Translated from the Polish by Patrick John Corness
When we moved in here we bought the Wardrobe. It was dark and old and it cost less than it did to transport it from the junk shop to our home. It had two doors decorated with an ornamental plant motif, while the third one was glazed and the whole town was reflected in the glass when we moved it with the hired pickup. It had to have a rope tied round it, so it wouldn’t come open on the journey. That day was the first time, as I stood there next to it, seeing it tied up with that knotted rope, that I felt somewhat absurd. ‘It will go well with our furniture,’ said R., gently stroking its wooden body just like a cow being bought for a new farm.
To begin with, we stood it in the corridor—there it was supposed to be in quarantine before entering the world of our bedroom. I sprayed turpentine into the tiny, scarcely visible holes; that was a reliable inoculation against the ravages of time. In the night the Wardrobe, transplanted to its new location, moaned and creaked. It was the wailing of the dying woodworm.
In the course of the days that followed we tidied up our new old flat. In a gap in the floorboards I found a fork with a swastika engraved on the handle. The disintegrated remains of a newspaper protruded from behind the wooden panelling, and only one word could actually be made out: proletarians. R. threw the windows wide open to hang up the net curtains, at which point the room was filled by the din of colliery bands wending their way through town towards evening. The first night that the Wardrobe shared our dreams with us, we lay awake for a long time. R.’s hand wandered sleeplessly over my stomach. Since then, we have always had shared dreams. We dreamt that there was absolute silence and that everything was suspended in it like a shop window display, and we were happy in that silence because we were not present anywhere at all. In the morning there was simply no need to retell that dream to one another—just one word was enough. Since then, we have no longer retold our dreams to one another. One day, it turned out that nothing more needed doing in our flat. Everything was where it should be, spick and span, neat and tidy. I warmed my back by the stove and observed the serviettes. There was a fault in the weave of the fabric, actually. Someone had perforated it with their crocheting needle. Through those holes I gazed at the Wardrobe, and that dream came back to me. The Wardrobe was where the silence had come from. We stood facing one another and I was the one who was frail, unsteady and transitory. It was simply itself. It was, in a perfect sort of way, just what it is. I touched the time-smoothed handle and the Wardrobe opened before me. I saw the shadowy shapes of my dresses and two of R.’s threadbare suits—in the dark everything was the same colour. In the Wardrobe no distinction was made between my femininity and R.’s masculinity. It made no difference whether anything was smooth or rough, oval or angular, distant or close, strange or familiar. It gave off odours of other places and of a time unfamiliar to me. Oh God, it did actually remind me of something, something so familiar, so intimate, that words would not suffice to name it (denomination in words does require some distance, of course). My figure came within the range of the mirror on the inside of the door. I was reflected in it as a dark shape which was scarcely distinguishable from a dress on a hanger. There was no difference between the animate and the inanimate; so that was me in the one mirror-eye of the Wardrobe. Now I only had to step up and get inside. Which I did. I settled down on the shopping bags containing knitting wool and now I could hear the sound of my own breathing, amplified by the enclosed space.
When your mind is left all alone with itself, it starts to pray, because that’s what the mind is like. Angel of God, my guardian—I saw my angel with a face that was so handsome it must have been dead, stand by me always—his waxed wings lovingly embrace the space around me. In the morning—the aroma of coffee and bright windows that hurt my sleepy eyes, in the evening—time slowing down, when the sun is setting, in the daytime—being becomes the same thing as experiencing, with noise, movement, a million pointless activities, at nighttime—the helpless body, lonely in the darkness, always be here to help me—guardian angel of children walking near a precipice. Guard and defend my soul and my body—cardboard boxes labelled CAUTION—FRAGILE, and lead me to eternal life, amen—dresses hanging in the semi-darkness of the Wardrobe.
After that the Wardrobe drew me inside itself every day; it was like a big funnel in our bedroom. To begin with I spent the late afternoons sitting in it, when R. was not at home. Then I would do only the essential jobs first thing in the morning, the shopping, getting the washing machine going, a phone call or two, and I would go inside the Wardrobe, closing the doors quietly behind me. Inside, it made no difference what time of day it was, what season of the year, what year. It was always velvety. I fed on my own breath.
Once I woke up in the night from some dream that was heavy, like a sultry atmosphere, and I desired the Wardrobe like a man. I had to wrap my arms and legs around R., gripping him like a spasm, so as to be able to remain where I was. R. spoke in his sleep, but his words did not make sense. Finally, I woke him up one night. He didn’t want to leave the warm bed. I dragged him with me and we stopped in front of the Wardrobe. It was immutable, powerful and seductive. I felt the smooth handle with my fingers and the Wardrobe opened before us. There was enough room inside for the whole world. The internal mirror reflected us both, disentangling our figures from the darkness. Our breathing, at first uneven and irregular, found a common rhythm and there was no difference between us. We sat down in the Wardrobe, opposite one another. Our faces were hidden by the clothes hanging in it. The Wardrobe closed the door behind us. So we took up residence in there.
In the beginning, R. used to go somewhere outside, some shopping, some work or something like that. But later on the effort became too painful. The days became longer. Sometimes the muffled music of the colliery bands reaches us from the street. The sun goes down and returns, and then the windows make a futile attempt to draw it inside. The furniture, the serviettes and the crockery are covered by thicker and thicker layers of dust, and our flat continues to sink in the darkness.