The Many and Varied Rooms of Our Childhood
The Many and Varied Rooms of Our Childhood
When Andy was little, his father built a screening room in the family’s basement. The house was furnished with a small stage recessed in the wall at the far end of the cellar. He painted the backdrop white. At the other end of the room, his father cut two square holes in the wall. Behind the wall, he mounted a super-16 mm and 35 mm projectors on a stand he fastened with brackets below the opening.
His father, an avid movie fan since childhood, had been collecting film reels since he got his first job at the ice house on the Essex River. On Saturday afternoons he took the train to Salem, the witch city, where a man rented animated and short subject films for $2 a day. At night he would project the films on the side of his neighbor’s house. The neighborhood kids shelled out a nickel to sit on the lawn and watch the movie.
After Andy and Petra opened the red door, Andy lost his breath. A vice was placed inside his chest and the crank was turning. Each time he gasped for air, the world thinned-out like the horizon’s plane running until it vanished into the impossibly blue sky. His head felt emptied out. A humming picked up behind his eyes. He sucked at the vanishing air and listened to the hollow whistling when the frail stream whisked down his throat. The breath seemed to dissipate before it reached his lungs. His eyes began to vibrate in the sockets. When he pinched them shut he could see bands of light encroaching from the edges. He could feel his eyelids like crackling paper.
“What’s wrong?” Petra pleaded.
His lips were turning blue. The more he struggled to breathe it sounded as though he was working a broken vacuum cleaner. She didn’t know what to do so she rested her hand between his shoulder blades. She thought about the lessons she learned in babysitting class when a child was choking how she was supposed to pound the child’s back with the heel of her hand. But he wasn’t choking. That much she could tell. There was nothing he could have choked on. There was nothing he could have put in his mouth.
Andy bent down until he was grasping his knees. His gasps sounded like a campfire sparking to life. He bent over gasping for air. Petra knelt on the dirty floor so she could get into a position where she could make out Andy’s face. She wanted to touch his trembling lips. She wanted to cradle his face between the palms of her hands. She wanted to pull him close to her body and protect him from himself. Comfort him against the anxiety that brewed inside his brain and took control of his senses from the inside out.
Andy wanted to run. He wanted to get up and move. He believed that motion could undo the tethered strands of his mind. He knew if he could just find the will to move he could outrun the gathering storm swirling inside his skull. But he couldn’t breathe enough to prop himself up. The lack of oxygen in his lungs seized up his body.
“Andy, you need to focus on your breathing,” Petra begged. “You’re having a panic attack. It used to happen to my mother. I’ve seen this before.”
“I....I...I...can’t…” Andy stammered.
“You need to find something to focus on,” she said. “My mother used to breathe into a paper bag. But we don’t have anything like that. Can you find one spot on the floor that you can focus on?”
“I’ve been here before,” he labored to get out.
When they arrived outside the castle earlier that night, Petra remembered distinctly how Andy told her he had never been here before. She remembered how he said his mother would take walks along the cliffs with her friends. He said he didn’t even know this place was here. His mother never mentioned it. He had never seen it. She didn’t understand what he was trying to tell her when he said he had been here before. She thought perhaps it was worse than just a panic attack. Was something happening to his memory? She knew at times during the night she couldn’t trust his perceptions. She understood that the fish he ate at the beach with her friend had altered the contours of his consciousness. The shape of his reality had shifted under the constraints of the psychedelic flesh of the creature. But what was happening to him now was different from the visions that seized upon him over the course of their night together in the castle.
“I grew up here…,” he said.
Petra took a step back. She reached out to put her hand on the threadbare sofa that stood behind to steady herself. Something about the look in his eye when he said that betrayed a level of truth. This statement didn’t seem born out of a hallucination. He believed what he was telling her. He somehow was convinced that he had lived in this place at some point in his life. Or, perhaps, this room. Maybe he was specifically talking about this room. She looked around herself. There was the tattered sofa her hand rested on. Two leather chairs stood at an angle pointing away from the sofa. Everything in the room was positioned in the direction of a recessed wall painted white. Red curtains were hanging at the edges of the white wall. There were no pictures on the walls around the room. Back when she looked behind her there were two square holes cut in the walls with panes of glass mounted in the space. She could barely make out the silver edges of a lens through the glass. The lenses were aimed at the square of white painted on the wall.
Had they wandered into some kind of screening room? Suddenly, it occured to Petra that this could be the room where the movie they came here searching for was kept. Perhaps it was mounted in the projector. She could feel sweat bristle on the back of her neck.
She nearly forgot that Andy was still gasping at the air on his knees.
“What is this place?”
“This room was in my house when I was a child…”