Trapped inside this endless maze of rooms and with each turning every corner is a familiar place. The walls push in against me, the ground will not give way, there’s little air in here and what I can breathe in makes me cough. I keep going. Round the next corner, must find the centre of the labyrinth to climb the steps and ring the bell, to turn around and see the clearly painted sign to the exit and gift shop – but it’s not there. Just another dusty corner. Everything is grey today, not black. Not the black that’s intense and heavy, that swells and consumes all around, then shifts and lifts, but this all pervading, saturating, relentless greyness. Grey thick sides, dense walls, stumbled terrain, slimy seeping dripping sticky to the touch, oozing at me, clawing me in, pulling me closer, one foot in front of the other. Hands on walls either side, pushing along. This looks new, turn here, narrower steeper, am I going uphill, the air thinner, turn again to darkness. Feel the distance behind me, the distance ahead, the madness sending me round again. My dress is heavy, old grained linen, deep grey, long and ripped, faded embroidery round the unpicked hem, my filthy bare feet bleed into the ground but keep moving. I don’t really feel, I can’t really see or hear, I’m not in this place anymore.
Somewhere outside I hear chaotic fairground music, I imagine the horses, their chipped lacquer, snarling grimaced, bouncing around to nowhere, pointlessly going up and down round and round waiting for the music to stop, to rest, to breath, till it starts up again. And I want to get up to the fairground, to the trip over cables, with the flashing brightness, the sickly rich stench of toffeed candied burgers, the noise I can’t join in with, the distortion, everything big, loud, gruesomely cheery, shouting at me Everyone a Winner. But the sights on the guns are out of line and the tin ducks laugh at you as you miss and the crowd are a melt of faces as they slam and rattle by.
But I still crave it somehow, I hear it somewhere out there while I inch round my mazed cell like a scientist’s mouse, bloated and squinting on drugs that won’t help me. I keep going, scratchy nails scamper the dust away, waiting for a corner that lifts or lightens.
Holding myself up through this repetition. Narrowed walls crunch in closer, the stone eating up the ground as it approaches. Turn, turn walk, wait stop. Turn, keep going breathe, turn, turn back, stop, wait rest. Turn walk, wait. Turn, turn this way, no this way, turn, no that way, no, stop stop here. Here, no next one, no here, turn, stumble wait, stop breathe. Breathe breathe breathe.
Round the next corner I find it, the centre, then I see her ahead of me, all around me. Me in mirrors, repeating me into infinity, shabby stained, strained, stripped, ripped raw, roared out, outside of myself in the shiny glinting reflections of all the paths around me. And as I spin from one to another lunging at each for an answer, up above me the hurdy gurdy whirls on in the muck and the filth, the brightly painted stalls thrust out their wares, neon burning over the throaty chug of diesel, the leather smoked complexions full of empty promises and fat knarled hands still grasping at your money, Roll up Roll up, a prize every time!
Under the old unused candles I found them, shoved in drawers slightly bent, and the words and weight of the pens we used charged at me full throttle. And the images underneath them from when he tried out his new camera and experimented with light conditions and we sat under the heavy green painting that our son used to like to point towards. The one we bought at the beginning, from the fusty trip hazard antiques shop, up the packed stacked stairs to strain our necks to reach it. And it hung over our life above the settee that his friends made for us and unpacked from their battered red van that early Sunday morning before we’d taken root. And the painting hung quietly while we went out on our hen and stag nights to lose ourselves in others plans and we didn’t glance at its image when we giggle wobbled lurched home later.
And now it lies under the bed with the album that followed, and the dust and the camera that he sometimes used in spite of progress.
And I saw that old painting today, cropped to fit our view as we started out. But tonight I sit and type, I cook for our son and help him with literacy. Tonight there’s no plastic horseshoe round my neck.