This story is by M MacKinnon and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I have a perfect life.
I’m alone now, and some would think that’s sad, but they’re wrong. I love the peace and quiet of my own thoughts. My husband Louis knew how to make money, but to be honest he wasn’t really an academic sort. I’ve always been happiest in my own mind, with my own thoughts.
I don’t mean to sound prideful, but I so often find myself the smartest person in any gathering, although I’d certainly never say so. I’ll admit it does make conversation somewhat boring at times, which is why I’m happy generally to stay at home.
I live in a really lovely house—people would call it a mansion, I suppose. Louis and I had no children, so now it’s just me, apart from the cleaning crew, and they never bother me. Don’t get me wrong; I know their names and their children’s names and I buy them all gifts for their birthdays, but I really have nothing to talk about with them. I prefer my own company, as I’ve said.
I rarely go out now that Louis is gone. There’s no reason to leave, because I have everything right here. I know and love every inch of this house. It’s a part of me, almost as if it lives inside me, in a way that’s hard to explain. Let me tell you about the house, at least, and maybe you’ll begin to understand how I feel.
I have a huge kitchen with all the latest gadgets, and I have to say I use them all. We never had a chef because I preferred to create our meals myself. In fact, someday I plan to write a cookbook featuring single portion gourmet meals.
I have a conservatory which houses the most amazing variety of plants. Because my memory is quite good, I know the scientific names of every plant in my garden. Lapageria rosea,the Chilean bellflower, and Aristolochia sempervirens called Dutchman’s pipe, for instance.
My bedroom is lovely. There’s an antique four-poster with lace curtains, and damask draperies framing huge windows that look out onto an endless lawn with a formal garden and a maze.
Yes, there’s a real maze that attracts visitors because of its difficulty. I don’t get it, really—it always seemed so simple to me. In college I majored in math, and geometry has always come so easily to me. Louis used to say my mind was sexy. Maybe it’s because I designed the maze, but can’t help thinking that only a fool could be lost in it for more than a few minutes.
The library is a marvel. It has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and thousands of books. I’ve read most of them, some more than once. It’s interesting that despite my aptitude for numbers, my favorite books are poetry. I can spend hours with my friends Keats and Frost, enjoying the artistry of their words and thoughts.
My favorite place in this house, though, is the music room. It’s the largest room, and the only thing in it is my pipe organ, but to me it’s so special. People used to say I was a prodigy at the organ; I could look at a piece of music once and just sit down and play it perfectly. I suppose it’s because of my mathematical brain.
It seems fanciful, but I’ve always pictured my mind as a sort of mansion, like my house. There are rooms for all my interests, and it’s beautiful and spacious. Wandering through the rooms of my mind is a pleasure that’s hard to describe to others—and I think it’s why, even though I’m alone now, I’m never lonely. I’ll always have my thoughts to keep me company.
Something feels off these days, like a shadow that follows me around. I’ve been feeling odd, but I can’t put my finger on the problem. I feel disjointed, as if I’m searching for something but it’s just out of reach.
Yesterday I sat down at the organ to play Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5 in F Major—it’s one of my favorites. I’ve played it a hundred times, but this time I couldn’t remember the notes. I sat there for a while and finally they came to me, but it was off-putting. I felt muzzy for the rest of the day.
The shadow is still there, and it’s getting bigger. I don’t go into the music room anymore; I’m afraid. I don’t know why, but forgetting those notes, even for a minute, was the most shattering thing I could imagine. What if it happens again? I just can’t explain it, but my favorite room is lost to me.
Something terrible happened, this time in the library. I was looking for my favorite volume of poems to read before bed, but as I stood in the middle of the room it felt alien. I honestly wondered for a moment where I was, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember the poet. I ran from the room and hid under my bedcovers like a child, shaking and crying. It came to me in the middle of the night—Keats; it was Keats. But I haven’t gone into the library since. I’m afraid it might happen again and I don’t know what to do.
This is becoming more than a nuisance. I rarely use the car, but once in a while I like to drive to the market and mingle with people. I sat in the driver’s seat of Louis’ old Porsche and wondered what was missing, and then I realized I had forgotten my keys. I went back in and scoured the kitchen for them for hours. When I opened the refrigerator last night to pour myself a glass of juice, there were the keys, right on the shelf. I know others have this problem, never me. I’m becoming a scatterbrain!
I got lost today. Really lost, and it was quite frightening. I was in the conservatory, looking for my big book of plant names. I seem to have misplaced it, though I never needed it before since I’ve memorized everything. Maybe I have too many varieties now, but the names just wouldn’t come. The conservatory doesn’t seem like a friend anymore.
It was so upsetting that I left and went out into the garden. I wandered into the maze, and the worst possible thing happened—I became completely confused and spent hours wandering around looking for the exit. I need to straighten myself out, because my thoughts are becoming jumbled, as if they’re someone else’s and I’ve just borrowed them. I think I’ll have to steer clear of the maze until this all clears up.
I had to let the cleaning staff go. They were becoming intrusive, always asking me where I put things they needed—as if I’d touch their supplies! And whether I’m all right. What does that mean? Why would they ask something like that? I finally thanked them for their service and sent them packing. I’m sure I can clean the place myself, especially since I only use a few of the rooms now.
I’m beginning to feel truly alone, and I never felt that way before. Weird—I never spent much time with the help, but now I miss them. I’ve forgotten their names, but they were useful. My whole body aches, and I feel as if I’m living in a fog. I’m afraid of so much. Noises, shadows, even my own reflection in the mirror. Maybe it’s because I’m not eating properly since that time I left the stove on. What if it happens again?
I’m losing rooms. My house feels as if it’s shrinking, and I spend my time wandering through what’s left, trying to remember things I’ve lost. I don’t mean really wandering; I haven’t left my bedroom in weeks because I’m afraid of what’s out there. I sleep so much of the day now, and I wake up crying but I don’t know why. I should call the doctor, but I don’t remember his name. He’ll ask me things I can’t answer—things I feel I used to know.
I’m going to stay in bed today. I’m afraid that if I open the door I’ll find my house is truly gone. It’s okay; I can’t remember the rooms that used to be there, or why I needed them. Maybe they were never there. I’ll just stay here where I know what’s happening. It’s safe here.
There are strangers outside. I feel them waiting for me.
I don’t want to see those strangers outside the door. I don’t want to answer their questions. Why are they bothering me?
Someone is in my room. I don’t know who it is. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t like other people. They’ll ask who I am. I don’t want to tell them. I don’t remember the words.
I think—no. I don’t know. Who’s here? Who am I?