what did you think you left behind? | the fourth room | a short story | part 4

When Stefan opened the door, Vince crawled towards him and cried at his feet. Stefan looked into the room, closed his eyes for a moment as if that could make it disappear, and pulled Vince up, squeezing his shoulders, trying to look him in the eyes, but lowering his eyelids instead. Upon exiting the room, Vince turned around and knew that what he had encountered in there would never leave him. Stefan closed the door, turned the key and put his hand on the door reminiscent of an unspoken benediction.

We’ll take an elevator to go to the next floor. The first room that you will see is a bathroom where you’ll find your clothes. You can wash yourself there and brush your teeth. You will find everything you need and what you brought with you into this house in there.

Stefan explained with folded hands, rummaging in their own flesh, as if turning away from their insides. The voices in Vince’s head interrupted his breath and Stefan was aware of it. He was wincing behind his back as if there was no new morning, no new beginning, as if he couldn’t metamorphose what he had been given into something that could help him survive.

Who are these people? Why are they in this house? Why are they allowed to stay? They are so loud, Stefan.

Vince shook his head and held on to himself. He felt fragmented in his body. He couldn’t smell his own skin anymore. He felt as if he was being removed from his own self. As if he couldn’t make it to the surface of his skin, shrinking on the inside, his scent eroded.


Vince stuttered and begged without saying anything else.


Vince whimpered, trying to catch his breath.

There you go, Vince. This is the bathroom. When you’re done, you’ll go here, through this door, you see, that’s the room where you’ll have breakfast as agreed. Remember who you are, Vince. You are not in alignment with your spirit right now, Vince, and you can feel it. You feel powerless and disrupted. Everything is sinking. What are you going to do, Vince?

They are so grey, Stefan.

Vince, look where you are now. The door is open. Take care of yourself. I will take you to the next room in an hour. Prepare yourself.

Vince stepped into the bathroom and immediately opened the window. Trees, high and thick, everywhere. He smelled them, inhaled them, the outside world became a part of him again. He cried and the wind hit his face, the sound of birds and squirrels and branches cracking, felt like breaking his heart. He collapsed on the warm floor, tears streaming down his ears, he knew that that room had existed, that it still existed below him, like a grave, people that hadn’t been put to rest, that wouldn’t lie still, that were infecting a duplicate house, that attached themselves to every living thing to spread themselves out. He got on his knees, face down, and screamed at the floor. He threw his nightgown in the sink and walked into the shower and pretended that the hot water erased the person he had become overnight.

When he ate his breakfast, all he could hear was bones breaking. When he drank up his black cold coffee, he thought of her vocal cords, her ashes and her disintegration.

Are you ready, Vince?

Stefan pointed to the shut door in front of them.

Vince just looked at him with tears in his eyes and tried his best to nod with his lips shut.

You will meet an extraordinary person in this room, Vince. As soon as I open this door, you will not speak. Not a single word. The person you will encounter won’t talk either. This person is blind, Vince, but he can see you as nobody else can. He is a portrait artist and he has a gift. I call it a gift. Others do not. He will show you. And you will see. Maybe what will appear on paper will help you or destroy you. That is in your hands alone. One thing is clear, what you will see will be the truth as it is now. If you are in the room, the truth will be.

To Stefan’s surprise, Vince opened the door himself. It was a barren room, half-finished it seemed. And there he sat. Austere, straight, ready to go, and stared at Vince from the moment he sat foot in the room. The artist’s gaze followed Vince around to his seat in front of him. Vince perceived the thoughts of the artist, the energy in his throat, chest and mind, just galloping robustly into his fingertips. Vince put his face in his hands to mute his cries. He wiped his cheeks and sat on his fingers.

The artist was dressed in black and the tainted apron he wore looked like that of a butcher’s. His hand was rushing over the paper, pencils were dunked in and out of water, dirty, clean, dusty, tap, tap, tap against the glasses, colours bleeding into the water, changing stains on the palette. He worked incredibly fast, vividly, intuitively, as if he was running out of time, as if the face that he was seeing was fading away in his mind.

Vince felt the brushstrokes on his face and how his soul widened in his body again. He just heard himself appearing on paper. The scent that he was born with contoured his body again. Whatever was drawn out of this man’s fingertips, it had taken place in Vince first. Vince only looked at the back of the paper until he realised that the artist was drawing with his head down as if he was in pain, or unwilling to see what only he could see, as if he was trying to get it out of him and away from him, as if he felt sorry for putting it on paper. Vince felt encouraged despite the artist’s posture, and told himself that whatever would appear on that piece of paper he would claim and own it, because of the way it made him feel and how it brought him back to himself. The artist exhausted himself, his hands belonging to a higher force. The artist was building the link between a human being and an object.

Vince had lost all sense of time, but when the artist waved him over, he woke up in his body and stood up, rushing towards the painting. He sat down in the artist’s chair. The unknown man stood next to him and put his hand on Vince’s shoulder. An apology never came to fruition. Vince put his hand on the wet painting reminiscent of an unspoken benediction.

My own drawing © Laura Gentile 2022 | Instagram: croque_melpomene


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