Sunday, September 14, 2008

White Door, Helen Skelton

“What’s Daddy doing? What’s Daddy doing?”

I stood with my doll Ruby, watching my father on his hands and knees at the end of our oak-floored hallway. He was making grunting noises. He was doing something to the white double doors that didn’t fit properly.

I rocked Ruby back and forth a few times to show my father. She had blue glass eyes that blinked open and shut. At least one of them did. The week before, Rachel Grimes from down the road, had poked her finger into Ruby’s left eye giving it a permanent lazy eye look that would never go away.

My father seemed oblivious to Ruby’s one blinking eye and continued on the floor making grunting noises and muttering strange words to himself.

“Frank! Will you just leave it!” My mother’s irate looking face appeared round the kitchen door at the other end of the hallway. “I do say, just get a carpenter or someone in to fix it properly, will you!”

Her Welsh accent became more pronounced when she got annoyed, and when she said, “I do say,” at the beginning of a sentence, we knew there was going to be trouble.

I moved to the bottom step of the staircase and sat down to see what would happen next.

“I don’t need a bloody carpenter. I just need to skim some wood off the bottom of this door and re-hang it. The floor’s not level!”

My father was kneeling up now, supporting the arch of his back with his arm and looking as irate as my mother, but with a slightly disheveled dusting of wood shavings on and around him.

“You’ve done the thing twice already. It’s still wonky!”

Pointing out the blindingly obvious has always been one of my mother’s special talents. One of the white doors was indeed quite wonky.

“Will you just shut up and let me get on with it?”

My father had hauled himself to his feet, turned his back, picked up a screwdriver and was taking off the offending door for the third time. Ruby and I sensed that this would not be a good time to help.

My father began to plane wood from the bottom edge of the door. With muttering and cursing as a background track, he re-hung the door. Then he repeated the process some more times. I don’t know what number I could count to at that age, but the number of door hangings was greater than the number of my fingers.

My mother re-appeared. She stared at the door with “you should have listened to me” confidence, and said “Oh, you daft bugger.”

The hanging door now had a clear gap of at least an inch between itself and the floor.

It was not level. My gerbil Frieda would have been able to fit under the door if she were allowed to run free in the hallway. Frieda and I did manage to test the size of door gap later that year when the gerbil cage was left open. She escaped, headed for the hallway, then squeezed under the door and found a convenient gap between the skirting boards and the floor. No amount of treats could coax her out from hiding under the floor boards, which had to be taken up to allow gerbil recovery. But that was all still to come.

My father winced and bent down, then began deliberately putting his tools away in a defeated show of male pride. He stood up and said, “Just leave it Jill.” Then walked away to the security of the garden shed.

My parents still have those white doors thirty years later. They are still wonky. But we don’t mention it.

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