Bar (Excerpt)

A stranger approached me at a bar one night and invited me downstairs. The only furniture in the room was a chair and a table. I sat on the table. “Take off your shirt,” he said, and I did, but it wasn’t enough. There was another room and another chair and table. I spied a wall of books, thick volumes of fiction and myth. Somewhere between Cyrano and Decameron there was an empty space the width of a novel. I slipped my finger between the spines and peered into what looked to be another room, this one with no floor or ceiling, circular in shape. Shelves carved into the walls. They looked to be filled with books, but like oil-slick rainbows the volumes vanished with a tilt of the head.

I was at the bar and a stranger invited me upstairs. There was a rope and a ladder and a periscope. I saw animals in the air and plants unmoored by crumbling sediment. I closed my eyes and fell into a corner and when I woke up I was surrounded by strange figures on whose dime I’d tempted fate, all black with black faces and mittens. The sound of human fingers scratching away inside those paws made me dizzy and that’s how I wound up here.

* * *

The nausea pills they gave me get stuck in my throat. They only go down with apple cider, but when they’ve dissolved, the dizziness subsides. They decorated the nurse’s room with curtains and kaftan rugs the same shade of green as the dress I wore that night. At first I didn’t notice because they replaced all my old clothes (I haven’t seen that dress since they took me). One day I told the nurse I liked that shade of green. “We knew you did,” she said.

My new clothes are mostly white and gray, though some of my underthings are red. “You can thank me for that,” the nurse told me. “They don’t know what happens when you bleed.You won’t find your usual conveniences here, and I wanted to make sure the stains are hidden. So you should make sure they’re clean for that time of the month.”

When I wake up in the morning, I’m smacked down by the ceiling fan. I never remember how low the ceilings are in here until after I’ve already been hit in the face. Every morning I remind them to shut it off before I fall asleep, but they don’t remember. It gets hot without it but it’s better than being smacked.

After I’ve recovered from the shock of the fan, I swaddle myself in a sheet before picking out my clothes. It doesn’t make a difference; I assume they’ve all seen me naked by now, but they never gave me nightclothes and I don’t like to walk around nude. The closet is as far from my bed as you can get and I can feel their eyes on me.

Food comes between the slats of an opening in the doorway designed specifically for the purpose. I eat three meals a day that way, unless I forget to get my pills from the nurse or if I’m still too dizzy anyway.

There’s not much to do here. There’s a chandelier above my mirror that distorts daylight into knots and at night the moonlight makes diamonds on the walls. I was never much of an artist, but they didn’t give me much more for my amusement than a pen and loose-leaf paper. One day I started sketching the shapes the light made. My first mistake was that after all the paper got used up, I asked for more.

“They wanted you to write a confession,” the nurse explained. “That’s what the paper was for.”

My punishment didn’t bother me too much, though: no more biscuits after dinner and no more laundry service. I’d already told them I liked doing it myself (“are you sure about that?” the nurse had said). The day my laundry basket got full enough for me to take it into the basement, though, they told me my case was going to trial.

⚡️ emma stamm / 2016