Joan stands at the threshold of a long yellow corridor. White lace curtains billow against the afternoon. The floor is white speckled linoleum. There is a money tree in a blue plant pot at the end of the hall. It is dwarfed by the enormous yellow walls which stretch up, up, up, to a white polished ceiling with ornamental façade. The windows are slim lines, clean glimmers, of the evergreens down the hill.
Joan is in white canvas shoes, slip on, no laces. The tongue has a faint blue pin striped pattern. Her dress is white with the same slight, faint, blue pin striped pattern. It is made of stiff cotton, with a thin shoelace-like tie at the waist.
Her feet are perfectly aligned on a wooden floor before the speckled linoleum begins. She won’t cross the line. She just watches for movement, for the lights to change, for the shadows to form against the walls, with white slivers of light turning golden orange and then pink as the sun sets.
She says ‘I shouldn’t be able to smell you.’
Who did she say it to? Who is there to hear? Who is there that she can smell?
It’s getting dark and Joan picks up her books by the string they are tied with. They are such drab greens and browns, that they are a stark contrast with the light and bright of the corridor, even now, as the light goes.
When Joan is gone, and the crescent waxing moon has risen, there is a girl sitting half way down the corridor. She leans against the wall with no windows and peers down the moonlit hill, through the thin, 10cm wide, black rimmed window in front of her. With her legs crossed, she has her hands placed on her thighs. She has long hair which is white and scruffy. It is partly tied behind her neck, the rest reaches up and around: frizzy and uncontrollable.
When it begins to rain she gets up and walks to the end of the linoleum. Leaning against the wall, a white wall, before the corridor begins, is an umbrella. The girl uses it to prod at the door and push it closed. She takes the umbrella back to her midway point. She opens it. It is a large beach umbrella which she leans up against the wall and sits under it. It is bulbous and white, with large blue stripes.
It is summer and the rain is torrential. The gutter on the roof has broken and the water gushes, full stream, a tap turned on, a dam opened, funnelled; a waterfall which plummets past the window at the midway point.
The girl falls asleep there, sprawled out beneath the umbrella. It and she too, are dwarfed by the tall walls which look murky in the white, silver light of the night.
In the morning, she is gone. The umbrella has been returned to its home at the front door. When Joan appears at noon, all is as it was the day before.
Joan places her book bundle on the ground. She lines up her toes against the line where the floorboards turn to linoleum. The wood beneath her feet has gone a kind of black, dirt worn into the grooves of the wood. So well worn, there is a dip there, in the floor, like the hollow in a well-loved armchair.
She fixes her hair; she unties it and reties it in its usual tall ponytail. She holds the bobby pins in her mouth as she pins up the stray wisps. She smoothes out her dress which is the same one as yesterday. It is all the same as yesterday.
“Go away.” comes a voice. It is the child’s voice. The corridor is empty.
Joan is deaf. But she says, as she is prone to, as she is accustomed to;
“I shouldn’t be able to smell you.”
Today the sun is not as bright as yesterday. It has a mellowed feel, as though the rain left a murmur, a thin veil, a white wash, in the air. So there is a point of difference, from yesterday.
The day ends as it did before. Joan says, for the second time, “I shouldn’t be able to smell you.”
Then the sun begins to sink and the wall is striped with pink on yellow. Joan leaves.
When the moon rises, the child is sitting in the corridor. This time, her back is to the windows, and she is further away from the door; she is nearer the money tree. She has smoothed her hair, but the moonlight still refracts on the frizz around her head. It looks like a halo, white alight.
She looks glum tonight. She has a pout which is at once pathetic and endearing. Though Joan has gone and there is no one to endear. She takes a small book out of her pocket. She reads. It does not rain tonight and so the door remains open. There is a slight breeze which ruffles the pages and ruffles her hair. It tickles her neck.
In the far distance, is the sea, mellow and lonely. At times, the slow roll of waves can be heard. A muffled, shuffled sound, as if a mouse carries the sound on its back all the way to the house on the hill.
In the morning, the girl is gone. As is usual, Joan arrives at noon. The long yellow corridor is as it should be; only, the girl has left the book behind. Its covers are well worn, they gape, and the yellowing inners spill out. The book has a black cover. It looks like a dirty blotch on the speckled linoleum.
Joan sees it. It flusters her and she does not fix her hair, or smooth out her dress, or even put her books on the floor. Her feet find their natural groove without intent or decision. She is still and stares open mouthed at the book. She says
“I should be able to smell you.” But she cannot. There is just a book, with its faint aging smell, which cannot be reached.