THE OPEN DOOR
by Paul L. Bates
As always, the inspector arrives just before I prepare my evening meal. With an understanding smile and a quiet demeanor, he begins by berating me gently for having once again left it open.
And as always, I smile back and chatter as amiably as he about the many nothings that make up my life until he flies into an uncontrollable rage and begins to make accusations. This soon escalates into his calling me many unkind names and ends with his making threats.
I am a fool, he cries. If I leave the door open, the chill winds will enter.
My noncompliance with the general laws will serve to corrupt our youth. They will, by their very need to rebel, copy me for reasons they themselves will not fully understand, and soon be led astray by my seemingly harmless act of neglect.
I am an upstart. I have not matured properly. I cling to my own lost youth in a meaningless act of defiance.
I am the scandal of the neighborhood. Everyone is talking.
I am the village idiot. Fit for nothing but abuse and pity.
I am looking for trouble, he concludes inevitably--for we have this same conversation every time he comes to inspect.
The inspector storms out of the room. He must, I decide, live a tedious and lonely life. He slams the door behind him in a rush of wind and temper.
But, as always, it pops open again of its own accord shortly after the sounds of his angry mutterings and thundering footfalls have faded into the din of the city evening, while I wonder once again if I should have invited him to stay for dinner long before he worked himself into such a lather.
The evening breeze blows through the open door, and is a welcome relief from the relentless heat that marks the season. I feel the sweat evaporating from my brow that moments before I had not even realized was there. But then again the inspector’s anger always has that effect on me.
I prepare my meager dinner--clear soup, toasted bread, and a slice of cheese--and take it sitting before the open door, watching my neighbors come and go. None of them seem to notice, and I am certain the inspector is wrong about his assessments of abuse and pity. Even the adolescents pass it by without noticing that it is open, putting the lie to his insinuations that I am a corrupter of the young. I shake my head, wondering if my sharing this simple meal with him would truly put an end to this strange ritual that has ensnared us both.
I dip the sweet fresh bread in the soup as I ponder how to break out of this trap that has bound us. Where, in the beginning stages of his visit, would it be appropriate for me to invite him to sup with me? Or would it be appropriate at all? I was never very good at the art of friendship. I was never very good at the mechanics of behavior.
The cheese is very sharp tonight. I like it better that way. I pop the last piece of it into my mouth and peer at the deep blue doorway across the street. The young woman who lives there smiles and we wave to one another as she goes in. Once she, too, had left her door ajar even as I do, but no more. The inspector had paid her many a visit during those days, but he seems to have forgotten her altogether now that she keeps her door shut. I try to see if the expression on her face has changed of late, but the evening grows dim and she is too far away. One day I will ask her why she no longer admits the world without into her rooms.
I tilt the bowl and spoon the last of the soup into my mouth. It has grown cold, but the salty taste remains. I smack my lips, savoring it.
I stand up and let the crumbs on my lap tumble to the floor. I will sweep them up tomorrow. I ponder the words of the inspector as I make ready for bed. I laugh, remembering his hysteria. He must, I am sure, have this same conversation with many people, all over our city.
Through the door I see him returning. He has brought two policemen with him this time. The anger has not faded from his pallid face, nor have his eyes lost their wildness. I now remember that he once paid my neighbor across the street a similar visit. Perhaps it was something that was said or done during that visit that now makes her keep her own door shut.
I hear their loud footfalls upon the front steps. I hear their pounding fists upon the yielding door. They have entered the front room and are shouting out my name.
Perhaps I should just tell them that the door opens by itself.
Perhaps I should just invite them to sit a while and simply enjoy the view.
Perhaps I should just ask them to welcome the caress of the evening breezes.