Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association
"Serving those affected by eating disorders"
A woman stands, alone, in the centre of an empty room. To her right lies a bed with a cheap wooden headboard. Upon the bed, a single pillow, white, and plain navy blankets stretched so tight across the bedspread that not a wrinkle remains. At the foot of the bed, a flimsy pine wardrobe. Opposite, a matching set of drawers. A small mirror is bolted to the wall in the corner, above stainless-steel taps and a sink so spotlessly white that it hurts your eyes to look at it. A narrow ledge to the left. A square white radiator stretched beneath the window.
That is all.
At the woman's feet sits a single black suitcase, unopened.
Outside, it is night. The darkness hangs, cool and soft, beyond the glass. But it cannot penetrate the harsh electric glare from the strip-lighting overhead. No shadows. No shaded corners where stray insects or careless motes of dust can linger. Every square inch laid bare. The room is clean, with a cold, clinical precision, but it is not new. There are grey fingerprints on the wallpaper around the light switch and a lattice of fine cracks in the corner of the ceiling above the bed. The two blank poster boards are sprinkled with the slimy stains of two decades worth of blue-tac. The room is five and a half metres wide. She knows this because she has paced it, her flat-soled shoes soundless in the vacuum. Step, step, step. Step, step, a skip and a turn. The carpet has worn thin under the toil of countless feet.
There is not a sound in the room, no external presence. Not even the rhythmic, artificial pulse of a clock.
She stirs and kneels beside the suitcase. The clatter of the zip catapults into the room and disappears into the silence. She runs a hand, speculatively, over the folded clothes within. You would not catch more than the merest glimpse of the interior. She is crouched low over her possessions, shielding them from view. The room looks on, expectant. Any moment now, an inquisitive impulse will propel her into exploration; she will peer and examine, rattle coat-hangers and arrange shoes neatly in pairs, find new homes for the simple collection of jars and bottles in her cosmetics bag. She draws in one long, shuddering breath.
You might compare this room to a blank sheet of paper before a celebrated author. Snowy and flawless, it is a sea of infinite possibility before him. He is afraid. He fears to break the pearly whiteness with ink, he cannot give the infinity definition because in doing so, boundaries will spring up from nothingness and realms of possibility will be lost. He cannot form a single stroke. The room is not a blank page. It is the finished product, a brand new paperback, unread. The cardboard cover is crisp and stiff in its newness, the pages are uniform and immaculate, the corners unthumbed. The world that the author has created, the visions and concepts, characters and emotions, are locked tight between the sealed sheets. Mere 2D black shapes on a typed page. They require a reader unravel their code, translate lifeless forms into living images. That reader dare not come.
A cramp forms in the coiled muscles of her legs. She rocks forward on to her knees and leans her weight on to her palms against the hard floor, gasping as the circulation returns. Movement is required. She puts her hands into the dark depths of the bag and draws out a folded towel, holding it up before her face, examining it as if for the first time. She makes as if to press it to her cheek and bury her face in its freshly-laundered aroma. Some reflex prevents her. Her face hardens into a grimace of taut neutrality. She climbs to her feet and crosses the room to hang the towel over the rack by the washstand. Folding the edges so that the corners meet and smoothing out the wrinkles with the palm of her hand.
From the suitcase, she draws out a simple white towelling dressing-gown and hangs it on a hook behind the door. She places a pair of sensible black shoes near the foot of the bed, lined up so that they are exactly parallel with the wardrobe, laces tucked in. Her wash bag is placed, unopened, upon the sink. Then she returns the suitcase to the cavity between the chest of drawers and the smooth curve of the washstand. She pulls the zip closed. Inside, the modest pile of folded trousers and stacked tops remains untouched. The shelves of the wardrobe remain bare.
She stands and gazes dispassionately at the results of her labour. The folded towel, the sensible shoes, the harsh finality of the closed black bag in the white room. Somewhere outside in the night, a church clock begins to chime. Boom, boom… Eleven. As if by a prearranged signal, she moves to the mirror and stares levelly at her own reflection, wan against the severity of its backdrop. She reaches up to her hair. One long-fingered hand pulls out a pin from the right-hand side. The other extracts a second from the nape of her neck. Straight, shoulder-length black hair tumbles down around her face. A shudder runs through her. A soft, drawn-out sigh escapes into the room. Then she turns aside and places the pins with calm deliberation on the ledge, two inches apart and parallel, the clasps facing forwards.
Over the years, this is the pattern in which her life will evolve.
Every night, on the stroke of eleven, she will return to the mirror
and slowly remove those two pins from her hair. Never earlier, never
later. She will pace that room from one end to the other, step, step,
step. Step, step, a skip and a turn, until the first stroke sounds.
Then she will stare with cold indifference into the reflection before
her and reach up one hand into her silky dark hair. Move just one pin,
let it fall to the floor, place it on the shelf with the clasp facing
backwards not forwards, and she is lost. A butterfly beating its wings
frenziedly against the smooth glass walls of a jam-jar. The room unfamiliar.
© 2004 ~ 2013 Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association