You Can Be Whoever You Want To Be
Madeleine Dunnigan

Sal had spent her life living in other people’s rooms. The lodger’s room she had at university to save on rent; the squat she moved to just after, where the walls were imprinted with others’ messages; the friend’s room she sublet in Lisbon when learning Portuguese; the maid’s chambre she had in Paris as an au pair. From each of these rooms she had taken something – a handful of potpourri, a previous occupant’s shoelace, a photograph of her friend’s mother that had slipped down the wall and the spare key to the maid’s room – which she kept in a box that accompanied her on her travels.

She had resolved, recently, to settle down. Find a room of her own, the walls of which she would adorn with her own happy memories. She would choose her bed linen and reading lamp. Be there long enough to discover if she was a plant person or not. Keep the books she read on a shelf, rather than passing them on as soon as she finished, and maybe even get into collecting something like ceramics, or scented candles, or mobiles.

But quite suddenly Sal needed a room and Kit’s was free, so she put plans for her own on hold, again, and moved South. As far as other people’s rooms go, Kit’s was one of the best. Deep and wide, it took up the front of the house, with enough space for a double bed, a sofa and floor room to do Jumpstyle, the Belgian electronic dance that Sal had recently begun teaching herself. Light from the bay window filtered through the wooden slatted blinds in the morning, bathing everything in a honey glow. Sal lay on the velvet sofa in her pyjamas, watching Jumpstyle videos until she got too warm, stripping off and practicing her Basis, Half-Twist, Full Twist, and Knee Spin Combo. She was getting pretty good and had 57 views on her last video. Legend50210 had commented: Now i can ninja kick my friends... IN STYLE! puts shades on Deal with it... :D

Sal wondered what she would take from this room to put in her box. Kit had a lot of stuff, products covered her counters, shoe-boxes were pilled high next to the bed, clothes hung from rails and spilled out of drawers. Sal put on Kit’s silk kimono and walked around the room, picking up items and putting them down. A pack of novelty matches from New York? A sample of an Aesop moisturiser? A pack of novelty Mochi?

She painted each of her nails a different colour from Kit’s nail varnish collection and lighted all of Kit’s candles, deciding that she, Sal, would definitely be a scented candle person too. She picked up one of Kit’s self-help books and tipped a handful of Kit’s vitamins into her mouth, not noticing as vitamin crumbs pooled in her lap. The scent of the candles and the sense the book gave her that she had been doing everything wrong for a while, made her sleepy and, even though it was only midday, she climbed back into Kit’s bed.

She awoke to the sound of ringing. The noise was coming from her, the harsh and familiar ring tone pouring out of her stomach. She felt something sharp in her side and reaching down she brought out a phone. ‘Home’ the screen said before going blank. A notification from Mum popped up, ‘Hi lovely, how are you doing?’ Sal typed back, ‘all good, just in bed! Mmm cozy ☺’ before realising it was not her phone. The diamanté stickers on the back spelled out the owner’s name: K.I.T. Mum sent back a love heart.

Sal got up and put on a pair of tight lime green trousers and a lilac shirt, pacing the room. She chewed off the nail varnish she had recently applied and tipped back another handful of vitamins. She read the motivational post it notes on the wall and took a few deep breaths. Then she made the bed, set up her camera and redid her Jumpstyle routine in her new outfit. Her followers soared to over a thousand.

Later, after reading the ‘Self-Love’ chapter of the book, she stripped naked and lay on the sofa, tears streaming down her face and pooling in her ears. The phone pinged. Seamus.

‘Hi babe, sorry but no can do Saturday anymore, can we raincheck?’

He hadn’t even offered an explanation. Sal felt the heat creep up her body and tapped out a quick reply.

‘Hi Seamus, sure we can raincheck, forever. I’m taking a long hard look in the mirror and reassessing how I interact with people around me. I don’t need people I can’t rely on, or this kind of toxic energy, so please don’t contact me again.’

She flung the phone away from herself in disgust and pulled a billowing pink dress, with ruffled sleeves and frilled edges, from the clothes rail. Then she redid her routine, adding in an extra knee spin and jump kick. She was well over the 10k mark now and clothing brands were DMing her for sponsorship, but she wanted to keep her brand authentic.

It was only when she was back on the sofa, the dress stained dark red under her armpits and on her back from sweat, that she realised what she had done. She felt nauseous. These were symptoms, she new from the self-help book chapter ‘Don’t Panic!’, which could be counteracted by artistic expression. She found a notebook and flipped to its blank pages, scribbling furiously. Once she had finished, she looked back through the pages and read with horror that slipped into fascination the most intimate revelations of the owner of her room. She spent the rest of the evening drip feeding herself Rescue Remedy and reading Kit’s diary, absorbing her thoughts and feelings.

The next morning there was a message from Karen.

‘Hi babe, can you talk? Had a bit of a mare, would really appreciate your sage advice xoxo’

No, Karen, she couldn’t talk. Kit wasn’t an endless source of support and advice. She had been working pretty hard recently to create boundaries and a healthy social structure that worked in symbiosis with her friends. Being treated like a kind of free counselling service was both unfair and draining.

‘Sorry,’ she typed before deleting it and starting again.

‘I’m not actually free right now. I think I need to take a step back from this friendship Karen as I don’t feel it is reciprocal – it would benefit if you asked every now and then how I’m doing. I need some space, I hope you will respect that.’

She chose a double denim outfit and paired it with a pair of box fresh 95s, good for the springiness of their soles. After she had finished recording her new Jumpstyle video she bent down so her face was close to the camera. Sal would have never had the confidence to talk to her followers but as Kit, she was a one-woman powerhouse who was here to tell you how it is. Snapping together a newly polished nails, she started by thanking all of her followers and encouraging them to push through, because she was totally terrible at Jumpstyle when she first began. She found strength in her family and friends, she said, turning the camera to show viewers her wall of framed photographs and photo-booth snaps. And also from her newly balanced lifestyle, she spoke about the virtues of clean living, personal boundaries and candles. She ended with a joke about masturbation, because she wasn’t a complete sincere freak and she still knew how to have fun! Then she looked directly into the camera and said, her voice no longer her own: ‘Remember, you can be whoever you want to be.’

She lay back and closed her eyes, feeling the morning sun warming her eyelids and filtering through her bones.

← back to the zine