A Room Of Her Own
by Jackie Powers
A box in the window of the neighboring store caught Dena Brandt’s attention, but she dismissed it as she took a cautious sip of her steaming caramel macchiato. The Starbucks door closed behind her and she continued with her rant.
Laid off! I’m honest-to-God LAID OFF!
She took another sip. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known this was coming. For the last six months she’d watched coworker after coworker leave, and for the last six months she’d fruitlessly searched for a new job.
Over-qualified for this job. Skill set too out of date for that one. As if it’s my fault that the first things to go when the company downsized were training classes and software upgrades.
As a car pulled into the parking lot, its windshield reflected the bright sun onto the box in the store window, just as a cold January wind caught her open coat. Dena stopped to button her coat, and grimaced at the box sitting in a pool of afternoon sun.
Considering I no longer have a job, the last thing I need to do is buy anything. And of course, the day I got laid off, it’s bright and sunny. Doesn’t it know how much my life sucks?
But the box continued to sit there.
It wasn’t anything fancy, about twelve inches square and three inches thick, with “A Room Of Her Own” in plain lettering, and a picture of a stern-looking Victorian-ish lady taking up the lower right-hand corner.
Dena glanced around the rest of the eclectic assortment of housing accessories in the store window. She’d noticed the store a couple of times because the front window was full of interesting things, but the store had always been closed when she’d made her early morning coffee run.
The chilly breeze had cooled her drink enough that she could take a real swig. Caffeine, caramel and coffee… heaven!
Except that even heaven couldn’t fix a cursed job hunt. Thirty-percent travel for this job. Evening and weekends for that one.
“Excuse me! I’m divorced! A single-mother of four!” What the hell was she going to do?
Well, drawled that impractical voice in her head, you could go back to writing books.
Yeah, right! She hadn’t written a word since the death of her first husband, and the one time she’d mentioned writing to her second husband, now ex-husband, he’d shot it down so fast it hadn’t even had time to flame.
Nope, writing was out and practical was in.
What she really needed to do was yank her youngest out of daycare, and hope to God they could live on the child-support and the money she’d stashed away until she found another job. Yeah, the unemployment would help, but the unemployment wouldn’t last forever.
Pushing the bleak thoughts aside, she stepped closer to the store window to read the smaller print on the box: The world’s first fully soundproofed and lockable office in a box. Intrigue battled with scoff for a moment; intrigue won. Besides she didn’t have anything better to do, so she opened the store’s door and stepped in. The door jingled closed behind her.
A pretty counter girl looked up from a catalog. “Looking for anything special?”
“I saw something in the window and wanted to take a closer look.”
“Help yourself. Let me know if you need anything.”
Dena walked to the window, set her coffee down on a near-by table, picked up the box—much heavier than she excepted and oddly balanced—and turned it over.
Have you dreamed of having the perfect place to write? A soundproofed office with a door you could lock? Here it is, the perfect writer’s office. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.
She turned the box over, looking for a price tag. There it was on the side, ten dollars.
“Sure, why not.” She could afford ten-bucks, and it’d be worth it just to find out what was in it. She took the box up to the counter. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Not really,” said the girl. “I don’t get them very often—this one just showed up—but,” the girl gave a negligent shrug, “they never get returned. So I guess that’s a good thing. Do you want it?”
“Yes.” Dena dug her wallet out of her purse, the sale was quickly completed and soon she was out the door in a brighter mood. Nothing had changed, but the intriguing box had gotten her mind off her woes, and that was worth the money.
The drive home was short, and it wasn’t until she pulled into the driveway of her home—a house that would have fit into the family room of her marital house—that she realized she’d left her coffee at the shop. With a resigned sigh, she shook her head. Since her new budget no longer included Starbucks, it was a shame to waste her last caramel macchiato, but it wasn’t worth the drive back. So she muttered an apology to the store clerk who’d have to pick it up, then gathered the bag and her box of personal stuff from her desk at work, and got out of the car.
Once inside her overflowing living room, Dena plopped the box from work onto the stack of boxes that she’d brought home over the last few weeks and set the bag on the coffee table heaped with video game bits. Then she shed her coat and dropped the coat in its usual place on the chair beside the door—the front hall closet was filled with her clothes.
Taking the intriguing box out of the bag, she sat down in her recliner, opened the box, and dumped its contents onto her lap. Shrink wrapped onto sturdy cardboard was a heavy, brown, rubber band wrapped, 2½-inch cube of indeterminate material and an instruction book. Her craft basket beside the chair produced a pair of scissors—only in their place because her kids were forbidden to touch them on pain of death—and a moment later Dena held the cube in her hand. Turning it over yielded nothing profound, so she picked up the instruction book and turned to the first page.
Using a sharp instrument, open plastic-encased package, without damaging yourself or the contents of the package, and remove contents from the package.
She snickered. Considering she was reading the booklet that had been in said plastic-encased package, that instruction seemed a little redundant. Maybe they’d hire her; they could definitely use a new technical writer. She turned the page.
Full use of this product requires it be hung on an unencumbered piece of wall measuring 7-foot tall by 3-foot wide (approx. 2 x 1 meter) with a 3-foot (1 meter) square of open floor space before it.
Looking around her tiny living room, she snorted; fat chance of finding that much wall space. Since she’d been committed to keeping her kids in the school district and having a yard for her kids to play in, and given the area’s outrageous housing prices, this house had literally been the only place she’d been able to afford after her divorce. It was beyond small, but it was hers.
However, she’d paid ten-bucks for the thing, so it was at least worth looking around for free wall space. The living room was out of the running, filled as it was by the material goods from more prosperous times: overflowing bookcases, desks, computers, TV, furniture, toys, games… the usual stuff.
Carrying the cube and book, she stood and went down the short hall leading to the two minuscule bedrooms. The wall in the hall might have worked, if her dresser hadn’t been in the way and the wall opposite the dresser was interrupted by the linen closet. Someday she was going to have a bedroom again and not have to sleep on the couch… but right now, considering her lack of job prospects, the couch looked damned good compared to the alternative.
She flipped on the light in her daughters’ room. A quick glance around confirmed the room’s usual state of disarray, not unexpected given its occupants were five and seven, and no wall space. Unmade bunk beds against one wall, two overflowing bookcases, matching dressers, a toy box and a closet that served as the main storage space for the house.
With a shrug she turned off the light and turned to her sons’ room with greater trepidation. She flipped on the light, cringed, and quickly turned it back off. Well, it was clear what her thirteen- and fourteen-year-old sons were going to be doing this weekend.
On her way back to the living room, she didn’t even need to look into the bathroom to know there wasn’t any wall space there; you could barely turn around in the room.
From the living room, she walked into the kitchen, then backed up a couple of steps. Opposite the door that led to the garage was a wall about five feet wide. Family pictures hung there, but they could be moved elsewhere. She’d meant to put a coat rack on the wall, but that could wait. It might do.
Stepping into the kitchen made it immediately apparent that not an inch of wall space was available, let alone three feet. And the basement was suitable only for the washing machine.
So, back to the wall across from the garage door. It was the work of only a few minutes to take down the pictures and remove the nails. Okay, that step done, what’s next?
Carefully remove rubber band from the cube and open fully.
Okay. Dena took the rubber band off the cube and tossed the band onto the kitchen table. Releasing her grip on the cube, she let it expand, accordion style. She pulled it taunt until it opened to a strip about three feet long. Then she saw it was also accordioned the other way. As she shook it open it felt like thick paper, the kind wall posters were made of.
How they’d gotten that much paper into such a small cube was a quandary she pondered for a moment, then she got a good look at it and started to chuckle. It was a poster of a door—casing and all—and on the door was a sign: Mom’s Room of Her Own, Stay Out!!
Cute. A poster of a door. Not bad for ten dollars.
As she smoothed the wrinkles out of the large poster, she did a double-take: the poster matched the other doors in her house.
Shrugging away the weird coincidence, she chuckled again. She’d hang it up, and if nothing else it’d make a great conversation piece.
When the worst of the creases were smoothed out of the poster and it lay on the floor stretching into the kitchen, the top of it leaning against the kitchen table, she picked up the instruction book.
Take protective tape off the bottom edge of the door and place bottom of door firmly against the baseboard, ensuring square fit. Adhesive will not harm woodwork or paint.
It took a bit of fumbling, and she ended up with the poster-door draped over her back and laughing, but she finally got it stuck to the baseboard. She slithered out from under the poster, and turned the page.
Take protective tape off top of door and adhere top to wall. Ensure square, flat fit or door will not open properly. Refer to Troubleshooting, Appendix A, if you encounter difficulties.
Hmmm… Dena thought as she looked at the size of the poster spread on the floor, then she dragged a chair from the kitchen and soon had the flimsy poster secured to the wall.
After she put the chair back, she stood in the short hall and admired her handiwork for a moment. Then she noticed the smaller sign posted above what looked to be a doorbell on the poster’s door casing: Ring only in case of fire or blood. She shook her head in amusement. A mother had definitely designed the poster.
Since there were more pages in the instruction book, out of curiosity, she picked it up.
Close your eyes, and recite the following words: A woman must have a room of her own if she is to write.
She looked at it for a moment, then smiled. Why the hell not?
She closed her eyes, said, “A woman must have a room of her own if she is to write,” and opened her eyes.
Then instantly closed them, rubbed them, and slowly opened one eye. Then the other. And extended her hand and touched it. It was a door… a real, live door.
Gingerly, she knocked on it. It sounded like all the other doors in her house.
She reached up and traced the letters: Mom’s Room of Her Own, Stay Out!!. No longer were they flat. Now, somehow, they were carved onto a wooden plaque hung on the door.
Gathering her courage, she touched the doorknob with a tentative fingertip. It was as solid as any other doorknob in the house.
Would it open?
Of course not. That was impossible! There was a solid wall behind it, and a closet behind that.
She debated for a moment, glanced around, and spied the instruction book on the floor where she’d apparently dropped it. Warily, she reached down, picked it up and turned the page.
It doesn’t bite.
Oh, yeah, right.
Before she could think more, she grasped the doorknob and gently turned it.
Boy, she was glad her Ex wasn’t here to see this. He’d freak. Not that she wasn’t freaking, but in a different way. She could hear him: “Dena, why are you even trying it? It’s only a waste of your time. Don’t you know any better?”
The handle turned, and turned more. She gave it a slight push.
The door opened, but not enough to clear the casing. She paused, drew in a deep breath and held it as she pushed the door open the whole way.
Her breath blew out in an astonished puff, because inside was the most beautiful, perfect office in the world. Beyond any ideal she’d ever imagined. A large desk faced the door, with a computer on a side table against the wall. Filing cabinets and storage cabinets filled the wall from the desk to the door. Partially filled book cases lined the wall behind the desk. The windows on the wall across from the file cabinets let in the crisp winter sun. And beneath the windows was a couch that looked perfect for napping. The walls were a soothing mauve, accented with a floral border beneath the crown molding and matching curtains accented the windows…. the windows….
Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute!
Reality returned with a crash and she backed away from the open door. The room looked innocuous enough… but how?
She stepped around the corner of the short hall and into the living room, which looked perfectly normal. No new windows, no nothing. From the living room she could still see a bit of the weird room through the open door.
With careful steps, she crept around the corner into the hall that led to the bedrooms. Her dresser still blocked most of the hall, making it a challenge to not have to slither sideways to get down the hall.
Fearing the worst, but not quite sure what that worst was… she opened the linen closet that was directly behind the wall where she’d hung the poster. The closet was its normal haphazard mess. She reached through a heap of towels, and knocked on the wall.
Baffled, she went back and stood before the open poster-turned-door, then glanced down at the instruction book she still held in her hand. She turned the page.
Welcome to a room of your own. Go in. Write.
No way in hell was she stepping a foot into that room. Where did it come from? Where was it going to go? What would happen if she shut the door? Would that be the last anybody ever saw of her?
Absolutely NOT! She’d seen the horror movies. She wasn’t an idiot.
Except curiosity had long been her besetting sin, and it was getting the best of her now…. She turned the page.
Go in, already. Books don’t write themselves, do they?
She grimaced. No they didn’t. But still…. She turned the page.
In some extremely weird way, that impossible word sitting alone on the page was comforting.
She wrote paranormal romances and young-adult fantasy novels. She’d spent her writing years steeped in lands of magic, at times fully convinced what she was writing was real.
And here, on this page, was her name. Magic was the only explanation. And somehow it felt right.
Fully aware that she should be questioning her sanity, but following the feeling in her gut, she stepped through the door.
Two paces into the magic room, she stopped, embraced by the quiet. No hum of the furnace, no noise of outside traffic. Heaven…
She checked the handle on the back of the door and indeed, there was a lock. She swung the door shut and sighed in the relief of the quiet, not missing her sanity in the least.
Wandering further into the room, she slid a hand along the soft fabric of the couch. She stopped in front of the bookcases and perused the books. After the shock of the door-poster coming to life, she wasn’t surprised to find the shelves contained the perfect reference books for a novel that had been nattering around her head for years. She sat in the desk chair, which fit perfectly, and again consulted the instruction booklet.
The following pages were filled with detailed instructions; she’d look at them later.
Right now she sat and absorbed the implications of her magical ten-dollar investment.
She had a room to write in. She didn’t have a job, and wasn’t likely to get one anytime soon. But she had the unemployment money and some money in the bank. Plus, her Ex, bless his fuzzy little soul, had many faults but he always paid his child support on time, and her kids were used to a frugal lifestyle.
She had the skill set to write. She was rusty, but she’d done it before; she could do it again. With diligent effort, she could write two, maybe three, books a year. If she was careful they could live until the first book sold.
Dena looked around the room.
“Yes,” she said, nodding. With this room and the money in the bank, she could do it. “This will work.” She would write again.
She bounced out of the chair and rushed to the door; she needed to call her old agent and tell him she was back in the game.
Hand on the door knob, she paused. “Thank you.”
Then Dena opened the door and, with a spring in her step that hadn’t been there for years, hurried to the phone.
* * *
“You’re welcome,” Virginia Wolfe replied with an indulgent smile. Then she turned to the women gathered around her. “Another one settled,” she said to them. “Where next?”
“It’s India’s turn,” replied one of the women.
Virginia nodded. “Very good.” She picked a cube from the small basket beside her chair. “India it is.” She placed the cube on her flattened palm. “Find who needs you most.” Virginia snapped her fingers and the cube disappeared.
* * *
A box caught her eye and the harried Indian mother stopped outside the downtown Bangalore store.
“A Room Of Her Own” proclaimed the box.
But she didn’t have time to browse, so she stepped away from the box in the window. In fact, she had to hurry because her boss at the university was looking for any excuse to fire her and she badly needed this job.
Then she stopped, turned, looked back at the box, then sighed in resignation. She recognized the hand of Fate; she’d felt it before and knew enough to follow where it led.
She returned to the store, opened the door and went in.
© 2007 Jackie Powers