The flowers by the window have faded to dusty brown, your letter sits on my desk, read a thousand times . . .
The roses lasted the longest.
The sun in the afternoon hits the wall next to the bed so the whole room burns yellow. It’s so bright I can almost hear it. It’s like when we lay on that same bed at 3 or 4, when I studied the light that fell on your shoulder, your arm, your hair. It is like that, but it is not.
I have walked around this tiny room for days. I know the shapes of shadows that creep up on the oak table toward the amber vase. It is a study of despair. The streetlights come on at 5. I don’t go out. I read by the little lantern. I noticed there is a tear in the wallpaper up near the window; underneath I spy carousels and fine ladies walking with parasols.
You have your work, I know. You love me. I know you do.
It’s cold and the streets have emptied. It’s just cobblestone cleaners now and occasional Americans. I feel mad. Am I mad? I wonder. I don’t go out.
I miss the warmth of your body in this bed, its wholeness. I miss life. You may find only a crumpled piece of paper when you get back. Write to me soon—March is another world away.
“Do you think the ladies are happy?” she said to him in their tiny bed. The bright light against the yellow wall had woken her. It must have been at least 3 o’clock.
“What ladies?” His eyes were still closed. His breath smelled of stale rum. The last bar of the night had involved dancing on tables.
“The ladies in the wallpaper next to the window, with the umbrellas. Walking along the river. They seem to be ruminating.”
“They’re called parasols, and I think you’re still drunk. My question is why is that the only section of the wall that has that paper? This place is charming, but it’s a bit weird.”
“Maybe they’re sharing stories about the wild romps they had the night before.”
“You mean like you? No, they look much more proper.”
“You’d be bored with a proper girl. And I’d be bored if you were proper, too. Hence. You.” She kissed him, laughing.
Later, she sat at the creaky oak desk and wrote a postcard with the Duomo to her parents, “We’re having a dream of a honeymoon.”
“I am alone, at last,” she whispered to the room in the late afternoon. She opened the gauze curtains and an abundance of light poured in. It set fire to the little red rug, lit up the corner of the old oak desk, and shined brightest of all on the yellow wall next to the bed. She stood caught in the amber. “I’m a trapped fly!” she laughed. She stepped into the shadow. “No, I am chiaroscuro,” she said, smiling.
It had taken her so long to get here. As she walked across the room, she remembered something, just at the edge of her consciousness. She stopped, waiting.
She turned to the wall and noticed the wallpaper was different in that corner, to the right of the window. Ladies pranced about in their parasols on the riverway and colorful carousels held their sweet-faced children captive. She got a strange feeling in her chest, like fear or nervousness.
Down where the floor meets the wall was a small flap of the canary yellow wallpaper over the print. It looked like it had been torn. She pulled at it, and a scrap of very old, fragile paper fell out from underneath. She sat on the floor. In faded ink, it read “I can’t return, my love.”
She held the piece of paper in her palm. A breath. The light just then burned against the wall, so bright she could almost hear it. A voice. She leaned in to listen.
CHERYL PAPPAS — Cheryl is a writer from Boston. Her work has appeared in Juked, The Chattahoochee Review, Jellyfish Review, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Her flash fiction chapbook The Clarity of Hunger will be published by Word West Press in September 2021. Her website is cherylpappas.net and you can find her on Twitter at @fabulistpappas.
Art by EMILY CALVO — Emily is a Chicago- based artist and poet who often creates “Wall Poems,” paintings that include her poems. Her work has been shown in numerous galleries, libraries, and festivals throughout the city as well as in The Art Center Highland Park and Fontenay Le Comte, France. Her art has been published in the Syracuse Cultural Workers Women’s Datebook, East on Central, and Windy City Review. Most recently, she completed paintings for an anthology edited by notable poet, Nikki Giovanni titled, Standing in the Need of Prayer. Her paintings can be seen at emilycalvo.com.