shift

THE SMALL ROOM | After leaving the city behind, Rachel Jarmy reflects on what’s still to come.

Non-fiction

by Rachel Jarmy

There are people who like change. Who decide things like nothing rides on it, like they’re always sure. I watch these people wave their hand over the cocktail menu of life every day, saying to the waiter, ‘surprise me’. I have to look at the menu in advance. I have to plan my answer. I need help remembering that change can be a hello as well as a goodbye.

Everyone talks about moving on from the city one day. Lots do it, and others stay in the place where there are countless precious cracked pavements, ornate doorknobs, smashed telephone boxes and carefully thought-out spaces of green. This vast, multi-personality being holds us close with its railway track, bus route, tramrail hands and kisses us on the forehead with a breath of smog, laundrette steam and watermelon vape.

More space or sourdough doughnuts on your doorstep? Owning property or never worrying about getting home at 2 a.m.? Taking the next step or cherishing the steps you’ve taken here? Your bakery. Your train. Your streets that you see on TV. Your view where he proposed. Your church where it was made real.

‘Well, you just have to compromise. You can’t have it all…’ they all said. 

I know. I know. 

I came to this vast house of a city, with zones for rooms and suburbs for plush lawns, in my late twenties. Too late, maybe. Driving in a full-to-busting car into its streets like a red blood cell hurtling down its veins. But like a red blood cell, I knew even then I wouldn’t be missed when I was gone. The city was a host. A grand, but generous host.  

It once charged me fifty pounds for avocado on toast, tea and orange juice for two, but I still remember how hot it was that Easter Bank holiday, and how we read the papers quietly together. Our rent funded the landlord’s yacht, but I’ll always remember quivering in that living room that smelt like our fabric softener, having hundreds of buttons done up on the back of my long white gown, and buzzing the florist up the stairs with my bouquet. It was the price we paid, and it was a worthy investment. 

The contrast between there and here is like the colours in a photo filtered in X-Pro II. Here, there are farmers instead of farmer’s markets. Corner shops named after the owners instead of cloned facades selling the same sandwiches. A basket of marrows with a note saying, ‘Please take me, I’m going spare,’ instead of suspicion and clattering coded gates. Your feet don’t take you as far here. The streets I now walk on aren’t famous. 

But we have grass that’s our responsibility to keep and squirrels that commute through our garden every morning. Our squirrels – we can tell them apart. There’s a washing line where our sheets now billow with the smell of sunlight and not a dehumidifier. There are frames on the walls that have long lived under beds, paint chosen from a lifetime of wondering what colours we’d choose, and a fridge that’s not dangerously ancient. We have small niggles we don’t have to fight to get fixed, post that’s just for us landing on our own doormat, and recycling bins that we know will only ever be filled with what can actually be recycled. These are the things people leave for.

And then there’s the room we’ve gained. The small room. 

For now, it’s an office. But it’s the reason. The reason we’re here. It’s what we gave up sourdough and Ubers and Borough Market for. We don’t say it as simply as that, but when we walk past it and catch each other’s eyes, we know it’s the truth. And in the space on my beside table where one set of pills used to sit in ritual, a bottle of folic acid now replaces them. 

I’d longed to be a small being in that city and now I long to be the city, to be the host. That shift has seeded itself to me, and the roots have slowly attached, even if I know the tree might take a long time to mature and grow fruit. It’s pot-bound to me now. I wonder what would happen to these roots if that room stayed an office. 

“I’d longed to be a small being in that city and now I long to be the city, to be the host.”

We came to the city writing separate addresses on forms, and we left wearing matching circles on our fingers. I came to the city with expectations higher than the buildings and I left with more words to my name. We came to the city preventing and we left trying. I came to the city just as spring was starting and we left as summer was getting too hot. 

Autumn is the true season of beginning. Autumn is where it starts. Another school year. A whole year married. Green to golden. Stifling inhalation to a fresh exhale. The time where everything goes inwards to that unseen, unknowable place where life can unfurl all over again, no matter what’s come before. 

Spring is youth but autumn is maturity. Autumn is the small room. And hoping, after saying goodbye, that we’ll get to say hello.



Rachel Jarmy | @racheljarmyracheljarmy.co.uk
Rachel has written three plays, produced in Cambridge and the Edinburgh Fringe. Her musical Just Pretend was produced in London last year, and she’s written features for Oh Comely and, most recently, TES.  She’s currently working on a memoir, around the day job.