Francesca semi reclined on the couch, her eyes closed against the afternoon sun. The warmth made her limbs feel languid and her skin glow with perspiration. It had been a good day, busy but good.
The voice came from within. She tried to dismiss the feeling. It had been a good day. Maybe the sun was a little too hot. She turned her head away from it and tried to resume her nap.
It’s time to go downstairs.
No. Her body responded. It was too tired to walk down the stairs. But the hole began to widen inside of her, like someone was slowly pulling a thread from the middle of a ball of string. As much as she wanted to stay in the sun, she was being drawn downstairs.
She got up and went to open the door to the basement. Her shadow stretched down the long stairs. She often got the feeling to go down there, but most of the time she distracted herself by watching something light on television or having friends over, and the feeling would pass. Other times it didn’t matter what she tried, the need to go down sat in her stomach like lead. Even on her best days she knew the basement was always down there.
Did she really want to go down? After all, it had been a good day. She took her first step, maybe the day hadn’t been so good after all? She took another; she never knew what triggered the need to go down. Good days, bad days, hot days, cold days: there was never a single thing that correlated between the outside world and the inner desire to visit the basement.
Slowly she descended the stairs, the darkness washing over her like water. She reached the bottom step and gazed into the inky blackness that stretched out before her. The toes of her right foot curled over the edge of the step and slowly felt their way down, like a blind rat seeking its way through a maze. It found the cold cement floor and pressed flat against it, the left foot followed.
Francesca waited a moment for her eyes to adjust. Slowly dim shapes floated out of the darkness. The light from the stairs gave her just enough to see the glass jars, dulled by the dust. Down here was where she kept them: the jars that contained the gloom of her life. Each jar contained a memory: her old scars, regrets, past shame, loves lost or loves that never were. It was all there; carefully preserved to last her whole lifetime.
She moved further into the dark, pausing at a stack of jars, brushing the dust away with the tips of her fingers. Even with the slightest touch she felt the remorse as if it were new. Francesca gazed into the jar and saw words; they were her own. She had spat them out of her mouth and their poison landed on a dear friend. The moment she saw the hurt in their eyes she was so ashamed, that’s why she kept them down here, so no-one could see them but her.
Sometimes in fury she would come down and destroy every glass jar down to the last one. She was desperate to free herself of the weight they contained. But after each time she would return to the basement to find everything intact and neatly stacked. It didn’t matter how much she broke or burnt, it all returned to it’s place as if it had been untouched. That didn’t stop her from taking the jar of words in one hand and… smash. Her hand remained open where she released the jar. She moved away from the broken glass left on the floor.
The next jar she picked up was a sweet one. In it she saw the child version of herself swinging, through the glass she felt the wind in her hair. She held onto the jar with both hands and gazed into it until the beauty of the memory faded into the sadness of nostalgia. Francesca shed a small tear for the child who would never swing again and carefully put the jar back.
She looked at other jars. One contained the man on her bus who she never had the courage to talk to, his face barely recognisable; the longing still clear. Another had the flower covered coffin that seemed too small to fit her Grandpa. There was one with a picture of the brother she should call more often. She didn’t touch any of them; she just sat in the middle of her dark museum and let all the melancholy wash over her at once. She lay down and felt the cold creep into her body, basking in the secret moments and the things she didn’t know how to explain. If she lay very still she could hear the notes of a nameless melody, reminding her of all the places that were extinct.
Francesca didn’t have a clock in the basement. Even if she did she was sure it wouldn’t tell the right time; time bent under the darkness or broke altogether. Sometimes she felt like she spent days down there only to resurface and find that mere minutes had ticked away, other times like she had been there for seconds before bolting back up the stairs to realise she had been there for hours. There was never any use in an alarm telling her to go back up, she had to wait till she was ready.
Suddenly she didn’t feel like sitting in the dark any more, she got up and marched up the stairs.
As Francesca walked out the sun hit her face again and she had to shut her eyes. It was always comforting to know that it didn’t matter how frequently she was called down to the dark place or how long she stayed. There was always light, just upstairs, waiting for her.