Flash Non-Fiction Responses

Prompt: In my room...

From Hazel Sheffield:

When we got the dining table – steel legs, stained pine – we crammed the chipped architect's desk we had been eating off behind a chest of drawers in the bedroom. It came out only when we needed more space at dinner parties, hastily covered with a tablecloth. I was saving it for when we bought a real house and I could open it out, maybe both sides, in a study. I dreamed of it. Space for work I wouldn't have to share with salt and pepper pots and cork placemats.

We never bought the house. But we got the old desk out again in lockdown. "I love you," I said to him, "but I don't need to look at you all day." I still start work before he wakes in an armchair – teak legs, tall back – my parents bought in the eighties as part of a department store suite. But once he's rustling round the kitchen I retreat to the bedroom, open up the desk (one side) and and close the door. I like it just as much as if I had a cork board full of story plans, a reading chair, my favourite writing books in stack – all the things I was saving for the study. I didn't realise it would be just as good in my room. 

From Ayesha Harruna Attah:

In my room, there were two twin beds. At some point, my sister and I decided we should make a giant bed. They were heavy wooden things we’d inherited from my grandmother. They let out floor-scratching wails as we pushed our bums against their side rails to bring them together. We were going to bridge our differences. I was four years older, liked my bed made without a wrinkle; she was more fun, and could get through the day without making her bed. When our friends stayed over, our king bed could sleep four of us—sometimes even five, if we managed to convince our parents our slumber party wouldn’t drive them insane—and we would snuggle under thin wrappers, yapping on about what was going on in our respective schools, our future boyfriends, pretending to be said future boyfriends. When I got into secondary school, at some point, a separation came. Maybe I stopped being tolerant of my sister’s spillover, and needed my bed to become an academic cove in which I could study to get into the school of my dreams. Maybe she couldn’t handle her pernickety sister any more. The crack between the beds, where toys, books, and an unlucky finger or two often got stuck, grew wider and wider. The beds have now been passed on to my twin nephews. An ABC puzzle mat separates the beds, but the boys have chosen to sleep together, on one twin bed.

From Shirley Salemy Meyer:

In my bedroom, everything reminds me of my mother. Her photo is on my bureau, next to baby photos of my children. She’s a young woman with a stylish bob and a toddler in her arms, smiling directly at the camera, exuding confidence.

But I feel her presence in less obvious ways, too. My bedroom’s furnishings are traditional, just like hers: matching bedside tables, a chest of drawers, a wide bureau topped with a mirror. Her mother’s silver comb-and-brush set, forever tarnished, is on that bureau. So, too, is jewelry she’s given me over the years, including a colorful scarab bracelet nearly identical to her own.

I discover her among the fabric scraps stored in my closet. She sewed the red-and-white gingham into curtains for the nursery. She created duvet covers for my daughters out of the green-and-lavender cotton. Stitch by stitch, she coached me as I made curtains for my home office from heavy brocaded fabric. Her old books of knitting patterns are in that same closet, the sweaters on infant models so familiar.

Store-bought curtains and thin metal blinds hang in the assisted living apartment she shares with my father. A hospice nurse started visiting her this week. We aren’t allowed in during this coronavirus emergency. But I can see her bedroom there so clearly, the matching bedside stands, the wide bureau topped with a mirror, the chest of drawers, the scarab bracelet, the knitting bag with a half-finished afghan she doesn’t have the focus for any longer.

From Graig Graziosi:

By now there must be a layer of dust covering the crooked computer chair and scratched up desk I left behind in my room. My bed - pre-owned when I bought it but still new to me when I left - probably has taken on the stale musk that is characteristic of lived-in spaces that have been left untouched. 

I'm not there and I have not been since December. Even then it was only for a few nights, and it didn't feel like home because she wasn't there.

The new room has a bigger bed - it's taller than I like - and a big black dresser, we call it the Malm, that I helped build. A few of my bags still contain books and clothes that I brought here, and a little closet I share with her holds my shirts and a little hamper has the rest. One pillow on the bed is mine, but the rest are hers.   

I call it "the new room" because it's not quite "my room." I am comfortable here, but it is still her room, and I am still staying in her room with her. It's her home, and I am a happy part of it. 

One day, she won't have her room and I won't have mine. I'll have recovered my dusty desk and my lopsided chair, and she'll have the Malm and the tall bed and all the pillows. And they'll be in our room, and it will feel like home.

From Rachel Jones:

The paint peels in places, particularly near the windows. It’s the color of melting makeup and the peeling sheets look like skin falling from bone. Beneath the creepy peach is a layer of white, now stained and rippled. The white paint is a failed attempt at masking cracks in the structure of the wall. This is a poorly made house, and it is old. Outside, dark green paint peels in much the same way and in the living room, after a week of torrential rains and the worst flood Djibouti has seen in decades, the gray paint on the ceiling started to peel, too. Now it hangs down, the drooping paint is the color of a cadaver. My husband painted the walls again but the fresh coat flakes off instead of peeling, because of the quality of the paint and the quality of the materials used to build the wall. These flakes are white and land on the tile floor like dandruff, like more skin, flaking from shoulders after a sunburn. We lack the energy to paint again because what is the point? The landlord won’t pay for it and if we make it look too nice, he will either raise the rent or kick us out and move in himself. There is motivation in keeping my room ever-so-slightly unsightly. I wonder how long before the walls that hold up this house, the bones beneath the flaking and peeling skin, break and we all tumble down.

From Jen Lynch:

In my room, I am alone. The room looks like someone tried to erase the edges with the cheap erasers at the end of a pencil from a child’s birthday party.   

I’m pregnant and technically in labor at the hospital. My water started breaking minutes before I went on-air for the morning newscast. My doctor told me I would just know when the baby was coming because women know. I didn’t know. When I got off-air five hours later, my husband told me to call my doctor. Now here I am, three hours later, drugged. They told me a mild sedative would take the edge off the pain and exhaustion. All is blurry and now in my room I am scared. No nurses. No husband. 

I see the nurse’s button but can’t remember how to use it. It’s a Friday, my due date, I’ve been up since two am today and every day for two years. I look around my room and call for my husband.  Silence.  I call for the nurse. Silence. I scream for the nurse.  Silence. I have an IV in my arm but somehow unwind myself to reach for my phone on the small hospital bed table. I call my husband. He doesn’t pick up. All is quiet. I think of calling 911 but instead I dial my sister miles away. I want to hear another voice. But before the call goes through, my husband walks into my room with a sandwich and his phone.

From Nathan Hegedus:

Pandemic bookends

In my room I have three photos of my grandfather – when he is a toddler, in his dressing gown next to his older brother, when he is in his early 20s, laughing with my grandmother, and when he turned 100, in an Instagram-worth selfie with my family.

His life was bookended by pandemic. He was born at the tail end of one, and he died at the start of another.  He did not die of COVID-19 but I believe he could not see the end of uncertainty, and it was time to go.

He built rockets in Atomic City in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He built cars for Chrysler, and he ran an MBA program where students put his face on fake money as a joke. He could play the clarinet and saxophone by ear, and he lost a wife and two sons. He always had new and old jokes, and his great-grandchildren know them all.

His mother got pregnant at the tail end of the Spanish flu pandemic that killed 4,400 people in Cleveland where they lived. The flu must have loomed large during her pregnancy.

He lived at the end in North Carolina, still in his own house, accepting the diminishing scale of his life with a grace not many men of such privilege can pull off. He called me by mistake a week ago and said at the end, “These are strange days.” He has left before the end of these strange days, the second bookend in place.

From Greta Hughson:

Nana tolerated my quiet missions to her wardrobe. The elements of her room still suggest themselves when I read about bedrooms in stories. There was a metal bedstead, a fireplace, a window to the sea, a dressing table with drawers, and a small fitted wardrobe. The boxes on the floor of the wardrobe called to me again and again. The first held Nana’s wedding dress. She married around 1930 and the dress was a silky fabric, narrow, and blue. I wonder now whether it was dyed after the wedding, to be useful more than once. It seemed impossibly small and sleek for my round grandmother. But the second box was where the real treasure lay – photographs. Hundreds of black and white photographs of people I didn’t know, many of them my ancestors. To my young mind, with its narrow perception of time, they seemed to come from history, and yet Nana knew their names and could tell me stories about them. There were men in uniform, looking proud and nervous down the lens. There were formal studio portraits and amateur equivalents, but best of all there were group photos outdoors. I loved these pictures. Photos from the crofts, from the hay fields, from the peat hill, from the Sunday School Picnic, from the seaside. People working, relaxing – although usually a little awkward in front of the camera – living their lives. All these lives, connected to mine in some way, glimpsed, captured, and waiting for me, in this little room.

From Diane Golay:

“Are you bored?”, my supervisor recently asked me, concerned about whether I was having a hard time in confinement. I had to laugh. Bored? No, I am never bored when I am alone. My flat – which is arguably just a big room equipped with a small kitchenette and a loo – is my happy place. I am one of the few lucky people the current pandemic has enabled to retreat into the environment in which they most thrive: at home, alone. Now, this is something for which I am perfectly equipped. This is my dream scenario.

It does feel strange to be the happy one, though. Not that I consider myself to be an unhappy person, but working at the office is a struggle for me. In consequence, it is clearly not a situation where I can be my best self. But in my little, cozy room, on my own, I can. And so the roles have been reversed: my colleagues, the formerly happy, busy bees in the office, now look disoriented, confused, and overwhelmed. I, on the other hand, the previously overtired, irritable and antisocial co-worker, have turned into a chatty, productive social butterfly who enjoys catching up with former colleagues via chat and takes the time to send humorous emails to her family. It feels like I have been placed back into my tank after a lifetime of being forced to live outside out if. And it’s great to be home.

From Carolin Kassella:

In my room at my parents’ home in Germany – where I grew up ever since we moved here when I was five years old – and to which I have returned four weeks ago from my temporary home in Milan, Italy there is an air of fleetingness, which I might have brought with me in the midst of the chaos around the Corona virus. Due to outrageous luck I flew back on the day the Italian lockdown was announced, hence I could watch the chaos unravel from a safer distance, as it seems.

This pandemic to me feels more than what the public considers the most severe health crisis of this century. It tastes like failure and a crushing of dreams. The decision to move to Italy to start a Ph.D. was one of the toughest I have had to make and it took me months to process the major life change – before and after the move. It all came crashing down on me and now I am standing before the ruins of my fantasy. I had just started an Italian language course; I had been wanting to learn this beautiful language since my youth. Sure, there had been major issues as well: life in Milan and the curriculum were demanding and tough on my mental state. 

Still, selfishly enough I cannot help but mourn the opportunity, the what-could-have-been, the ‘what if?’. Life has a funny way of guiding you home.