Updated: Sep 13, 2021
The White Room
‘As a white wall cuts itself into pages in the shadows, she finds herself stepping into the room as an idea in the architect’s head.’
She is—a silence—words will erase
The room in the old silk mill was the room she hadn’t known she was looking for until she found it.
Finding the silk mill was an unexpected surprise—there wasn’t a date stamp or a ribbon.
She was out walking on the streets of the old mill town. Exploring. Looking for the particular in the rows and rows of houses—and the one house on every street where the clock seemed to have stopped.
She turned a corner—there had been many. She liked to feel the expectation, it was built into them—and hope, though she was less aware of that—then. In her imagination—they were all corner shops.
She started walking up a hill, a row of houses on either side—it was like a walled entry. She felt the draw, looked up towards the top, and standing there—was an expanse of red bricks and huge windows in cahoots with light.
There—was an old manufacturing block, houses silhouetted in the windows lit up by the lowering sun.
She imagined the inside of the mill to be expanding in the light. She saw her want for a white space that was full of light.
She knew she had to look inside—to see if what she imagined—was real.
She returned a few days later, to view the empty apartment at the top of the mill. She was sure, the architect was just one step ahead drawing it in with black ink—the dropped ceilings and partition walls.
She was glad she had asked to view it alone, not wanting the burden of someone else’s expectations as she opened the door.
It felt heavy, the front door—like the wood was wet enough to douse the very idea of a fire, or even a light in the long passage. There was a line of closed doors to her left, and a wall to her right, and she could see at the end, a door, as though roughly outlined with a light tipped pen.
She knew she was there to open it, she had no idea why, or what the consequences might be.
She felt a contraction as her eyes took in the white light, and then, like an unthought of first step, she was carried into the sunlight streaming into the room—it felt like the warm currents that flow and thread round the group of small islands in the blue-green sea.
She felt the ripples rippling from a light pebble.
She felt that she had stepped into a live conversation, in a corner where the front and side walls met with a tall and wide window on either side.
The other rooms in the apartment, lined up one after the other, each built around a tall and wide window on the south side of the mill.
On her first night there, she felt like gorse and broom waiting to be lit.
She is asleep in the room she made into a house—a room in a house that others made.
When she wakes in the mill for the first time, she will want what she always wants—
the walls to be lath and plaster with the hair of animals, and to see more than the red rim of clay bricks round the windows, to be able to see the bricks and know that someone has dug for the clay, moulded and fired them in a kiln and laid one on top of the other to build the shell she is standing in—to look out of the windows with the original stone sills and to know who else has stood there—their names and when they were born and when they died and how they lived and where they were buried and that—it will all be inscribed in stone.
She will want to know that she doesn’t need to imagine from start to finish—that there are physical traces—that it was after all the same sun that rose and set for her as for them.
Then, she will begin again with the white page.
She begins to wake, feels the cold air slip into the room, like silk, it slides down her face and she opens her eyes.
She looks up to the window from her makeshift bed on the floor to see a silvery-grey sky run through with the red of clay bricks—embers of a yesterday’s sun.
On the sill, a nest of needle-twigs and hair woven into a celadon-green-moss. Inside, an unmade bed of down, with the scent of an animal. She had found it on the ground yesterday—the sort of finding that is a sort of losing.
She wonders about everything she sees—if anything is what it seems as she shapes the emboldened red in the sky into figures that bleed into a watery edge—feeling the pen shell’s want of black ink.
She knows she is very impressionable, especially on waking, or still impressed by something that will step back into the light. She feels the sea wash over her as the moorland hills look on.
She is, she thinks, a hermit in an industrial shell on a silent shore.
She looks at the room she is in—in the converted mill. She sees a chair waiting for her in the corner by the window that stands tall and wide, set deep into the red brick on the inside to be close to the light on the outside.
There is a second chair opposite, and if she sat there, she could peer over her shoulder but she doesn’t see it.
She knows that she won’t put pictures on the walls and disturb the whiteness. She won’t inhabit the space. She will dwell.
She is, she thinks, intrigued by the uniform houses built round the mill that she sees from the front window, their street uniformity beautifully chaotic when seen from above, and their hues of orange, red and grey, ever-changing in the unbinding light and the falling rain. The congregation of chimneys, their roofs packed in close, and the pots, a perch for morning and evening song.
It feels right to her, to have a makeshift bed on the floor in the living room where there are no curtains to draw back.
She is, after all, sitting inside a fabricated apartment inside a brick and slate manufacturing block overlooking a labyrinth of cobbled back entries behind the two-up-two-down back-to-back houses that surround the mill.
There is no conscious choice involved in her looking at the sky, it fills the windows, and with one window always open, it’s easy for her to imagine she is out there among the clouds—with the blue butterfly swimming in air.
She dreamt she slipped out of the window, looked in, saw herself sleeping there, and then came back in.
When the wind comes—it is pushed up, down and around the sides of the building—pounding the rain on the glass like it will shatter. The unpredictability of life made visible, the feelings caused by so many things she can’t see, but they are all the same. Things she doesn’t want to see—in case it leaves her with nowhere to go.
It reminds her of a day when she lived close to the sea—not that she’s ever far from it—not really.
A strong gale was forecast to reach land in the early evening, at around the same time as high tide, with warnings of risk to life. She went to the cove on the north coast, it was only a few miles away. It was unlike her, but that’s most probably why she went.
She felt the beginnings of the alchemy of excitement and fear, and its influence on what she did. Cautiously at first, she stood looking down onto the cove from the coastal road. She could see the Atlantic swells and feel the pounding of the huge waves rolling in like she was already caved—shaped—to receive a powerful and unstoppable force. She felt a presence rousing inside, it felt palpable as she joined others, including the coastguard, in the seafront car park next to the harbour wall. It was formidable, the sea swelling beyond the capacity of the harbour to hold it until the tide turned—gusting on shore winds driving it in.
She felt alive in the wind and spray, her excitement growing as she was buffeted, unable to stand in one place and tasting salt without blood. She felt the tumult of the borderland. She faced the sea, swarmed forwards and back in a human swell, a part of everything. Expectation and fear blended with excitement were summed up as they waited for the rogue wave that would breach the borderland, exercise raw power and douse them in sea water, if they were lucky. She knew the tide was turning, bringing its own tumult and a momentary deep confusion.
Saturated by the crowd, she moved closer to the edge, where the waves were breaking. She wasn’t alone in the space, a few others were willing to take the risk, but even so, avidly focused on the swell trying to read the unpredictable. She couldn’t decide if she felt powerless or powerful in placing herself there—only that the rapidly changing dynamic held a power that was something else entirely.
A rogue wave rolled in, using the pier wall as a counterforce to rise high in the air, it surged, held its edge like a shout of victory until it reached the curve into the harbour and then fell in a sweeping stroke covering the car park with a sheet as it crashed.
Afterwards, at home in her granite cottage, she had sat for a while in the cave that was her kitchen, with a glass of red. Nothing had changed, the old range stood in the large fireplace, there was a slate floor and a floorboard ceiling—but rather than feeling held, she felt encased in a dimming light. As she got up to get some air, she felt the touch of silk on her neck like the breath of a sleeping child.
She is feeling a sense of detachment—that the life she has led has not been hers—that she has watched it unfold—like it was already folded before she arrived.
She doesn’t wonder where the time has gone—just how much time there was.
So many loose threads she thinks that need threading and sewing into the unsewn places, or, just left loose for a time.
Now and then
10.00 She meets Maggie, a friend of a year or so
10.10 They set off for a long walk—Maggie focusing on the OS App on her phone, retracing a route she’s walked before
12.00 They sit by the river, eating lunch and chatting
13.00 They start walking again, turning round after an hour
15.00 She suggests they go off grid for a bit, then Maggie returns to the OS map, and they get back on track
16.00 A blackbird lands close by, and starts singing
She tells Maggie “It’ll rain soon.”
“How’d you know?”
“Just the way the blackbird’s singing.”
“Is that something you learned?”
“No…. I don’t think so.”
“Maybe… you just picked it up?”
16.10 They carried on walking, but in silence, she was
following a tracing of the blackbird inside.
She is there, and somewhere else.
She is in her garden, as it was then, with a glass of real ale, sitting looking at the white moon in the blue sky, and waiting for the in-between light of twilight. As she waits for that moment when she feels a keen sense of aliveness, she sees the tracing of orange, then yellow and a sheening black by the lowering sun’s rays as it conjures a blackbird perched on the wall.
She is there, and somewhere else again.
She is waiting to meet Catherine, someone she met for a time, who listened as she talked. She’d been looking forward to seeing her, with a lot she wanted to say. It feels different from the start, they are in another room, something she always needs to consider.
Catherine arrives, takes in the room, considers switching the light on, but sees it’s fluorescent and would flicker, tells her they wouldn’t use it again, and puts the paraffin heater on.
11.00 They sit down and Catherine asks about her week
11.20 She hears a lone blackbird sing, and asks Catherine,
“Can you hear it?”
“Yes, I can,” she replies
12.00 Catherine gets up to leave
Catherine takes in the room, tells her they won’t use it again, turns the paraffin heater off and closes the door after them.
She is in between places…
16.50 Maggie calls, she notices they’re still walking alongside the stream. She sees the lack of water—she sees herself seeing what is absent—not what is present.
17.00 They reach their cars, chat for a while about walking again in June, and leave after saying their goodbyes.
She is in a white room
with a blackbird perched
on a white plinth
suspended in air—
its song eternally on the
She thinks that time is like raw silk, it is unwound as it is wound.
Then & Now
The room is white—but she sees that now—and then—there is the lightest touch of grey.
Not quite the grey-white of limestone—not yet—more the grey-white of fog.
She hears the fog horn sound—otherworldliness—as she stands in the room—and stands on the small uninhabited island.
She is in the remains of a medieval hermitage, not far from the house, built to take plague cases from the ships calling at the islands. Out there, she is part of the weave—part of the salted voices—boats of sand and haunting calls of the Max Shearwater—threaded with the sea silk of pen shells.
She climbs to the highest point of the small island to meet the fog. She makes it onto the craggy outcrop just as it thickens. She wants to step into grey-white—to disappear—to reappear—to herself. She imagines a threshold as the droplets land her, and the fog’s chill turns in with her warmth as though invited—she hears the foghorn and sees the fog ripple.
Now and Then
It’s early morning, she is still inside the night—her bottled-up-ocean-bottom-darkness. She is suspended—things floating loosely—like they have pigments and hues—a scene emerging and receding instantaneously—like it feels her response before she does. She feels like raw meat. She doesn’t eat meat.
She feels herself slowly rising into the day. As she begins to let the night sink back, she sees it, as though on a split screen, and wonders if she has two nights stacked up—
There is a pale light in the room, like a second thought waiting behind the first. She leans into it to see where it’s coming from, and as she looks up through the side window, there is a waxing crescent moon. She wants to be awake—to be in the natural light—but she wants to sleep more—until the light rays fall on her face.
There is a half-light in the room—it feels artificial. She watches the window grids abstracting on the walls and ceiling like scattering graphite dust—imagining a peppered moth with open wings. The edges of the stacks of books and furniture are partially erased, like they are no longer wanted in a 3D sketch.
The room feels like it is still an idea in the architect’s head, and she wonders if he knows she is there.
She is sitting in the room—in the chair—the one with the view that sits just to her left—that sits with what it is she wants to see.
When she had first stood outside the mill—she had imagined a white space, expansive and expanding in the light. An open space.
She looks for the pigeon that she can hear flapping its wings, trying to gain height so it can soar. As she thinks about things, she notices bits of white downy fluff floating past the front window. She can’t quite make them out, so looks out of the side window, and there are hundreds and thousands coming her way.
She thinks dandelions—with delight, and recites a Haiku she once wrote:
“My sun drips from the
Sky, stalking daffodils and
She marvels at this wind-aided revolution of self-pollinators, and decides she likes the idea of being inside someone else’s idea.
It reminds her of playing with Russian dolls, and when you look at the largest one—knowing you have placed the others elsewhere—somehow—they are still there inside—in the shape of it.
She remembers being surrounded by the clack of needles, and the making-over-and-over-again of the same pattern—variations in colour and size only—especially after washing, and the hand-me-downs.
She used to collect the wool ends—to knot together—to create a thread—from the bits that weren’t wanted. She wrapped the wool round her finger to make a small ball to hold in her hand.
Now and Then
She thinks that it’s through the slant of light that an idea is made possible.