Paint It Red

(first written in May, 2003; this edit is from March, 2004)

She is amazed by the noise a single creature can make, when there are no other sounds to interfere. She is amazed, but with only a corner of her mind, that which is left to handle insignificant affairs below the notice of the rest, which itself is currently concerned largely with screaming. She stands before a door, three times her width and almost twice her height, and pounds on its smooth surface, her breath coming in ragged gasps between cries.

Her hands come down like falling hail, pummelling the panelling, bouncing off of the black-stencilled fire wrapping about the red-painted wood. With each strike, the door-knocker outside is briefly lifted, creating a staccato echo that would convince her that her pleadings had found a responsive ear did she not know better. Even now, she wishes to believe she does not go unheard, but the sickening sweetness in the air carries too much truth. Her sounds, loud as they are, never reach anyone listening on the other side - even if they could, they could not.

Her fingers catch on one bevelled edge and begin to dig, scrabbling at the paint as her voice rises; her wail is something that should be dragged from a tortured animal. Flecks of the surface layer begin to peel off, shards of vermillion building up beneath her nails like half-dried blood, and she pauses for an instant as she sees what lies below. Where the red has been torn away, a matte black has appeared, so thick that it seems to absorb all light and reflect none, as if holes were bored through the wood to reveal nothing but void on the other side. She remembers this colour; the memory had been blotted out through a decade of hope and success, but she remembers still.

He had seen a black door and he had wanted to paint it red; they had moved in at night, but had imagined the brightness they could bring in vivid colour. He had handed her a bucket and brushes, and together they had smeared away the shadows of their home, hiding them under dreams of innocence and health. Lives were lived here, carelessly and joyously, but what had been an escape for the soul has become a trap for the flesh.

She screams like a child dreaming of its mother drowning, her voice one of nightmares and emptiness. She screams for so long that the sound passing her lips loses meaning even to her.

It will never open, she knows; the hinges cannot move anymore, as if paralysed with a grief of their own. She rails against her fate because it should not be anyone's, not in this world of care and science - her chest heaves and her throat spasms, but she cannot silence her fists or her voice. She tries to inure herself to the smell of decay, has tried to do so for longer than her mind wishes to remember, but it has all of the power. She imagines that she can feel it penetrating her flesh to mingle with her bones, scorching the grey into black, or perhaps she is not imagining at all.

He had seen a black door and he had wanted to paint it red, but no number of coats can disguise death as life. Similarly, no amount of screaming can wake the dead, even when the living stand so near to the doorway. She knows that she will never leave, just as he has not, but still she claws at the wood, revealing reality while trying to escape it. Her tears, hot and raising the scents of salt and anguish, fall to the floor, but are stopped by the frame before they can escape to spread their poison.

Finally, she stops, the sound lodging deep inside her throat; her bloodied and blackened hands fall to her sides. She stumbles across the room in silence - a dearth of sound all the more oppressive for what has preceded it - to where he lies, his flesh the colour of burned ash, just where he had fallen. She had not dared to touch his prone form when she had thought they would let her out, more concerned with the red outside than the black within. Now, curling up beside him, she wraps her arms around his neck and stares up at the door that quarantines her, a prisoner within her own home in order to save those without, waiting for the inevitable. She imagines herself cremated, poured into an urn the colour of fire, and can only wish for that which has come to finish its task so that she can paint herself red all the sooner.