from The Night Circus and Other Stories
translated by Julia and Peter Sherwood
This translation is available from Parthian Books.
Reprinted with permission.
I woke up in a place I didn’t recognise. It wasn’t my flat, my bed or my bed linen. I found myself lying in the middle of a vast empty room, white as fog, with polished floors and no lamps or electric sockets. There were no windows and the only door opened into a kitchen. I got up and tiptoed around the room. My feet didn’t make a sound on the floor. The kitchen wasn’t really a kitchen either; it had no cooker, no fitted cupboards, no sink. It was as white as the other room, and the only piece of furniture was a fridge. It was an Electrolux and the lights on its huge door twinkled like those of a spaceship. It stood in the corner of the room, completely silent, and the electric cable emerging from its bowels disappeared somewhere into the distance. I opened the fridge. There weren’t any shelves, boxes or an egg tray. It was crammed full of meat. Animal feed, I guessed. Strewn about the floor were chopped off thighs, blood-red lungs, tails, a big purple tongue, ribs and… a dog. A white dog with black spots around his eyes. The spitting image of the dogs you see in vintage photographs, the kind that sit on a cushion with a kitten between their paws. I touched it. It was as cold as all the other meat. It was ice-cold. Like the fridge. Nevertheless, it opened its eyes and looked at me with misty eyes. It wagged its tail and shivered like bees struck by spring hail. It tried to smile but its lips managed only a frozen sneer. It seemed to be resigned to lying there and didn’t even try to get out. A freezing dog, I thought, and slammed the fridge door shut.
The fridge flashed its lights like a spaceship and they multiplied exponentially. Both rooms were now filled with flashing, softly whirring fridges. I went from one room to another, opening the fridges. All were crammed full of frozen meat but the dog was nowhere to be seen. I rummaged through piles of lungs and dug my fingers into bone-hard thighs, breaking my fingernails. Where are you, I yelled, but the only response was chilly silence. I kept opening fridge after fridge but couldn’t find the dog anywhere.
My knees started to tremble in panic and cold sweat trickled down my back. The thought that I would never find the dog again made me compress my lips until they were just a thin line. The idea that I would never be able to let it out of the fridge made me gasp for air. Where are you, I yelled again. Like a stack of cards, the fridges collapsed into a single one.
I opened it. It was completely empty. No dog or meat. Just the cold white surface. I walked in.
Cold enveloped me. It felt as if my entire body had been smothered in a coolant emulsion. I found myself standing in a huge room that opened into a hallway. The hallway was blue, a cold blue like the coldest sky in Antarctica. I kept walking. The hallway was full of shiny little tubes and droning compressors, and the frozen liquid formed a thin layer of ice on the floor. I slipped. I crashed into a wall and my nose started bleeding. The blood turned into a thousand tiny red balls, all rolling unstoppably in one direction, as if pulled by some unknown force. I ran after the little balls. They led me to a gigantic kennel, totally white with a little red heart on the front wall, a bit like dog kennels in the countryside. It was there, tied to the kennel. The dog. It was still cold but there was now more spring to its movements and I saw it was trying to tear itself free of the coarse rope that was strangling its neck. The dog kept tugging away but the cold rope seemed frozen solid to its skin. I started looking for scissors or a knife but all the pockets on my pyjamas were sewn up. I broke down in tears. I chewed on the rope, scratched at it with my fingernails, spat on it to loosen it. Freezing fog began to pour out of the compressor, becoming ever thicker. My muscles were getting stiff, my toes were turning purple. And the dog yowled. I was frightened that we would freeze to death, that I would never manage to untie the rope, that we would stay in the fridge forever. Like the meat. Animal feed.
I must get some hot water, I thought. My mum always used hot water to defrost the fridge. I tried to collect enough saliva in my mouth and wondered how on earth I could get hold of hot water in this fridge.
As the first drops of hot urine started to flow, my hands were the first to warm up. I strained to make as much liquid as possible spurt out of my body. The urine made a hissing noise as it came into contact with the frozen rope. At first the yellow vapour stung my eyes. The rope began to soften. It started to yield, melting like ice cream in the sun. The dog was free. The minute the rope eased off its neck we found ourselves outside the fridge.
The room was still completely white but now I was beginning to make out delicate patterns on the walls, little Braille-like bumps forming flowers and sea-shells, butterfly wings and giant trees. My eyes slowly followed lines that resembled men, women and children. The more I touched the walls the more pronounced the lines became. I realised they were all coming together, melding into endless stories.
The dog sniffed at me. Its coat acquired the sheen of white coffee. It lay on the floor contentedly, steam rising from its mouth. I noticed a small white handle on the right-hand side of the wall. I pushed it. The dog ran up to my feet, wagging its tail. A door suddenly appeared in the wall and opened wide. On the other side I saw my room, my bed with its dishevelled blankets and pillows, my clothes and favourite books. The sun came streaming through the windows. The stuffy smell of a room just waking up made my knees tremble. I looked into the dog‘s eyes. It held my stare, looking straight back at me. Intently, as if trying to tell me something. As if trying to instil in me the idea that had kept it alive in the fridge. My scratched fingers began to sting. The appeal of the room’s smell was irresistible. Come, I said, and the dog gracefully leapt onto the blue carpet, sniffing it. Then it started running around the room. While I turned the radio on and made some hot coffee it made a wet patch on the carpet. I gave it a stern look. The dog sat there scratching itself behind the ears, yelping happily.