The Junk Room
A short story discussing the traps of solitude and the desire to read.
Every day, I read in the junk room, an ignored space filled with memories of the past. Our old dining table sits against shelves of boxes dating back as late as the 80s. Old computer monitors, bar stools, and mattresses litter the already crowded room. I’ve created a space for myself at one end of the dining table where my laptop, journal, and planner sit beside each other next to a wrinkled napkin, no longer white but instead a pale yellow from blowing my nose every time the air-conditioning shifts dust from the boxes onto my space. A small couch from my dad’s old bar covered with stains from spilled drinks and pizza slices stands beside the dining table. A pile of books in the shape of an ant pile cover the gray cotton upholstery.
No one from my family has entered the room in years. It’s at the back of the house, on the second floor, right above the rickety garage that rumbles as loudly as a train passing by. The room rattles with it, dust bouncing from the boxes toward me before everything stops, and the only sounds anyone can hear are the clanking of my keyboard and the whir of the AC. The white door blends perfectly into the wall, and when the door closed with a soft thud, no one searched for me. At most, my mother loudly bellowed my name. Her voice carried through the whole house before finding its way through the door bottom, and by then, it’s was quiet as a whisper.
Noise consumed my house. The yells of my siblings bounced from the walls. My mother’s loud reprimanding voice filled the high ceilings. My father’s alarm clock echoed through the bedrooms. So one day, I heaved the mattress from my bed to the junk room, turning it to its side so it could fit through the narrow door frame. The drafty, cold room still shivers down my spine, and my body trembles as I try to fall asleep. But with sleep, comes peace.
There’s a hot plate in the corner of the room with a tub full of vegetables and tofu beside it. I cut through the spotty green mold on the produce and create some form of stir-fry or crunch through stale pantry snacks, pairing my meals with one of the many books littered around the room. I just finished reading half of The Little Women in one sitting, and most of the time, I devour entire books in a day. I finally get to enjoy the continuity of books. I read until my eyes hurt from the small print or my fingers have exhausted all the pages. No more interruptions. I no longer fumble through passages in the middle of books, trying to reacquaint myself with a character I lost touch with when my mother called me down to wash the dishes. After I finish eating, I push the plate away from me, letting the food harden and attach itself to the surface like a parasite, and continue reading. The extra scrub in the bathroom sink connected to the room never removes all the dried bits of food, but I learn to eat around the small maze of particles forever stuck to the plate.
I occasionally hear the shuffle of feet from the other side of the door, and when the noise moves closer, my heart’s thuds grow louder. I press my ear against the white-washed wall, hoping to make out conversations. My fingers unwittingly cross themselves. Through my noisy breathing, I hear the smack of my sister’s steps. I close my eyes, picturing her legs walking toward the door, her hands pushing against the doorknob indented into the door. She’s pressed the handle at the right spot, and it pops out, allowing her to enter the room and discover my emaciated self.
I can no longer see past the pages in my books. I see the small black text against the manilla sheet, but the rest of the room is a blur of colors. Like a Matisse painting, I can only make out the brown formless dining table, the lump of white which is my mattress. I move my soft fingers across the rough walls hoping to find the doorknob, and I wonder how many millimeters I’ve missed the cool, glossy handle by today. I know I’ll never leave, so I sit in a prison of my own making and read.
There’s a room in my house that my family calls the junk room. It’s where we store all our old momentos and furniture. Once, on a call with my friend, I remarked how horrible it would be to be stuck there, and she jokingly mentioned how that was a good story idea. I began writing that night.
Farah Merchant recently graduated college, learning to navigate adulthood. She loves fashion, literary fiction, and baking shortbread. Farah majored in English and earned a certificate in Digital Arts & Media from the University of Texas at Austin; she was the first in her family to graduate from university. Farah is currently a Girls Write Now mentee, hoping to flesh out her short stories inspired by The Twilight Zone and her family. When she is not writing on her notes app, she is either at the farmer’s market or updating her Letterboxd.