Thursday, 9 June 2011

Mould and Magnolia (Inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s "The Yellow Wallpaper")

August 18th 2009:

  It seems strange coming back to this dingy little flat after so many years, but our regular painting man is off sick with some mysterious flu.  George insists that we have to have the whole place re-painted by the beginning of September before the new tenants can move in. Apparently it is advisable to remove bloodstains from the wall before putting a residence back out on the market. I don’t know what on Earth George thinks I can contribute to this, but he doesn’t seem particularly interested in my pleas now that we’re facing financial troubles.

  I keep telling him, “I was a housewife with a cleaning maid, George. I haven’t lifted a finger in years.” Yet the boorish old cretin continues to force me in to painting the flipping place with him and his brother Ernie.

  Poor old flat. It was a rather strange case: Apparently the previous tenant of the attic room took it upon himself to ritually flail both his housemates to death, embalm their corpses, then perform an ancient Egyptian brain removing ceremony on his own skull with an electric whisk and a Stanley knife. Considering that the procedure is usually conducted after the victim has passed on, it’s really quite amazing that he got as far as he did. Such a pity that so much young blood was wasted on the white walls and such a shame that I’m having to miss Jeremy Kyle in order to cover it up and remove the blood soaked carpet.

  George has bought three large tubs of Magnolia paint. It seems far too much for such a small flat, but George tells me that it’s really very cheap and probably worth getting extra. Because it’s the smallest room, I’ve been given the attic room to do. It really is rather a mess. The ambulance men did the best they could but it’s still obvious where they’ve had to cut chunks from the mattress to remove the corpse. It’s such a pity that people have to kill others, themselves and ruin perfectly good upholstery and bedding in the process. Why didn’t the poor fellow just throw himself off Tower Bridge? Many perfectly respectable people have done themselves in that way.

  August 19th:

  There’s rather a lot of mould on the walls up here. Apparently the next tenants are foreign migrants, George says, so a decent coating of paint will mean we won’t have to re-render the outer wall till after they’ve left, provided it goes on thick enough. They know nothing of housekeeping matters, most of them. We can probably blame it all on whichever poor sod gets the room and on his collection of rotting old pizza boxes in one of the corners, should anything go awry.

  George has bought me one of those cheap B&Q rollers and a palette knife, he says they’ll do the job fine, but no matter how much paint I roll and slap on, it never seems to hide the mould quite enough. I blamed it on the George’s cheap roller but he, quite rightly, pointed out that it seemed to deal with the bloodstains easily enough. I remember from when Herbert was growing up that those were a real bother.

  Poor sickly, little Herbert: If he was alive today it would be him having to help his father paint this retched flat instead of me. I could be at home learning about the lives of the unemployed with my feet up and a large afternoon gin and tonic in my hand. But no matter. Given his tolerance levels of peanuts, furry animals, feathered animals, sugar, pollen, bacteria, cleaning products , vegetation, insect bites, dust, citrus fruits, vitamin B12, calcium, Ammonium sulphate,  zinc products and industrial sellotape, I usually take it as a quiet mercy that he died in that giant meat blender.

It’s a bit stuffy in here. I’ll open the skylight and hope a breeze will alleviate the closeness in the room.

August 22nd:

  I’ve painted this room twice now and I swear I can still see the mould coming through the paint. Despite the window being open all night the closeness of the room hasn’t departed either. But the bloodstains are completely gone though and the mattress has been replaced, so it almost looks like a room again. If only it weren’t for that mould. It’s a strange white colour that shows only slightly against the magnolia paint, but if one stares at it closely, one can start to see patterns emerging, like budding grasses after a storm. They wave at me it seems. I see fields of it stretching up the wall and into the distance – a perfect untouched meadow of tall beckoning wheat spanning for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see. No wait, there is a blemish. There’s a lump in the middle of the wall near the front. Now I wonder what it could be?


  Ernie went to get us takeaway late this evening. I’ve applied a third coat of paint to the attic room, but the mould seems unstoppable. George tells me I’m being paranoid and that there’s nothing there anymore, but I know he’s wrong. The grass is still waving, with the blemish in the centre and it’s become more pronounced. I can tell... it’s the figure of a man.

  Ernie came back without the takeaway and without the car. Apparently he crashed into a lamppost and they won’t be able to send a replacement until tomorrow. It looks like we’ll have to spend the night in this dingy little flat. Since the beds are all singles I decided I’d prefer to take the attic room by myself, rather than listen to Ernie or George’s ungodly snoring downstairs. With the light off and a full moon shining through the skylight I watch the mould as it ripples beneath the cheap paint. I see grasses undulate to an invisible breeze on the other side.

   Magical it looks: An enchanted land away from the cares and sorrows of the everyday world of Jeremy Kyle and tenants and flat painting. I observe the enchanted pastures and start to imagine I can see brightly coloured insects flitting between the grass blades. I return to the spot where I saw the man-shaped blemish. In this moonlight, all has become clear. This is no man. This is a boy. A poor sickly looking boy that I used to know, like only a mother could know. But this boy is not the same diseased little wretch that I nursed on the couch. This little boy is strong and healthy. He is smiling and beckoning to me.

  I get out of my bed and in my pink, silk pyjamas I reach out to him and try to touch his hand, but the wall is in the way. This blasted wall that I myself have painted three ruddy times in the last three ruddy days is keeping me from being with my son. His lips move, and if I stand very still I can hear his voice through the divide.

  ‘Come through Mamaa,’ he says. ‘Come through. It’s all so much better here.’
  ‘I can’t Herbert,’ I cry back. ‘I can’t get through the wall.’
  ‘Yes you can Mamaa,’ he moans softly. ‘But you must pay to cross over.’
  ‘Pay?’ I whisper.
  ‘Yes,’ he sighs, rather deliberately. ‘Pay... in blood.’
  Ah, I think to myself, suddenly all the gory back-story makes sense.
  ‘But Herbert,’ I say ‘I can’t do that.’
  ‘Yes you can Mamaa,’ he says. ‘You know just what to do. And bring Papaa and Uncle Ernie with you.’

  I can’t fault my boy’s logic. I know he knows that I know what I have to do. I’ve picked up the palette knife and I’m lowering the ladder down through the trap door. With any luck George and Ernie won’t hear me coming. I would just so hate to make them suffer.

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