I can see through one door then another, both consisting of three rectangular panels and painted white, open wide enough for a view of the window, eight panes of glass with no blind or curtain. There’s nothing much in sight: bare floorboards polished to a faint shine, an empty chair to the left of the first door and brass handles on both. Beyond that there’s only the light from outside, strong enough to erase anything beyond the glass. I feel a strong sense of empty space and with it a temporary peace. There must be something behind me, the place from which I’ve come, but for the moment it’s wiped from my mind and I fixate on the space between the doors, taking comfort in the emptiness.
The next time I feel a tug of familiarity, knowing that I’ve stood on this spot and stared at the scene once before. I can’t remember why I was there, or why I’m here again, but it’s comforting to gaze at that clear space and not worry about whatever is beyond the window. For the moment I feel restful.
Then I hear a creak followed by a faint tap, not sure if it comes from behind me or inside the next room, and don’t know if I should be concerned. I stare through the doors, take a single step, then allow my mind to drift.
Now I’m a little closer to the first door and can see that something’s changed, a barely perceptible movement which has opened it a little more towards me. It couldn’t have been me as I’m still a few feet away and have no memory of touching it. Maybe it was a breeze from outside, but the window is closed, so it must have been someone in the next room. I listen and hear nothing, which disturbs me. It means whoever is there is standing still, waiting.
Now I’m close enough to touch the door but I hold back, wondering if I want to know who, or what, is in the next room. I have no way of knowing if there is a threat beyond the door but do know it’s not feasible to stand still indefinitely. I take the extra step, place my finger on the door’s edge and pull it gently towards me.
I’m in the second room, feeling that time has passed since I opened the door. I look around and see nothing but a bare floor, white walls, and a small wooden table with another chair on the wall to my left. There’s no sign of anyone having been here, and I think whoever moved the door must have retreated to the second room. I look towards the next door and the window beyond and feel reluctant to move. I’m slightly fearful and don’t know why.
I look around the room again, see just a chair in a corner and experience a vague thought that I should see something that has disappeared, maybe a table. Then I look back towards the next door, grasping at a sense of familiarity. A name flashes through my head – Hammershoi – and I remember a time in the past when I stood inside a gallery, one of the rooms at the Royal Academy, looking at paintings that showed open doors in empty rooms. I shudder at the thought that I’m stuck inside a painting. Then I turn to look at the door behind, see that it has swung towards me but is still ajar, and hear a creak from the other side. I move towards it, look back into the first room and see nothing.
Now I’m back at the door between the rooms, realising that time has passed again but remembering that I’m trapped inside a painting and fearful of what’s in the next room. I listen carefully, remembering the creaks from each room, but hear nothing. Whatever was there must have gone, unless it was the room itself. The thought intensifies my fear, but I see a route to escape. The window has been opened, creating a gap of a couple of inches between its bottom edge and the lower frame. I still can’t see what’s beyond but it should be easy to raise it open, look outside, maybe haul myself into the air and out of the painting. I freeze, not sure how I long I stand there, but beginning to fear that this could be an eternity. I’m still fearful of the next room but I step forward, open the door and look around to see that it’s empty. The only object in sight is on the wall beside the window, a small painting of the same window, also with no sight of what is beyond. It prompts confusion mixed up with despair. Is there life outside that window, a normality that I can rejoin, or is it oblivion? I take another step forward and feel a tug around my fingers and waist, a force pulling at me through the gap at the bottom of the window. I stand still, hear another loud creak from the room behind, turn, see nothing and feel scared. Then I think of the prospect of staying in here, trapped inside a painting for …. maybe forever? I realise I have to confront one of the fears and decide on that of the window, fix my eyes on the gap and prepare to raise it and push myself forward. Then I hear a voice.
I turn. There’s nothing in sight. I listen for sounds of movement in either of the other rooms. There’s a silence, long enough for me to turn back towards the window. Then the voice again.
Now I’m terrified, of the unknown voice, whatever is through the window and the prospect of eternity in this room. I remain still for seconds, then think that I have to confront the thing that might explain why I’m here. I walk back towards the door, into the next room see nothing, then into the room where I began. There’s nothing, not even another door, just white walls on every side.
I stare into the whiteness, then feel a jolt and a turn inside my head. Now I’m still staring at white but it’s a ceiling. Something beeps beside me and I glance to see a machine with an uneven white line on a dark screen. Then I become aware of a plastic tube in my mouth and a catheter in my left arm. A figure takes shape in the corner and I see a woman in a nurse’s uniform.
“Can you hear me?” she asks.
I mumble, aware that my mouth is dry and words slurred.
“See me as well?”
She’s young approaching middle age, with dark hair and eyebrows.
She comes to the bed, presses a button that raises it behind me, lifts a plastic cup towards my mouth so I can sip water, then takes my hand and places her thumb on my wrist. I ask a question.
“Do I have a pulse?”
My mind clears a little.
“How long have I been here?”
“I’ll get the doctor to look at you. She’ll explain.”
She goes to the door and looks back with a smile.
“Your family are going to be very happy.”
Image: White Doors by Willhelm Hammershoi