Short Story: “Rhizome” by Daniel Miller

One
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a hexagonal room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is alloy orange. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—two through nine. In the center of room is a table and on the table is a note and on the note is writing and in writing is I love you and goodbye in his/her script. But he/she is still here you think, is still in the compound so you place the note into your pocket and choose a new door. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Two
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a rhomboidal room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is guppie green. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of two. Centered in the room is a large box and inside the box is a mannequin with a turban wrapped around his head and a vest lined with rhinestones. The box says Zoltar and below that the and below that Great. You don’t insert a quarter into the box but a ticket ejects anyway. The ticket reads: Where are you? No—where are you, really? You think to toss the ticket on the floor. You think better of it. You slide the ticket into your pocket and choose a new door. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Three
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a trapezoidal room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is icterine yellow. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of three. A series of monitors are bolted onto the north wall and each screen shows another room. On one screen—the screen marked six—is a figure. You try but cannot tell if the figure is him/her. On the bottom right hand of the screen, yesterday’s date blinks. On another screen—the screen marked three—a figure looks at the room’s monitors. The figure turns and you recognize the face as your own. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Four
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a circular room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is medium electric blue. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of four. You feel a vibration on your leg, in the pocket to the front and right. You pull a phone out by the tips of your first and second finger. When you answer, the reception is bad but you can hear him/her or at least some of what he/she is saying:

“Hello?”

“I’m here, I’m right …”

“Where?”

“…”

“Hello?”

“Talk soon?”

The line goes dead. You look at your phone and the battery has drained completely.

[PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Five
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a decagonal room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is raw umber brown. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of five. On the floor is a hand-carved, to-scale dollhouse identical to the house you inhabit. You kneel down and look through the dollhouse windows. You see the mother doll with her hands against her face. You see the father doll with his hands against his face. You see the baby doll face down in a crib cut from model wood. You knock, with your pointer finger, on the dollhouse door and when you look again in the window you see that the dolls have moved their hands and shifted their heads toward the noise. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Six
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a tetrahedral room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is pale copper. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of six. When you enter the room, the door marked seven has just closed. It isn’t moving but you can feel it. In the center of the room is an empty crib still rocking and you think, my son’s? You lean down and inhale and smell the warmth of infancy. You pull the string on a mobile hanging down from the ceiling. Inside, a cylinder revolves and pins pluck out your wedding song. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Seven
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a quatrefoil room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is languid lavender. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of seven. In each corner of the room is an industrial sized fan. The air blows open the door behind you and, down the corridor, the door behind that. The fans threaten to blow you as well but you brace yourself against the wall, creeping towards a new door. You can’t breathe and you wonder if your son felt the same way, face down in the blanket, thick wool crocheted in diamond shaped patterns. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Eight
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a rectangular room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is Tickle Me Pink. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through nine with the exception of eight. The floor in this room is covered in soil and roses push upward. On the room’s south side is a familiar headstone. You kneel in front of it and read the letters inscribed in the stone. You reach over to pick a rose and feel the prick of a thorn. You move your fingers to the stem and pull. When the rose lies in front of the headstone you place your finger in your mouth and taste copper. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

Nine
You exit the long or short corridor and enter a parallelogram room with a door on each wall. A room with paint on each wall, too, and the paint in this room is fire engine red. On each door, a numeral is printed in gold foil—one through eight. Oak shelves have been screwed into each of the walls in this room. Atop the shelves sit a series of hand painted Matryoshka dolls. The dolls do not fit one inside the other. The dolls are lined up from smallest to largest. Each set of dolls is missing one. Sometimes the largest doll is absent. Sometimes it’s one of the middle-sized dolls missing. You look at the faces painted on each doll and wonder which one is meant to be you. [PLEASE CHOOSE A DOOR]

 

 

***

Daniel Miller’s work has appeared in Conjunctions, Puerto del Sol, and Zone 3, among other publications, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Image: philipsheldrake.com

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