In the dim room, Brigit sang. Dancing circles in her confinement, her fingers trailed along the walls, leaving graphite smudges on the faded yellow wallpaper, a ghostly image of the words her song left behind.
Her fingers drew shadows of Whitman’s leaves and Naruda’s wind swept, oceanside sand dunes. Behind renderings of Keats’ dusty pages, mothers held daughters close to cancer-ridden breasts and walked the streets of New York hand-in-hand with distant lovers. Her fingers conjured figures screaming from the confines of their world and scribbled words on discarded sheets of paper, crumpling dreams into something small enough to fit into the back pocket of a pair of jeans.
Brigit spun through her void, sketching Langston Hughes in a Mustang, Ginsberg at his side, Sylvia riding behind. Suddenly she stopped, the shadows too thick to move through. Brigit stared into the ever increasing darkness and for the first time, spoke. “Set me free.”
The wallpaper split.
Brigit stared at the change in the light. Right down the middle of the wall, a run formed through the graphite smudges and became a rip that became a tear. Before her stood not the creaking, broken staircase of her mind’s eye but the nightmare of a silent city. Flakes of wallpaper fluttered around her, refugees from the tear in the wall, crumpled scraps on which she had scribbled her dreams. One by one they settled to the ground, leaving a trail to be whisked away in any eventual wind.
Brigit stepped forward, into her new world, her boots crunching in the shards of glass fallen from windows of sunburnt buildings. The hiss of her breathing and the scuffle of her feet were the only sounds at ground level. Empty buildings became a labyrinth of zoo cages. A worn messenger bag bumped against her hip and, like a monkey picking up peanut shells, she stopped at regular intervals. A pen and a scrap of paper and the torn cover of a book went into the bag. A ribbon of color caught her eye and she tied it around her wrist.
A map, imprinted on her DNA in Sappho’s words, crawled across her skin in tattooed points, leading her down streets until she stopped at an alleyway. Shadows whispered, calling names that echoed in the darkness tucked behind the cold, bleached brick. Brigit hesitated, bending to pick up a loose sheet of blank paper that blew past on a hot, dry wind. She placed it in her bag and ghostly tendrils raced from the alley, reaching out to grab her, to pull her back into the shadows.
Brigit ran until her legs would no longer move. She stopped, catching her breath, and found herself in a broken parking lot. Before her was a bedraggled coffee shop, a small building different from the stark monuments to strength that reached endlessly toward the sky. A breath settled her and she walked to the front door and yanked it open.
Inside the walls were papered with yellow and the floor smudged with the color of graphite. Brigit froze. Another room? More wallpaper smoothed over cracks in another’s foundation? Yet, the room was not barren. It had plush chairs and tattered couches and at a table in the center sat a woman much like her. She flipped idly through a newspaper, and pen and paper and laptop sat next to her. She looked up, smiled, and waved Brigit inside.
The door slammed behind her, turning the silence into a cacophony of sound. Women spoke around her, gathered at tables; sipping coffee and tea they brainstormed revolution and lent female voices to Shakespeare.
Brigit reached into her bag and pulled out the piece of paper from the alley. On it were her stories. They’d followed her from with the faded wallpaper.
The door opened and someone stood there, waiting. She pointed to Brigit and, without saying a word, tossed her black hair over her shoulder and then, with a saunter in her step, walked back to her car. Brigit followed, the paper still in her hand. Outside, the air was fresher than before, the dry nothing replaced by a West Wind breeze. The light was still bright against the sky, the realities of staying indoors wreaking havoc on Brigit’s eyes and she squinted as the sun glinted through the windshield. Under her, the car vibrated as the engine roared to life. The wind caught the paper and blew it away as they drove; with each block they passed, people took to the sidewalks.
“Where were they before?” She asked the stranger.
“What set them free?”
The woman smiled and tattoos of graphite smudges raced across her skin. Stopping at a light, she reached over, and handed Brigit a pencil. “You did.”