Friday, 30 November 2007

Guest Blogger #13: Becky Craven - "The Other Room"

I first went there when I was seven. It always happened at night when I closed my eyes. And suddenly I would be there.

I close my eyes and I’m there, at the bottom of the stairs, in my pyjamas, looking up into the dark. The brick of the stairwell has eroded in places over the years and the moonlight is breaking through, dashes of blue-white collecting in the angles of the wooden spiral staircase. I reach out my hand and touch the wall but I quickly pull away. It’s damp and if the light permitted I’m pretty sure I’d see a violent shade of green smeared on my hand. I wipe my hand on my top and turn to look through the door, back into my bedroom. I can see the light from the landing striping its way along the floor and imagine my parents sleeping in the room below me. I can still feel the warmth radiating from my duvet. A sharp screeching returns my attention to the stairs; nightjars, birds with a call that resembles a woman crying out in fear and pain, fly metres from the roof of the house. Still, I’m not scared. Just excited. I know I shouldn’t be here, on these stairs and I know I shouldn’t climb up to the room either but I do every time.

I take my foot off the carpet and place it onto the first step, the rotten wood gives slightly under my weight, in some ways I’m not seven anymore. I climb higher still, the stairs seemingly endless, until I start to feel the difference. It’s warmer once you get nearer to the room. After a few more steps I put my hand out in front of me it makes contact with something solid. The door. I crouched down to open the door, it’s getting to be a squeeze these days and as I kneel down to crawl through, I know that this will be the last time I will be able to come here. My dismay registers only for a second because now I am inside.

I reach into the darkness for the candle. There isn’t much of it left, I’m not surprised, how many candles last for twelve years? My other hand goes in search of the lighter and seconds later I smile with my mouth and my eyes as I feel the cold metal rectangle. I warm it slightly in my hands before flicking the lid open and breathing in the scent of the petrol, I pull my thumb along the wheel but nothing happens, I try again but still nothing. I shut the lid and open it, then try again, nothing. No spark. I begin to panic. I know this is the last time, I want to see everything before I go. I need one last chance to remember it all. I mustn’t forget. I can’t begin to imagine what would happen if I did. I slump against the door, the eagerness turning quickly into frustration, tears, the thick feeling in my chest and my ragged breath catching on my tears every time. I must try to breath normally, mustn’t let it take over. I stare down at the blackness that is my hands, one still clutching the candle, the other; the lighter. Something snaps inside me and I flick the lid of the lighter once more, a new type of anger grips me and I roll the wheel repeatedly under my thumb, I can feel the skin blistering but I’m rewarded with a spark and then suddenly a flame, which wavers as I take it to meet the stub of wax and wick.

The room. I can see the room. I gaze round, nothing seems different but I know that once I have looked around I will notice new things, recent things that I have put here without my knowledge and things that others have left behind whilst passing through me. A sudden pain taps sharply on my thumb and I look down to see that I have been dripping burning wax onto my skin. I carefully place the candle inside the top one of the brandy bottles on the floor and take another look around. There are shelves filled with cardboard boxes and although I’ve never been able to look inside them, I know what would be there if I did. I walk across the room and look up and down the shelves. I spot an old pack of photographs and fall into the usual trap. I reach for them but they fall through my hands. I can’t pick them up, but I can still see them in my minds eye. This is what I do here. I look at every box and book and bag in this way, I can’t see inside but I almost test myself to see if I can remember what is there. Tonight it’s more important than ever because it is the last time I can come here. After this all these things will not be here anymore, I can’t hold on to them any longer, I’ve never been able to hold them physically but I can try to hold them mentally. There’s no way I can store these things here now. Since I can’t stop disappointing them and him I have to take all this out to make room for something else. Something I don’t want there but it’s already growing inside me, and yet, at the same time it’s shrinking me. Soon, in one way I will be seven again but not in the way that I am seven today or in the way that I was seven when I first came here. I will never be seven years old again and after tonight I can’t think like that anymore. So tonight I must try to commit as much of these things to memory as I can. Then I must find somewhere new to put them where they can’t be forgotten or shrunk. So this is what I am doing.

Singer sewing machine, airfix model plane, car pencil sharpener, Mr Men sing along record, fossils from Lyme, rocks from Yorkshire and the Lakes, shells from all over, brass ashtray and the cowrie shells. Hold them up to your ear and you can hear the sea. The baby things, the soft toys and dolls the boxes of paintings and exercise books and ladybird books. Photographs of parents and grandparents. The time I drew on a hot radiator with wax crayons. The day I pulled all the clothes out of my wardrobe. The week Mummy kept me off school so we could read The Lord of The Rings…..

The candle started to flicker so I got myself ready to leave. I can never come back here. I tested myself quickly, checking I knew what every box contained then I knelt down and opened the door to the stairs. I crawled backwards onto the stairs and watched the last few seconds of wick burn away, as I shut the door I saw the candlelight disappear. Things would be harder now. I have to hold onto all of these things until I find a place big enough to store them all. The problem is that I am shrinking.

Written & e-mailed to the potato farm by Becky Craven. All rights reserved.

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