THE FORGOTTEN ROOM
For some years, Sarah had had a recurring dream. Every time, she went back to a house she had known, but there was now a hidden room in it, which only she knew about. Once she dreamed about a flat where she had lived, but which had a secret floor accessed through a trapdoor. Another time, she dreamed about her aunt’s rambling old house, which hid a studio behind a green baize door. She must have had the dream some 20 times, one for every house she had lived in. In the dream room, which no-one knew about but her, everything was in the correct place. Of course, Sarah had not come up by the milk train: she knew that each hidden room represented an aspect of herself that she had not recognised, or had not permitted to emerge into the light of day. And that the dreams were full of sexual symbolism. Yadayadayada.
It got to be a habit with Sarah to examine every house she went into for signs of the hidden room. Indeed she had bought her current house in order to find some forgotten doorway. But there was none. She interrogated friends’ houses with the same hope. She even took to visiting estate agents, and asking to inspect empty houses, supposedly with a view to buying them. But what she was looking for was never there.
Except for one day. Sarah was on a walk and came upon a little house by the footpath. It looked like her grandmother’s, but was much smaller than she remembered. Maybe the dream-room would reveal itself here? No harm in looking. The door was ajar, and she pushed it open, calling softly: “hullo?” No-one replied. What she saw was so shocking that for a moment she could not recall how she had got there: the tight boots, the dusty path, the insects in the afternoon air, all were forgotten for a moment.
The interior of the house was one colossal room. It was not like the dream-rooms she had known. Here, everything was not quite in the expected place and the objects differed slightly from what she had experienced. It was full of things and people that she knew. A green vase that she had bought had unfamiliar red handles: a ring that a boyfriend had given her had a slightly different stone: a book that had changed her life had developed a new ending, as she saw when she flipped through it. And the people! They sat there as they used to, looking quietly at her, smiling, frowning, looking directly or aslant at her . But they were changed. They said things they would never have said in their everyday lives: “why don’t you listen better?”, “you always were a lost soul”, “stop fretting.”
Sarah pushed the door open and ran out back onto the path. Had she found the dream-room after all? Or was the whole walk a dream too? Whether awake or not, she realised with a jolt that everything changes. There were no constants, not even in her memory. Both the world and her own self were a lot more fluid than she had recognised, and it had been her folly to think that anything could stay as it was. The great tide of change was like the Severn Bore, and it washed everything before it: girl, book, smiles, shawl, chair, lover.
There was a certain comfort to be had in this. She was light-hearted all of a sudden. Even the ground beneath her feet, even the wind that blew over her, would change. That realisation stilled the chatter. And as the silence fell, she began to sing.