Post Road Magazine #25

Through the Closed Door

Lee Martin

His grandmother told the boy he wasn't to open the door. It was winter, and she'd closed the front of the house to save on heating oil. At the rear, she had her kitchen and a spare bedroom. Through the windows, the boy could see the long icicles that hung from the eaves; the oil stove in the kitchen blew out hot air. He liked to stand near it and feel the warmth on his backside, but sometimes he liked to stand at the closed door, the one that led to the living room and the big bedroom, and press his hand to it and feel the cold on the other side.

"We're toasty here," his grandmother told him. "We've got everything we need."

The boy hadn't started school, and days when his mother and father were at their jobs, he stayed with his grandmother. Each day at their noon meal, she watched her story, As the World Turns, on the television set she kept in the kitchen. When the story was done, she'd yawn and say, "Time for our nap."

She'd take the boy by his hand and together they'd get into her bed, and soon she'd be snoring.

One day, he slipped from the bed, and in his stocking feet he crept into the kitchen. There, he turned the knob of the door, the one he wasn't to open, and he stepped into the cold front room, where the oil stove wasn't lit, and the lamps weren't on, and the sofa and chairs looked wrong with no one to sit on them.

He went into the bedroom, and he saw the shelves of books that had once belonged to his grandfather. Books that had outgrown their space on the shelves, books stacked on top of one another, tilting under the weight.

With trembling fingers, the boy pulled one out, holding his breath, hoping nothing would fall. He sat cross-legged with the book on the cold floor, and that's where his grandmother found him.

She used her flyswatter on his bottom and called him a wicked boy. He didn't know how to explain. He wasn't able to say that he loved the smell of the books, the dust and glue of their bindings. He didn't know how to make her understand what it was to trace his fingers over a page, feeling ever so slightly the lift of the ink. He stared at her, sniffling, dumb with all the words he couldn't yet read, and he didn't know that he was moving ahead to the man he'd one day be. If only the boy on that winter's day could have heard his voice—It's all right. I'll be here, waiting for you.—instead of his grandmother's.

"What a bad boy you are," she said. "What a bad, bad boy."

She yanked him by his arm, dragged him with her back to the kitchen, not knowing that he'd already begun to learn how to leave her behind.

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