Umber: a mixture of colours ‘terra d’ombra’ (earth of shadows) in Italian was first made from mixing rich soil with iron oxide. People used it in paintings to show connections between the inner and outer selves. It’s a little hue that points towards the uncertain.
When I woke up in umber I was surrounded by uncertainty. One thing that I was certain about was the fact that the room in which I woke was both my room and a room that was somebody else’s.
After clearing most of the grit from my eyes, I was able to see more clearly. Yes, it was my room and yes, it was some other room. And the source of the singing was not my demon friend but the girl that I had seen before in my dream. And she was in the process of getting undressed. I hid beneath the covers so as not to cause her any panic. Questions such as: what was she doing here, why was she getting ready for bed, and how did a girl manage to get into Sandham were never questions that rose to the front of my mind. I was most definitely dreaming and in such confusing dreams I normally settled myself by counting up to five hundred. This helped to focus my mind upon something definite which meant that it didn’t go wandering off along avenues that only ended up in confusion. I was on thirty-seven when I felt the cover lifting at the side of me, felt that cold air of the night (by this time, I was certain that it was night because nobody apart from university students, and people who had no paid employment, ever went to bed during the day. I was thinking about this when the warmth of her body brushed up against mine. For a moment, she froze. And for a moment, I froze. Then she put out a tentative hand to investigate what she knew to be something that could not be. Then she screamed.
Next was a flash of movement, a tearing back of the sheets and blankets, and a rapid exit from bed. I wanted to offer her some words of comfort, explain that this was my room in a boys only boarding school for boys with, well with that thing that we all shared, but the light was on and she was looking straight at me and she was wearing a night gown. The umber had drifted away and the certainty of an electric light had replaced it.
“What are you doing in my bedroom?” We both wanted to ask. But I was back in sleep again and was not to wake up again for some time.