"Get the hell out of here! Who gave you permission to enter! I have nothing more to say to you!" I pushed the tall one hard in the small of his back and pounded my fists in the face of the fat one until he bled and both stumbled back out into the light. I closed the door amidst a cacophony of sound emanating from the rusty hinges and finally darkness descended upon the room once again. My body sagged against the door until my knees touched the floor; paint flakes and dry wood splinters decorated my cheek like torn posters of rock stars on the wall of a rebellious teenager's room. My eyes were shut tight, so that I did not have to see my wife and children cowering in a back corner; tears and shadows playing out a frightening tableau on their faces.
Much later, I opened my eyes. My cheek was numb, my knees ached. I stared around me into the dimness of the small room; the only light was that shining through the cracks between the dried out wooden slats that formed the walls. Dirt. Dirt, mould, and rats. Shiny little red eyes staring from the darkness, ready to move as soon as we fell asleep. Ready to pounce on any little scrap we might have overlooked. Ready to take and devour the last bit of kindness and dignity we might still possess. The drop of water exploding in the dust on the floor next to me, forced me to tear my eyes from theirs for a moment and seek out the dry corner I reserved for myself, as far as possible from my family. I reached it with difficulty and sagged down into it to disappear into the nebulae of my dreams. My companion joined me in my corner. His eyes were red and full of worry. His course muzzle nudged my ribs before he stuck his head underneath them and proceeded to gnaw at my soul.
From the doorway, I looked at myself. Once my body was strong; big and strong. My back was straight and my shoulders were square. Now it was too thin in places and too saggy in others. I touched my head. My hair felt short and bristly. But there where I slumped in the shadows of the corner, it was long and disheveled, exactly the way I hated it. I looked down at my clothes and my nose wrinkled in response. I knew that a long time ago the sight of my clothes would have brought the taste of bile to my mouth. Now I was used to it. It was I; it was what I was; it was what I had become; and I got so used to it that it could disgust me no more. The cold left my body and was replaced by a warmness that I have not known for a very long time. I turned in surprise and saw with a shock that the door was open. My flimsy protection from my enemies was open for entry and I could feel the monkey of vulnerability jumping on my back. I turned to slam the door and for a fleeting moment before the rickety door closed the hole in the wall, I saw in a passing streak of light, the beautiful big blue eyes of my wife and boys staring at me from their corner. Their frightened looks shot shards of glass into my heart, but I knew I had to close that door; close it, no matter the cost. Even though my eyes could not meet theirs for shame, I knew I had to protect them by whatever means was left to me. I was the one that brought them here; I was the one that made the promise of protection; I was the one who had to carry it through. As the door closed I felt for the key, but there was none. My hands fell away from the splintery wood and the door moved lightly in an unfelt wind. There was no key; there was no lock; there was no handle. A heavy hand clamped around my heart as I realized how they managed to get in so easily. It was the door! It opened whenever they pushed against it. It gave way to the slightest pressure, offering no resistance. But this door used to have a lock! I can still feel the heaviness of the big old iron key in my hand. Where is it now? I looked around me, at the walls, the roof, the floor; and suddenly all seemed foreign to me. This place I came to recognize as home, a sanctuary, all of a sudden seemed very alien to me. The smell of decay told me this was no dream and I knew this was not something that happened while I was away. I was here! Present and able! Able? Obviously not. Unable more likely. Unable because I got so busy with so many other things that I failed to see the decay creeping in around me. Failed to see the growing fear on my children's faces; failed to see the pain in my wife's eyes.
Behind me, the door burst open to once again let in the familiar bright light that lived outside. A dark shape blocked the opening; a shape I knew so well but dreaded more than this decaying room.
"Get out! What is it you want now again!" I screamed.
"You know what I want, you owe me! I want what's mine and I want it all now!" Retaliated the dark shape.
Desperation flooded over me, blocking all senses; I could not think; I could not see. "But I have no more! I gave you everything I had already! What more do you want from me?" I cried.
"I want what you owe me!" it screamed again. "Come outside and face me like a man, you weasel!" It cast its beady red eyes around in disgust, searching for what it believed I was hiding from it.
"But…you don't understand….I don't…but you said…leave me alone…that's not what we agreed upon…" and so on and so on. Constantly fighting, defending, a never-ending parry for life and death. Slowly it turned around and stomped out and the door closed behind it in a gush of wind. It wanted what I owed, what I did not have to give. I owed so much to so many that none of it made sense to me anymore. Better to hide here in the dark; away from them, away from it all. Here, no one can see the shame on my face.
Back in my corner, I avoided her eyes; I pretended not to hear the sobs of my children; I turned into myself, seeking the warmness of my dreams; dreams that made me forget about my pain, my failures, my responsibilities, my disgust.
My wife cried. A flood of mute tears flowed from her eyes onto the floor. It formed rivulets in the dirt and sank into the dry floor. Once the floor was soaked her tears started to form little streams; this formed pools on the wet floor. The rats came out with their beady little eyes and reveled in the nourishment her tears promised. They licked and sipped until their flea-ridden little bellies were distended like balloons, ready to burst. Even my soul mate extracted his head from under my ribs to watch the commotion for a while, before continuing with his vulgar diet. The pools welled into dams; these burst their precarious little dirt walls and soon the tears filled the entire floor. The flood of tears rose to my ankles and still, they flowed. As it reached higher and higher, the frail walls could hold them no more and her tears disappeared through the cracks in the walls, feeding the weeds, that I knew, were outside. At last, she had no more tears to shed and the flow stopped. Still, no sound came from her lips.
The door opened and a grinning, hobbling goblin entered. He carried a long straw with which he sucked up the last of her tears, even those stuck in the folds of my boots. When he was done, he left with a murderous cackle and the door shut behind him with creaking hinges.
When the door opened again, the wind was gone and the glowing face of my mother entered, accompanied by the smell of spring blossoms and the melodious sound of courting birds. In her arms, she bore gifts; food for my babies and clothes for my beautiful wife. I accepted her gifts with true gratitude; gratitude marred with the pain of regret, for I knew I would never be able to return the favor. In her arms lay all my dreams and expectations, but not in the way I expected life to offer them to me. My expectations lay in the toils of my hands and the sweat of my brow whilst my dreams realized in the loving arms of my mother. As I accepted her gifts and distributed them to my family, the despair in my heart made way for anger; unnecessary, rebellious anger, born from my own thwarted expectations and inadequacies. It grew like ivy, quickly covering every available patch on the moldy wet walls of my heart until there was only a tiny spot left for that ever-present question. "Where did I go wrong?" It sat there, like a neon sign, flashing red and blue: "Where did I go wrong?" and I felt pity for myself.
Long after she had gone back into the light, I could still see her smiling face, lit up like a floodlight, painting streaks of white across a night sky. My night sky. My heart's sky. Amongst the things she brought I found a note. It was simple, written on plain paper. It said, "You have to go outside. Your house is in need of repair." I stared at her note and I stared at the door. The sharp rays of light penetrating the cracks in the door and the walls forced me look down at her note again. "You have to go outside. Your house is in need of repair." Her handwriting comforted me; it seemed so familiar; so warm and reminiscent of feelings and smells from days gone by; like a voice, calling me from far away, in an effort to remind me of a time long, long ago. A time of happiness, love, and security. A time of plenty when contentment fueled the hearth and wantonness slept outside. A time when lazy Sunday afternoons and exciting Monday mornings were separated from each other by definite delineators. All of that has been replaced by continual darkness, days and activities melded into one by an ever-growing need; a need and a want that cannot be fed by any human means.
How could I go outside? Madness! They are all there! Every one of them just waiting for such an opportunity, to get me alone in the light where they can see me; see me and hunt me and cut me down. Going outside was the absolute unthinkable thing to do. Was my mother now in league with them? Have they persuaded her to do their bidding and lure me outside into the light? But even the darkest part of my heart could not find comfort in that. She was The Light. She was Comfort. She was incapable of being influenced by the darkness. She could not lie. But how could I? I can close the door but I can never open it. It yields not from the inside, never from the darkness, only from the light. "You can! You closed it, only you can open it!" my Mother's voice said. A rotten wooden strut from above crashed to the floor, causing rats to scurry in all directions; my son cried out in fear; I looked up. Above us hung what remained of the crashing plank, swaying from side to side, taking its time to come to a halt. Damn world's coming to an end. Dust sifted down on our exposed heads. I saw the fear in my children's eyes and knew I had to find a way to open that door; no matter the cost.
Outside, the wind was roaring. The walls were rattling and the lock-less door banged from time to time. Every time it opened, I stiffened expecting one of Them to enter, but then it just shut again with a wham, leaving us in a flurry of dust and dirt.
Much later, long after the wind died down, I was still in the same position. One leg bent at the knee, the other folded underneath me; ears perked up like those of a fox listening for distant sounds in the night; my one arm hanging loosely over my knee, ready for any unplanned development. Then I got up. Slowly at first, bones creaking, ligaments complaining. Eventually, I felt an improvement and my actions became faster. I straightened myself to my full height, not shifting my gaze from the door. I shook my head, unruly hair flying from my vision. Slowly I turned my head and look my wife straight in the eye. It felt like the first time in a decade. "I love you," I said simply and reached out to take her hand. She got up, at first uncertain of what was to happen next. The children cowered around her legs, clinging to her skirts, suddenly afraid of their new tall Daddy. "Come," I said again, my voice dusty and dry. Slowly we made our way towards the door. It will just have to open. I wanted out. I could not take the darkness and the terror anymore. I realized I needed the light, "I needed the light!" I shouted. God! I never thought I would hear myself uttering those words. They made me feel good and I heard a gasp of hope escape my wife's throat. She wanted it too! I touched the door. It just had to open! And it did. It swung on its rusty hinges without a single creak. It gave way to my urgency like a silk curtain. It swung all the way back until it came to rest against the dilapidated wall and the light shone inside touching us, touching the flaky paint, touching the dark corners where the rats lived, touching everything. The light blinded my eyes but my nose was met with the most fragrant of smells. Flowers, trees, freshly mowed lawn; all came wafting towards us on a gentle breeze. I stood for a while, savoring the delights of the Light, attempting to take in all it had to offer me in one breath. I felt my boys take my hands, one on either side and my wife hugging my arm and together we stepped out into the light.
They were all outside. Family, friends, friendly faces I'd forgotten; all smiling, beckoning, carrying placards, cheering. The placards said many things, like "Smile and the world smiles with you", "Ask those you love, we care", "Shed that thick skin, it wears you down" and "We love you" in capital letters. Then my mother appeared from the crowd of friendly faces. "Well done my child. Welcome to the light!" she said and led us through the crowd. People greeted us, touched us and with every touch, the dirt disappeared. Our clothes became whole again and the moldy smell we carried around, disappeared. I stopped and together with my family, I turned around. I saw my house. It was small, it was dirty and it was in desperate need of repair. The roof sagged, and outside it was overgrown with weeds. Weeds fed by the nourishing power of my wife's tears. I looked down into her face and my gaze was met with a radiant smile; something I had not seen for a very long time. I had forgotten how beautiful she was when she smiled. It gave me a sense of strength, a sense of power and the first thing I did was to take off that door with its rusty hinges and I replaced it with a new shiny white, sturdy door, with brass knobs and a big shiny brass key. My friends saw what I did and smiled at each other. They picked up their tools and helped me to repair my house. We built new rooms, new corridors, many new windows. We built a strong new roof to keep out the rain and we laid out a beautiful garden with many different colored flowers and towering trees. My wife's smiles turned into laughter. She decorated our new home with love and affection and I found it pleasing. In each room, she placed flowers, books, and music. Lots of music. My sons played in the garden on Monday mornings and lay on their backs watching the clouds from under the trees on Sunday afternoons. Our house took on a new shape and our lives took on new meaning. Every day our family and friends came to help and share in our joy. Out front, we built a big porch with a lovely white trellis and comfortable chairs and couches.
Then one day, I stood in front of our house. Majestic white stairs rose from the lawn to the porch. I walked up the stairs, through the big front door, and into the house. I looked around me in wonder. Everything was shiny and bright. Light entered the house from every angle. I walked down the corridors and into the rooms. There were many rooms in our house. Some were for playing, some for relaxing, some for sleeping, some for reading. I walked through every room and my soul ooh-ed in wonder. Then I came to stand in front of a big white door with large brass knobs and a large shiny brass key. I turned the key and the door opened onto a small musty little room. I peered inside and could see the light shining through the cracks in the wooden walls. I remembered this little room and it sent chills down my spine. Slowly I closed the door and turned the key in the lock. Then I turned around and walked down the long corridor with its many brightly-lit rooms on both sides and straight out the front door. Outside I climbed on top of the huge yellow bulldozer and drove it around the side of the house. At the back, I saw the little dark room with its sagging roof and cracked walls. I pushed it down with one mighty heave and in its place, I laid out a vegetable patch. The ground where the little room stood that was once our house, was well soaked with my wife's tears of days gone by and the ground gave back the nourishment it took from her and the vegetables grew fast and fat.
We still have troubles visiting us now and again, but I learned to face them and greet them on the porch as they come up the garden path. Then we sit in the comfortable chairs on the big white porch and discuss the problems they bring along. I find that discussing the problems provides answers and the answers make the troubles go away; and although I treat the troubles with respect, I will never allow them into my house ever again. Now my house is reserved for my family and friends; those people I dare to share my life with. And when that ratty-looking fellow with the worry in his little red eyes comes around begging for a bite of my soul, I turn the music up and smile while I go inside and close the door on him.