She Was There Until I Looked—Exercise 1, Revisited

Writing Exercise

D. J. Cools

12/15/20221 min read

We all stood together in the white room. My family and me.

On the wall, brushfuls of caked white paint, indicating many rebirths, glossed over every seam and crack; a smooth, rounding skin covering the decades. Filling, spilling, dripping, schlicking, schploching, thick over the room’s sins.

We stood in the white room filled with a setting September sun and the air of cold no longer summer coming in through the open window. Shh and hhhrrush and brusshhh, went white curtains against white walls. A small wind, cool and dry as chaff. They turned, my family, and moved down the hall, talking. I stayed. My breath rising and falling, inaudible, swaying with the breeze that was sneaking in over the sill. I stayed. Was I waiting?

I was still for another tick. Though the tock and click of a clock was surely imagined in this unpeopled house. This house, as empty as the hilly fields of stubble outside. This room without a bed. This space without a living shadow, but just for today, ours.

Was I waiting? For the paint to peel back and reveal the cracks and stains, the whisper of lives that once watched the same September sun sink over stubble-fields? Maybe an enameled steel bed under the window, a dresser by the door. A desk with a pencil or a hairbrush on its scarred surface.

Someone was in the curtain. Feet and thin legs with the white wall behind, the rest of her hidden under white folds of cloth that bellied and billowed like the soul of the stubble-and-dust wind of the fields outside.

She was there until I looked.

She was cracks and seams, a stain on the white paint, a gap in the glop that sealed everything in. She was under the paint, bump and texture beneath filler. She was a shape that brushed-over years could not gloss away.

She was there until I looked.

Light moved over the wall, all shifting yellow and orange from the setting sun beyond the windowsill, all bent by the breeze and the form of her behind the curtain.
She was there until I looked. And me standing and waiting and breathing until they called to me from down the hall.