The other side of the door

This story was published in Talking About Lobsters: New Writing Scotland 34 in 2016.

Looking at the banister that leads me up – is it the same one I grabbed onto with the hands of a boy. I take a hold of it, but that doesny bring anything back. These are definitely the same old stone steps. You could get nostalgic about it, the wee feet up and down them, but generations of people will have used these their entire lives. I haven’t been here for so long of my time. They are just stairs I was on for some years – no more meaning than other flights in other places. And at the top is the door. I will chap it and wait, if they are still living there. The mam and the dad. If they’re alive. If one of them is. Which one. I take a few of the stairs, and there is a plant-pot next to the door. It is small, leaves hanging out over the rim. Very green against the old wall, its dry paint cracking, peeling. A different colour now.

They will recognize me, and I will recognize them. Though it might take a second or two, for them. They don’t expect me. Once they get past the wrinkles round the eyes and the no hair, they will tell that it’s their son. The faces stay the same, nobody ends up looking like a different person. This is what I think, but Christ knows really. Maybe my eighty-year-old mammy has shrunk, and dyed her hair, and worked into her late sixties, or early seventies, and had sadness, and been sick, and maybe people do look different after all, their faces, because what would I know, I know nothing, just my impressions, guesses, what I’ve learned but I’ve not learned much, not compared to others.

I see there is no nameplate on the door. There was one, our name. The name my old granda handed down, and his before him, and all that. This might mean they’ve moved – moved, or else died. Or it’s a different door, and they never put the nameplate back on. Or my da just got sick of it, pulled it off and painted over the marks. Fucking nameplate, giving the game away to everybody. He could’ve stopped wanting every Tom, Dick, or Harry bastard to know whose door they were chapping. That’s as I remember him, saying things like that. If he hadn’t changed too much, it’s the kind of thing I can imagine him saying, thinking, doing.

So no nameplate and a net curtain behind the glass square, frosted glass, to hide what lies within eh. A doorbell on the side. No knocker. Maybe I’d flap the letterbox. But then I wouldny hear what kind of doorbell it was, if it was a ringer or a singer. Do both. One then the other. Maybe a rap on the frosted glass for good measure. Decisions. Fucksake.

But would my mam ever have bought a potplant and sat it outside the door. She had a thing about cats. A thing called hate. I can imagine her if she came out and a cat had pissed her good potplant. She would’ve considered that possibility when she sat the pot down, the thought would definitely have crossed. Unless she didny mind cats so much now. Maybe she’d mellowed. I am on the landing, the stairs are done with, and if I was for flapping that letterbox straight away this instant then I am within prime flapping distance. But just to chew over if my mam might’ve mellowed in her old age towards cats. If my possibly dead and therefore now-fictional mother who possibly doesny live in that house anymore might or might not have mellowed, if mellowed is the word, towards cats in general, fictional fictitious cats of this neighbourhood of which there may be none whatsoever, which could explain the presence of a potted plant that may or may not be anything to do with the female person who may or may not live there anymore, may or may not be beyond the other side of that door with the heart beating away, blood still going round the old veins, sipping her tea quietly, or maybe just a set of bones somewhere, in a box, if those festering bones that are under the ground now would’ve taken fictional imaginary cat-piss into account at all when deciding, if it had been her choice, whether to


The need to think, for some time to think …

But I am looking again at the frosted glass, to see if any of the wee globules flicker, showing movement somewhere behind, in the old lobby. Nothing but the net, the still net hanging on the other side. There is a memory in my head of me, the boy, throwing a cricket ball through the frosted glass because I was lying on the steps and had hurt my leg or my knee, and my mammy couldn’t hear me shouting, trying to shout on her but crying, I was crying so hard. They told the story at all the family get-togethers, mam loved the telling of that moment where she saw the ball on the carpet, knew it was me, rushed out to give me what for, and then saw my dirty teary wee face, and the blood on the trousers, and carried me on and into the bath, and told my da it was boys from up the flats that broke the window.

I don’t know if I can remember this happening, and me doing it and me seeing her and the glass everywhere, the kisses and the bath, the secret, or if my pictures of it all were made later, when I was older, when the mammy told it and everybody was looking at me and smiling, and asking me. I never know if the memory is real, a real memory, or made out of her story, her telling of it. What if she exaggerated. Misremembered. Made it up. A fabrication. Nobody can know. It could’ve been boys from up the flats, for all anybody cares now. What boys. If she is dead, the memory doesny exist. What flats. It could’ve never existed, none of it.


The net curtain is moving. Moved, slightly. Out a little, back against the frame. Soft, slight motion. A draught inside. A window somewhere is cracked open. Or was it a hand, a finger, after seeing this figure through the glass. And what would happen if I just flapped the letterbox. If I smashed it, for real this time, on purpose, in this moment. I could shatter it, give them a fright. Maybe they need a fright. What would happen if I put my fist clean through it, clean, and into the face of whoever twitched the curtain, is standing there now, casting a shadow over but not knowing, waiting for movement but not moving, breathing and looking but not speaking, no, not saying anything. Just breathing.

Or, if I just move forward.

If I take one more step. ●