Never Been Inside
been inside the house, you know."
knew for a fact he'd been over to dinner at least three times.
Elsa was private, but after four months of dating she'd allowed
been on the porch, but I've never let him inside."
been to dinner-"
"I mean he's
never been inside my house," her emphasis finally came
"Ah," I didn't
know quite what to say.
around in the front yard," she nodded meaningfully, "but beyond
the odd peek in the windows, that's it."
trust him in the house?" I said, playing along and hoping there
was a point to this seemingly meaningless revelation.
"I don't think
it's necessary," she agreed. "I've let him in as far as the front
door, and at some point he can come the rest of the way, but for
now, I think he can wait."
I could think
of a few needed home repairs that might alloy his interest, but
I asked, "He's never tried?"
it. And I've stopped him climbing over the back fence a few times,"
Elsa shifted meaningfully in her chair. "But I'm having none of
that. I told him the key to the backyard gate is lost and my storage
shed is closed permanently, unless I want to do some spring cleaning."
and rambling metaphor was starting to go beyond what I could follow.
I said nothing for a moment. We sat in silence, me pondering the
doors of Elsa's house and her pressing her palms over the stretched
fabric of her pants.
"When do you
plan to let him in?" I asked lamely.
He's never getting in the kitchen entrance."
I tried to
imagine the layout of Elsa's house in reference to the new information.
"But I might
let him beyond the porch in the next few weeks. Depends on whether
he's a pushy salesman or the meter reader. A liquored up home
invader, or just some elderly relative. I'd rather have a plumber
good with his hands, than some demanding census taker, if you
know what I mean?"
Elsa that I understood, even as I was uncertain, then told her
I had to catch my bus home. On the way, I watched the sun wash
over my dingy city. I had stayed at Elsa's until the dawn light
had addled the conversation, and all my responses felt like they
were tongued around cough drops and raw with chafing.
I tried to
ignore the tiny clapboard houses, and the more stolid brick duplexes.
I tried not to think of their many entrances and windows that
needed cleaning. I wilfully forgot the alarm systems of the rich
that brought a paid security service running when the door was
breached, the many keys that are lost and the finality of deadbolts.
I tried to look away as I saw a drunken reveller fishing for his
keys and vainly trying to understand the lock while my bus idled
at a red light. We pulled away while he was still fumbling, and
I remembered the many times I'd rung doorbells and buzzed strange
apartments. I remembered calling ahead, only to find the doors
locked and the lights out.
is just such a ritual, I suddenly thought. It is about the opening
of doors under some pretence. Trick or Treat. Open the door to
give me treats or I will play a trick on you. Christmas is more
about the visitation of staid relatives. They are visitors you
haven't seen in a long while and who hover uncomfortably in the
living room until they leave, the detritus of their visit mince
pies and candies. Easter is for opening your house to children,
and while they search for goodies hidden behind dusty furniture
and in cupboards, you try to let them have their fun, the magic
of that evening meaning nothing to you, although as a child it
was a wonder-filled time. New Year's is about drunken groping,
staggering home with an equally inebriated partier, wondering,
in your sodden state, if you can key the locks of your own house.
Valentine's Day is staged, with its window dressing of feeling,
the long fingers of its attempted touching slapped away by the
closing door of a house you'll never be inside.
We open our
house on other occasions as well. The official calendar holidays
are superseded by the informality of weddings and funerals. At
the marriage ceremony, you feel as though you glimpse the foyer
of a beautiful building that you will never be allowed to enter.
Faceless valets take your coat and do not return it; you strongly
suspect it has been sent away for shredding. You watch the happy
couple, dancing through the ritual that will allow them into the
temple, and just before the doors shut and they are lost from
view, you see her dress yellow with age and he grows a sudden
the grim house is long and dark. Rooms that have been closed for
many years tempt prying children, who peek through the keyhole
and are justifiably terrified at the thought of entrance. Funerals
are about battening the hatch on the other holidays. It's a locked
entry of a celebration. Christmas rituals suddenly look like knickknacks
in the foyer forever beckoning toward an audience, and Easter
is a fantasy not even entertained by the grieving. New Year's
becomes something to look forward to, once the coffin is safely
sealed by the ground, and Valentine's is not even on the horizon.
the unlocked, gaping entrance of its mad hilarity and dried leaf
and candy wrapper litter, with its plastic skeletons and bobbing
bats, its orange skulls and discount uniforms, makes sense at
a funeral. Halloween suddenly resembles a celebration; for every
door that has so recently closed, a dozen playful others open,
their insights beckoning, and the long hand of their judgement
off or what?"
out of my reverie at the bus driver's question, and then realized
I'd been tugging on the cord for long minutes, the bell trying
to ring open a door that seemed so firmly closed. Is it true
the door can't be opened unless the bus is stopped? I unclamped
my fingers from the cord, ignoring the blocked stares of the commuters,
and left, the gate miraculously releasing me into the frost of
early morning. I thought about my tiny apartment, about the fire
escape entrance which had been nailed shut due to burglary, about
the deadbolt on my front door. Suddenly, I couldn't face the landing,
the lidless eyes that peered from keyholes to watch me enter.
I knew no other place I would be welcome so early in the winter
dawn, so I went downtown.
Only in the
city centre do we find doors that are permanently open, their
entrances soiled with the many winter boots of desperate solace,
coffee shops that never close, the price of their entrance having
to drink their mixture of motor oil and river mud. I suddenly
remembered that libraries are open as well, and welcome equally
the steamy bundled derelict in the magazine section and the executive
with his self-help books. Police stations are open too, although
the price of entering is too steep for any except the most desperate.
Downtown I could find hospitals and shelters, and some churches,
ignoring the many times their doors had been breached by false
prophets and clergy, stayed open for the needy.
door was closed, I realized. Elsa's world was one of earned entrance
and careful tabulation, but hers was only a small house on the
fringes of a huge city. The teeming multitudes had long ago found
a fluctuating answer to the lost keys of fear and the slammed
door of desperation. They lived in a world of weather stripping
and lifted doormats, of long cords that opened the lock on the
landing, of generous buzzers that opened to all, listening only
for a certain timbre of voice, a kindliness.