesn’t want to show me. She is ashamed. She says that she can’t forgive herself. All of the guilt is put on her. I feel like she’s attacked. She thought that she’d prepared you, steeled you. But everything went wrong. She couldn’t understand how wrong. She was afraid, dependent, alone. Too young. And yet, despite everything, she felt relieved for just a second. The attention wasn’t on her. She wasn’t torn up. Someone else knew what it felt like. But it took too long for her to realise that she should have left. With you. She never did. She hated herself for it. Him. The world. And you. In the end. You reminded her of her guilt. Of his crimes. Of his guilt. She waited for his death. She never had to leave. But she says she can’t get out the yellow room. She mourns the little girl in the closet. Can you understand that?

No, because I am still on that bed. I’ve been put on that bed. Every day of my life, I am on that bed, trying to focus on the ticking of the clock instead of the noise he makes. That fucking clock, it wouldn’t stop ticking, on and on, just like him. I want to know why she transferred her pain to me, why she gave me up, why she let him take me, why she didn’t protect me with every piece of her own body?

She says that she’d reached a point where there was nothing left of her, but a sack of tired brittle old bones.

And what does that make me?

My own drawing © Laura Gentile 2022 | Instagram: croque_melpomene

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