Saturday, June 28, 2014

The open door

July 6, 1980 (recounting an event from 1958)

They always left that door open, those strange neighbors of my married uncle where he lived up in West Milford.
And it always bothered me each time I went up to visit for a weekend or a week (the length of time depending on how much trouble I’d gotten into recently or whether my mother was acting up in the hospital and they needed to keep me calm.)
Half swung in, this was a small cellar door with four dirty panes, and a large gray shackle for a padlock – which hung from the unlatched loop like a silver drip.
It haunted me each time I saw that door, and made me ache to go over and shut it. I kept thinking something might come out that I didn’t want to see, some terrible, gruesome beast or monster. But it is exactly that which kept me from going there.
Sometimes, sleeping in a room on that side of my uncle’s house, I heard the lock rattle in the wind, or the rusted hinges groan.
In morning, I would glance at the window for some sign of the beasts I was sure had wandered out and come near to the window where I slept. But I saw no sign.
I also never saw sign of the neighbors that supposedly lived there, and presumed they stayed in the upper spires of that old house.
When I came down to breakfast with my uncle and aunt and their batch of kids, I must have looked pale. My aunt asked if I felt all right – presuming I was upset about my mother. My uncle, grumbling from behind his newspaper, told her to leave me alone, meaning that I had to learn to deal with life’s tragedies. He was always such a practical man. I dared not ask either about the house next door or its strange neighbors, or why they kept that basement door open all the time.
So on this particular day when I went outside after breakfast, I could not stop staring at that door. Its gaping hole was like a hole in me.
And so I started towards it, grimly determined to shut it, my small feet stumbling over tuffs of grass growing between the stones of the walk, kicking them by accident so that they clattered ahead of me like an advertisement.
I cringed with each unintended sound and the door grew larger at my approach, as did the windows above, dark and dirty, so that I imagined each of them framing faces that looked down at me.
I shivered even though it was hot. The palms of my hands sweated as I came face to face with the hole in the world and reached in with my small hand to grasp what seemed to be a very large door handle.
I yanked on it. The door, groaning like something dying, came only half way before catching on some stone embedded on the dirt inside. I kicked the stone, and then pulled the door again, slamming it, causing a shudder to ripple through the whole house. Then I ran like hell back to my uncle’s house, and around the other side where I didn’t have to see it, shaking when I got there as if the temperature had dropped to below zero, and yet filled with intense pride.
In the middle of the night, I dreamed of groaning and moaning, and fierce monsters that were pounding on the door to be let out.
When I woke in the morning, I stared out my window only to find that someone had opened the door again.

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