Whoever decided that cleaning was therapeutic was a liar, and nothing could convince Roslyn to think otherwise. At best, it was a mild form of torture. For the last few years, she had promised her mother that she would clean her room, donate some of her clothes, and file away her paperwork, and for the past few years, she simply could not find the time. Not that she did not tidy up here and there, because she did, she just simply hadn’t done a deep cleaning in a long while even though her mother reminded her about it often. Although if she were honest, she had also been pushing it down on her to-do list whenever she could; trade her free time for sleep. However, since the new year rolled around, she decided to bite the bullet and clean her room. This was how she found herself sitting on the floor of her bedroom, elbow-deep in a stack of geography papers, cursing herself for keeping such detailed notes.
At least the air conditioning unit was working today, she thought to herself. Breathing in a sigh, she scooped up another heap of books into her lap, scanning through them with a groan. She had been at it since dawn, and still, it seemed as though she was no closer to completing her longstanding New Year’s resolution of cleaning her room. After filing and shredding the last of her secondary school papers, Roslyn moved to the bookshelf. Emptying the books onto her bed, she methodically dusted and separated them into piles. This was where she stumbled upon twenty long-forgotten leather-bound books, each of them weather-beaten and soft to the touch. Cracking one open, she was met with a flurry of loose papers. Strange, she didn’t remember keeping things in her sketchbooks. Stooping to pick up the papers she saw that they were old cards and envelopes. Not bothering to read the envelopes, she popped one open and began skimming.
Roslyn had to bite back tears. It was from her seventh birthday, from a girl who used to be her friend, used to be until she decided she didn’t want to be friends with someone as dull as her. Pursing her lips, she shoved the card back into its envelope and placed it in the shredder. The mechanical whirling did little to block out the shame that churned within her. She wished she could have been normal. Maybe if she had wanted the same things as them, they would still be friends today, but Roslyn never had the same passion for sports and theatre, could never force herself to be the centre of attention the way the other children did. Breathing hard, she forced herself to read the rest of the pile, filing away the ones from Boris and her family into a plastic box, and shredding the rest.
Wiping away a stay tear she knew that the irony wasn’t lost on her, back then she was so starved for love, she wanted it more than anything in the world, but the idea of being full after years of aching for it felt so much worse than the affliction of isolation.
Once the cards had been shredded, she moved back to the books, putting the one’s she read in a plastic bag to donate. With a full bag, she had a mostly clear bookshelf, but there was still one last collection to be dealt with; and the box set of The Forsaken Son, an old fantasy series she had read with her grandfather when she was ten. As a child she was never really allowed to do much, she could not go to sleepovers, go out with her friends to the movies, or even have birthday parties, but her one saving grace was books, she was allowed to read anything and everything she wanted. Clutching the box set to her chest, she swallowed tears. It was ridiculous, but since he had died a couple years ago, she couldn’t even look at the books, rereading them was out of the question.
Closing her eyes and taking in a few deep breaths, she felt the air fill her lungs, the rise and fall of her chest. She despised cleaning. She had survived every bad day before, she’d survive this one. She would make it through this, she would go through all of her things, walk down memory lane and shove nostalgia off a cliff. This was no task for her bleeding heart. Opening her eyes, she ignored the tightness in her chest and glanced up to see the ripple of heat outside the window, pausing to look at the cloudless blue sky. She didn’t need to go down that road today, because nostalgia was nothing but a dirty liar, insisting that the past was full of love and laughter when it was only ever heartache. Shaking her head, she put the box set in the plastic bag and focused on the bright blinding rays that reflected off the bone-coloured ceramic floor and onto the pale-yellow walls bathing the room in citrine light.
As the time ticked on the piles began to shrink, and the bags multiplied. Looking around the room, she saw that most of the work had been done except for her trunk. Clambering to pull herself up from the floor, she found that her stiff legs ached with the effort to stand. She hadn’t realized that she’d been sitting for hours until the floor had lurched up from under her and the walls spun a bit. Steadying herself, she made her way to the trunk in the corner of the room. Throwing open the heavy trunk Roslyn noted the setting sun outside her window and went to turn on the lights, it wouldn’t be long until the night swallowed the valley whole.
Lowering herself to the floor, she saw the flash of caller ID and heard the faint rumble of the vibration of the phone against her desk. Peering at it she caught a glimpse of the picture that popped up, Bianca. Ignoring the rattle of plastic against wood she started humming to herself as she leaned over to gently turning the dial of the old stereo clockwise, the sound of a vintage pop song pulsed through the air. Stealing a glance at her desk, she saw another face flash into existence, Li. Regretting not chucking her phone in a draw like she had planned, she instead swayed to the music, blissfully ignoring her phone. Her friends could wait. Her family could wait. Her boyfriend could wait. The gods' damned world could wait for all she cared, Roslyn had been avoiding this reckoning for years, it was time to put her demons to rest.
Inside the weathered, used trunk lay a handful of dolls. Kneeling before the trunk she pulled out a plastic bag full of dolls, gingerly putting them inside with shaking hands, it had to be done. She was way past the age of needing dolls, keeping them was ridiculous, even if they reminded her happiness, of a time where she felt less alone even when she was by herself. Sucking in a shuttering breath she tied off the bag and scribbled donate on the front, it was time that they brought someone else joy. She could feel her whole body vibrate and trembled from the lighting that threatened to break free from her bones. She had spent years blocking out her past, and yet― and yet at this moment, it all came rushing back. If only she could go back to tell her younger self that there was an end to the darkness and grief, that life could also be full of joy.
Between the surprise stack of birthday cards that ambushed her at the back of her now empty bookshelves, and the yearbooks she had unearthed from them she glad that she was almost done, all she had left to do was sweep and mop the floor. Armed with a broom and dustpan Roslyn swept the tiled room. Lugging the bucket of water up and down the staircase back and forth, she mopped the floor until it was shining, but at the end of it all, she had done it. Standing in the middle of her room she marvelled at her handwork, for in a mere handful of hours she had filled one bag of books, four bags of clothes, three bags of old dolls and toys, and lastly six bags of shredded paper.
She’s done it. Oh, gods, she had done it, and something like sickly joy filled her. Cold and undulating, she fought not to rip open some of the bags and pack back her beloved belongs. Damn the people who called her a packrat, and a hoarder. They would never know that there were still days where the silence of her childhood was so deafening, that sometimes the phantom memory of the stillness came back to break her. Sometimes it shoved her over the edge, and all she wanted to do was disappear. Sometimes, the memory of her loneliness came back so strong that she spent nights baptizing herself in her own tears, her bed turned into a coffin.
Hot tears spilt down her cheeks, what had she done? Placing a hand over her mouth, muffling her aching sobs, as she reached out a hand to open up one of the bags she flinched when she heard a knock at the door and then the click of her doorknob.
“Good night miss,” a voice sounded from the threshold. Jumping out of her skin, she turned to face the voice and saw that it was no other than William. "I am performing a wellness check. Would you happen to know where Roslyn is?”
“How long have you been there,” she asked, her voice breaking slightly at the sight of him, spinning back around to flick off the radio. She had forgotten she had given him a spare key to the house.
He leaned against the doorway, dressed in his usual black suit, arms crossed over his chest, a smirk gracing his lips. “Not too long, but long enough to know that you’ve been singing Broadway musicals to yourself. Which means that something off.” Closing the door behind him, kicking his shoes off by the door and taking his usual seat at the desk.
Sitting on the bed, Roslyn hoped that he didn’t see her red-rimmed eyes or tear-stained cheeks. "How do you do that? Are you a mind reader, or am I just that easy to read?"
Shrugging his suit jacket off he draped it over the back of the chair before he braced his elbows on his knees, pulled out his phone and started texting someone, probably Li. “I just know you, that’s all.” His eyes flicked to hers.
Fiddling with the sheets, she kept her gaze fixed on the wall behind him. “What are you doing here?”
“You haven’t answered anyone’s phone calls all day,” he said, smiling back up at her, the hint of mischief in his eyes. Placing his phone next to her’s, he continued, “Calliope called me and said you went missing, Belle is out looking for you, and I was about to put out an APB on you so be happy it’s me.”
Choking on a laugh, she pressed her hand to her mouth, the faintest glimmer of a smile fighting its way to the surface. “Oh… really?”
It was then William began to look around the room, surveying the now filled garbage bags, freshly mopped floors, cleaned bookshelves, and organized vanity. Running a finger along with the polished wooden desk he raised an eyebrow, the scent of disinfectant still lingered in the room. “How long have you been here?”
Dodging his gaze, Roslyn studied the vanity before mumbling, “Dawn.”
William almost sprang up from his seat at the desk, “You’ve been home all day! All-day and you didn't tell anyone?"
“I left Boris a text,” she explained, twisting the bedsheets beneath her fingertips, still avoiding his face.
"Not, Li?" The corners of his mouth fell, and she could tell that he was beginning to see the cracks in her mask.
“No,” she confessed, biting the inside of her cheek, “I umm… I wanted some space.”
Standing from the chair, William began to pace the length of the room, rolling up the white cotton of his shirt up to his forearms and above his elbows. After a few minutes, he stopped to stand at the bottom of the bed. “So, what’s the damage?”
“What?” Her eyes snapped to his, and everything in her wished that he would leave right there and then. William had always been more than a friend, closer than family, he was, for the most part, her confidant, and if it were any other night, she would have told him, but that night she really did not want to break down in front of him.
“You hate cleaning, and here you are,” he gestured to the spotless room, “so what’s going on, why are there garbage bags full of old toys, books, and clothes?” Easing himself on to the bed, he reached his hand out to her’s, holding her cold fingers in his, he turned her face to his. She could see the pleading in his eyes, he would not beg or force her to talk, but he wouldn’t leave until she did. He would sit outside her room and wait till I was ready. “What’s wrong?”
Sucking in a few shaky breaths, she cursed the tears that fell down her cheeks, damn it. She thought she could do it, tell him that she was fine, laugh and send him away, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t do it and look at William's face, she felt some distant part of her crumble as she told him everything.
For the first time in forever, she bore her bleeding heart to someone. Never before had she told anyone about her grief or the sorrow that she carried with her. She showed him all her broken dreams, and he didn’t run. Instead, he stayed and held her gaze, asked her what it felt like to be made of fire? She told him it felt like divine irreverence. So she lay there and wept some more, because even after she had shown him all her shattered pieces, he still held them, in his hands like they are made of gold as if they were sacred as if she was worth something.
Sitting shoulder to shoulder, she had cried there for hours until her voice had become hoarse and raw from the screams that had built to a fever pitch in her throat. There were so many unearthed skeletons in the graveyard of her mind that it has become a sprawling necropolis. A place where her greatest shame and smallest pride walk side by side, ruined dreams and crumpled childhood memories alike, for they were the first to die, the first to be killed by her own hands.
“Would you do it all over again?” William hadn’t spoken the entire time, and now in the silence, she wondered how he had done it. How could he watch her fall apart because if she was honest, she would leave herself if she could. Climb out of this body, this existence, and run.
“No… never. I don't want a do-over, because I know it wouldn't change anything, I was so,” she paused, lingering on the next word as she curled herself into his arm. She remembered how lonesome she had been, so starved for love, yet so afraid of attention, “I was so different.” She wished she knew what it was like to normal, to be able to move on without it being so hard. She wanted so much more for herself- so much more. “I guess what I am saying is that I just wanted a different childhood,” she murmured into his shoulder, “ridiculous I know”. Long heartbeats passed in the starless night, she and William sat there unmoving until in the dim light of her room.
“You shouldn't do that, you know.” She looked up at him and saw the muscle in his jaw feather. “Don’t diminish your pain. Just because time has passed doesn’t mean it lessens the hurt. We all have our damage, our baggage which we just can’t put down, and this,” he motioned to the bags, “this right here, this trying to move on, this is brave.” She could feel her eyes growing wide at that last line, brave. Never in a million years could she ever call herself brave. “Change is the only constant there is, and yes, it's scary and terrifying, but you did it anyway. This, you trying to be better is brave, today you were brave, don’t take that away from yourself.”
She wanted to protest, but all the fight had been taken out of her, and something in William saw it; saw the missing light in her eyes even though she was still alive. It was over, she had done it. She had cleaned her room, packed up some of her clothes, her favourite toys and books, said goodbye to her childhood. Finally completing her longstanding New Year’s resolution to move on, the thought made the corner of her lips turn up, she did it.
Jumping off the bed, William grabbed their phones in one hand and Roslyn in the other. “Now come on, it's late, I am hungry, and you haven’t eaten all day.” Dragging her through the door, she saw that he was taking her to the kitchen, “I’ve brought some lasagna, I’ll give you half if you let me help you with those bags later.”
“Okay,” she smiled, walking down the steps alongside him, back to the light, where nothing but their laughter and a soft smattering of rain against the windows could be heard. Today she had dug up her skeletons and put them to rest, and while she might still grieve, she felt strangely buoyant, almost weightless.