The White Room
Copyright Pola Negri, (June 2015 revised June 2016.) Images by Sarah Doughty.
There was once a woman who from time to time boarded in a white room that had nothing in it: except for an intricate ebony chair and a white sofa with a black flock-pattern on it.
She habitually sat on the chair next to the door and stared at the sofa in the middle of the room. She wondered what it would be like to have a companion sitting there. If there had been someone to confide everything to that swam in her mind, it would subdue the compulsion she had to paint the walls with text – and make something beautiful out of her own loneliness.
A lot of the time the only door would be shut, and so no-one had a chance of entering at all.
Occasionally though she had visitors.
Death, for example was an old friend. He entered quietly and powerfully when he appeared in the room, cracked a joke of very dark hue, and sat talking of the truths of the world when he was not trying to seduce her to his side. He stroked her forearm before he left her, laughed at her wistfulness when he caught the line of her gaze and wondered why she was so persistent to live when it was she who called to him occasionally. The call was an ice-cold message down a thin telephone line inside her heart. “Come, Death… stop the pain.”
He knew he would have her one day, but the white light of her soul always managed to say: “Not yet my friend… It confounds me as to why… but not quite yet.” Her soul was always wise and subdued her heart. Then he would say leaning good naturedly on the left wall next to the door frame, “Very well little one. Your frame is too resilient and lovely: I shall not take you yet.”
Pain was another visitor who was not so kind. He was petulant, like a little boy in a clown’s outfit. He’d stand and jab the soft flesh of her arms, poking spitefully. He’d grab her throat and make it hurt with all the tears she hadn’t cried yet. He’d make her head pound with heat and anger, and say: “You will never be normal… You’ve no right to wish this for yourself. Death is only kind to you because he thinks you are faithful and beautiful. He sees that you love God. Death collects the beautiful and the good first. But I know that you are sometimes angry at God. You don’t know what sin needed expiation by your illness… but you worry don’t you? You worry that God has cast you out, and so what use is the grace of human affection compared to that sadness?”
“Maybe God in His mercy made me ill to save me from something worse?”
“What is worse than your heartache…?”
“I don’t know.” She would resign sadly. “I’ve begged God to tell me.” Then Pain would smile at her cruelly, like a child with a gob-stopper gumming his jaws in lurid colours.
“You have more morbid ingenuity than Death himself…” she would sigh.
Then Pain would beam from the compliment and leave her right side gleefully to put sticky fingers on the soft fabric of the sofa.