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The Sunlit Room

I used to spend my hours in that room, that sunny room, to sit in that lonely chair and, with feather-light strokes of my pencil, sketch the patterns of the dust as it tumbled lazily in the morning rays. It danced for me. Just for me. It would dance for no one else. That was our unspoken understanding. I kept the room shut up, locked tight and undisturbed, and in return I was allowed to sit in that chair for a few hours each morning and record the dance with my sketches. I could’ve gone on like that forever, if not for them.

“What do you do in there?” they’d ask. “Sketch,” I’d answer. Then they’d ask “Sketch what?” I wouldn’t tell them. I wouldn’t show them the dance. It was mine, and mine alone. “I don’t understand,” they’d mutter. Of course they wouldn’t understand. “All that’s in there is that rickety old chair. Surely your sketchbook can’t be full of that?” Of course not, that was stupid. But I’d never tell them, never give them the key so they could see for themselves. The dust was mine alone to watch and to sketch. Mine alone were the cheering rays of sun that illuminated the dance floor. Mine alone the secrets of that empty room.

But then they took it. I caught them leafing through the pages, even though I told them not to. “What are these?” they asked, thrusting the sketches in my face as if showing them to me for the first time, as if I’d never seen them before. “They’re hideous, downright disturbing.” I didn’t take kindly to that. I snatched the book from them without gracing them with a reply. I retreated into my room, that sunny room where the dust danced for me through columns of light, locked them out and promised never to forgive them.

I should’ve known they’d never let it be. They questioned me incessantly. “I don’t think it’s good for you to spend so much time alone in there. I mean, well, just look…” And they’d gesture vaguely at my sketchbook which they found so abhorrent. “Why won’t you at least let us look, maybe clean it up a bit? It can’t be healthy for you, with all that dust.” “You wouldn’t dare!” I shot back. Clean up the dust? That would ruin it! It wouldn’t be my room anymore. I could never sketch the beautiful dance, the sun would feel cold and damp—I’d never let them!

But one day I found the door open. They’d found the hidden key and were bustling about inside with rags clutched in their vile hands. “Get out!” I shrieked, grabbing and pulling and shoving until they gave in. But it was too late. The floor was swept clean, the windowsills were spotless, the air was pure. I locked myself inside with my sketchbook and tried to draw, but there was nothing. They’d ruined it! With a heavy heart I emerged from that empty room, locking it behind me one last time. Why couldn’t they let me be? Why did they have to intrude and enforce their shallow, childish will on everything? Once more I vowed never to forgive them, and in my own subtle ways I began exacting my revenge. I became a mute, refused to speak even to answer their pestering questions. I wouldn’t eat in their presence, but merely stared at them resentfully. I did little, petty things to inconvenience them. I never let them forget. Eventually they began to ignore me, pretend I wasn’t there. That was fine with me. It was, after all, what I’d wanted from the beginning. I only regretted that they couldn’t have left me alone sooner.

As time passed, my rage cooled into a lonely grief that was stirred up whenever I walked by that door. I felt twinges of guilt over the trust that, although of no fault of mine, had been broken between me and the dancers who adorned the yellowing pages of my sketchbook. I wondered if they could ever find it in themselves to forgive me. If only I could ask them.

I couldn’t, though. Not while they were still around. So I waited. Weeks, months, years. Patiently I waited for them to die. Patiently I waited for the dust to return and fill that sunny room. Patiently I waited until I was old and gray and alone in the house. Then, only then, did I pull the key from its hiding place. I retrieved my sketchbook and my long-dulled pencil from underneath the piles of junk, and timidly I prepared to unseal the room that had once been mine.

Could they forgive? I’d become convinced that the whole thing was my fault, and I wondered if they still bore me ill will for allowing our understanding to be broken. Would they still be as I remembered? For the first time in years, I opened my sketchbook and flipped through the drawings, so faint they nearly vanished into the paper. They were hideous, I realized with a shudder, but surely they’d have forgiven me by now.

I slipped the key into the lock and turned the rusty knob. They wouldn’t hurt me, right? I was their friend; I was the one they’d allowed inside, to observe and to sketch. But what if time had changed them? What if that violation of so many years ago had made them bitter, as it had done me? If I entered that room now, would I come out?

The hinges, unaccustomed to being used, squealed as I stepped into the sunlight. I passed into the swirling dust, and shut the door.