Monday, 20 February 2012

The Door

By the time that second year of their marriage had ended, the love she had once felt for him had long since died and been replaced by indifference. She knew it, and was glad only that it had not yet deepened to despairing hatred.

She could see clearly that he scarcely noticed her existence anymore. She could hardly remember when he’d last spoken to her. He had his work, and he had whatever he did in the room at the back of the house, where the light burned late into the night. He kept that room always locked. When he went in or came out, he’d open it only just enough to get through it, and lock it at once afterwards. He kept that key – and none other – on a cord round his neck.

“It’s my space,” he had said once, in the early days, when she had asked. “You have Myspace. I have my space. That’s the way these things go.” And he had smiled at her and ruffled her hair, and afterwards made love to her with energy and passion. But he had not told her what lay behind the locked door, and never, not once in these two years, had she ever got a chance to lay her hands on the key.

Now winter lay heavy on the land, and inside the house she felt isolated and oppressed. She no longer had a job, of course, after the company had shut down; there simply weren’t any to go around in this small town so far from anywhere. The town was dying, the people had begun to say, because the company had been the town. But it hadn’t died, at least not yet; and now she felt savage satisfaction at the thought of its death.

One day when she had gone out to the store and found the shelves mostly bare, she had returned to the house with one can of fish and a loaf of bread and nothing else besides; she knew it wouldn’t matter to him because he seemed to be able to survive without food. He hardly ever seemed to eat anything any more. It was not that he didn’t give her money.  There just wasn’t anything to buy. Mostly she had begun concocting meals, often surprisingly good ones, with what little she had. But lately it had got hard to accept any more.

And on that day some kind of internal barrier had broken. Everything she had grown to learn to tolerate had suddenly got too much to bear. She had stood in the centre of the dreary living room, and looked around at the tatty red carpet and the yellowed curtains, and she had said aloud to herself, “I can’t take this any longer. I’ve to get away.”

But she had no money, no job, no prospects, and the economy had crashed so hard that there was no chance of her landing work paying enough to survive on. Besides, she strongly suspected that she had lost the habit of working. She looked at herself in the mirror: stringy hair, loosening figure, a double chin on its way. “You’re a wreck,” she said.

That day she went and stood outside the locked door for a long time. All of a sudden she had begun to hate that door with a complete and terrible intensity; it seemed to symbolise everything that imprisoned her and cut her off from the world. She felt that if only she could smash that door, she would be all right. She knew at the same time that in reality it would make not the slightest difference – but the hatred of it was stronger than the logic that informed her that the door wasn’t to blame for anything.

It was a thick, old door, of thick old unadorned wood, and the hinges were on the other side, so she couldn’t even unscrew them to get inside. She had no idea what lay on the other side except that – going by the dimensions of the house – there should be a fair-sized room. There were no windows in the outside wall, which was on the first floor; she had checked for one, long ago. Above it was only the steeply sloping roof.

After that day she began actively seeking a chance to enter that room. It became a focus of her entire life; she would rise in the middle of the night and wander the corridors until she would stand before it, mesmerised by the sliver of yellow light that gleamed round the edges. She would reach out for the handle and then pull her hand back at the last instant, afraid more that she would find it open than the certain knowledge that even now, in the middle of the night, it would be locked.

So one day she came right out and asked him again. “There’s nothing there,” he had said, his eyebrows twitching as they always did when he began to get angry. The next step would be his nostrils flaring. “It’s just my private stuff.” She didn’t ask anything more.

She began to fantasise about breaking the door down. By now the door had ceased to be a symbol in her mind and become an actual living, breathing, malignant entity, an enemy. She waited till he had gone to work and then came and stood outside it, touching it all over, probing with her fingers for weakness. She grew to know every grain of her side of the door, every knot, every bump. She almost began to crave the touch of that door. Gradually, she began to almost love the door. She would strip and rub herself over it, somehow obscurely feeling that her naked body might find some secret in it that her hands could not.

Little by little she shed weight, her cheekbones sticking out, her double chin long vanished. Her only thought on waking was of how to open that door; at night she still thought of it. It was the only focus of her life.

Finally, one day, she found a long and thick screwdriver with a green plastic handle. She hid it in her clothes, almost as though it were contraband. She kept it under her clothes while cooking herself a meagre dinner, and she still had it when she went to bed.

That night she had a strange dream. In her dream she was in bed, and she got up and walked naked through the first-floor corridor to the other side of the house where the locked door was, the journey she had made a thousand times over the last few months. She touched the wall with one hand, and the other held the screwdriver, ready to pick away at the wood to – she did not know what. It didn’t matter, because when she arrived at the door, for the first time ever, she found it not only unlocked but slightly ajar.

In her dream, she saw her pale hand, floating as if distinct from her body, reach out and open the door, and she saw him rising from a little table with a few open books and a burning lamp on it and turning, his face twisting with fury, and she thrust the screwdriver forward to defend herself and the screwdriver punched through his throat.

She didn’t remember very much of the dream after that. She had a vague memory of wrapping his body in an old carpet and lugging it down to the car, of pulling on a shapeless dressing gown and driving the car out of the town till she was far into the woods, and there, in the dream, she dug a hole in the ground and rolled him into it and shovelled the earth back. She then drove back to the house and cleaned up. It was a very strange dream.

The next day he was missing, and the day after that, when he was still missing, she called the police. They searched the house, and the room behind the door, and found nothing except a few shelves of books and a several diaries full of notes for a novel. “It was just a private study,” she heard one policeman say to the other as they left. She herself stood, wondering what had happened to him, wondering why she was so worried.

By then, she did not remember the dream at all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

1 comment:

  1. AM I dreaming I am a butterfly or is the butterfly dreaming it is me? Some nights ago in a dream I helped a friend to poison somebody and I was very afraid that the poison would harm the ones I love. It was quite real, until I awoke.


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