The building was old and tall and impressive in the way that hospitals or homes for the mentally ill are impressive. There was a dining area on the ground floor. Girls sitting in groups, girls eating or watching television. Girls laughing and whispering and glancing up at me, the stranger in their midst. They could smell my difference. They heard it in my accent and saw it written on my sallow skin. Short, smart, fiery. They nodded to me in the lift but I noticed how the conversation suddenly fell away. I heard the sound of it start up when I slunk down the corridor to my room. My room was grey and small, a desk sunk into one corner, a bed skulking on another. The wall to ceiling cupboard was finished in a wood veneer, the warmest thing in the place.
I lay on the bed and the springs creaked. There was a sign in the lobby warning that men, including members of the family were not allowed past the dining room. The creaking springs seemed like a secondary alarm. No tossing or turning or petting of any kind. I imagined they wouldn’t expect the girls to put the springs to the test. The Country Women’s Association did not anticipate the idea of love between girls, or else they shrugged it off. I had been left in their care. Free but still imprisoned it seemed. I lay on the bed and listened to the steady creak in time to my breathing. I switched the bedside light on. Grey shadows slicing geometric shapes out of a grey room, monochrome. Grey on grey on grey. A deafening palate blended out of white and black. I pulled the novel out from under my pillow and tried to read. Black writing on white paper. Black and white and all of it grey.
I pulled the Doona off the bed and opened the door of the cupboard. Such a small cramped space but large enough for me to make a nest. Dark in the cupboard and safe, and the wood is fast against the wall, no creaking springs. I wriggle out of my pyjamas. I touch myself for comfort and I it is comforting, but brief. When I am finished there is still the grey room outside and the sounds of the city and the first night alone. First night ever alone. First night ever alone.
I drag the oversized speaker box towards the cupboard. It is an easy thing to climb up onto the box. I have to drag myself up on tip toe, balancing against the cupboard door. I hook my arms through the upper reaches of the cupboard and I drag myself up, scrabbling awkwardly on the lip of the upper shelf. When I am finally up there it is closer than the bottom of the cupboard. There are pillows up there and extra blankets. I am here and I am safe and suddenly terribly tired. I cry for tiredness. Soft tears with no force behind them. I miss my family. I miss my home, my gaol. I am finally free and yet I wish I was not free. I wish I could be captured again, held against my will. I long for chains and rules and the smother of love. I press my face against the pillow. There is no air, and here I am hoping that I might drown in this tiny space above the cupboard. And slowly, breath by shallow breath, I fall asleep.