The Challenge: Issued to me by my lovely Beth, who got the idea from Jennie, who got it from elsewhere in the universe of Probably Rather Good Ideas – to write my own HeartRoom. I was assured (when I protested, and told her that no-one would want to go there, if they could see the state of it) that I don’t have to write what my actual HeartRoom looks like, but rather the one I wish it was – the one I’d like to be able to curl up in, as sanctuary, when life gets too much.
As soon as I knew I didn’t have to write something Real for this, the idea caught my imagination like kindling, and sent tiny flames of inspiration licking upwards towards realisation. The ideas have burned savage, and emblazoned their brightness against the shadowy walls of my mind, where everything flickered for a while, in bright, glowing light.
So I sit, basking in their warmth and enjoying the roiling colours as they dance and turn to embers before me, starting already to see the ash caving in – soft, powdery clouds which limit my time to write this – letting me know that the inspiration will soon be gone, and the chill set back in. Come with me, before it’s too late…
A dark, forbidding tunnel, with soaking cold walls and slime oozing wetly across the stone floor leads steeply downwards, unevenly, causing me to trip and skid, crying out with fright as I desperately try to maintain my balance by clutching at the walls. But they are lined with sharp flints, gouging deeply into my hands and arms, leaving me in tears, bleeding and wondering whether it’s worth the journey. Sickly orange light, the colour of street-lamps under rain, guides me dimly towards a door at the end.
The door is huge – ancient, studded wood – and as I rest before it, still panting from exertion and pain, I recognise with foreboding that it is a door which still demands a toll. A grisly metal bucket stands before it, blood-spattered and insisting on being filled. It holds a twisted stone knife, carved with patterns too full of meaning to make sense in any language but symbols. The dark, grainy wood of the door shines blackly with words – the words I must remove from my soul and place in the bucket, both as offering and promise, before I am allowed in.
I rest my forehead against the door, noticing the gouges I’ve left in it before, as I’ve fought against its ancient wisdom and tried to pass without paying the toll – without purging – and been unable; trapped at the end of that vicious corridor in a frenzy of knowing that I can stay there; I can face the corridor again and return to whatever I was trying to hide from, or I can pick up that vicious, twisted knife, make my sacrifice, and move onwards.
Sighing, I take up the knife, feeling it warm beneath my freezing hand as I grasp it with shaking fingers, counting backwards from ten (to psych myself up) before plunging it repeatedly into myself, up to the hilt, the very air quaking with screams I don’t realise are mine, as the bucket slowly fills with fresh blood and dark, gouted words as they slide, in all their poison, from my soul.
Only when the bucket is full of dark words, does the door creak open, a soft light playing into the corridor, and a warmth reaching out and beckoning me. I stagger in.
The door shuts quietly behind me and I collapse to the floor, suddenly surrounded by golden light, a salt breeze and the sound of seagulls calling. I close my eyes and breathe, my body finally unclenching; beginning to heal impossibly quickly as the strength and goodness of this room pour into me. The simple, whitewashed walls reflect the ethereal light from outside, and stencilled in gold, in the most beautiful script, are words I know I need to have around me – words I need to take in:
I stand and look around taking in: the pale, wooden floor with its bright, colourful rugs. Blond-wood bookshelves, packed to bursting, line the back wall, and a place to make a cup of tea and cook (if I ever have company). There are scatter-cushions and giant bean-bags everywhere, and the butter-muslin curtains waft gently at the open french windows as the scent of sunshine and sea pushes its way in, filling the room and making everything bright. A huge pile of multi-coloured blankets is waiting for evening when it gets cooler – I shall cocoon myself in them and snuggle safely, watching the stars come out and the lights dancing on the walls, shining from the lanterns which rest on every surface.
But in the meantime, I shed my shoes and run out of the doors, whooping, onto the beach, where the sand stretches for miles, the sea competes with the sky for that perfect, incredible blue, and the sunlight is so thick it pours onto my skin like oil, bathing me with warmth and light and bliss.
The surf bubbles up towards me, inviting me to dip my feet in and splash, and feel the salt begin to crisp my skin as I hunt for the most beautiful shells to add to my collection of treasures. The waves are shining, glassy perfection, breaking over and over further out, filling the air with the sound of the Earth breathing. On the thermals beneath the scudding, cotton-candy clouds, the sea-birds wheel and swoop, speckling the air with plaintive cries and long, swooping glides.
The beach pledges to be here forever, sealing its promise with a shell, and I return to my room, patting the walls as I walk in (whimsically letting it know I appreciate its existence). I drag the giant beanbag into the doorway, in full sunlight and view of the still-sparkling ocean, and flop into it, curling onto one side so that I can watch the ever-changing waves.
Gradually I feel my heartbeat slow, as the heat of the sun and the rhythm of the waves sink into me, making me one with them. My eyes grow heavy and my limbs finally relax, sinking with deep, velvet tiredness and the feel of belonging as, cradled in that place of sunshine and beach-time, I sleep…