Joy Manné links flash fictions into short stories, writing usually in parts: solos, duets, choruses; different views of the whole experienced by different characters as the story builds, arcs and reaches its ending.
She is a much-published and translated author in the relationship field. Her Flash Fiction has been published online in Chicago Literati, Airgonaut, Café Aphra and Village Square, among others; and in print in Offshoots (The Geneva Writers Group Biannual journal), The Ham, One Hundred Voices 2, and other places. Her first short story, Miss Julie, was published in The Write Launch in November. She has published three children’s books. Joy won the Geneva Writers Group prize for Non-Fiction in 2017.
Joy lives in Switzerland.
I know it is a room because I opened a door and walked through the doorway into it. I put my hand onto a handle, pressed it down, and the door opened with a click.
Doors lead into rooms. Doors also lead into gardens but this isn’t a garden because nothing grows here, or nothing I can see—if I can still see: everything is white. And if it were a garden, there would be the smell of earth and growing. And it didn’t feel like a gardeney kind of door although when it closed it clicked like a chicken pecking a crumb off gravel.
I am here because I opened a door and walked into a white room. I remember stepping through the doorway and closing the door. I don’t recall why I closed the door, but I remember the slithery sound of a latch sliding home and a subdued suck when it arrived. I have good hearing.
All this white erases my past, but I still function. I’m still intelligent. If I went through a door, I must have had a reason. If I can remember who I am, I will remember the reason because I know I am both intelligent and rational, and rational people don’t act without a reason. I am also reasonable. I will start with a fact.
People who are intelligent and rational like facts; people who are reasonable like reasons.
I opened a door and walked through a doorway into a room where everything I see is white. I am through this doorway and I walked through of my own free will; I wasn’t pushed. I reason, therefore, that I wanted to go through the doorway. Why?
I will find out where I am.
I went through the door and stepped into the room – one step, perhaps two. I turned and closed the door. Therefore I am facing the door and two steps away from it. I reach out stretched arms, palms vertical to land flat on the door.
My hands have landed. I can see them. I can see my shiny black skin. I remember. I am a black-skinned woman of Ethiopian origins. Oh, beautiful black of precious identity. My hands are black. I can see.
My hands are large. I am a large black woman of Ethiopian origins. I am in a white room, dressed in white from head to foot so I cannot see myself. When I stretched out my arms, the sleeves of my garment lifted and showed me my black hands. Why am I dressed in white? Why did I close the door?
Did I close the door?
This is a riddle. It is a spell. I have fallen out with someone or someone has fallen out with me. I am a powerful black-skinned woman of Ethiopia origins. I know how to break spells, how to end their power: they cannot hold you in a place when you know where you are. They cannot hold you in a place that you know. They cannot hold you if you know who you are.
I have clues. I am wearing clothes so white they are startling against my shiny black skin. Now that I know I can see, I can see them. If I bend my elbow, a spiral of dark folds appears, and—even though, somehow, everything is kept white—I can see blue in their shadows; blue and violet—no, mauve, close to lilac, and now that I gaze and gaze, from time to time there’s a spark of green.
And now I don’t move my eyes. I know what this is. It is an initiation. That is why I wear white. That is why although I walked into the room willingly, I did not know at first that I could see. I had been drugged.
I have been drugged. I do not know how long I have been in this room, nor what happened to me before I opened its door, but I now have certainty that it is an initiation. I am a powerful black woman of Ethiopian origins who is undergoing an initiation.
I am going to say those words aloud. I will chant them. In initiations there is chanting. ‘I am a black woman of Ethiopian origins who is undergoing an initiation.’ I’ll chant them louder, ‘I am a black woman of Ethiopian origins who is undergoing an initiation.’ I’ll shout—no, shouting cannot be part of an initiation. Initiation is about problem solving, learning, gaining power, strength, determination, endurance, and death. If I shout, someone may think I’m angry, that I’m panicking, that I’ve given up. You cannot give up an initiation and survive.
‘I am a black woman of Ethiopian origins who is undergoing an initiation.’
Yes. Echoes. White sound. I am a black woman in a white room which echoes white sound. A round room would echo too, but as I’ve never heard a round room echo, I will believe the walls are flat. I will check this with my hands. My beautiful strong shiny black hands that have planted and harvested teff, ground it in a mortar and mixed it with water and then watched days over its fermentation into injera, what the foreigners call sourdough; my hands that have poured injera onto my large black clay plate over the fire and watched flat bread cook, smooth on the bottom, porous on top to absorb the juices of my spicy meat and fragrant vegetable dishes; my hands that have plucked herbs in places I never showed to anyone, to make my dishes health-giving and strengthening. My beautiful shiny black hands.
My beautiful shiny black hands. I want to sing about what my hands have done, and stamp the rhythm of my song and clap, clap my shiny black hands: clap, clap-clap, clap, clap-clap; stomp, stomp; but if I shout they will hear me and will know what I’m thinking; they may add tests and difficulties if they think I’ve got too far too fast.
And if I stomp and clap, I will take my palms off this cold surface, which I now know is too cold to be a door. I cannot risk that. If I take my hands off, I won’t know where I am. If I take my hands off, that will give the objects power: the wall, the corners at right-angles, the white itself. I won’t do that.
When I move my bare feet in silent stamping, the floor is as cold as the surface against which I still press my palms.
It is time for me to leave this place.
I walked in and a door closed with a click that sounded like a chicken pecking on gravel. Do I face the door? I stand, feet-apart sturdy, and slide my hands against the surface, one step right, one back to centre, one step left, one back. Now two. Now three. I reach, hands vertical, ready to feel a vertical object. A doorframe? The corner of the room? Nothing. Now four. At five right, two walls meeting in a right-angle, the corner of the room.
Smooth walls. Rectangular or square room? If it is square, it is a magic room and I can walk a circle in it, a protective circle—but not too soon. I can only command the door to open when I know the room; when the room is mine.
At five left, another corner, and another right-angle. My reassuring black hands that have brought many babies into the world and seen many aged out of it now have some idea of the size of the room. I will continue right. Same size steps. Ten. Another corner. Right-angle. Another ten steps. Right-angle again. I am in a white cube. I know its size. I do not know how high it is.
They cannot hold you in a place if you know where you are. They cannot hold you in a place that you know. I know this place now. I will trail one hand against the wall and draw my magic circle.
They cannot hold you if you know who you are.
More memory comes back. My strong black hands have healed black and white equally. I have initiated others, holding sacred vessels and pouring unguents with my strong black hands.
Why is this initiation white?
White is all colours and none.
I am back with my palms against the wall on which I started. Next to my black hands, white wall, but if I move my eyes, shadow hands appear in purple outline
As I touched around the walls, the room became lighter: lit by a white light from an invisible source; lit so that now I can see I am in an empty cube.
I have brought light into this white cube, the light of intelligence and rationality. The light of reason. If I shut my eyes first I see white, then black. White turns to black. That is a clue but I do not know its meaning. Or do I? If white is reason, black is unfathomable depth.
My shiny black skin reflects white. That is how I know it shines. That’s how I know I have both reason and depth.
Now I can also see the door, five paces along this wall and in the middle of it where I could not feel it before.
I will command the door to open.
I hear the subdued suck of a latch disengaging. I hear the slithery sound of a latch sliding back.
The door moves away from my hands.
The light from the white cube casts a right-angled illumination.
Beyond it, everything is black, as black as my skin, unfathomably black.
I walk in. Behind me I feel the door closing: the click of the chicken pecking on gravel, a dark crunch when the tip of the curve of the latch slides into its home.
I know it’s a room because I walked into it. A room with a closed door feels different from a room with an open door. A room with a closed door feels different from open space.
I cannot tell if my eyes are open.
© 2018 Joy Manne