"A room of my own" by Katherine Breeher
Quarantine, they told me. I am safer down here in the basement. No windows, 1 door, always locked. No human contact, they forbade it. A slit in the door, only capable of being opened from the outside, through which they passed me food. There was a disease out there and I had to be protected from it at all costs. They do the best they can for me. I understand my quarantine. But I long for the feel of human touch once again. Skin on skin. I took it for granted before.
Create, they advised me. They didn’t know how long I would have to be down here alone. They told me it would be a good time to perfect my craft. All that was down there with me, in the room of my own, was a bed and endless art supplies. Clay, acrylic paints, grease pencils, charcoal, sketch pads, small canvases, huge canvases, easels, markers, colored pencils, scissors, sheets of colored paper, old newspapers, paste, paintbrushes of every thickness, erasers, rulers, protractors, rice paper, permanent pens, watercolors and more.
It was hard to keep track of the days with no sunlight. Without the sight of the moon to let me know it was time to sleep, I began to keep my eyes open constantly. No sleep. When they brought me food, I tried to ask the date or time. Soon it’ll be over, they said. That’s all they ever said. My eyes became dry. Always open. Never resting. My bed mocked me because it knew I could never actually fall asleep.
All the things I had no time or patience for on the surface world were now my only hobbies in this subterranean room. I had all the time in the world to draw the perfect freehand circle. The details of my own incompetence no longer had the power to frustrate me or make me want to give up. I just tried and tried and tried again.
I missed the sound of the breeze and the birds. I missed tending the beautiful flowers, fruits, herbs, and vegetables in my garden. I missed the feeling of running water over my feet while standing in the river behind my house. So I recreated all these things through art. I painted lush landscapes on the biggest canvases. I molded birds and insects from the clay. I drew all the places I wanted to be. Anywhere except this room.
Drip. The ceiling started to leak. I hadn’t noticed at first. It had ruined my peacock mural before I noticed the drip, drip, drip from above. I had no bucket to collect the metallic water from the leak. So I decided to repair it by painting my gray cell walls. I had run out of canvases and they’d not said anything about getting me more. I had all the paint colors and brushes an artist could dream of down here with me. I painted a mural to represent my earliest memory- a ladybug landing on my arm in my backyard. Good luck, they told me it meant. Reds, yellows, greens, and browns fill the wall entirely. I worked furiously, night and day (who could tell anymore?), until my wrists began to hurt. Sprawling, swirling brushstrokes. And I loved that ladybug like it was my best friend. Where was that good luck now?
Like some kind of sick joke, I finally got a full night’s worth of sleep after I finished painting the last wall of the room of my own. I hadn’t felt so well-rested in an immeasurable amount of time. The punchline of the joke was what I saw when I woke up. Bleeding down from the ceiling was my ornate mural I’d spent so long working on. The leak came back and washed away my work. I touched the paint and it was wet and sticky. My fingers smell metallic after touching the water leaking from the ceiling. I began to cry. I hadn’t cried the whole time I’d been quarantined in here. But I had never felt so hopeless before. I began to scream at the top of my lungs. My voice was hoarse and rough as it had gotten so accustomed to being unused. I screamed and banged my hands against the heavy door to my personal hell. Paint leaked down onto the gray door and splattered in my face as I continued to pound my fists on the door. After a while, they came to open the slit. But it wasn’t them at all.
I demanded to know who these imposters were. The survivors, they told me. The disease that had imprisoned me in this quarantine had killed nearly everyone on earth. As they narrated the dismal story to me, my eyes were opened. Looking down at my hands, now covered in bruises and yellow paint, I saw that I had wrinkles in my skin. I had aged 40 years. But surely I couldn’t have been down there that long? How much time had I lost?