Sitting here in Taylor Wimpey’s ghost home development The Denizen on Golden Lane I don’t know why I should write this. I don’t want to. I don’t feel able. And I know Chang would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way—it is such a relief! But the effort is getting to be greater than the relief.
Half the time now I am awfully lazy and lie down ever so much. Chang says I musn’t lose my strength and has me take cod-liver oil and lots of tonics and things, to say nothing of ale and wine and rare meat.
Dear Chang! He loves me very dearly, and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest reasonable talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me socialise with some of the friend’s he’s made in London. There’s no one to talk to in The Denizen, nearly all the flats are empty and even the concierge who is supposed to be on call 24-7 disappears for hours at a time. I followed one concierge and discovered he spent a lot of time in a betting shop when he’s supposed to be working. Those holding this job come back to The Denizen if you call them on their smartphones. When you ring down to the desk you get a message with their mobile number.
Chang said I wasn’t well enough to socialise, that I’d exhaust myself. I did not make a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished. It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose. And dear Chang gathered me up in his arms and laid me on the bed, and sat by me and read to me till it tired my head.
Chang said I was his darling and his comfort and all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and keep well. He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let any silly fancies run away with me. But I still wish I didn’t have to live with the horrid wallpaper. Of course I never mention it to Chang any more—I am too wise—but I keep watch of it all the same.
There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder—I begin to think—I wish Chang would take me away from The Denizen! We could go home or just go somewhere else in London, I’d be happy to be anywhere that isn’t a Taylor Wimpey luxury investment apartment. The Denizen is ninety percent empty but it isn’t soulless, it is creepy!
It is so hard to talk with Chang about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so. But I tried it last night. Chang was asleep and I hated to wake him, so I kept still and watched that undulating wallpaper till I felt sick. The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out. I got up softly and went to feel and see if the paper did move, and when I came back Chang was awake.
“What is it, little girl?” he said. “Don’t go walking about like that—you’ll get cold.”
I though it was a good time to talk, so I told him that I really was not gaining here, and that I wished he would take me away.
“Why darling!” said he, “our lease will be up in three weeks. Of course if you were in any danger I could and would, but you really are better, dear, whether you can see it or not. I am a nurse, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and colour, your appetite is better. I feel really much easier about you.”
“I don’t weigh a bit more,” said I, “nor as much; and my appetite may be better when you are here, but it is worse when you are away.”
“Bless her little heart!” said he with a big hug; “she shall be as sick as she pleases! But now let’s improve the daylight hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!”
“And we can’t go away?” I asked gloomily.
“It is only three weeks more. Really, dear, you are better!”
“Better in body perhaps”—I began and stopped short, for he sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.
“My darling,” said he, “I beg of you, for my sake as well as for your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish fancy. Can you not trust me as your husband when I tell you so?”
So of course I said no more on that score, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn’t—I lay there for hours trying to decide whether that front pattern and the back pattern really did move together or separately.
On a pattern like this, by daylight, there is a lack of sequence, a defiance of law, that is a constant irritant to a normal mind.
The colour is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.
You think you have mastered it, but just as you get well under way in following, it turns a back somersault and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples upon you. It is like a bad dream.
The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions—why, that is something like it. That is, sometimes!
There is one marked peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes. It changes so quickly that I never can quite believe it. That is why I watch it always. By moonlight I wouldn’t know it was the same paper.
At night in any kind of light it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be. I didn’t realize for a long time what the thing was that showed behind—that dim sub-pattern—but now I am quite sure it is a woman. By daylight she is subdued, quiet. I fancy it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is so puzzling. It keeps me quiet by the hour.
I lie down ever so much now. Chang says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can. Indeed, he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal. It is a very bad habit, I am convinced, for, you see, I don’t sleep. And that cultivates deceit, for I don’t tell him I’m awake—oh, no!
The fact is, I am getting a little afraid of Chang. He seems very queer sometimes. It strikes me occasionally, just as a scientific hypothesis, that perhaps it is the paper! I have watched Chang when he did not know I was looking, and come into the room suddenly on the most innocent excuses, and I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper!