In the white empty room he had rented, the two of them had arranged to meet. She had been the one to initiate everything, suggesting that they get together every now and then, secretly. He agreed. It seemed like the only thing to do, accepting. Besides, which of them could truly say no? It was far from being his favourite word, and she’d always struggled with saying it.
On the first day, she arrived seven minutes early. Eager, anticipating. That white space of the room felt right, liberating. She sat down on the wooden floor and indulged in the peaceful sound of the rain. What a beautiful cliché, that moment was. She wondered who else had done the same before her, sitting in that nook by the window, when that room actually had furniture to provide comfort; she gazed at that wretched mattress thrown to the middle of the floor like some thick piece of carpet and started to imagine how she would decorate the space of that room: first, next to the eastern wall, she’d put in a cobalt blue modular sofa, velvety and warm, with soft pillows in different shapes; then, a cubic mirror glass table in front of it.
That emptiness was inviting, stimulating. She could still do her job while waiting for him, be the interior decorator of that space like many others she’d seen that week. The glitter sound of a text message made her shiver; before even reading it, she simply knew the time that she’d have to spend waiting for him would be longer than she’d expected.
‘I’ll be late got thought up.’ Small white letters on a violet bubble lit up on the screen. Those typing errors he’d make when he was in a rush looked even funnier on the pop-art background. How had he written that text? Furtively, probably. She smiled while her hyperactive designer mind added one more chair to the corner opposite from where she sat; one of those that looked like slim ‘s’-es when seen from the sides, an unconventional shape. Her decorative fantasy had been too symmetrical, not enough randomness to it. What would he think of her vision, she wondered…would a famous furniture designer like him approve of it?
She stopped her mental project and tried to text him back quickly, before the phone battery would go dead. But as she was scolding herself for having once again forgotten her charger, the screen went black.
She sighed. It was always the essentials that she’d miss or forget. Then, she waited some more. Waited for what seemed like an hour; moved to a different white corner, gazed at the protruding part of the west wall. Some wallpaper would look great right there, she thought, a mix of narrow and wide strips of different geometric patterns, the more varied the better.
Before she could make up her mind on the main colours, it suddenly became clear that she had to go. The real life of responsibility was knocking on the door, pressing from outside onto that locked room. When she put the phone back in her pocket and got up, her lipstick fell. Swiftly pulling it from its cap like a dagger, she jumped up. The lipstick soldier, she smiled, while scribbling in the corner where she’d first sat: ‘I waited here for you for more than half an hour,’ then ran to the opposite corner to continue: ‘Same here…’ and left a mark of her own lips in a lighter shade of red, right next to those words.
Everything had an echo in an empty space; so did her steps on the way to the exit, then her short sigh, and finally the sound of keys turning in the lock as she closed that room behind her.
Later that evening, while home, she was once again listening to the rain, welcoming that soft repetitive sound as it put her to sleep faster than anything else. Just as she was about to doze off, there was a text from him: ‘Maybe the fact that we slid past each other today is a sign maybe we shouldn’t go ahead with this. Loved your lipstick message tho xxx’
So he’d been there, eventually; he’d kept his word. She wanted to call him, but immediately stopped herself. Who knew what his circumstances were at that hour…Instead, she woke up very early and went to the empty room the following day when she knew he would be at work. Right next to the window she scribbled nervously:
‘I know where you’re coming from…just don’t disconnect. 🙂 let’s talk here, using this space. Let’s colour these walls first with our messages, and then…we’ll just see what follows…how ‘bout it?’ she wrote her words with a set of lipsticks in different colours that she’d never before used.
The following day started with a text from him, white letters in a violet bubble on her phone screen: ‘There’s a marker message waiting for u…I don’t really use lipsticks xx’
When she rushed to the room that morning, there it was, visible from the entrance door: his ‘YES’, in clear big black letters, scribbled on the other side of the window from where she’d written her question.
And for a while, she was happy. It all felt so exciting, new; their special connection like some sort of art project they were working on together. They’d tacitly established a schedule for their non-encounters. They’d both keep to it, and to their newly found entertainment. Neither of them would go to the room at weekends, and she’d always pass by and leave messages during his office hours. It felt good, exciting, like playing hide and seek, leaving creative clues and surprising marks all over that place.
Soon, they both seemed to feel that not seeing each other could be just as good, if not even better, than actually meeting. Leaving things suspended, written on the walls without an immediate resolution.
‘This goes here,’ she wrote one day and drew the cobalt blue sofa in its true size on the wall next to which she would’ve placed the real thing. She spent hours on that, but he disagreed, painting the sofa mustard yellow. They might’ve been in the same line of business, but his vision and opinions couldn’t have been more different from hers:
‘You forgot to lock the door last time 😛 btw, I voted pro-Brexit.’
Her reply held a promise she couldn’t quite keep: ’Pro-Brexit? I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore…write to you…you know what I mean…’
A long line of brackets and colons and semicolons, his laughter to that, graphic, marked the full width of a wall, like a frieze. And it wasn’t long until their room seized to be a white and empty interior, but an intimate space coloured by words. Messages of two people sliding past one another, playfully; complicated excuses for not actually being there, polite explanations and irony; tears and smooches; confessions and sexting; his replies beginning with ‘My wife…’ that she couldn’t really read until the end – life had begun to take on the colours of the writing on the walls.
One sunny afternoon, she tried to find a space in which her next message to him would fit. She took a step back, then another, until she reached the centre of that room. She turned round in wonder and realised that during those seven months, they’d found a way to fill those walls together.
The following day she brought a ladder and placed it in the centre of the room, getting rid of that useless mattress. ‘We’re expanding <3,’ she put down in the middle of the ceiling drawing a violet bubble around her words like those around their first texts.
The need to confess something else made her hand shake as she started writing ‘I lov-‘ , but then the ladder moved before she could finish it, and her piece of chalk dropped to the floor. With a faint almost inaudible sound, it broke into smithereens. She carefully got off the ladder and for some odd reason, those little pieces that were now lying at her bare feet made her think of tears. Petrified tears.
Without thinking too much about it, she picked up the phone and called him. No answer. She gazed at the pieces of broken chalk but couldn’t bring herself to pick them up. ‘Right…’ she whispered, and quickly texted him:
‘There’s no more space on these walls. I need to talk to you…in person.’
‘Talk to me…hahaha…I’m sure you could find more space, you’re the decorator! Just measure whatever’s still available and let me know hahaha… Let’s continue with our project, right?’
‘Right…’ she said again, blinked twice at that strange message, and then made her way slowly towards the exit.
She gazed once more at the room behind her. With all of the unconventional rich design on those walls now, her steps still had the echo that all sounds have inside an empty space. She would have to return for the ladder…it just seemed too heavy of a thing for her to be carrying back at the end of that day.
A month went by, with no messages of any kind. One early morning, he decided to call her; no answer. ‘Go to our room,’ she texted him after a few days. His ‘OK’ came instantly. What he felt or thought after he went there, she didn’t know. All she could do was imagine him going into the room, stepping on those pieces of chalk like solidified tears, and not even noticing he’d done so… Then, frowning at the walls she’d painted white all over – doing that had liberated her – probably asking himself when she’d covered everything up, all of their conversation.
Did he feel sad, disappointed or just relieved, seeing it all like that, empty? How long would it have taken him to notice that there were still some words written there, one at the centre of each wall as he would look round: CAN’T – FILL – EMPTINESS – WITH… – would he search hard for that final word, written in the centre of the floor? She’d written it in the space where she’d imagined he would stop, perhaps right under his fickle feet: