All the rooms looked out onto the internal courtyard, where a small, two-story cottage was surrounded by vegetable and flower gardens, and one very tall, leafy tree, which provided shade in the summer and dropped its leaves to allow the sun to warm the cottage in the winter.
Magda’s room was the same as everyone else’s: very small, with a microwave and cooler sat on a counter, a bathroom, a bed, a chair, and one window only, to the courtyard. The room was painted pearl grey, and the venetian blinds on the window were beige.
They were allowed pictures on the wall, but no nails; only pushpins. Magda had a map of the world across from the bed. It was the only thing she could think of to pin to a pearl grey wall in a compound that surrounded a picturesque cottage.
She had four books. She’d read them all last summer, when they first rotated in. Now she was reading them again. One was called “Surnames Through the Ages”; another was a children’s book about a blue rabbit, a third was a tenth grade history textbook covering 1939 to 1945, and the last book was a novel called “The Lustful Professor”. This was not her favourite book rotation.
It was December now; there was almost always a steady stream of white smoke streaming out of the chimney of the cottage. A dusting of snow lay on the ground. The tall tree was skeletal and imposing, stark against a white winter sky.
Mr Simmons would be visiting her later. They would have sex, then sit by the window to see if anyone came in or out of the cottage. In winter, it was frustrating to see footprints in fresh snow, and not see who imprinted them.
The window didn’t open, but if it had or ever did, Magda and Mr Simmons had a plan to sneak out and set the cottage on fire, watch it burn, and then watch it rise again out of the ashes, day by day, rebuilt in all it’s fusty charm, with the stone chimney, the wrought iron gates, the gabled windows.
As twilight settled in, comfortably blanketing the octagonal compound and the cottage, Magda could see lights twinkling past the cottage across the courtyard. Other Magdas, other Mr Simmons, in their pearl grey rooms, had their eyes on the cottage gate, pondered the footprints, and tested the latch on the windows, plotting.