They entered the room. Mary went first and as her surroundings came into focus her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She involuntarily let go of their overnight bags and stared as her senses were assaulted in all directions.
The room screamed with disharmony. The thick mint green, chocolate and vanilla striped curtains, the thin cottony fabric illuminated from behind by the sun’s early evening rays, made her lust for neopolitan ice-cream. She could almost taste it. Her eyes were then begrudgingly drawn to the bedspread, a cacophony of reds, blues, greens, swirled together in an abstract explosion that would be more at home in a primary school classroom. Finally the wallpaper. Tattered brown and cream floral swirls. “At least the carpet is plain” she thought, staring down to give her eyes, and her stomach, a rest.
The furniture too was a symphony of styles, colours, periods and textures. In the corner rested an old armoire, that had seen better days. It was big, solid, built to withstand. And a bit tired.
At the end of the room was a doorway, leading to a small en-suite bathroom. Able to serve its purpose, but no more.
Behind her, Helena sighed. More sensitive to her surroundings than Mary, her distaste was clear.
“Oh my God. I’m going to find us something to drink,” and she was gone.
Although tired from the long car journey, Mary was thrilled to have arrived. The tension between them, always present with one driving and the other navigating, could now dissipate and the delight of just being together restored.
“I can’t believe this place” she thought. “It deserves madness. I’ll show Helena.”
And with that she flung open the wardrobe door and jumped inside, crouching down and heaving the doors shut behind her. She took a couple of moments to settle herself but the sudden burst of activity tinged with excitement at the joke being played had made her heart race and she couldn’t silence the thumping or the panting. She focused until she got it under control. Her mind turned to not itching or sneezing, which brought both things on, so she wriggled and started again.
“Still your body, still your breathing, still your mind.”
It took Helena a while to return. Mary was stiff and beginning to doubt the quality of the joke being played when the bedroom door opened.
“Hi, its me, I’ve brought beer. Where are you?”
Mary tensed as she heard Helena walk to the bathroom. Her puzzled murmur echoed on the tiles. She held her breath as her unwitting predator re-entered the bedroom and exhaled as she bent down to look under the bed. “Where are you” she heard again, this time slightly exasperated, in an impatient motherly kind of way, playing the game.
Finally a crack of light appeared in Mary’s self-imposed isolation chamber. A shadow appeared, larger than life. Mary detected amusement, affection and perhaps slight relief in her voice as Helena asked “did you see Mr Tumnus?”
Mary laughed, stood up and climbed out of the wardrobe. The game was up, the moment had been marked and a lifelong challenge was set.
Helena followed Mary into the room. It was relief to see light again after the long, narrow, dingy corridor. It had been a long drive and Helena was tired and thirsty.
It was the strangest room she had ever been in. Completely mismatched — it was thoughtlessly thrown together for convenience, to rent out and make a buck, rather than to provide comfort, relaxation, sustenance for the soul. It smelt musty, old, uncared for.
Suddenly she felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Her mouth went dry and she shivered slightly as her body bristled with sweat. Her breathing quickened. She felt adrenaline course through her veins, like a hit of nicotine after the first drag of the day. The feeling awakened movement at last, she had to flee.
Once outside she stopped and leaned back against the hotel wall. She breathed deeply and focused on quieting her agitated body. Slowly composure returned. She was getting better at managing it — knowing when to run and when to stay and fight.
That was new. Running or fighting. Giving in to the most primal of instincts and externalising it, letting it play out, instead of pushing it down inside, keeping it hidden, anything to keep the peace. Because that didn’t work. Then she became a volcano, simmering away quietly then erupting in a fiery burst of fury, spewing venom randomly over anyone who got in the way.
Now she didn’t feel like keeping the peace. Now she wanted to shout “look at me. Here I am. Don’t take me for granted. I am real.” It was a new sensation and she didn’t know quite what to do with it. She was still learning the impact of it — Mary had no tolerance for passive-aggression. It was refreshing to be with someone who was open, with no secrets, instead of someone devious, manipulating and manoeuvring to control and dominate.
She was overcome with a rush of gratitude and wandered over the road to buy them some snacks. Full of affection she returned to Mary. She sensed the playfulness when she walked in, knew that merriment was afoot. She soon fathomed the game and sought her partner, hamming it up for effect.
Eventually the search was over. She opened the wardrobe door and looked down, to see her love crouching, with sparkling eyes and suppressed laughter. Serenity returned and she smiled, knowing that she was in the right place, on the right journey, with the right person.
The wardrobe was just starting its 4th year in that room. It had been bought in an auction, a house clearance following a sad but not unexpected death. Squeezing extra euros into a puny inheritance, not much return for a long, unremarkable life.
It had taken some time to reach this place. It started life many years ago in the workshop of a skilled French furniture maker. Crafted with care, the artisan’s warm, adept hands lovingly cutting, fixing, sanding and varnishing to make it beautiful.
Then, after many years, many families and many moves here it was. In this godforsaken hotel room, a stopping off point for itinerant travellers, all on their way somewhere else, somewhere better.
Nothing was ever hung with love inside it now, rucksacks and bags carelessly tossed inside, to get them out of sight. How different from other times, when it was filled fit to burst with the latest fashions, the treasured keeper of beautiful troves. Then people would touch it, stroke it, pat it, somehow thank it for keeping their precious garments safe.
No one even saw it now. Such an absence of belonging, purpose. Nobody admired its elegant panels, sensed security from its solid grandeur, felt the thrill of turning its ornate key, to fasten away secrets and jewels.
And these two here, they looked no different from the rest. Just passing through, no time to get to know their surroundings, no attention to pay. But what was this? One of them had noticed it. Was walking over to it. Opening the door. At last it was being recognised, sized up, explored.
And then entered. It was unfamiliar although not unknown. But it had been a long time ago, with people much smaller than this one. Crouching, hiding, trying to keep quiet, until found.
Suddenly, once again it had a place, a reason. It belonged to the game, to the relationship, to the world. Without it the two people wouldn’t have found each other again, made up, remembered who they were and why they were there. After too long it was again part of the family. Important, needed, wanted.
The girls laughed together for sometime, then got ready to go out, for dinner probably. They put their backpacks in the wardrobe, tidily, with care. The wardrobe guarded them with love.