This is another description exercise, along the lines of prose sestina but using different methods. I wanted to play around with showing versus non-showing, action versus stillness.
The bottom frame of the window sits level with the sidewalk outside. The window is unusually large for a basement apartment, and passers-by could easily look in if it weren’t for the lace curtains that Helen has hung up inside. She’s proud of those curtains; they were sewn from her wedding veil, but she did a good job when she made them over to fit in the window.
The door to the apartment is four concrete steps below the sidewalk. The door has some small panel windows in it, but they’re frosted and so otherwise unadorned.
The pine coat rack almost stands in the doorway. It supports Helen’s beige winter coat, her brown felt hat, and the old black umbrella that probably used to be Gene’s. The hook furthest from the door has tomorrow’s dress hanging from it so the wrinkles will have a chance to fall out.
Today’s dress is white cotton with a small print of violets, washed so many times it’s as soft as old bedsheets. Helen likes it because it’s comfortable, especially now that she’s thinner, but the full skirt keeps getting caught under the legs of her chair when she changes position.
Helen sits at her old hall desk that stands next to the coat rack, right under the lace-curtained windows. She’s writing a letter and looking at photos. That is, she looks at the photos she’s arranged on the little ledge at the back of the desk for several minutes at a time, then out the curtains for several minutes more, the lace printing shadows of roses and ferns across her face. The sunlight that steals past the curtains makes her white hair glow. Every once in a while she seems startled to discover the pen in her hand, notices the letter-paper as if it just fell from the ceiling, reads what she has written so far, and adds another paragraph, or maybe just a half-paragraph, because the photos distract her and start the cycle all over again.
The corner between the desk and the night-table is piled with books. Some of them were definitely always hers. Others may have been Gene’s. She’s put the books that make her happy near the top. The ones on the bottom are mostly bait to lure the mice and the mildew away from anything important.
The night-table is adorned with a china lamp in the shape of a poodle and an old wedding photo in a brass frame. The groom is tall and handsome and wears his blonde hair in a crew cut. The bride is a brunette, and her long lacy veil with its pattern of roses and ferns has been wrapped around the happy couple’s feet.
The coverlet on the white-painted twin bedframe was originally sized for a double bed. Helen cut the excess width of fabric off and hemmed the raw edges by hand, using green thread to match the background leaf pattern. Her favourite cabbage rose fell right on the cut line. Some things just can’t be helped.
A three-tiered chest of drawers sits opposite the hall-desk on the other side of the bed. Helen’s clothes are hidden in it. On top are more secrets – photos of the man and woman from the wedding picture laughing in a Hawaiian-themed nightclub, at a backyard barbecue, in front of a living room Christmas tree. The barbecue and Christmas photos are in colour, but they’re faded.
The chest of drawers shares the wall with an upside-down milk crate that keeps the pantry items and dishes off the floor.
Helen hung the excess strip of fabric from the bed coverlet over the door to the shared bathroom. Mr. Braemar, her neighbour, does not always remember to close and lock both bathroom doors before he does his business, and Helen would rather not fight with him about something so stupid.
The wall opposite the foot of the bed has a bar fridge plugged into it, and a hot plate sitting on top of another upturned milk crate. There’s also a small sink, which is nice so Helen doesn’t have to do her dishes in the shared bathroom. She’s hung a little mirror above the sink. That way she can get dressed and brush her teeth in the morning without having to wait for Mr. Braemar to finish and leave for work.
The gap between the bar fridge and the door is empty, so the door has somewhere to swing when Helen opens it. The door is open now, and an extra sunbeam is hitting the vinyl-covered dining room chair that Helen sat in until she finished her letter. The bits of glitter embedded in the vinyl sparkle in the sun.
The photos are still on the back ledge of the desk. The shaft of sunlight narrows and vanishes as Helen closes and locks the door. She pauses to check how much change she has in her pocketbook before she heads to the post office to send her letter.