Artwork by Tim Judd. fb.me/Quillhook
It’s in the attic.
Or the garage. The broken down shed at the bottom of the garden. The place you didn’t check when you came to look round. The place you never deemed important. The place you never really go.
It lies, against the wall or the roof beams, or on the grey concrete floor in the darkness. It doesn’t creak or moan like the gibbering rafters, or contrive to fall over, like the gossiping garden equipment, or the bitter old abandoned toys.
It only waits.
You will find it. One day. It doesn’t matter how. Maybe you’ll be seized by a sudden energy, an urge to tidy perhaps, or a greedy instinct to check this house, which you so casually purchased, in case it might harbour something valuable. An art work, an antique. In this you will be disappointed.
But there’ll be something else. Among the debris, the forgotten elements of other lives, the nests of spiders or squirrels or bees. Something you feel inextricably drawn to, despite its unassuming manner. You will be pulled to it, gripped by something deep in your belly, which you tell yourself is curiosity, but which also contains, somewhere within it, a dense and unmistakable sense of dread. You will feel a chill in your organs, a shiver in your mind. And you won’t know why, but you’ll keep coming back.
Maybe, once or twice, you will reach out and touch it. You will run your fingers, very lightly, along the rough of its surface. Some forgotten instinct of your body will recoil in panic, snatch you away from it, but, as you jump back, already, you won’t remember why. Was it hot, perhaps, or sharp? Or splintered? And you’ll touch it another day just to find out.
You’ll find yourself spending more time in the attic. Or the garage. Or the shed. You’ll have sorted the space out, dusted it, nailed up insulation. There’ll be no other reason and nothing else left. You’ll go there and, when you get there, you’ll never remember exactly why you came. Or why, when you tidied and swept and sorted, you left this thing only, just where it was. You’ll stand there and stare at it, and lose all sense of time.
It will look like a door. Though it can take many forms. It’ll be old and scraped or oddly new looking, or maybe it will have strange glass panels, depicting something you can’t quite make out. Or maybe it will simply be utterly featureless. A bit of hollowed mdf.
A door lying silently. Against a wall. Or the roof beam. Or on the concrete floor of your garage.
You’ll keep going back.
And one day, you’ll bring it into the house.
You won’t know why, though you’ll make up something. Maybe you’ll tell yourself that you want to re-attach it. To close off an area, prevent a draft. Maybe you’ll even bring the tools out, prepare yourself with hammers and hinges and nails. But you won’t find a door frame in your house that will fit it. So it will stay, leaning up against a wall in the hallway, or on the landing, or at the foot of the stairs. And when you pass it, you’ll feel shaky and odd and old.
It will whisper to you in a voice that you don’t know you’re hearing.
There might be some inkling in you, some internal knowledge, and you’ll understand, deep in the bright, white scrape of your bones, the need for distrust. You might, if you’re strong enough, even manage to corral all those creeping concerns in your body, call them together in a last vast heave of self-preservation – and try to remove it.
But it will be suddenly so heavy. So very heavy. So much heavier than you remembered. And the sole movement will be the slide of the sweat on your fingers when you reach out to grip it.
It will remain there, immovable. And you’ll go to bed.
You’ll sleep that night, unusually deeply. Even though you’re a night owl, or a restless sleeper, or an insomniac. You’ll sleep as though a deep, velvety blanket of darkness has been laid out over you, and sunk ever so gently, through your skin, into every vessel and nerve and sinew and pulse. You’ll sleep in a way you have never slept before, and your dreams will be a blank and silky void.
When you open your eyes the light will seem different, the way it does on a morning after a heavy fall of snow. You will be oddly alert, which you will put down to the sleeping, but there will be a tremble in your fingers when you pull on your robe.
You will wander out of your bedroom, to the stairs or the hallway.
And you will find that the door is attached to the wall. In a place where you know that there wasn’t a doorframe. In front of a space that you know was not ever a room.
You could walk away. But you won’t.
It will wait. It is only a matter of time now. It will hang, unassuming. It’s only a door. Old, or glass panelled, or new, or plain.
But it knows you.
The way that you do it will vary. You might swing it violently. You might approach it with your camera, or your toolbox, and your pragmatism. You might poke it, tentatively, eyes wide with fear.
But one way or another. You’re going to open that door.
And what it reveals, you can never unsee.
A room. Like any other room.
It might have furniture, it will have clutter, pictures on the walls, ornaments, old diaries, scattered letters. It is a room that will mean nothing to anyone else.
But no one else can see this room.
You’ll know from the first glimpse, that first three-sided oblong of colour that you see as you begin to push the door. Your gaze will fall on a picture or a postcard, an empty carton of something, an old battered school satchel. And the dread in your belly will swell and rise up in you, like a great black ocean, hot and heaving – and consume you. And still you will step, blindly, towards it, away from the strange dim of the stairs or the hallway, and into the room – and through the door.
And it will swing shut behind you, softly, tenderly. It need not exert effort to capture you now.
You will barely hear the click of the latch.
It will only be you. And the contents of that room. You will examine every detail, every scrap, every keepsake. You will look, through your tears, at the things which you realise now, you had known would be here even before you began. You will be shaking in horror, lips bloody with biting – and you will face what it is that you came here to face.
A picture of the partner you lied to and cheated on.
A letter from the little girl in that orphanage in India, who you said you would write to so she could practice her English, but she wrote you one letter and you never wrote back.
The whisper in the air, your younger self, leaning across a desk to share some cruel story, some joke.
The big things. The adultery, the bullying, the exams that you cheated on, the callous exploitation of somebody vulnerable, unrequitedly in love.
And the little things. So many more of those. The lies, the gossip, the times you took credit for someone else’s idea, the greed, the deception, the changing of your seat on the bus to avoid the old lady because you knew she would talk to you the whole of the journey. The detailed character assassination you indulged in with your friends after a few drinks, the small acts of thievery, the promises you forgot. When you kept that twenty pound note that you found on the ground without checking if the man just in front of you dropped it. Your darkest fantasies, your most obnoxious desires. When you picked up the cat when you knew she didn’t like it, when you thought yourself better than the cleaner at work. When you were snide, when you were selfish, when you were crass, when you were cold.
And if, finally, laden with a dark depression, you move on leaden feet to open the drawers, or the cupboards, or the boxes, you will find them stuffed full with more of it. Photos and letters and cruel doodles and notes, tape recordings, text messages, receipts.
Panic will be replaced, gradually, by a sense of crushing inevitability. You will look at yourself in this poisonous mirror and gone will be the comforting muddle of memory, the wider perspective, the big, bright, technicolour distractions.
You will see, in gross illumination, every dark thing that ever had life in your soul.
You will fight it. Or you will embrace it. The door doesn’t present another option.
And only then will you hear, distantly, behind you, a click and a creak.
And the door will be open.
And you will walk out.
You’ll pick up the door which is leaning against the wall. Or the hallway. Or at the foot of the stairs. You will find it is easy. You will carry it out.
For some reason you’ll won’t take it far from the premises. You’ll replace it in a garage, or an attic, or the shed. And then you’ll wonder what happened, and you’ll continue your life.
You’ll go to work and to the pub and to the gym and the bus stop. You’ll decorate the lounge or buy a microwave, or go on a diet, or get drunk. But you’ll know something now that you didn’t know before. And you won’t know exactly what that something is.
It will gnaw at you. It will erode you. It will hollow you out from inside.
Perhaps one day you’ll make the connection. The others before you, the tragedies that nobody ever quite understood. The string of people who jumped or shot or swallowed themselves into their own oblivion, and those who took someone else to theirs.
I hope, with all my heart, that you fight.
Whatever you do, it will be watching.
And, when it’s all over, it will simply lie in the attic. Or the garage. Or the shed.
And wait for the next person.