The Room

The Room


In the middle of an empty room sits an old man.

His hair and beard were dark brown in his youth, but now only a hint of chocolate remains among the gray-white. His eyes are closed and his hands rest lightly on his arthritically crossed legs.

The moment comes when he opens his eyes. Deep blue irises clouded over with cataracts are reminiscent of two worlds set into their sockets. They are wise and see only inward; it appears he is blind.

But he stands, slowly and with joints creaking, and unerringly walks to the wall. With his left hand he reaches out. His dry fingertips touch the smooth blankness of the wall.

With his right hand, he pulls a quill and inkpot out of his hair. He sets the inkpot on the crook of his elbow, dips the tip of the quill into the ink, and begins to draw.

A headstone and a coffin being lowered into an open grave take shape. The headstone has no name. The lines are crooked and dark from the uneven pressure of his shaking hands.

The old man finishes the drawing. The fingers on his left hand smear a clump of grass as he trails his way across it to another blank portion of the wall. The arthritic cricks in his hands and toes uncurl ever so slightly, and the cataracts in his eyes fade.

The next sketch is a hospital bed. The tubes and IVs are a tangled, complicated twisting of loops and lines. The body in the bed is merely a lump under the covers.

The old man moves on to his right. His spine creaks and straightens, and the liver spots fade from his hands.

Two rocking chairs on the porch of a little house are occupied by two forms, conjoined by their clasped hands. The wrinkles fall out of his skin like folds out of fabric.

A family of three generations is seated around a table piled high with food. His hair begins to darken, the gray strands replaced by a deep brown.

He dips the quill into the inkpot once again and it sketches a shallow groove into the wall. No ink. He removes the little pot from his elbow and blows into it. It fills with black ink. He sets it back onto the crook of his arm.

The next drawing takes shape in a hallway. Three little children run down the hallway, squealing with excitement, toward their parents. He passes the far edge, smudging ink onto the pads of his fingers as he touches the hair of the girl on the right, and looks around him. The room is still empty. He presses his thumb against the joint of his left ring finger, and inks a band around his hand.

A woman in a hospital bed, holding a newborn. His wedding day. A trip to Europe, with the Eiffel tower in the background. The years fall away as he inks each event—remembering, reliving, and allowing to fade from his mind and his body—until he is again in his twenties.

The blunted quill causes a spot of ink to drip down from the tip of the tower. He takes the quill in between his fingers and rolls the tip between his index finger and thumb, sharpening it back to a point.

His dark hair is wavy and coarse. His blue eyes follow each stroke of the quill as the third wall of the room is filled. On the wall, a form bends its head over the desk, brandishing a pencil like a sword.

The muscles in his arms stretch with the lines of the drawing. He stops for a moment and looks down at his body, once again young and strong and resilient. He recalls something someone said once, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Perhaps it is. He pauses for a moment to remember what it was like to trust his body, to push it to its limits, to live without fear of pain and decay.

Then he moves on, and a school bus takes shape with definite, dark lines. A little boy is climbing on, backpack held in one hand. The now-young man moves on, shrinking in stature. The quill becomes a blue crayon, the inkpot vanishing. The next drawing is a stick figure family, a Mommy-Daddy-and-me portrait. The little boy smiles and walks past his work, falling to his knees.

He crawls to the last empty spot on the wall, and draws a few scribbles. One looks vaguely like a smiley face. He crawls past that and his arms and legs become chubby and weak, and he falls onto his stomach. He lets out a cry—a baby’s wail—and wriggles to turn himself over onto his back.

As soon as he does, his eyes focus on the ceiling—which is, of course, blank. There is nothing written there, nothing drawn. The baby coos and reaches for it, and it seems to be getting closer and closer. The light in the room is dimming, although there is no switch, no visible light fixture. The baby reaches up for the ceiling, and then curls into a ball. He feels himself becoming smaller and smaller as the room shrinks around him.

A warm, rhythmic pounding sounds in his ears. It’s not threatening at all, but comforting. His eyes close.

A minute passes, or perhaps it is a lifetime. Then it becomes cold, and the baby is released from the now small, dark room. He cries out in protest.

“It’s a boy,” the doctor says, holding him out to the new mother.

He stops wailing, unscrunches his face, and looks up at his mother with eyes the color of the oceans.

Leia Johnson


Leia Johnson is a graduate of Texas A&M University. She works as a rare books librarian and, despite the stereotype, has two dogs. Her reading habits (best described as “eclectic”) find their way into her writing in odd ways, and she can generally be found indulging those habits  anywhere there is a comfortable chair, tea, and a pile of books.


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