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July 2016, vol 12 no 2

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Claire Everett

through the peep-hole


I don’t recall when I first heard Mum say it: “as one door closes another opens.” But I know I was too young to equate it with failures, or missed opportunities and it would be a good many years before I stared so long at some unbudging oak stable that I failed to notice the mahogany oval beckoning. I can’t have been above four, because that was when I first found out about death. I’d overheard Mum talking to my two older sisters about how strange life was and that there were things none of us would ever understand because, after all, no one had ever come back to tell us what it was like on the Other Side. She told them how the night I was born, the old man next door had died just a few hours before. “It’s often like that,” she said, “as if the old must make way for the new.” I looked at my hands that suddenly seemed no longer my own. I thought of New Year’s Eve when I’d woken up to the sound of doors opening and closing. Mum told me not to worry, it was just Dad letting the old year out through the back while his friend stepped in through the front carrying a crust of bread and a piece of coal so that we would be sure to have enough to eat and the means to keep warm in the months ahead. It was tradition, she said, as she chivvied me back to bed, but her breath smelled of Dad’s home brew.

lighting
on the haystack needle
all questions
I leave the door wide open –
Dad asks, do we live in a barn?

“When are we going to see Granddad?” I’d ask again and again. I missed his Sunday lapful of stories, especially the little flip-books he used to make of Popeye and Mickey Mouse. I missed the scent of sweet peas and carnations and the steely whisper of his spade turning the soil. They hadn't told me. That was the problem. There had been hints. Dad had talked about the trees in autumn shedding their leaves in preparation for the buds that would come with the spring. He’d also explained about energy and how it never disappeared, it could only change form, I didn't really understand that bit, but I knew that Granddad must be playing the most epic game of hide-and-seek. I looked everywhere: under beds and in wardrobes, in the pantry, even in the cubby-hole under the stairs. The only place I hadn't looked was the meter cupboard because that had a latch on it that I’d yet to master. When the electricity man came it was my turn to hide; I watched from a safe distance behind the bannister. He peered inside the strangely whirring cupboard, wrote something in his black book and fastened the latch. Slowly, it must have dawned on me, but I can never pinpoint how, or when, I passed through the door from not-knowing to knowing. And so it was, as the years came and went, I crossed many thresholds, sometimes without even realising it; at others, there would be an audible click, or even a full-blown slam, as one era ended and another began.

a letter addressed
to someone else . . .
yet another
former occupant
of this house I call me

There have been times when even a deadbolt has failed to keep the past where it belongs. That’s when metal concertinas come into their own but often I haven’t known when one was needed until it was too late. A door long shut starts to rattle in an ill wind. Then the handle moves, seemingly by itself, eerily slow. A voice cries through the letterbox: is there anybody home?

And there are times when nothing particularly bad is happening (and nothing particularly good, either). Days when I start looking for an exit but I can’t see the sign . . .

as if by the hand
of Wu Tao-tzu, this memory
of the autumn moors . . .
through mist, the curlew’s skirl
and there               is my door


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