The Appearing Room

The empty storefront sits just around the corner from our sunny-gray intersection. Having been abandoned for quite some time, no one notices it. The lack of use has left a pall on the windows themselves, a sludge of amber-colored memories. (Who cares?) The yellowy walls are oddly inviting despite their decrepitude, a nice color—you could lie in it on a summer day. It could bring you down from the heat. But the room is vacant, nothing, not even a wadded-up tissue on the worn hardwood floor. The floor itself is a little tilted, with a mid-room bulge. Wave-like. Something happened here, one can feel it, but the room cannot tell us, no one can tell us, it is all forgotten. The room cries in the misted evening when the local train commuters pass by, returning home. They hear nothing (buried in their phones).

Stopping and peering fish-like into the room, one can see there is a rear door leading into something kitchen-ish and kitchen-like in the back. Counters—old-school, thickly hand-painted in white cream. Frosting-like. I feel the memories must mainly be in there, coagulated stiffly into frightening sculpture, frightening despite some of them being pleasant recollections. The fright springs from the surprise at their being re-discovered late in a single person’s life.

Surprise birthday party. Children laughing. Hushed phone call. Messenger of death on silent wings. Stop crying. Joyousness. Candlelit dinner. Would you believe the basement flooded and the police came to the upstairs apartments? I tell you, it was about time. Hearing voices late in the evening while listening to music. Dropping luggage onto the floor after returning from the airport. Shouting and laughing in tandem. I’m so glad you called. I’ll tell her when she gets in.  Just leave the shopping on the floor. Say what? Dreams crack like old bottles. New sprouts growing on the wooden balcony.

Weeks go by. I look it over every time I pass, and I pass often.

But one evening, I’m surprised and halted.

A chair has appeared in the room. It’s been placed left of center, midway deep. Next to it, on its right, was a side table, chipped, thick white; I admit it was a crummy little table but it was also a nice, comfortable table. It would hold your tea or coffee as you dozed off after returning from a warm afternoon on the beach, some twenty blocks distant.

So I wonder what the chair and table are doing there since the storefront was supposed to be idle? I stand there as the ocean breeze whips around my ankles.

Is the room now inhabited, or going to be soon?

Two days later, I’m back. There is more now. It’s late evening and I see a single red dress has been hung on an upright, old-style stand, just behind the table, to its right.  The dress is not antique, though the stand certainly could be, but it’s a nice dress, a solid, medium-red color, mid-length, single-piece, not new, but not old, a little worn, yet still containing the life-force of the woman who had worn it (or is still wearing it). I see the dress twirling like a disco ball and splashes of light around this room, which I decide to christen the Appearing Room.

Is the dress related to the chair?  Has someone moved in?

On Saturday, I take the train to the beach to enjoy the sun and surf and walk back to my apartment, though far.  I stop at the Korean market to get spaghetti and tomato sauce for dinner.

And, of course, I gaze into the Appearing Room. Now there are more things, furniture and household objects, scattered around.

A chest with a mirror has appeared on the left, and a hairbrush, tissue box, photos. Personal Values by Rene Magritte comes to mind. A box lays on the floor, plus tank tops, shirts, undies.

Then I notice wet sand-steps on the floor, small ones. A child must have smlooshed in from a day at the beach.

Cell phone.

Candy wrapper. House keys.

I strain because I believe I hear something, maybe a shower running, I’m sure of it, but I can’t see anyone—however, a lime green mist is creeping in through the rear door like someone who has gotten lost. Tentative.

Yet capable.

I also begin to hear music. I can make it out—some sort of children’s song, with a big, ebullient chorus that will burst. I listen for a while, ear pressed against the old window, but I can’t identify it, so I leave, go back to my apartment, puzzled, and make spaghetti for the evening.

Four days later, as I got a croissant-wich at the local coffee shop around 11AM—rather late, I admit, like a harvest in December (frighteningly behind schedule as I round the corner)—there appears a girl of about nine or ten wearing beach clothes, tugging a stuffed bag full of afternoon props, standing in front of the storefront, waiting.  The sun is pouring over her left shoulder. She is wearing a hat.

“Hello,” I say to her as I enter the café.

“Hello,” she says.

When I exit the shop, she is already gone.

Did she go to the beach? By herself?

It’s a beautiful day, the sun licking our moods into ecstasy over such simple things. So happy that even the street smiles, creasing the pavement. Yet I am soon caught in a mood triggered by the girl.

Some time ago, I went down to the beach, on a magnetic day such as this one, to find a crowd huddled on the sand.  Something was up. I moved up to see what was happening.

The drowned body of a girl was lying there. Her body was wearing a dark blue swimsuit with white trim.

It was really a horror. A few people stood around the dead girl’s inert body. (Dead girl found on the beach.) Rescuers had draped her extant remains in a vinyl sheet upon responding to the call, but I was there early enough to recognize her. She was from a nice family who host a nearby teriyaki burger place. She was pretty, and, along with her older sister (quite pretty), had been successfully moved into the mid-level rungs of the modeling industry by her parents; the girls did some print ads, and the older one even traveled to New York for a shootand so the others in the run-down area admired the couple’s work ethic and lovely children. And, now, the sisters were halved.

It was so sad, you know.

Sometimes I wish I could fall into a hole of softness and delicacy and forget this world.  The hole could have futons or padding (and soft walls?) for comfort. Why did the girl have to die?  What did she do? (Or what did her parents do?) And you know digging a hole directly into the macadam of the intersection in front of the Appearing Room would work, and I could invite passersby or friends to visit me and talk about things… so I would need to build a ladder for people to come down.

It would be interesting because this intersection has seen many things.

Moments become eons and eons turn into moments in a moment.

In the hole I could also just be myself, and look at my life, at what I have done well and at what I have not. Reminiscences would pass in front of me like a color film projected onto a slowly drifting cloud. Then I could take my mind pen and inscribe inscriptions into them.

I let this go as life creeps on. The summer is markedly hotter this year as compared to the others. In fact, it is so hot that birds begin dropping out of the sky and splattering onto the sidewalk. A gruesome sight, to be sure. I’m almost thinking of getting AC. The teriyaki place has it: some people hang there all day, drinking beer to stay cool. But the ocean would always balance life out in my mind, and it is so close to us—why not just go down to the ocean?

As summer turns into autumn, birds can be seen formation-flying at high altitudes, migrating to the south.

I know the child-girl cannot be living alone for more things have appeared in the Appearing Room, adult-things, and what child lives alone? It is now a fully-adorned living room, complete with a bluish-green rug (oceanic with wave-like patterns), a small couch and a medium-sized flat screen on the wall. A closet set up in the back filled with clothes. The little girl’s toys and the effluvia of a feminine youth scattered about. Poster of a pink castle in the south of France.

Undrunk coffee cup on the floor.

A week later, I notice the girl and a woman (assumedly her mother or guardian, dressed in a coral green spring dress), with shopping bags, returning to the Appearing Room. As I pass, I am caught by the woman’s eye. She smiles at me. I smile back.

I’m sure they are enjoying their lives, whoever they are.  Such wonder, you know?

It happens every day.

A few weeks later, I go to the beach on a Saturday.  I think about the drowned girl (she was found on a Saturday); I take the train, which declines down a gentle slope until it reaches the water. I climb over the dunes to get a nice spot with a view of the waves. I lay out a towel and sit down, wearing my sunglasses.

Twenty or so minutes in, I notice a woman and child walking across the beach.  The woman is wearing a dark outfit, and the child also, yet, despite the distance and darker colors, I recognize them as the people from the Appearing Room.

There is something about their gait, you know.

They walk in a beeline (the woman in front) across the beach. I realize in a few minutes their destination. A pile of rocks sits as a pillar near the water. The two bee for it.

Upon arriving, they stare at the rock pile for two minutes. (What are they doing?) They then kneel on the beach and place objects from a bag around the base. Then they pray.

They must be praying for someone, I surmise, quietly as if in the shade of a shadow, a memorial-shrine. Within some time, they depart and leave the beach without enjoying the scene of the waves.

I walk to see the rock pile up close.

There is a plate of mandarin oranges, chocolate, and some dolls.  There is also a card, a type of gift card, and I see the envelope (a dusty pink color, embroidered) has not been sealed. It radiates something; it must carry a message. I am intrigued yet decide not to open it.

It is not mine.

It says.

Then I return to my apartment.

The next day the weather changes, it becomes cooler, noticeably so. I suspect the advent of winter and the shrinking into a safe corpuscle that life enacts every year at this time. I go for a walk, although it is late morning, and turn the corner.

The door of the Appearing Room is open. The woman is standing there, in a blue breeze, matching pants/jacket ensemble, with two girls.

They are three.

I slow down as I pass them.  The girl who I had spoken to before pipes up.

“Mommy, that’s the man I told you about.”

Her mother turns toward me and smiles.

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

“My daughter told me about you.”

“Oh. How nice. Do you live here?”

“Yes, we do.”

“Interesting. It was empty for such a long time.”

She paused, then said, “We have lived here for years.”

“Oh, really?”


A discomfort is pressing in between us, bulging in the morning light. Have I made a mistake?  The woman eyes me warily.  Have I missed something?

“Where do you live?”

“Up the street, at 466.”

“I’m having a birthday party. Do you want to come?” says the first girl.

I look at her mother, whose gauzy softness has returned.

“It would be nice if you could come. It’s a children’s party. Maybe fifteen kids. So a few adults would be welcome.”

The two girls look up into my face. They both have freckles. The second seems to have a scowl etched permanently into her features, while the first is sunny as usual.

“Well, thank you for inviting me. I would love to come.”

The two girls smile in tandem.

“So when is it?”

“Friday at 6pm. It’s my birthday. I’m going to be nine,” she says, using both hands to hold up nine fingers.

“Nine? Oh, nine is good,” I reply.

“So we look forward to seeing you then,” says the mother.

“Thank you so much.”

“We have to go. Have a nice day.”

“We’re going to the hospital,” says the birthday girl.

They all went into the Appearing Room and disappeared. Then the mother closed the front window’s blinds, which I had not noticed before. So I cannot see in. Nobody can.

The effect of the Appearing Room being blinded off was piquant. Like the sharp perfume of mandarin oranges.

The next day, I buy some gifts for the birthday party. I decide to buy three dolls: a mother and two children. I wrap them in pink paper.

On Friday, I arrive at the Appearing Room at the appropriate time. The blinds are open, and some children and a few parents are milling about. There’s that singy-songy music again.

The mother opens the door for me, and I give her the gifts. She thanks me.

“We’ll be cutting the cake about seven. Would you like something to drink?” she asks.

“Please,” I reply.

She goes into the back room and returns with a plastic glass of pink-colored punch, which she places in my hand.