'Bijou' by Elaine Borthwick


Bijou Oubliette sat on the edge of the thin single mattress and tried once more to remember. Her room, the only room to which she held exclusive rights of occupation, was lit pinkly through the closed brown paper blind by the street lamp’s sodium glow. Bijou’s mind swam gently with vague thoughts which came and went like fairground goldfish.

A dressing table, a dining table, two wardrobes and a coffee table were arranged at angles to form a maze which served as a poor attempt at structure and division by the landlord or his predecessor, but there was no disguising the fact of the matter. It was one room. She was living in one room with so many belongings she had lost all sense of connection with most of them. Perhaps some of them were already here when she had taken the room, like sitting tenants. She had neither the energy nor the inclination to evict them. Perhaps her own possessions had held so little meaning for her that she had just shuffled in, with her clothes, toiletries, mementos which had long-since lost their meaning, and letters, letters, letters, dropped them on top of and between the rest and settled down in the dust to exist.

The house shook faintly when buses and lorries passed. This had, perhaps, been a quiet avenue, tree-lined and respectable. The house had, perhaps, held one family, and the interior doors had, perhaps, been unlocked.

Bijou’s room shook more than the others, positioned as it was at the front of the house and on the first floor. She had been living here for too long, she thought. She could not for the life of her remember clear details of her past, though she sat and thought and thought and thought. She visualised the area steps with their damp whitish walls, the thickly-painted glossy black railings with their blunt spears pointing  to her window, the plane trees whose wide Summer leaves were greying with city dust and whose crooked roots pushed against paving stones. The rain which falls on London on close, hot days such as this would leave a small pool by the basement door which would remain dark and undisturbed when all else had risen as mist in the morning.

Bijou had once been a beautiful young woman who drank lustily and danced naked on tables in raucous bars, perhaps.

Her shoes slipped onto the threadbare carpet. She lay, in her pale blue dress, on the worn candlewick bedspread which glowed golden now from the yellowing street lamp. She would wake tomorrow, she thought, and go outside. She would walk tomorrow in Green Park on the black pathways between the trees. She would come back to this room when the sodium lamps glowed pink, take off her dress, shake off  her shoes, spring open the paper blind, throw open the window, stand on the coffee table, and on her way down she would see the bright flicker-book of her whole life.

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