The White Walled Room
It started out as small things really. The kinds of things that in everyday life you wouldn’t normally notice. A cup moved from its usual place; a different brand of coffee in the cupboard; her perfume bottle fuller than it had been the day before. The banality of Jen’s existence was only exceeded by its safeness. For Jen rarely pushed the boundaries of anything which went beyond the zone of her comfort.
She left her apartment that morning, her briefcase in one hand and a travel cup full of coffee in the other.
“Good morning, Ms Banes,” came the greeting from the concierge desk.
The voice surprised her.
“Where’s Benjamin today? I hope he’s not under the weather,” she asked the man who was standing in Ben’s place.
“Who’s Benjamin?” the man replied.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she answered as she hurried out of the opened door.
Many strange things happened that day. At first, Jen brushed it off as ‘one of those days.’ The building across the road from her office was painted a different shade of blue. The homeless man who sat on the bench next to the café where she ate lunch, whose cup she had placed a dollar in every single afternoon for the past five years, was nowhere to be seen. And she swore to it that in her workplace, there was a new door in the hallway, where there had always been a solid wall covered with a noticeboard. She asked her colleagues about it. They told her that she was mad, and when she insisted, her boss told her to take the rest of the afternoon off.
On her way home, she went to the store to buy food for her cat and jalapenos – her one and only vice. She loved the way their heat danced across the tip of her tongue. They were not in their usual place. She knew that not many people in the area bought them, but she had hoped that her regular purchases would be enough demand to keep the supply coming. When she asked at the counter, the man didn’t know what she was talking about.
“Jalapenos – it’s spelled with a J. They’re spicy, used in Mexican food,” Jen insisted.
“Mexican?” the man asked mystified.
“Yes, from Mexico; the jalapeno shaped country to the south of us,” she replied.
He looked at her as if she was speaking another language.
She returned to her apartment building. The substitute concierge stopped her and asked:
“Is everything all right Ms Banes? You seem a bit lost today.”
“I’m fine. Just tell Benjamin, that I’ll need him to pick up my dry-cleaning tomorrow.”
“I still don’t know who this Benjamin fellow is that you keep talking about, Ms Banes,” the man replied.
“He’s the day concierge – the one you’re filling in for,” Jen reluctantly explained.
“But Ms Banes, I’ve been working here for 5 years.”
She didn’t know what to make of any of it. So many things seemed to be conspiring against her. Was it she who was having some kind of episode? Or was she in a place that was not her own. She went upstairs and locked herself in her apartment. She went to feed the cat, but she couldn’t find its bowl or any of its belongings. It was as though it had never existed there.
Confused, she took a shower, had a cup of tea and she went to sleep. As the morning came, she was awoken by a scratching at her door. She opened it and her cat come bounding in. She had never been so happy to see him before. She picked him up and gave him a hug. She readied herself for work and when she went downstairs, Benjamin was back behind the desk.
Her day moved along as usual – the homeless man, the noticeboard, the blueness of the building across the street had all been returned to her. She felt safe once again.
When she arrived home that night, she decided to paint her bedroom walls. She had some yellow paint left over from when she had painted her bathroom. She wanted to provide herself with an anchor, in case she ever doubted herself again.
All was well for a week; she would wake up, make coffee, greet Benjamin, work, come home, feed the cat and go back to bed. There was Benjamin and the cat and jalapenos and Mexico and she felt comfortable. It was as though she had been on a long and perilous journey and she had finally returned to the safety of her home.
And then one morning she woke up and the walls were blue. For the next three mornings, the walls of her bedroom changed colour. Jen completed her normal routine on each of these days – what else was there to do – and she took note of any differences that she found.
Yellow – this is my home – all is usual
Blue – no Benjamin, no cat, no jalapenos and no independent Mexico
Green – no cat, but a boyfriend called Jeremy, who tells me I need a brain scan (we had an argument about his existence – I guess it makes sense)
Red – isolation – no one at work knows who I am. No cat, no job and no boyfriend either and Benjamin isn’t as friendly. At least they have jalapenos here.
She woke up rotating through each of these independent yet inter-related existences over the next four weeks. She never knew which room she would awaken in, but she built her notebook of observations and she adjusted to each life accordingly. She had even managed to find herself a job in the red roomed world – changing the life of the woman with who she shared the experience with. For she knew that she was sharing the experience with her other selves. All rotating on this spinning wheel, waiting to get off and cement themselves in their original, prime reality.
Jen postulated about what was happening – she had a section in her notebook filled with theories. The most popular were listed on the first page:
- She was slipping between neighbouring parallel universes where the differences were relatively minute but noticeable.
- She was living in a simulation and there was a glitch in the system allowing her consciousness to skip between simultaneous simulations.
- She was well truly on the path to losing her mind – maybe a brain tumour.
The next time she returned to the safety of her own world – her yellow walled domain – she noticed that two of her plants had died and her favourite cup was broken. She left a note on the fridge:
‘Don’t forget to water the plants! And if you break something – please replace it!’
Jen figured that it was the hermit of the red walled world who had done it. The others seemed to be much more reasonable; much more similar to herself. Maybe she’d break a cup the next time she was in the red world.
Although she felt at home when she was in her own world, she still felt that her grip on this life was tenuous. She had lost her past and her future. All that she could do was live in the current moment and experience. She went to bed that night and said goodbye to her cat. She didn’t know when she would see him again.
When she awoke the next morning however, she found herself somewhere new. An undiscovered, unexplored place. She was sitting in the corner; the light was so bright that it took her eyes a moment to adjust. She tried to get up, but her knees felt weak. The walls were white, padded behind her back. There was writing covering one of the walls.
Yellow, Red, Green, Blue (Prime) – each heading circled with a description. Yellow, Red, Green, Blue (1) – all the way up to, Yellow, Red, Green, Blue (673). Each with something written beside them. Written in capital letters underneath some of them were the words, ‘NO FUCKING JALAPENOS.’
Jen wondered exactly what this all meant. Had the version of herself who had sat in this room really visited so many variations of reality and if so, how could she herself, be certain which one was really her own? She began to read all the notes more closely. It appeared as though others had added to them. Was this the work of one of them, or all of the Jens put together?
The time went slowly in that white walled room. There was no window and the bright lights were left on all the time. Food was slid through a gap underneath the white, padded door every now and then, and every time Jen tried to sleep, she couldn’t. She had never travelled between dimensions or simulations or whatever they were when she was awake. She had to sleep, otherwise she would be trapped in this world. But the harder she tried, the more awake she became.
She was left, abandoned as she sat in the corner and pondered whether this was her prime. Was it she who belonged in the white walled room all along? Her future had been hijacked by a thousand of her other selves. She eventually slept, hoping that she would awaken somewhere, anywhere else; however, her merry-go-round had ended and it was she who would forever be lost to the white walled room, trying to piece together a life that once was.