what did you think you left behind? | the third room | a short story | part 3

Why are you here, Vince?

Stefan’s eyes wandered over Vince’s pale body as he put a nightgown on that he handed to him. There was a coldness in Vince that he couldn’t shake, despite the dry heat from the sauna, he felt it reach out to him, call him almost, expand within him without a name, invade the current of his blood, he carried it with him and he brought it into the next room whose shut door was at the end of a long carpeted corridor that seemed years away from the pool room.

As Stefan and Vince were both walking barefoot over the corridor carpet, Vince tried to come up with an answer. He got used to Stefan’s eccentric manners.

You know why I’m here.

Vince was ashamed of his voice. It sounded insecure, as if it had deracinated roots that were coming back through the earth to find his vocal cords to reassemble themselves.

I mean, why are you here on earth, Vince?

Vince knew that his feet were not wet anymore, but with every step he felt moisture on his skin that made an impression but quickly vanished as his steps continued.

The corridor seemed endless. Vince just wished to access the next room because he didn’t know what to say, how to answer Stefan’s questions, what he meant in the first place and what he was looking for.

The closer they got to the room, the heavier Stefan felt beside him. Vince felt that Stefan’s closeness to that room made it worse for him, he almost wanted to leave him behind because he didn’t know what was going on within him, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t know, but he was definitely feeling it, as if everything underneath Stefan’s skin made its way under Vince’s skin without a warning. Vince felt sick.

Hold it, Vince. You’ve got to hold it. Do you understand me? Now, you haven’t answered the question. Why are you here, Vince? Listen.

My parents, they-

Vince tried to control his stomach, his urge to let it out, whatever was expanding in his body, he tried to focus on Stefan’s feet as he was crouching in the corridor.

No, not your parents, Vince. You. Vince. Why are you here?

Vince’s irritation grew and he pulled himself together to control his breathing and suppress the vomit that needed to erupt.

I don’t know what to say, Stefan. What-

Stefan’s steps came to a halt. He held one key firmly in both his hands, but he seemed unsure about letting Vince proceed. He stared at him. Silence. Heaviness. Tension.

Vince stretched and stood up straight. He didn’t get sick. His hands were shaking behind his back. After a few moments, he looked Stefan in the eye. He was ready to go, but he didn’t say it.

You can’t answer that question.

Stefan said, he was thinking something, but it didn’t show on his face.

Let me in.

The three words just rushed out of Vince and he regretted saying them instantaneously, but they felt real. That’s what he wanted to say.

Stefan’s facial muscles chuckled without a sound. His eyes seemed to be with Vince again, but they were disturbed by something that Vince couldn’t see.

There is someone very close to me in that room. It will apply to you too. You won’t see that person.

Stefan looked back and swallowed heavily, then continued.

No air can come through the windows. They are covered by curtains. It makes it easier.

Vince’s unease grew as he perceived how much this room scared Stefan who failed to contain his discomfort. Vince didn’t know whether the fear inside of him was entirely his own or was contaminated by Stefan who was choking the key.

You will spend the night. You won’t be alone. The question will not disappear. The light will gradually turn itself off throughout the night. Do you understand? You will, at a certain point, not see anything, or wake up in darkness. You will be safe and you will survive.

Vince wanted to cry, but he didn’t know why. He just felt that it would release him, soothe him, prevent someone from harming him. He thought that he was slipping away, that he was shrinking and that he lost agency over his vulnerability.

Are you ready?

Stefan’s voice sounded odd, but he stuck the key in the hole and looked at Vince as he turned it. Vince’s nod had felt so wrong.

Stefan’s exhaled air came out of his mouth and he pushed the door open without setting foot inside. His arm stretched across the door pinned to the inside on the wall.

Vince looked at the room and immediately started to talk.

You know, Stefan, there are certain places where you can tell, you know, immediately, that something is the matter, that something is going on, but you know, you can’t see it, put your finger on it, but as soon as you opened this door, something happened, something is sitting still that can’t do so for long, alert, you know what I mean?

Stefan didn’t move. He didn’t look inside. He cut himself off. It was not his turn. Stefan’s nervousness tried to make fun of the situation, tried to analyse it, connect it to the outside world, everything familiar, tangible, normal, he tried to cope, to survive, but he hadn’t even stepped into the room yet, he wanted to enter it prepared, reserved and sealed off.

This room can’t stay open for too long.

Stefan looked away, but the message was clear.

Vince, who had failed to make eye contact, took a deep breath and stepped with his bare feet from the salmon-coloured carpet onto the rough wooden floor. Something had changed.

It was a bedroom. Lived in. Antiquated furniture. It was personal. Not clinical, vague. No, it had character, it was precise, detailed, recreated but original, it had kept its history, its energy, its voices. It felt old. Unwholesome. Three windows, all covered by mustard-yellow curtains. Decorated. The bed. It was the bed. He tried not to notice it, but how could he not, it held the entire room together, it was at the very centre but against the wall, it hurt the room, the corner of the blanket was folded to welcome him into its memories.

Vince wanted to cry again, but he clenched his jaw and barely blinked.

I will open this door once you are ready to leave this room.

Stefan pulled the handle towards what felt like the outside world and locked Vince who quivered in his nightgown into this room whose artificial light was heightened by the closed door. Vince didn’t hear Stefan walk away. There was no shadow under the door either.

I will just talk to myself. Out loud. Yes, that’s what I will do. I am here to research. I am here to collect data for my article. I will make this work. I am all alone in this world.

I can’t just stand here. I am not the centre of attention. I just need to walk through this room. I am the master of this room. I am alive. I have muscles and bones and a voice and I will survive. I will sleep. Being awake and asleep are the same thing in this room.

Walking. Walking. Good that it’s quite spacious. Air seems fine for a night. I will be safe. If I’m not the centre of attention, who is or what is? I mean it is a house of fears, so what is it, maybe I should just do stuff all the time because I actually can, I have the upper hand, I am flesh and blood, yes, I am indeed. that’s some dark wood on this bed. I won’t look behind the curtains. I won’t. I just know that it won’t help to look.

So let’s see, there’s a desk with three mirrors, can’t remember what they used to call them, so there’s a feminine element for sure I would say, the patterns on the curtains as well, and yes, I mean, make-up, hairbrush, perfumes, all of that stuff, let’s keep familiarising ourselves with this room so we’ll know where’s what, let’s keep going. I’m scared to death.

I will sleep here, it’s going to be fine, just keep walking, exploring, good job, that’s what she’ll say about my article, yes, but the bed looks like someone just stepped out of it really, it has been slept in, so often, innumerable times, I wonder whether he bought new sheets and all that, but maybe it’s all from the past, original, pre-owned to keep everything real, this guy’s lost, I am, I am lost, I am so lost too, who was in that bed, before me? Who? No, no, stop it, there’s not going to be any communication, I am alone in here.  Who says that we’ll have the same experience anyway?

I am scared to sit down, I can’t be still, I feel like I’ll be obvious, like I’m attracting everything towards me if I sit down, I’ll keep myself busy, I’m exhausted. I don’t want to be on the same level as that dreadful pool, God, that was horrendous, that darkness, so close still, it drags you down, I must be underground, there’s no other way, the hole is below me, not quite, so I am higher up, that’s a relief, I am in the house and Stefan is in the house and somebody else as well. No! Stop it! He said it though.

The light got a nuance darker.

I need to make my peace with this room, but I was never at war with it, I don’t know, but you do know, you knew something was wrong when you saw it, when you stepped in it, why weren’t you listening, you knew, fuck, I can’t do this, but he does it all the time and he’s still here, I need to do this, why am I here, why, what is this, no, no, no, okay there’s an album, why doesn’t it have any pictures in it? That’s weird, I see, I see, go back, don’t do this to yourself, you could have written about anything else, why are you here?

Okay, calm down, breathe, all right, see, you’re breathing, step by step, time is ongoing, okay, nothing is coming to a halt, but the bed, I can’t sleep in there, I know it, I just know, all right, God, he doesn’t care, of course he does, that’s the point, that makes no fucking sense, stop swearing, I’m in pain, can you hear that, no, no, what, fuck this, get rid of it, no, what, stop it, what’s going on, I don’t understand, yes, you do, I told you, from the very beginning, this was a bad idea, they’re coming to you now, they never left, he brought them here, stop it, fuck, I didn’t want it either.

The light got a nuance darker.

I am here, I will stay here, he will get me once I’m ready, look behind the curtain, no, no, come on, look, you want to know, okay, okay, the light got darker twice, do I have something to do with it, did I accelerate the process, it seems irregular, see, there you go, you just got to focus and analyse, focus on the objects, what is there, I am, it’s just growing, I hate it, I hate everything, I just want to disappear, get it out of me, I don’t want it, shut your mouth, are you crazy, you deserve it, what is going on, okay, four pillows, the blanket has the same colour as the curtains, good material, how do you know, get in, no, I can’t sleep here, I don’t know what’s worse, eyes open, eyes closed, I am so tired, just go to bed already, what can happen, I can’t be horizontal, you disgust me.

I don’t want to cry, I just want to go home, why am I here, why don’t you want me, why is the door closed, why did you make me happen, what is this, oh God, stay calm, this is not you, I know, I know, I can tell, I can do this, reality, all right, wood, textiles, hunger, you need to eat, you’ll kill it, why don’t you kill me now, I need to focus, focus, listen, here, what’s that old French song, no, that’s too violent, what, it had a bird in it, had, past tense, has, the song, come on, I’ll slap you silly, I’ll fuck it out of you, leave me alone, beast, beast, beast of a man, I’m thinking marmalade, fresh bread, eggs, orange juice, good breakfast stuff, Stefan, Stefan serving breakfast in his house of fears, I, I am in his house of fears, why?

The light got a nuance darker. Shadows appear.

You need to pull yourself together, otherwise this guy will write about you, he’s going to make fun of you, do you want that, tell everybody how you fell apart and nobody will be able to relate to you, they don’t know, they wouldn’t, you know how people are, they stink, you stink, take a shower you filthy little cunt, don’t talk to me like that, I’ll get it done, do you hear me, I will take it right out of me, I want to live, I want it to die, I didn’t want this, it, make it stop, it deforms me, it has you in it, I don’t, I don’t want it, I’ll take this brush, it’s harsh and rough, it’s going to take everything away from me, you did this, I can’t be a part of this, how is this happening, this is crazy, no wonder, no wonder, I’m getting through this, I really don’t want to go in that bed, Mother, is that you, what on earth, yes, that’s where you are, come here, pencil, window, open the curtain, open the window, let me in, I’m here, come on, that’s not nice, have a look at me, say goodbye, be a good little boy, over here, what were you thinking?

The light got a nuance darker. It flickered for a second.

He makes me feel bad, I’m cold, I need to stay here, I can’t get out, don’t be so negative, that’s why you’re here, always sad, always asking questions, always stuck in the past, get me out of here, I knew I would die, who’s that, I just knew, it just stopped, fat, won’t touch that, won’t go anywhere near that, child, what, okay, I need to be in charge of the bed, it’s the heart of it all, I am alive, I am in the centre, I will tell this story, do you hear me, yeah, you got it, right, I’m coming, get ready, make yourselves small, only one, right, he was wrong, could he know, did he, does it matter, everything changed, immediately, okay, I am pulling the blanket away, I am sitting on the bed, I will put my lower body under the blanket, sit straight, grab another blanket for my back, see, nice and easy, no distractions, I’m in, I can see the whole room, from this perspective, I’m so fucking exposed, this blanket doesn’t feel comforting, it can’t protect me, why would it, why should it, why, what happened, stains, no, I don’t want to know, stop it, textiles, stains, no, fuck off, hands on the blanket, I’m holding it, subject object, easy straightforward equation, beginners, I don’t want you to see the light of day, get out, come out of me, whole, I’ll break you, I’m in charge, rot, why are you doing this to me, can he hear me, maybe he can see me, what a pitiful sight, he can’t know everything, you’ve let it happen, you should have been careful, you should have known, look at you, I can’t stand it, I am breathing, I’ll make it out alive, I’ll show everybody, write, think about writing, you love writing, it’s too late.

The room began to fade away in the weak light. The empty chair in front of the small mirrors lost its contours. The curtains hung still. The frames held their paintings in places. The album revealed nothing. Vince was crying under the blanket. The shadows grew bigger until they themselves drowned. It was quiet. Everywhere.

You’re buried, no I’m not, do you hear that, no, she can’t, she wouldn’t, nails, fingers, scratch, scratch, scratch, stop it, I beg you, stop it, I’m not doing anything, I’ll just stay here, okay, please, don’t, I’m good, you’ll see, so good, okay, okay, it’s dark, yes that scares some people, irrational, wire hanger, portrait, dark, sees me, through the dark, nails, open wide, writing, I will be writing, I will fall asleep, I’ll pretend that you’re a lullaby, I’ll find a way not to listen, little shit, no, I won’t, it’s not going to happen, I’m here, now, I will lie down, put these two cushions aside, who slept on which side, nobody, okay, nobody, you, all right, I am pulling the blanket towards my chest and I will sleep, I am tired, okay, I can’t see anything, I can’t feel anything, my heart is beating and the sun will rise in the morning and Stefan will open the door, is that how the story goes?

to be continued?

My own drawing © Laura Gentile 2022 | Instagram: croque_melpomene

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