by Angela Readman
It wasn’t anything to do with the lion or the snow she may find in the back, OOna’s thing with wardrobes went back before that. Before she’d seen the cartoon with a Jesus lion dying, before she could even read and decided she’d never read a book as sad as that. She didn’t tell me much about it, but I’d come home sometimes and go through each room calling her name, opening every door in the dark house. Only the bedroom lamp would be on, but there was no sign of OOna anywhere. Her coat and keys were still in the hall.
‘Honey, I’m home,’ I’d call like I’d seen on TV, it was he nearest to making our relationship somehow official we could find. ‘OOna?’
No answer. I opened the wardrobe and there she was, the coats swaying above her head, my jacket draped across her knees. She sat in the bottom of the wardrobe, her knees bent up so she could fit. In there she seemed snug and very small.
‘What you doing in there?’ I grinned. She shrugged and unfolded herself out of the small space like a gazelle.
When I couldn’t find her, that’s where she would be, in the wardrobe. She always seemed peaceful and content in there.
‘I like small spaces,’ she said. ‘It makes me feel young again.’ She liked feeling all the walls around her, the smell of fabric freshener and mildew of the clothes. It was something to do when she was a little girl. She didn’t tell me all at once. She described her mother’s wardrobe as being built into the alcoves. It was big enough for her to lie down in as a girl. On a hot sunny day it was shady and cool and Oona lay inside stretching her legs, feeling one warm slit of sun from where the doors met on her face. On a cold day the wardrobe felt warm, she could put her hands in the pockets of the coats. In the winter she didn’t mind the dark. In there it was always quiet she said, always made her feel like she was getting a hug, that whatever she saw through the gap of the doors was so far away it couldn’t hurt her at all. It was like she made her own world in the wardrobe, her own cozy homee and the people through the crack had no more to do with her than figures through windows across a road.
I suppose Oona had a lovely loneliness. She was the sort of girl who could be smiling at you and still seem sort of far away. But when I came home she always got out the wardrobe. I don’t think she’d spent the whole day there, just the odd hour. Then, she’d be there with me, as near as anyone gets to anyone. We’d get on with our night, burn bread, order pizza, watch movies that were a compromise, doing the same as every other couple does. But sometimes I’d wake at night and find the bedroom lamp on. Oona wasn’t lying beside me asleep. I’d walk over to the wardrobe and there she’d be curled up in the bottom in her pyjamas, peering through the crack.
‘You’ve woken up,’ she sounded disappointed.
‘What are you doing in there?’
‘Watching you sleep, everything looks stiller from here, permanent as a photograph,’ she said.
Even though I wanted to sleep and wanted her beside me, I crouched down and got in the wardrobe. She hugged her knees tighter and slid across to let me in and we closed the doors. There, in the dark we peered through the gap together at our bed, the sheets still bunched where we’d been like shells two small animals had left behind them. From the wardrobe we just looked out at our bed and the duvet still taking our shape as if we could really see the two people who gave the impression they were still lying inside.
Angela Readman‘s poetry has been published by Mslexia, The Tims, Iota and Ambit etc. Her poetry collection Strip, was published by Salt Publishing, but this is her first flash fiction publication.