The Other Room

Greg Romero


I awake but can’t open my eyes. And I wonder how long I’ve been trying. I go to pry them open with my hands, but my hands are tied behind my back. I feel the strain on my shoulder as I try to break free. Little knives dance down my arm as it wakes up from its own slumber.

I try to stay still and listen to what’s surrounding me, try to make sense of what is going on.  I can hear the traffic sounds…cars passing on a nearby street. I don’t hear any people, so I wonder if I’m outside the city. From what I can tell, I am in a room (I am definitely inside) with an open window…or maybe an open door.  I can almost feel a breeze. 

The cars continue passing, but they don’t notice me. They are the only sound, lonely as a single vibrating violin string, humming forever across an empty continent.

And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to play again.

Should I scream for help?

I am too scared of calling the attention of whoever might be holding me captive, so I remain silent.

And then the stench hits me. Urine. And shit.

I have been bound in this chair (I assume it’s a chair…a wooden one?) for so long that I have emptied my bowels all over myself. I adjust my body enough to feel the wet sand I am sitting in, confirming that I am full of waste.

How long have I been here? Hours? Days?

Is there any way of knowing?

I try to stand up, but my entire body is bound and I am filthy and helpless.

I try to piece my memory together, but nothing stirs in my mind. No clues reveal themselves. Blank and soiled, I sit and continue to listen to the cars pass on the road, and a few of them begin to sound like the ocean.

I feel myself drifting, but I cannot allow myself to dream…I must find a way out.

I scream for help—maybe my voice is urgent enough to reach into a distant passerby’s ear. The air fills my lungs and I cry out, but my voice is stopped by something in my mouth…a rag? A towel? A gag? The texture pushed against my tongue is rough; perhaps an entire bathrobe is shoved in my face.

I keep screaming and can feel my voice filling my own ears, and I continue, desperately, until the screams press upon my temples and blanket my brain. None of the sounds can get out and I begin to taste the blood from the back of my throat.

Why am I here?

I rock my chair side to side, trying to tip myself over onto the ground. The wood creaks under my weight, and I am sickened by the excrement mushing under my body as I shift myself from one side of the chair to the other.

Finally, I fall over to the ground, landing hard and loud onto the floor. The side of my face tells me I’m on hardwoods, perhaps…pine? No, maple.

I hear a door slide open…glass doors? I hear footsteps walk towards me from the other room, their sound echoes through the vibrations I feel pass against my face pressed onto the floor. The footsteps walk closer, until I know they are right next to me.

Who is standing over me?

A voice above me says, “Walter?”

It is a man, and he knows my name. And, of course, I cannot answer.

He presses the heel of his shoe against my face, taunting me. Slowly, he shifts his weight until my cheek feels the entire burden of his body. And, of course, I cannot scream. I can only wait and hope for him to stop.

Something in my face pops, I don’t know what it is, but it is a bigger knife and it is stabbing me just underneath my left eye.

He finally removes his foot from my ruined face and I can smell the fresh blood, feel its warmth as it slides down my cheek, an adagio of pain.

I want to ask him who he is, why he’s put me here, but I can’t, and it hurts too much anyway.

“Can you hear me?”

I know of no way to answer him but to squirm my body on the ground, enough for him to assume I’m still barely alive and listening.

He takes this as a “yes.”

“Do you recognize my voice?”

I don’t quite. The voice is sonorous, younger than mine, but somehow timeless.

“Do you remember me?”

I wish I could. The voice is still unplaced but not unfamiliar. It is a voice that comes on the end of a comet’s tail if it were swimming through a river. 

I can’t make sense of the next few sounds—I know the man steps away from me and I hear three individual snaps. A creaking—a case of some kind opens. What is in there? 

A gun?  A sword?

I hear the footsteps walk more about the room—his steps are direct. Is he looking for something? I hear an object dragging on the floor towards me…a chair?

Yes…he drags the chair next to me, still lying bound on the floor. I can feel one of the chair’s cold, metal legs pressed against my forehead. I am sure this is intentional.

I feel the chair bear the weight of the man as he sits down in it. What will happen next?

He clears his throat. And then I hear it. The bow glides over the violin strings and out come the first two unmistakable, haunting notes. And inside the perfect vibrato of his second note, I know he is playing “Clair de lune”.

He continues playing, elegant and masterful, and I am no longer on the floor, bound to a chair, soaking in my own shit. I am with the angels. I am drifting above the sea with the other lonely and delicate, night-time souls, the moonlight illuminating the water in its wonderful half-light.

The violin sounds naked, even more vulnerable and magical without the piano accompanying, and it sends my soul even higher

This stranger, my tormentor—or is he my angel?—continues gliding through the music, richly, perfectly, his notes perfectly placed, elegant and longing; his phrasing is graceful and mournful, and I feel he must be certain that this is my favorite piece of music, the most perfect piece of music, and also the only piece I have failed to master. Dozens of years of attempting, but I still don’t have the skill to play. I’ve always known I couldn’t play it because I loved it too much.

I know he is nearing the end of the music and I never want him to stop. I would lie on this floor, bleeding and broken, if I could continue to listen to him play forever.

He reaches Debussy’s final note, capturing and holding it perfectly for as long as possible, though it will never be long enough for me.

I hear him finally un-tuck the violin from his neck. The piece is over, but the final sounds continue passing through my mind. I am distracted from mentally replaying the music only when I feel the violin bow puncture my neck and pass all the way through my throat.

I lie on the ground, completely ripped open and spilling onto the floor.

The man stands, and I hear his footsteps leave the room. All is silent now, except for the cars that continue to pass, unchanged, outside the window. I still can make no sense of these last few moments.

Of course, at this point, it doesn’t matter. 

I know my time is done. All I have left is the music, which I continue to listen to in my mind as it slowly, painfully fades away, and everything is completely gone.