The Fourth Room
Andrew S. Taylor
When she first came to the fourth room, which was a replica of a kitchen, she found that every object was scaled to twice its normal size so that an adult could again experience the perspective of a five-year old child. There were even large, waxwork statues of a mother and a father. The mother stood next to the sink, holding in one pink hand a carrot the size of a forearm, and in the other a peeler from which an orange strand curled. Carrot and peeler were both suspended beneath a stream of water, also motionless, pouring from the faucet in muscular ropes of turbulent glass. She has always wanted to observe the shapes of water in this way; to slow the passage of time to a standstill, and examine with close intensity the flow of everything that passed through it—to fixate upon the looking glass world trapped within the quickening stream, upon its edgeless shapes, soft coronas, shimmering ghosts and the not-quite-blackness in the regions where flow impinged upon flow, and light parted from light.
Behind the mother, sitting at the kitchen table, a father, very much like her own, read a newspaper large enough to blanket her completely. His face, so realistically textured, indicated that he was buried deep in thought, searching out matters of significance beyond the walls of his grand home. The newspaper, with its impossible words, its streams and tables of numbers, was indecipherable. She remembered her father’s knees, the bills and envelopes passing overhead, the portentous murmur of a tv speaker as she lay in bed, siphoning dreams from the blue-black. The top door of the refrigerator loomed above her, enigmatic and unreachable, a container of childhood pleasures and shadowy, adult secrets. The freezer, Antarctica, the Yeti. Cubes of ice rattling in a glass, doused with a puddle of pungent amber. The crisp silence of subtle monsters.
Amazed, she stared into the belly of the stove, looking past her gray reflection in the glass, into the constant night of dormant machinery. The face reflected darkly from within the oven looked like her own, but it bore a stranger’s expression. The reflection in the hazy glass was eyeless, the cheeks more gaunt. It sometimes seemed that another child watched her; a lost child, swallowed by the oven long ago, which appeared only when she stood before it. She remembered how, when the oven was turned on, it would illuminate from within a mandarin-orange neon. Her face would disperse, and the child would die, cleansed from the world.
She opened the door beneath the sink, her head at her wax-mother’s hip, and scrutinized the chromium intestines within. It seemed, at times, that the entire kitchen was itself a body, part human, partly robotic, exposed at will. She had imagined that if only her own chest could part down the middle and swing open, she would want to see her beating heart hanging there, like wet and meaty plumbing. These thoughts did not frighten her. She hid under the table and sat on her father’s feet, comfortable on his enormous brown loafers. She placed her ear against his stationary wrist. His skin held no warmth, nor a heartbeat, but oddly enough the watch ticked diligently.
And then, emerging again, she looked up. There, on the ceiling, a light fixture hummed with a melancholy coolness. Positioned next to it was the dim spiral of a ventilator. A mere push of the licorice-colored switch on the wall—just out of her reach—would bring forth from that curious fissure the sound of a churning ocean. And she thought, then, of the things higher still, the attic things, the things that swam in the darkness, the things not contained by the lighted vault of hearth and home, the shadows, the empty places, the swift beasts whose unbound movement at the periphery of her world was only ever betrayed by the lightest scratching in the night, by sounds whose origin might always have been mistaken.
Through the window above the sink, where the waxwork mother stood illuminated, she could see the tops of trees pushing against a grey-blue sky, coming through the leaves and branches in cracked and twitching fragments—clouds, planes, stars, the Moon. Had they even made a wax moon? And if so, to what scale? Did they make a sphere, or merely project a circle? How suspended? How projected? A small wooden ship, in a colorless glass bottle, rested on the shelf by the window near her mother’s face. She imagined herself in the bottle, on the ship, reduced still further, pulling the threads, the ropes, the fragile veins, opening an artery, riding the flow, sailing away into the fragmentary sky, free from the gravity of motionless giants.
Wristwatch, ice, ceiling, ship, sky, blood, Moon, mother.
Her name was Persephone, and she came to the fourth room often.
Andrew S. Taylor is the associate editor of the online literary magazine Menda City Review. Dozens of his short stories and essays have appeared both online and in print, including Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, Mad Hatter's Review, The Cafe Irreal, Peridot Books, American Book Review, Cyrano's Journal, and Anime Insider. He has a fascinating, physically perilous day job involving customer service for a non-profit arts organization. His blog can be found at fablesandriddles.blogspot .com. He lives in Brooklyn, NYC.