Red Room

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'I saw lights,' Laurie says, pulling herself out from sleep, legs bent up, knees to breasts, kicking at the duvet. 'There were lights, here in the room. I had no control over them. They were leading me somewhere and I had no control over them.'


I hold her until stillness spreads through her again, until sleep takes her back inside its space. Watch over her through darkness. Tuck the duvet under her chin, brush stray hair from her forehead, smooth her frown-lines and goose-bumps. I can feel every thought her mind creates, transmitted through her skin.


There's a red door at the end of a hall. Laurie's room. Paper flaking from the walls like burning skin. Sounds of dead days hidden beneath the floorboards. Unslept-in bed scattered with stuffed toy animals. Red hole through the carpet. She was made here. The dust of old skin is everywhere her bare feet tread. Carbon perforates the air she breathes. She closes the door.


We met at a fancy dress party where everybody came as aliens. The hosts, a crusty couple from Stoke Newington, were hand-in-hand greys. The walls painted with stars and spirals and goatsuckers and greys and double helixes and fractals. I was Mork. Laurie was wrapped in bacofoil and chatting to a man with a television aerial sellotaped to his head. 'I slept with Kali once, when I was tripping,' he said, 'Best shag I ever had.' Laurie and me stood on a balcony; we talked and passed joints between us, watched the city spread out beneath the sky, sky endless and broken with clouds and meagre stars. 'The stars know who we are,' Chewbacca said, putting an Orb tape on. Laurie and I went home together, and a month later she moved into my flat; 'Before I moved out of my place I piled all my furniture and things up in the centre of the room,' she told me later, 'I wanted to set fire to it but I couldn't. I took a photo of it instead.'


That photo is thumb-tacked to the vacant wall between two fly-smeared windows, alongside photos of our kisses and of Laurie's family. Distant lawn of cakes and chequered cloth and grandmothers and sandwiches. Her mother holding her against the sky. Her father swilling Coca Cola from a dented can, cigarette squeezed between his yellow-stained fingers.


'Where do you think the lights come from?' I ask. 'I don't know,' Laurie says. 'My dad always claimed to be a master of lights. He said he could control them. He'd be sitting in his room and they'd appear, at first they'd be moving at random but he reckons he learned to guide them with his mind. Sometimes I'd imagine him putting all his thoughts inside them, then sending them out through the window, out over the world to do his will.' She walks across the room, hands spread over the round of her belly. 'And he was obsessed with aliens. Even though he told me there was no such thing. He said he'd studied the whole subject thoroughly, and... and that they weren't aliens, that they didn't come from space.' 'Did you tell him about you and what was happening to you?' I say. She laughs, moves over to the window, gazes at rain hung on the pane, at the hundred tiny Lauries reflected back at her. 'Well according to him they've always been here. People once called them fairies or thought they were Gods. Then when people were obsessed with religion they called them demons, and now we live in an age of technology we call them aliens. That's what he said, anyway. Of course, I didn't really believe him. I've learned to take most of the things he said with a pinch of salt.'


Her body briefly tightening, before sleep loosens her. I hold her and her skin tingles under my fingers. Bed warm to us. I chart the dreams that roll behind the orbits of her closed eyes. Hold my mouth to her forehead and breathe her thoughts. 'The red room fills my dreams now,' she says, soundless lips parted to sleep, 'I can hardly close my eyes without being there. I don't dislike the red room, I guess I admire... It was always the lights that led me there. At first the lights were really exciting, like seeing fairies or Father Christmas, or having your toys come alive or something. But... sometimes I feel something, can almost hear breathing, think I see movements in the corners of my eyes but when I turn to look and see what it is there's nothing there. I don't know what's going on. Sometimes I remember things, like... I can see a figure standing over me, I'm lying down, and... I'm so small, I wake up in the night, and I can't move, I try to lift my arms but I can't. There's something kind of dewy dripping on my eye-lids. Three drops. I hear a voice, calming, and... Then I see the lights again, try to control them like my dad could, try to guide them away from me, sometimes it seems like I can, but... I don't want to go on with it but something compels me. I can't control it. I can't control the lights. I have to let them guide me. They lead me through the red door, and...'

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