I have been posting assignments from my creative writing class (to catch you up if you are lately arrived) and Week 4’s Assignment was to do a character study on a room or place. I chose a room I had seen in the mid-1970’s in Chicago. A condensed version of this is in my book Endless Shifting Sand, and this is enhanced from that to greater instill a place of setting…
Dark, quiet, still….
Staring in through the opening enables your eyes to adjust to the dim light in the interior as it slowly fades into view. The trespassing light dwindles away once it pushes through the violated window at which you wait to view the details of this mysterious room and your eyes start to coax objects out from the dark clutches of shadow. Curiosity and impetuous inspiration brought you here to this quiescent place from the summer-aired sunshine, where you were strolling in your ease. The lively breeze became subdued and died with your approach to the small structure, and now, as you peer inside to see what this room might hold, an uneasy, cool peace dominates all within and touches your spirit like a barely recalled dream. The confines of the room rectangular in shape, with sharp corners and flat walls, the ceiling double recessed with the same harsh angles, its muted and lofty gray barely visible to the caressing touch of your upturned eyes, the dark remaining crouched, steady-laired in the corners and angles, holding breath and hiding amongst itself.
Lean forward to enable a better view of the greater interior, being careful to mind your head for the rusted, horizontal, iron cross-bar in the middle of the slender window through which you seek visual adventure. The vertical bar still holding center point on the stolid horizontal cross-piece, but cut and wrenched from the sill and bent straight up to offer a narrow access to the room within, giving you the opportunity to explore what visitors who came before might have exposed and revealed. No colorful glass shards remain attached to the bars or enclosing wall frame to filter light and cut through the interior’s gray dominance. The leaden wrought settings which once held that glass in decorative grace are also gone without remnant or scar. And now you can discern that the walls are smooth brick, utilitarian and plain in their appearance, with occasional, random stitches of browned flora appearing to cobble the bricks together, filigree upon stone, all colored to blend by the shroud of dust that holds the ambiance of the room in dead silence.
Away from the steadfast, creeper-adorned walls, in the space where it can be seen around the large box which sits in the middle of the small room, the floor is strewn with the detritus of ages past, broken pieces of unknown materials, objects dropped, scattered and left in the churn of dust. The obvious focus of the quick-handed interlopers was the sole occupying object in the room, the large solid wooden box that stately lies on the floor, its dimensions and angles congruent to the four containing walls of the room. The heavy lid, somberly utilitarian with raised and edged decorative panels, lies slid aside and slightly skewed across the box itself, revealing a narrow glimpse of the contents within. Knowing that this is what you came for, this is the goal of your curiosity, this is what you feared to contemplate in your approach to this room and here, unable to turn away from the morbid fascination, you stand witness to overt, sinful desecration.
Once brightly pristine and ornate lace, now yellow and tattered, lies draped over the edge of the opening, roughly cascades up, over and out in motionless disarray, ends trailing among the rubble on the floor. Where the material is bunched and jumbled inside the box, definition is difficult to hold recognition but there lies a single piece of short narrowly cylindrical material, smoothly curved in organic simplicity, yellowed like the cloth coverings within which the full complement of this disjointed object once peacefully resided. Further consideration of what the substances within the box might be are foregone and forgotten, for your eyes finally rise up, back to the lid, the dust along its edges printed in hands and smudges. Upon this carpentered slab, like a crown jewel on a platter, surveying the confines of its severely enclosed kingdom, the skull sits in silent reign. The ubiquitous yellow of decay tints the bone, rotted edges crumbling and uneven, expressionless and pitiful in discarded stand upon the outer side of the lid which it had faced from within for so long. The leavings of vandals and ghouls.
Tear your gaze away from this relic of human occupancy, this entombed and forgotten particle of individuality and identity, which now remains in sorry repose and debasement. Pan a last view to give testimony to the indignity of this human interaction, then turn and step back into the light and warmth of the day, taking your leave, and leaving what you have witnessed to its own solitude once more.
If you were to return in one week with a camera in order to record the scene, you would find the room to be the same somber homage to patient decay, save that the skull would be gone.
And if you were to return one more time after another week, you would find the window stoutly boarded up and the room once more inaccessible, lost to everything save itself and the passing time.
Dark. Quiet. Still.