Thursday, August 12, 2004

The Room in the Attic the title of the Steven Millhauser story in the Tin House Summer Fiction Issue. In the story a teenage boy named Dave makes nightly visits to Isabel, who confines herself to the darkness of her attic after suffering a breakdown. They meet over a Connecticut summer, and play guessing games involving description and touching--"playing the game of darkness." One night, Dave brings a flashlight to the attic, and plans to turn it on during their games:
"She would spring into existence--at last!--if only for a second, before vanishing into the hidden world. I would apologize and we would continue as before.

As I sat in the stiff chair, holding the little flashlight and listening to Isabel tell me about a new word game she'd invented, I kept waiting for the right moment. I could hear her shifting in the bed--I imagined her moving her arms about as she talked. Then I imagined her sleeves, perhaps pajama sleeves, slipping back along her gesturing forearms. At that instant my desire to see her, to strip her of darkness, became so ferocious that I raised my fingertips to my throat and felt the thudding of my blood. It seemed to me that to shine the light at Isabel, to expose her to my greedy gaze, would be like tearing off her clothes. With a feeling of shame, of sorrow, and of something that felt like gratitude, I returned the light to my pocket.

On the way home I thought: What attracts you is the darkness, the existence of an unseen, mysterious world. Why do you want to destroy that world?"

The climax, logically, is the moment of Isabel's emergence into light, both to Dave and to the reader. I won't say what happens. Pick up an issue on Tin House while they're still available.

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