The Locked Door
by Melanie Smith
I want to tell you about the day of the locked door. It must have been sometime during the last week or so of August: that time when the month is dying and the heat is old and dusty and tinged with melancholy. I remember a faded afternoon, the shadows of tired clouds blundering across the fields and the feel of sweat pooling up from pores and dribbling down from beneath arms and breasts in tickly little streams.
I wasn’t thinking of very much at all in the moments before I approached the door and pressed down on the handle, my weight already shifting forward to push against the wood in readiness for its anticipated inward swing. When the door didn’t shift I nearly bumped my nose against its flaky-painted surface, just managing to pull myself back before a collision. I blinked. From a parallel street came the jangly laughter of young children, followed by the sudden sharp crack of a woman’s voice calling them inside. I tried the door again, and when it didn’t give I moved to the small window at the side of the house, cupping my hands to peer into the gloom within. There was no sign of Vera.
I decided against ringing the doorbell: Vera was a light sleeper, and the thought of waking her from an unplanned snooze, and the inevitable roaring rage that would follow, was not appealing. I began to lift stone ornaments and small planters in the garden, searching half-heartedly for a hidden key. It would be an omission to suggest that I was not beginning to feel a creeping and despicable hope at this point, already picturing myself closing the garden gate and strolling back up the hill to town, the brushing rush of the traffic no longer a desolate and lonely thing, but an uplifting breeze blowing me back home.
“What are you doing?” a small rising voice behind me. Looking over, I saw a grubby kneed child astride a bike, peering into Vera’s garden with the aspect of someone eyeballing a cage in a zoo, staring hard into the undergrowth to try to catch a glimpse of the awful animal within. The child looked suspicious and delighted and horrified, all at once.
“Do you know the lady who lives here?” I asked, making a small gesture towards the house.
“She tore up Harvey’s glider.” The child put a foot on a pedal. “She’s a bitch.”
The girl gave me a challenging look, and then pushed off. I could hear the ticking of her bicycle spokes as she bounced along the street and out of sight. Standing at the door for the last time, I discerned, in the sudden descent of a momentary ambient silence, a noise leaking out from within the house. I pressed my hands to the wood and leant my ear close to the peeling paint. Yes, there again: a grasping wheeze. Maybe words, pushed out painfully. Maybe someone calling weakly, savagely, for help. Maybe only a lawnmower from halfway across the village.
A noise behind me. The girl on the bike had returned. “She not in then?”
“No,” I said. “I think she’s out.”
And when, some short time later, I find myself cresting the steep hill into town, the glare of the aged summer sun flat and hard against my skin, I realise that I had run, childlike, to the summit, teeth bared to the dying afternoon.
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Melanie Smith lives in Gloucestershire and loves writing odd little stories, spending time with her family, and drinking wine. The order depends on the day.