When the woman was grown, she remembered the room as the first time she’d felt happy, and the sweet flavour of childhood hopes. When the girl was young, she knew it as a terrible, nightmare place- but also as where her dreams began.
The house was made all of murk – it was gray and ambiguous and soft, and the walls twisted the eye and receded into nothing when you forgot all about them.
In the house there were thirteen rooms. The girl knew this, just because it was something you know, and thought little of the floor plan or the many doors that she passed- many more than were possible.
The house had a long, long corridor down the middle, with a very high roof and a very narrow width. It widened out and in as she wandered, and brushed her shoulders at times, but the strangeness never bothered her.
The house she had found one day in her parent’s street- it was a tall house, with shuttered windows and a vine-covered fence all about. She had seen a stone dragon perched on the eves from afar, and had broken a slat to get inside for a closer look. Once inside the grounds, the girl had noticed the scent of sweet jasmine lingering just above the sickly mould of dead and dying leaves, and had seen the draped purple mass of wisteria choking the pergola of the old, weatherboard matriarch. The girl pushed her way through the purple curtains, broke a glass pane and let herself inside. She was bold, once.
The house was a quiet place, dusting up the residual echoes of her footsteps and discarding them with all the other sounds of the house. When she strained, she could hear the faint taste of music, or the quiet laugh of a crowd behind the odd door- but often, she did not strain and instead she hurried her steps onward.
Halfway down the corridor there was a door on her left, and it was here she returned time and again.
The room was small, but it was ringed all about with windows, so it seemed larger. They were bright and strange and each pane of glass painted a different world for her to gaze on. The room had in it only a bed, piled high with pillows and soft duvets. There was a thin, red gauze canopy that draped from the pointed apex of the ceiling. The lights were hidden behind the canopy, so the room was bathed in a soft pink glow and the bed welcomed her with a deceptively friendly yellow spill.
The room’s most apparent feature, however, was the overwhelming assurance, into her very bones, that she was a princess.
The first time she visited the room she was made very aware that the room had no door. After she stepped inside, the way she had entered was hidden from her. She took little notice- the bed was bright, and the pillows soft. She did not look out the windows, she did not care to test the low chair to her right or glance at the high ceiling- the princess lay herself on the bed and slept.
She did not wake.
The princess room cradled her there, her tiny breaths puffed out behind her red lips, and in a millennia no human step intruded. Until, as is the way of princes, one came to claim her.
He climbed from a world of oceans, his suit made of seal skins and his cape of seaweed and his sword of coral- he kissed her and held her hand and woke her. The room was as it always was, except for the man, and the girl frowned to see him.
He took her away out the window, back into his world. He crowned her with shells and dressed her in sea foam and led her into a drowned court where the beach men stormed the castles of mermen and raped their women and brought back the pearls and diamonds and treasures of the ocean floor as her weddings gifts. She let her eyes see only him, and she ignored the sad and mad things he did, and she smiled to see his any things. The girl kissed him and loved him, with all her heart.
And, when the years were done with her and the prince’s love dead and gone, she climbed her broken dreams back out through the window and the house opened the door and the room spat her out – a girl with salt in her hair and tears on her face, and barely a memory of her life as a princess.
In the days after she tried to recall the truth of it- she recalled the wisteria and the corridor, the broken pane and the feeling of a kiss as the light blinded her eyes.
These fragments served only to entice the girl, however, and the scent of the place grew cloying as she lay at night and searched for meaning in her strange mind. She ignored the steady drumming elsewhere in her parent’s house, and the wail of the new baby. She closed her eyes tight and plugged her ears and thought ever increasingly of being a princess.
Until, with the siren song in her head, she drifted back through the fence and down the corridor and back into the room and into the bed and slept. She puckered her lips for another kiss, and hoped that this time it would be a forever world, and this time her prince would stay true. The kiss came, and the tale, and the taste of ash. The girl grew older, and the princess room drew her time and again, and she crossed her fingers and hoped and hoped and closed her eyes as her heart led her into the corridor once again.
But as dreams crumble so too do hopes.
Eventually, she gave up the room. Made wise by the terror of it, by the ecstasy of it, she left behind her parent’s house and left behind her silly girl dreams and left behind her strange and broken heart. Her heavy frown led her off into the world, and she married and she lived, and the bright world of the princess room lingered only as the bitter tang of disappointment.
Her life was long, and her husband kind. Her house was small, and her dreams smaller. Her sons grew old, her husband older, and she looked at them blankly from behind her small, strange eyes.
When she returned as the woman, years later, she tried to recall the desire. The last time she had visited the house she hadn’t had to force the door, it was sagging behind the wisteria and the girl had been able to simply push past it. Now, as a woman, she saw the mould and the damp that flexed it away from the hinge, and saw that the windows were all smashed in, and the shutters were half-torn from their brackets. She walked the corridor again, but felt no life in the house. The dream-state was hard to grasp, and the many doors harder still to see.
But still she knew the princess door the moment she stopped beside it.
The woman was old now, her hair grey and her limbs tired. She pushed at the door with little hope. But it swung open, as perfect as all those years ago. She stepped inside, awed to see the same canopied bed. The room was darker now, the many windows dimmed with the lifetimes she lived behind them gone, and the red of the canopy faded to a deeper colour. She shuffled in, seeing that one last life was yet to dim.
Beyond the window, the view was a familiar one. She looked into the home she had lived in, where her husband of the real world had laboured at his books, before- and her children had played, before- and her real life adventures had been staged, before.
She let the tears fall, even as she smiled to see the simple joys of her small life reflected there. There was no going back now- the room had only one exit, after all. She had one last dream to dream.
She lay herself on the bed and watched the window, waiting until the moment the spell took.
By Danielle K. Day
Edit: I took out the last paragraphs. I like the ambiguity of the ending better. Previously it said:
The princess slept, suspended in time, and knew that her true prince would come, and he would kiss her and take her into her new kingdom and she would rule her little house, and they would be together again. In this world, there would be no broken heart to dim it and no long lonely climb back to crushed flowers and tear stained memories.
This world, the real world, would cradle her safe. The woman had only to wait.