By Molly Andrea-Ryan
Marla could envision her sweater hanging from the hook next to the front door and the pair of socks tucked into her sneakers. The things she was supposed to wear and didn’t. She shivered violently every few minutes, sitting there against the wall in her shorts and sandals and bare arms. She heard a staff member on the other side of a partition acknowledge the cold and wondered if they were mocking her for not thinking ahead. She had nothing to do in here but drink water from the jug next to the fake tree and had gotten up for at least a dozen refills. She wondered if they would think something was wrong with her if she got up to pee a second time.
The fake tree wasn’t doing the room any favors. Its growth was impossible without any windows, and its presence seemed only to highlight the room’s windowless-ness. The leaves were waxy and over-bright, and it surprised her that someone, somewhere, didn’t try harder. She had the urge to approach the tree and tip it over. She might have if another woman hadn’t walked in and sat down across from her.
The other woman had pink hair and rubber clogs. There was nothing else noteworthy about her, so Marla stopped looking.
Marla looked at the chairs. Mismatched upholstery in the same color scheme of blue, green, brown, and grey, like the schematic of a forest. Floral patterns, stripes, geometric shapes, all the right colors but carefully incorrect designs. Someone had picked these chairs for this room and lined them up into rows. She wondered if it was the staff member on the other side of the partition who’d noted the cold or someone else.
The other woman with pink hair and rubber clogs resettled into her carefully incorrect chair, rearranging her clothing around herself like a chicken settling down to roost. She picked a spot on the floor and stared, and Marla stopped looking.
Was it embarrassing to admit that the art was nice? she wondered with alarm, glancing at the woman with pink hair and rubber clogs to ensure that her gaze was still on the floor and not on Marla as she gazed at the art. It wasn’t meant to be liked, the kind of art that comes from a bargain warehouse. But the colors were soothing. A dash of yellow. A slap of pink. If the painting was signed and hung in a gallery instead of this windowless room, people would think it was brilliant. The world was very shallow, she thought, and thinking so made her feel smug.
She wished that she had brought her headphones—she could envision them curled in the wicker basket where she kept her sunglasses and keys—and could watch the new episode of her show. It was about designers who arranged fake trees and carefully incorrect chairs and bargain warehouse paintings this way and that, trying to create a room that was least upsetting to pregnant women and only marginally upsetting to men with broken toes. She would just have to pretend that she was a judge and that the woman with pink her and rubber clogs was a contestant.
“The tree,” she thought, frowning at the woman with pink hair and rubber clogs, “isn’t doing the room any favors. I feel quite aware of the windowless-ness. Unless that was your intention, although I don’t know that this is the time and place to be subvers—”
The woman glanced up from the spot on the floor and Marla looked away quickly, resting her elbow on the wooden arm of her carefully incorrect chair and tucking her chin into her palm. She stared sidelong at one of the bargain bin paintings and imagined stepping into it, imagined walking between the mossy trunks of trees splashed with color. Was this meditation? Her life would be different now if she was a person who could meditate, who found artwork meditative, who could sit in the coldest, dimmest, most carefully un-comforting room and slip into a peaceful trance.
“Honey,” her husband said.
Marla turned her head slowly away from the painting, blinking, doe-like, into her husband’s face. She smiled.
“All done,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Great,” she said, rising from her carefully incorrect chair. She stretched her arms overhead and yawned. “Let’s get coffee from the gift shop,” she said, as if she was suddenly but casually possessed with the yearning for something as unexpected as afternoon caffeine. She smiled, taking her husband by the arm.
He pulled his head back ever so slightly to get a better look at her face. He said, “They closed half an hour ago,” and steered them both out of the wing and down to the elevators.
“Oh,” Marla said, and, “Oh,” again. She blinked several times as the elevator made its descent. The door opened and she clapped her hands together once, loudly. The woman at the directory desk turned her head. “I know,” Marla said. “Ice cream.”
“All right,” her husband said.
“Yes,” Marla said. “Yes, that will be perfect.”
They marched slowly, separately, through the mechanical revolving door and out into the warmth of an afternoon that was too late for coffee but early enough for ice cream.
“I hope you weren’t bored,” her husband said.
“I wasn’t,” Marla said, cone in hand. “It was fine.”
She gave him a thumbs up with her free hand, and then she committed to forgetting. It, the room and her experience inside, was not meant to be remembered, not by someone like her, not now that was so committed to the present moment. Besides, she would back before long.
* * *
Molly Andrea-Ryan is a poet and prose writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work can be found in Idle Ink, trampset, Barren Magazine, and elsewhere.