A Still Life a short story in verse By Georgina Terry

Old wallpaper
Run my hands along it,
Lime green, bumpy

I open the front door and then close it again
Loudly, performatively
Shutting out the outside world
There is more of that to be found inside
I laugh,
The breath escapes me
But the sound withers within.

Noiselessly, I return up the stairs.
Taking my place as an intruder
That vilified fate of expired visitors

I walk into a room
The safety of a cupboard
Thick wood to block out the world
She will never find me here
It is capacious and opaque
It is also empty, a thing which strikes me as strange
I have never known another human being to have an empty cupboard
Cupboards have always seemed to me a bit like my mother’s handbags
Whatever size I use she would say I always manage to fill it.
Sometimes I look through her bag,
Sometimes she catches me and scolds me,
You must never look through a lady’s handbag she exclaims.
But I long to be able to fumble through my mother’s secrets.
To find familiar comfort in the upward spiral of her dark red lipstick.

I can hear gentle singing,
It is the kind that is dulled for fear of being overheard.
It is the spilling of whispered, circular notes
But the melody is unmistakable.
And the voice is at once caressing and bedraggling.
The twist of a door handle
The sound of my own breath rushes up into my ears
Her breath
Her ear, my heartbeat
If she were to open this cupboard
How would she feel if she were to find me here?

A provisional list of possibilities:

Perhaps she already knows I am here.
Perhaps she is allowing me to entertain a secret that everybody already knows.
Perhaps she intends to let me think that I am lonelier than I really am.
But she could never be so cruel.

The soft drift of footsteps floating down creaking stairs.
I wonder if she strokes the wallpaper as she passes.
I wonder if the pads of her fingers delight in the roughness of a colour no one would choose.
The click of a front door sprung shut
I wonder if she truly has left
Or floated back up the staircase
No way of knowing
Just have to take the risk
Slowly, I emerge
I am a hermetic sea creature lurching up to the surface
I crawl through the bowels of this apartment
My eyes drinking up the light
There is no one else here
I am a detective, an intruder, a habitant, a stranger, a friend, a well-wisher, a destroyer.
I am alone

The bed shows no signs of the night before
My presence has been eradicated entirely
There are multiple cushions propped up that give it an air of decorum
And an old love worn rabbit to give it an air of innocence
It looks neat, and hopeful and familiar, like something hoping to be remembered

The light filters through the windows
It illuminates the dust that swirls through the air
No destination
I am on the top floor and I try and look down on the world from the perspective of her window.
And I see her there,
But then it cannot be her perspective,
One cannot perceive oneself from one's own perspective.
She is just about to round the corner
Her shoes are gold
Her arms swing in that way that only strangers notice
And then she stops.
And she grows completely still
Fixed in time
A still-life

But there is the call of a bird
And the world is active
I can feel the wind brush against my face
And she begins again
On her journey, rounding the corner,
Familiar resolve,
Dissolving from view.

Alone again
She has vanished and it is up to me to live out her life here while she is gone
I am the sole occupant. I am the inheritor of this life.

I should leave
But I am tied here
I have stayed here for some reason unknown
Perhaps she would know if I asked
She could explain things best
But this is a place of clues
swirling like dust trapped in light
And I must solve them

There is a desk
On it the desk there is a picture frame
Inside the picture frame there is a piece of paper with numbers
presumably the measurements given for the size of the photo that can be contained inside here
But it sits here empty
The life has not been plotted out yet
I cannot step out into the world in golden shoes
This life still needs to be created
And that is too fearful a thought

It is safest to return to the hiding place
I close the door
It is safe here
I wait
I wait
Until I am completely still
I fear the whole of the outside world may have disappeared
I cannot hear the call of birds from where I hide

A key turns in the lock
My legs feel stiff
The sound of a piano
I didn’t remember this
Someone is tinkering
(my mother’s word)
It is a song that I have never heard before
Yet it sounds familiar in that way that new things sometimes do
It is a water-drenched sound
A spinning sound
An up and down sound
Someone comes in the room
Light footsteps
The pattering kind
The excitable kind
And the cupboard door opens
In a flinging-open sort of way
A fresh discovery way rather than a getting dressed routinely kind of way
The brightness hurts my eyes
I have been squashed up in here for a very long time I think
There you are, I think
There you are, a child’s voice shouts gleefully,
I win I win I win.
And now grown up steps come rushing into the room
The frantic kind, the tired kind, the creaky kind
This person is older, much older, wrinkles inscribed into a body surrendered,
She sees me and she comes towards me, fast at first, too fast, in that blurry way that fast things become, but she must sense my fear as then her movements turn slow, slow, like someone trying to charm a snake.

Are you ready to come out?
She sounds kind and soft and faintly familiar in that way that new things often do.
Like a favourite word distorted under water.
Come out come out come out, a child’s voice sings
The two voices curdle together to form a delightful thing.
An enveloping thing.
A trusting thing.

But her movements have slowed
and slowed,
so that I fear she may freeze and become completely still.
A still-life painted in a fading bright colour
Perhaps the whole world will stop.
I think I have been hiding for a very long time.
I close my eyes and I can see the bumpy lime green wallpaper.
I wonder if she strokes it as she walks past.
Someone who wears gold shoes could never have chosen that wallpaper.
Their life could never be sequestered in an empty cupboard.
And that thought feels familiar, in the blurry way that fast thoughts often become,
Recognizably distant, like a favourite word lost underwater.

Georgina Terry is a twenty-eight year old trainee-psychotherapist. She gained her BA at Cambridge University and now lives in London. She has had a selection of her poetry recently published by The Write Launch.