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A short story by Senne Adam
The presence of light has a reassuring effect on people. Only when there is light can we find what we’re looking for, whether it be an object we have lost, a road we have to follow, or answers to questions we ask ourselves. It is no coincidence that we talk about a light bulb going on in somebody’s head when they gain sudden insight about something. Conversely, we say that we are in the dark when we are unaware of something that other people know about. If somebody is in mourning or depressed, we say that they are going through a dark time, and when a terrible event takes place we refer to it as a dark day in our history. So we associate darkness with despair, while light gives us hope. Well, Romane was surrounded by light and yet she felt more desperate than ever. Not more than twelve square metres, that was the size of the room where she was held captive by who knows who. The white lamp above her never went out. Never. It was maddening. That’s why she barely slept and never knew whether it was day or night. One of the only few clues she had in order to somewhat be able to tell the time were the flavourless meals she was given by her captors through a small door hatch three times a day. Those three times of day were the only moments the young woman got a glimpse of other people, as she was allowed no other human contact. All day long she was left alone with her thoughts and although the light was always on, she was constantly in the dark about basically everything. The whole time she couldn’t help but look for answers to all the questions she had: why was she being held captive? Who were the people that locked her up? How could she escape? Where was her husband? And more importantly: where was her baby? If only she could remember how she’d got there. And why couldn’t she remember anything? Did her captors drug her when they took her, causing her to lose consciousness while being kidnapped? And did they do the same to her husband and her child? Were they stuck in that place as well? Or were they free and at home, wondering why Romane had left them all of a sudden? The young mother was suddenly overwhelmed by an intense feeling of guilt. While she was stuck there doing nothing, her family were left behind with sorrow and questions. Meanwhile she was just twiddling her thumbs all day! How could anyone be so selfish? Romane covered her face with her hands, sobbing. She did not just feel guilty, but was also being tormented by feelings of shame, disgust, misery, disbelief and powerlessness. The harder she tried to find answers, the more defeated she felt when she failed to find any. The mental pain she suffered was pure torture, far worse than any pain she had ever experienced in her entire life. Her suffering was indescribable and unbearable. The never-ending doubt, the self-hatred, the incredib…
‘Stop!’ Romane screamed out of the blue, ‘Bloody hell, just stop already!’
She used the backside of her hand to wipe her tears and yelled towards the ceiling: ‘Why are you doing this to me? Are you enjoying yourself? Do you like torturing people by using their own emotions against them? Do you enjoy playing God, is that it? Answer me, you coward!’
Romane kept staring at the ceiling, waiting for an answer, which she didn’t receive. The room remained dead silent.
‘Oh yeah, sure,’ the young woman sneered, ‘just portray me as another hysterical woman that can’t tell reality from fantasy. You’re honestly such a cliché, mate! Just bloody say something! Tell me why you’ve put me in this situation, what I’m doing here, how I get out of here, where my husband and child are!’
Despite Romane’s aggressive pleas, an unnerving silence filled the room. She sighed.
‘You’re really not going to tell me anything, huh? Should I just stay here and sit on my arse doing nothing, never knowing what the hell is going on? I’m sure your readers will love that! Why don’t you write some more about the dualism of light and darkness. It’s not like hundreds of other writers have done so already. Another cliché. You’re not just a sexist and a sadist, but on top of that you’re also an embarrassingly talentless author. You can’t even get this story going. I mean, what have you accomplished so far besides tormenting me for no apparent reason?’
Not long after Romane had spoken those last words, she heard somebody unlock the door of her room. Fear overwhelmed her. She had never seen that door open before. Did it mean that at last something good was about to happen? That her release was near? Or should she expect even more misery? The young woman stood up straight and tried to prepare for whatever it was that damn writer had in store for her this time. Once the door was open, Romane saw a corpulent woman clothed in blue standing in the doorway, giving Romane a stern look.
‘De Sutter,’ the unknown woman said, ‘come with me.’
Shit, Romane thought, how did she know her surname? What else did that woman know about her? And where did she want to take her? Determined, Romane stood firm and ignored the stranger’s instructions.
‘Where is my baby?’ Romane asked seemingly calm and collected.
The unknown woman let out an exasperated smile and rolled her eyes.
‘Yeah, we’re not playing that game again,’ she answered impatiently, ‘Come with me, somebody’s waiting for you.’
What did she mean ‘again’? What in heaven’s name was that woman talking about? Romane had never seen her before.
‘Who?’ Romane replied, which was met with an indifferent yet questioning look from the stranger in blue. ‘Who’s waiting for me?’ Romane clarified the question.
‘Look, it’s really simple,’ was the stranger’s answer, ‘I can either lock this door again and you’ll stay here, or you shut up, come with me and then you’ll find out for yourself who wants to talk to you. Your choice.’
Was this some kind of trap from the writer? Was he planning on making Romane endure yet another ordeal if she decided to go with the stranger? But then again, she might never get another chance to possibly reunite with her family if she stayed in her room forever. The woman in blue had clearly lost her patience and walked out the room in order to lock the door behind her.
‘Wait!’ Romane shouted while the door was still ajar, ‘Fine, I’ll come with you.’
The unknown woman scoffed, opened the door and gestured for Romane to come out.
‘You walk in front of me the whole time and don’t say a word. Got it?’ the stranger said, ‘Every time you open that mouth of yours my will to live slowly fades away.’
Insulted, Romane agreed to what was asked of her. When she looked around her, she saw about twenty other doors in the corridor that looked exactly like hers. How many other people were locked up in there just like her? The thought was utterly sickening. As Romane walked through the bleak corridors with the woman in blue behind her, she kept wondering who could possibly be waiting for her. Did the writer genuinely find joy in keeping her ignorant? He was even more fucked up than his story. Not to mention his readers. Who the hell would want to read a story about a person undergoing such psychological torture? Did they somehow want to feel better about themselves knowing they did not have to go through that same shit? What kind of sick fuck would think that way? Just unbelievable. The woman in blue ordered Romane to stop walking when they had arrived at a wooden door.
‘I’m going to open this door and you’ll come in only after I’ve told you to,’ she said in her usual stern tone, ‘Understood?’
Romane nodded and stepped aside so that the unknown woman could pass through.
The latter opened the wooden door and spoke: ‘Mr Adam, your wife is here.’
After hearing those words, Romane rushed into the room with her eyes wide open. There she saw that it was indeed her husband waiting for her sitting at a table.
‘Senne!’ Romane cried out with happiness as she ran towards her spouse as to embrace him.
However, she was stopped by the unknown woman, who snarled and told her to sit down. Romane took a seat opposite her husband, who she hoped could explain what the hell was going on.
‘Senne, I don’t understand what’s happening right now,’ she said as she vainly attempted to remain calm, ‘They’re keeping me here and I don’t know why. I don’t even know how I ended up here. I just remember giving little Silas a bath and then I suddenly woke up on a concrete floor. Everything in between is just a big blur.’
Senne’s look became increasingly more painful as Romane kept talking, which of course did not go unnoticed.
‘Honey, are you okay?’ Romane asked, ‘Oh no, they locked you up too, didn’t they? Did they hurt you? And where’s Silas? Is our little baby alright?’
Senne did not say a word and seemed to avoid eye contact with his wife.
‘Please say something, darling,’ Romane whispered in despair.
Senne let out a deep sigh and softly explained the situation to his wife: ‘You’ve been in solitary for a few days, Romane. You left the guards no choice after you kept confusing other inmates with those strange conspiracy theories of yours about a writer you claim controls everyone and everything we know. You wouldn’t stop, so the only solution they could come up with was solitary confinement.’
Romane had to let everything she had just heard sink in for a moment.
‘A-am I in prison?’ she stuttered, confused.
Her husband pointed at the woman who had taken her out of her cell and answered: ‘How can you look at that woman and the clothes she’s wearing, and not see right away that she’s a prison guard? I got a phone call from her and her colleagues because apparently you’ve been suffering from extreme memory loss and they thought seeing me might help you with that. After all, you haven’t seen me since your incarceration. I didn’t want to come at first, but then I realised I could personally confront you with this.’
Senne took a bunch of papers and a pen out of his backpack and slid them across the table towards Romane.
‘Why haven’t you signed these, Romane? You know we can’t stay married after what happened. Please let’s not take this to court.’
In shock, Romane took the divorce papers into her hands and tried to understand the situation. Her voice trembled with emotion.
‘B-but how can I be in prison? Why? And I don’t want a divorce. Why do you want a divorce? We’re happy together. We can’t let Silas grow up with divorced parents. He’s only three weeks old!’
‘Silas is the whole damn reason I can’t be with you!’ Senne snarled, ‘I can barely even look at you! And don’t you dare say his name again! Don’t you fucking dare!’
Senne’s voice showed signs of profound sorrow and raging anger at the same time. Romane did not know how to get the situation under control. She tried to let it all sink in, but how could she? After days of knowing next to nothing at all, she had just found out that she was a prisoner and that her husband wanted to divorce her, and she didn’t even know why these things were happening to her. Well, she did know why, because there was that writer who basically determined her whole life. He decided everything that happened, how much Romane was allowed to know about anything and what the people around her were allowed to believe. If only she could find a way to make others realise that they lived inside the mind of a psychopathic ego tripper with a God complex. Romane didn’t know how to convince people of her truth, but she also realised that not trying wouldn’t get her anywhere either.
‘Senne, I know it sounds insane, but you just have to believe me for one second. Whatever it is you think I’ve done, it’s not true. There’s a writer who’s making you think that I…’
‘Really? That bloody writer again?’ Senne yelled as he interrupted her, ‘I know your little story by now, you know? You believe we’re all fictional characters made up by some mental writer who’s pulling the strings and makes us do, see and think things we don’t want to. And for some you are the only person who knows she’s a fictional character, and everyone else is living this fantasy that this is actually the real world. I mean, do you even hear the words that are coming out of your mouth?’
‘Senne, please, I know this is n…’
‘I guess that makes it all easier for you, doesn’t it?’ he said as he interrupted his spouse again, ‘It’s easy to just put the blame on somebody else. But It’s also pathetic. Especially in your case.’
Romane looked at her husband with sad and questioning eyes.
‘Explain it to me then,’ she replied softly, ‘Tell me why you think I deserve to be in here, why you’ve never come visit me until now and why you want to divorce me.’
‘Are you serious?’ Senne scoffed, ‘You really want me to go through all of it again?’
Romane didn’t answer and just looked at her husband. The latter clenched his jaw in exasperation before finally enlightening her.
‘The last day you remember, when you were giving Silas a bath, was I with you?’
Romane thought for a second and then shook her head.
‘That’s right,’ Senne confirmed, ‘But I should’ve been. I should’ve been there for you more often. And I wanted to, but in Belgium a father gets only ten free days after the birth of his child, so it’s not like I had much of a choice. And yet … We both knew very well that you were mentally unstable after Silas was born. You hadn’t laughed once, not genuinely at least. You were short-tempered and only interacted with Silas when you really had to. I begged you to go find a therapist, but you wouldn’t. And so you only became more depressed. Every time you were woken up by Silas crying, every nappy you had to change every two hours, every time he was hungry … it took a huge toll on you. That one afternoon when you were bathing Silas, he started to cry again. You couldn’t bear it any longer, you said, so to make him stop, you pushed my baby’s little head under the water.’
‘N-n-no,’ Romane stuttered in disbelief, ‘No no no, that’s not true! It can’t be! I didn’t do that!’
‘You held him under the water until he stopped moving, Romane,’ Senne contradicted her, ‘I came home to you watching the telly, while …’
Senne paused for a moment before he finished his sentence with a trembling voice and with tears in his eyes: ‘While Silas lay dead in the bathroom.’
‘No, that’s not true!’ Romane cried, ‘That’s not what happened! I didn’t do that!’
‘You know what, Romane, I might’ve been able to forgive you someday if you had admitted your guilt and if you had shown genuine remorse, but up to this day you refuse to do so and keep blaming that bloody writer for what you’ve done.’
Romane avoided eye contact with her husband and just sat there, quietly sobbing, while she tried to process everything she had just heard.
Senne, furious at her lack of response, bellowed: ‘There is no writer, Romane! Why won’t you realise that? My child is dead and you are to blame for that! You alone and nobody else!’
‘Alright, I think it’s time she went back to her cell,’ the guard intervened before the situation escalated even more.
Senne pointed at the divorce papers again while a defeated Romane stood up to return to solitary.
‘You’d better sign these before the end of the week,’ he told her coldly while wiping the tears from his cheeks.
The guard took the papers instead of Romane and assured him that she would discuss it with her once she was stable. Compliant and shocked by what had just gone down, Romane walked through the bleak corridors with the guard behind her, back to her cell. There she lay down on the concrete floor and stared at the light that had tormented her so much the past few days. She wished that that stupid lamp could be her biggest concern again. She had been so desperate to find out where she was and why she was there, but now that she knew all of that she felt even more miserable than before. She was bound to rot in prison for years, her marriage was broken, everybody thought she was mental, her child was dead and the worst thing about it was that she was responsible. Romane thought it would make sense for her to feel a whole range of emotions at once: sadness, fear, disbelief, anger, self-hatred, disgust. But she felt nothing. She would find it normal for her to hysterically start crying, screaming and possibly even laughing at the same time. But she did nothing. She just stared at the light above her that was always on.
‘Well played, writer,’ she spoke monotonously, ‘I hope you’re satisfied.’
And then the light went out.