WHAT HAPPENED AFTER
40 DAYS ON THE DESERT
by Laura Labno
Albert placed a glass of water on his bedside table, just right to a silver vase which - one must state it at the very beginning – was utterly ugly. Unfortunately, it was a gift which he received a few months ago, when he moved into this very apartment. Albert didn’t want to make this place look, or feel, too personal and for this reason he wasn’t too keen on decorating it. The vase however, although ugly, was unique, what constituted the reason for which he kept it. The truth was that Albert couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was exactly that was making the vase so special. He felt however, implicitly, that it was symbolising something profoundly important, even though unpleasant. Every time he looked at it, he felt repulsion and sadness but there was something important about those emotions.
After placing the glass at the bedside table, he began to look through it at the vase. He liked to do it thinking that the vase looked very interesting being distorted like that. In fact, it would look much better if it was distorted in such a way for real – he often thought. The vase was indeed making him feel a whole range of unpleasant emotions. Its’ shape was plain, rather boring, and so was the colour - terribly cold and unwelcoming. In fact, it was resembling Albert’s apartment quite well. It was white, modern-looking and minimalistic in the way he disliked the most. Yes, the vase was a perfect match. He could hide it, of course, and put it out only when his mum would come to visit him. She wasn’t coming to visit him often anyway since she’s gotten into painting again. Yes, he could hide the vase and not think about it until Christmas probably. He could also change his apartment into a more likable place – A part of him suggested, not for the first time.
It may be strange for some readers to find out that Albert had no intention, not even the slightest temptation, to do either of these things. He knew rather well why he didn’t want to do it, although he would never admit it out loud. He knew it implicitly, just like he knew the symbol of the vase. It didn’t matter very much, of course, whether he did or did not admit it aloud as long as he knew. Anyway – he thought - he wasn’t going to think about it now. He was going to go to sleep. The water was on the bedside table, as always, and he already looked through it at the vase, as always. It was his small ritual before going to sleep. He liked to do it for the reason which he knew about but would never admit out loud. This time however, something was wrong or, more precisely, different. He noticed it exactly when he made a move to switch off the light. His skinny hand stopped half-way through the way to the switch. Something was profoundly different. As mentioned already, there was an important reason for which Albert was doing the things he was doing. There was a reason for him keeping the vase and looking at it despite of its repulsiveness. The reason constituted a certain kind of goal and Albert realised that this very evening the goal remained unfulfilled. Was it possible?
The difference consisted of lack of those familiar emotions, which were in fact mentioned before. Where there used to be something this time there was nothing. His left eye twitched in an unexpected manner as he began to incorporate this fact into his awareness. It startled him how much difference could a little bit of nothingness make. He stubbornly looked at the vase for another 20 seconds, piercing it with his dull eyes. He was waiting for a familiar sensation to come but it didn’t come. He lifted himself up, what felt very strange because it was against the whole ritual which he was so devoted to since the day when he moved in. He hesitated for a few seconds not knowing what was best to do. Although he was confused, as well as worried, all of that seemed to be happening on a level which was strangely detached from the level of his emotions. He didn’t feel anything even though he knew he should have. He was strangely empty, and this emptiness was like nothing he felt since he moved in. Was it really emptiness?
He decided to walk around his apartment hoping that the coldness of this place would move something within him. He was hoping it would remind him of the reason for it all. Or more specifically, of the importance of the reason. He entered his living room – small, in shades of white and grey. He looked at an empty glass table standing right below a small window. Its top was round, see-through and there wasn’t much more one could say about it, what constituted the precise reason for which he bought it. He looked at it and felt just like before. How strange – He thought - Not even disturbing. He directed his sight to what he considered to be the saddest object in the whole apartment – a white bookcase from IKEA with no single book on it. It’s important to point out that Albert despised IKEA. In the past, he would never buy anything from a shop like that. He considered this type of furniture to be not merely depressingly soul-less, like his mum liked to say, but even worst – They were unsuccessfully trying to be soul-full. Normally, he would never choose a piece of furniture like that but in this case, with the reason and all, the bookcase matched the apartment gracefully and the emptiness of its’ shelves was perfectly eloquent.
Perhaps it is the right time to reveal Albert’s secret now. Partially at least, although for an attentive reader it may be quite enough. Let’s put it plainly - It was all about contrast. Alberts apartment was a masterpiece of contrast – That’s how he thought of it sometimes. Everything in it was aimed at contrasting everything from a place he used to know. It was about duality. He knew it but only implicitly and for this reason explicitly he could only suspect it. He allowed himself to suspect it only during his weakest moments – those were the moments, which he wholeheartedly despised, in which he would allow himself to speculate that perhaps he desperately wanted to create something what would constitute (qualitatively) the exact opposite of that place which he used to know. After all, duality was all about oneness, inseparableness of the opposites, marriage of Heaven and Hell. This line of reasoning could be argued to denote that all he did constituted an effort of remaining connected to that place in the most profound way possible – Through some sort of abstract marriage of the opposites.
Albert sat on the cold floor of his living room only to stand up immediately. He didn’t feel what he always felt and it wasn’t right. He felt deprived of something what was vital to his existence and although the feeling of depravation wasn’t pleasant it also wasn’t enough. He went back to his bedroom just to pick up a jacket which he put onto his sleeping outfit hastily and left his apartment. He knew where he was going before he really knew it– as it often happens. He was aiming to regain something. After all, making himself what he was constituted exactly what he did with his apartment. However, this evening, while all the work which he put into his apartment was as pridefully exposed as always, the masterpiece which he created within himself wasn’t. He could have of course just go to bed and hope that everything would be normal the next day – he thought as he was running down the stairs – But he intuitively felt that it wasn’t going to work that way.
He walked out onto the dark street and noticed that the moon was full and red. Red was a warm colour – He noted - there was too much warmness to this night. Warmth would melt the coldness and he would never regain it and then he would become disconnected from what he wanted to remain connected to – He was thinking in a frenzy. He got into his car and started the engine. The strangeness of his state was exciting him. He was unhappy about it and yet strangely hopeful. Perhaps he was a liar, simply. In all his duality preservation, in all his masterpiece creation perhaps all he really wanted was in fact that. Perhaps, all he was hoping for was an eventual disconnection from what he was convincing himself to be wanting to remain connected to? Otherwise, why would he suddenly feel excitement? Why would he be going there to check whether it was really the …?
His car smelled of chamomile and Albert was wondering whether it was real or merely imagined. Perhaps it was one of those synchronistic events which happened sometimes to predict the future – Perhaps it was a prophecy of what was about to come. He was still trying to talk himself into being unhappy about this possibility. After all, what about his masterpiece? What about all his effort? He’d rather smell something bitter – He thought stubbornly with an ambiguous smile brightening his face and his left eye twitching again. There was so much ambiguity in all this, but ambiguity was artful and he loved it at the bottom of his soul. It was a night of art, undeniably - he couldn’t stop himself from thinking. There was some particular valence to it, resembling some of his experiences with psilocybin. He drove into a familiar neighbourhood and parked a few houses away from the house he was intending to visit.
He got out of his car and looked at the familiar street filled with middle class houses, each with a unique front yard. There was something fascinating about the effort people liked to put into making their front yards look special. Humans love to project themselves onto everything around them – he contemplated. But it was so common, so unoriginal. He created something quite reverse. He created something external what was the opposite of himself and decided to project it onto himself. What a reversal! But perhaps that’s why it didn’t work in the longer term? Perhaps it was simply against human nature? His project was masochistic after all, one must note. Masochism has never been the most adaptive of attributes.
He approached the house number 40 feeling indeed that his 40 days on the desert were coming to an end. There were roses growing in the front yard, and a couple of garden gnomes, and fairy lights flashing in gold and blue. His eye was twitching, and his heart was beating in the rhythm of the lights flashing. And one must point out that it was warm in every sense of this word. He knocked and in every knock there were voices speaking of forgiveness, hurt, misjudgement and pride. A hazel-eyed girl opened the door. The floor inside of the house was made of cinnamon dark wood.
After that there were only words. Just like at every beginning.
BY LAURA LABNO
Laura Labno was born in Swietochlowice, Poland. She did her undergraduate degree at Bangor University in Wales, and currently she is doing her master’s at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland. Laura writes short stories and poems which revolve around the topics of spirituality, life meaning and existence. Her favourite writers include Rilke, Dostoyevsky and Bruno Szultz. In her free time Laura enjoys reading myths, painting and going for long walks in nature.