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Stephen R. Clark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
Joined June 1996


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The Going Out

The door began to open slowly. But not so slow as to be melodramatic, like in spook stories. No, not that kind of slowly. But, rather, it was an odd, foreboding slowness. An omen of something unusual, maybe even sinister, to come.

It was not one of the familiar openings he knew well. It wasn't the opening of coming home from being away. The glad, relieved bursting in. Neither was it the quick, jerky, haphazard opening of a child coming in from play. Yelling for his mother, hoping for cookies and milk before supper. Nor was it the hesitant, opening-closing, lingering of his daughter back from a date. Remembering one more vital piece of sharing to whisper, and wanting one more one last kiss. It was none of these familiar openings.

He had seen the door open an endless succession of times and knew its timber language. Sitting in his chair, smoking his pipe, reading the paper or glancing at the TV, the door was always in sight. At the slightest sound of opening, he would look toward the door, alert to the details of opening. The movement of the knob and the way the light danced around its turning. It was a stylish brass fixture recently replacing the worn one and fit incongruously in the décor of his memories. A vague annoyance implying age, emphasizing the past's distance. Then there was the final opening, the enlarging of the space between the jamb and the door, a revelation of entrance just before the coming in. Followed always with a quick, solid closing. Mustn't let too much inside out, or outside in, he always thought, amused. As if the mistake would be volatile, or the loss deadly.

Between the going outs and coming ins, he had often sat for hours, now accumulated into years, just thinking and remembering, always aware of, often staring at, mediating on the door. He marveled at the simple beauty of the grain and the sheen of the natural finish. Even as a child he had been fascinated by the grainwork of doors, how one half seemed the mirror image of the other. A wooden Rorschach. Sometimes the patterns would take on frightening personalities that would worm into his boyish dreams. He was no longer frightened. Just fascinated by the intricate and graceful network of lines and shades and texture. He did not know what type of wood it was. He had known, but had forgotten. And it really didn't matter. This was a door of wood. An entrance. An exit. Security. Beautiful and functional. 

And now it was opening unlike any opening he'd ever observed. There had been no forewarning sound of coming up to the door. He had merely sensed something, or thought he had sensed something, and on impulse glanced at the knob. And then, feeling it move, he had to stare intently, concentrating on the knob and the area immediately behind the knob to see it moving. He still wasn't sure it did turn. But it had to have turned for now the door was opening. Very oddly. But it was opening. He felt no anxiety or fear. Only curiosity. It was a game of guessing now. Prediction and probabilities. It had been a long while, but he had played the game before.

Before he had completely learned the language of the door and its openings, it had been a game to guess who it was coming in. With each entrance, he had carefully cataloged the details until they were common to his memory. He knew the openings of his family. Those that belonged to this house. The game had occurred less and less often, brought on sporadically only by variations. As when the child was hurt or scared and cried for dad instead of mom. Or when the date ended in anger instead of embrace and his daughter's entrance was a touching blend of drama and sorrow as she fled to her room in tears. But soon, even these variations became sources for nostalgia. He knew all the openings that belonged to him and this house. Openings he had lovingly reminisced over before in hazy, dreamy silence.

But this opening was not of this house. Still he was not anxious or fearful, only curious, enjoying again the game. Now, however, the game was tinged with anger and resentment. He was gearing himself to give the intruder a fervent tongue lashing concerning manners. Had there been a knock, he would have been glad to answer it. Those who knocked, he welcomed. He had often welcomed polite strangers into his home. None he knew would do this, come in without knocking, committing such an arrogant intrusion. He wondered who would dare open his home's door, unknown and unbidden. Without knocking. Without asking to be let it.

The door continued to open. It was winter outside. Viciously winter. The cold coming in reached him quickly. It was piercing, overcoming the interior's comfortable warmth. The narrow sky was clear and the winter sun was excessively brilliant. Its brightness unbearably magnified by the whiteness of the snow. The angle of the sun caused the light in the carefully widening gap of the door to be insistently intense. The light itself seemed the intruder. It flared and danced along the door's edge like an eager pet pawing to get in.

The door finally was wide open. He bit down on his pipe. He grasped tightly the arms of his chair.

Nothing. No one. Just an open door. And an empty doorway. He waited to see if the culprit of the prank would make himself known. But nothing happened. All that came in was the cold air and the light. He got up. Went to the door and looked out. Did he see something? He wasn't sure. He felt he had been beckoned to, but wasn't sure of that either.

He was cold. The sunlight, even in its brightness, was not warm. He felt tired now. This had drained him. He wanted to get it over with. He was cold, but he had to go out and see, to be sure.

There was something. The snow. The snow had not been walked on. And there was nothing but snow and cold and light. He stepped out to look beyond the corners of the house. Horizons of snow blending into the light in each direction. He stepped out further, squinting, searching into each white distance. The same everywhere. He turned to go back in, to report this to his house, to his family. He turned and turned and turned. There was no door, no house. Only the snow into which he had gone out, and the sound of a door closing.

His wife came down the stairs, having heard the door close. "Is there someone here, Ed?" She turned from the stairs toward her husband's chair, where he sat unmoving. "Ed?"



This appeared in the July/August 1981 issue of ARKENSTONE magazine.








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