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The Dead Room


He stood for a moment rigid before the door of the dead room. Elaine had said to him when he first moved in and before they got married: “There’s just one thing, Peter. Promise me youwill never, EVER, go into the dead room.” Elaine with her candles, crystals, decks of tarot cards, and different-colored clothes for each day of the week, all in accordance with the alignment of the planets. Red on Monday, purple on Tuesday, blue on Wednesday, green on Thursday, orange on Friday, white on Saturday, yellow on Sunday. Never anything random on any given day. For Elaine, everything had meaning and purpose. This suited Peter, who was happy to be a seaweed, swaying back and forth in the ebb and flow of her quiet ocean. At least, and at last, he was rooted some place. Yes, for her he could do that. He could stay out of “the dead room.” He couldn’t help but think of it between quotation marks.

The door of the dead room stood solidly in its frame. No knob to turn, no latch to lift. No locks. Elaine never mentioned it again. Not when they married on the shore at sunrise, nor when they were on honeymoon in the mountains. Not even when they were told they would not have kids. Not when he lost interest in his accounting job and began spending all day at home, nor when she got a job as a “meditation therapist” at a luxury, spiritual rehab facility for washed out rich kids and celebrities, and began spending long weeks away from home.

Peter stared at the golden grain of the wood of the dead room’s door. It felt cool under his sticky, hot palm and offered little resistance when he pushed. Inside, the dead room was clean. And empty. Peter burst out laughing. There was only a square of sunlight on the polished cement floor, streaming in from a tiny window, high up on a wall and out of reach. Through the window, he could see the summer sky. No clouds.

That night he playfully pulled Elaine to him and held her in a bear hug. “Why you, the dead room is empty! I thought you were hiding some dark, scandalous Blue Beard secret from me in there.” He chuckled. Elaine stiffened and looked up at him, her eyes full of reproach. That always irritated Peter. “What!? It’s nothing, Elaine. Nothing!” She just sighed and suggested they go out to dinner. Throughout their shared meal, she would not look at him, but she said nothing about the dead room after that, and if she held his transgression against him, it did not show.

When Peter became bored with the tides of Elaine’s life, he took flight and had an affair. The echoes of his own words fell heavily upon him. “It’s nothing, Elaine! Nothing,” he had said. Elaine threw him out. He went to nest with his mistress, where he was only too happy to be a lovebird in her small, yet airy aviary.

Sooner rather than later, his mistress decided she wanted to spread her wings and see the world. Peter was left alone, with nowhere to go. He found himself at Elaine’s door, asking for forgiveness. To his surprise, she said he could move back in.

He came one fine morning with his few possessions, standing on the doorstep of their home, wagging the tail of his heart like a hopeful, eager puppy. Elaine came to the door in bright yellow, and ushered him in almost playfully. “Come on in,” she said sweetly. She led him to the door of the dead room and with a gentle smile, she said, “This is yours now.” Then she turned on her heel and went to the kitchen, where he could hear her grinding coffee beans and humming to herself.  In the dead room, a square of hot sunlight, just wide enough for him to stand in, warmed a single spot on the cold, concrete floor.

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