by Claire Fitzpatrick
The wallpaper was the colour of filth, of excrement, of something unclean. Despite its inanimateness, it seemed to leap out from the wall, its invisible arms outstretched, fingers uncurled. Once, it was probably an airy and welcoming room. It might have been a nursery. It might have been an office. But the colour had filled the room with an air of ugliness that could not be mollified by the addition of bedside table flowers or lilac curtains.
“It’s revolting.” Amy stood in the hallway, leaning against the wall. “Who on earth wallpapers an entire room? Including the ceiling? And look at that.”
She pointed at the place where the window should be. Beyond the wallpaper was a lovely view of the back yard, where Amy was planning to build her garden. In the centre would be a small pond with water lilies and koi carp and a little wooden bridge where a child might crawl across. There’d be clusters of defiant daffodils and a small section for herbs she’d attend to every day. Amy tiredly rubbed her eyes. All she could see was wallpaper.
“Seems perfectly ordinary to me,” Charlie replied. “Ugly, yes. Excessive, of course. But ordinary.”
Amy wrinkled her nose. “Ugly is too tame a word. This is uncomfortable. I’m going back to the garden. It needs so much work. It’s full of oleanders. They’re poisonous, did you know?”
“No. Funny how so many simple things can kill you. Ugliness, however, is often overlooked.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s how my mother died. Ugliness,” Charlie replied simply. “You rot from the inside.”
Amy raised a dubious brow. She stared at the light from the window as it shone directly into the corner of the room, landing upon a darkened patch on the floor, where the colour seemed to percolate through the wallpaper and into the air. Amy outstretched her hand, yet it faded through her fingers.
“Right, well I’m going to die staring at this hideous thing if you don’t get rid of it. Do you want to get started? I want this house finished!”
“Passion takes patience, Amy.”
Amy leaned against the doorframe and looked up at the ceiling, following the pattern of the wallpaper down to the section where the window was. It, too, was covered in wallpaper, and if she hadn’t already seen it from the outside, she doubted he would have realised it was there at all. She closed her eyes and imagined the room as she wanted it – bright, airy, with a bassinet in the corner – yet the colour of the wallpaper drifted into her thoughts, wrapping itself around her imagined infant, snaking its way down the baby’s throat, turning the baby inside out, its flesh the colour of wallpaper, oozing out of the baby’s empty eye sockets like paint.
“Amy. What’s wrong?”
Amy looked up. Charlie stood over her; his brow furrowed in concern. He pulled her to her feet and rubbed her shoulders.
“You fell over.”
Amy looked around the room, pausing as her eyes settled on a section where air bubbles had collected underneath the wallpaper. A part of her wanted to smooth them out, yet the thought of touching the lurid colour made her suddenly lethargic. She thought of how nice it would be to simply lay down and close her eyes, how nice it would be to float aimlessly within a pool of her own calm thoughts, the warmth of the sun wrapped around her, holding her tight as she drifted off to sleep.
She followed the line of air bubbles and for a moment she was within them, staring at herself from within the wall, lungs gulping what little air that remained. For a moment, she was inside the wallpaper, within its physiology, within its lines and proportions that connected the patterns, within all the hues that made up the unnameable colour it had become, so vulgar and obscene; it stirred a dormant sense of anger within her, a sense of retribution that had before been unmalleable but was now ready to be confronted. The first miscarriage hadn’t been as terrible as she’d thought it would be. But the second and the third were monstrous. She had been alright. Everything had gone back to normal. But now she could not help feeling distant from Charlie, so utterly desperate and alone.
Amy turned away from Charlie and stepped inside the room.
“I’m tired. I think I need to lay down.”
Charlie frowned. “I’ll drive you back to the house.”
“No, I’ll stay here, in this room.”
“On the floor? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I need to stay in this room!” she snapped.
Charlie raised his hands in defence. “Alright! No need to get snippy. I’ll get you a blanket. I think there’s one in the car.”
Amy stared at the wallpaper. A small slither now appeared iridescent. She moved closer towards it and outstretched her hand, noticing the curvilinear pattern underneath that appeared both multi-dimensional and flat. She imagined if the wall was a door, she could step through it and find herself in a distant world, or if it were a window she could reach through and pluck something from a distant place, but the thought of doing so gripped her so tightly she found she could not move at all. A resurgence of regret and reticent feelings rose from within her and poured into the wallpaper, soaking it with every feeling, every sense, every thought she had ever had. Though her hand did not physically touch the wallpaper, she felt it against her skin, snaking around her wrist and up her arm, pressing itself within her, filling her with its grotesque patterns and abhorrent colour. Amy stumbled backwards, feeling the transfer so violently she felt physically struck.
“Here you go.”
Charlie appeared at the doorway, holding out the blanket.
“What’s that for?” Amy asked. “Let’s go into the garden. Oleanders are so beautiful, don’t you think? Let’s see what they smell like. I expect they’re bittersweet.”
About the Author:
Claire Fitzpatrick is an award-winning author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. She won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. Called ‘Australia’s Queen Of Body Horror’ and ‘Australia’s Body Horror Specialist,’ she enjoys writing about anatomy and the darker side of humanity. Her debut collection ‘Metamorphosis,’ hailed as ‘simply heroic,’ is out now from IFWG Publishing. Visit her at www.clairefitzpatrick.net/.