In my apartment building I am on the fourth floor. My floor and the other three floors (I have never gone above my floor, so I know not what may be their configuration) are served by a classic French spiraling staircase with, for the first two floors, the classic French twisted molded oak banister.
The banister stops at the start of floor two and all that is left to guide the hands of those who ascend or descend the staircase above floor one is a painted iron rail. Perhaps that rail was once clothed with its own twisted molded oak banister, perhaps not. The only certainty is that it doesn’t have one now. I can’t help but wonder: what could possibly have removed a deucedly heavy, and amazingly cumbersome spiraled piece of oak? And why would it have been removed?
The first three floors have two apartments. On each floor the stairway comes to a small landing. Straight ahead as one tops the flight at that landing there is a door which opens into an apartment. Immediately to the left, as one passes along that very brief landing on the way to the spiral to the next floor, there is another door. Behind that door is another apartment.
On my landing mine is the apartment behind the door that is straight ahead at the landing. The door to the left, on the way up to the next flight doesn’t exist. Where it should be is bare wall that, when rapped with one’s knuckles, emits a sound of deep stone and mortar solidarity. Why doesn’t that door and its apartment exist?
As if to answer that question with an alternative question, on my floor there is something that doesn’t exist on the other floors.
The thing that exists on my floor and not the first three is another type of door. It is totally dissimilar to the apartment doors.
The apartment doors are heavy oak-sheathed-in-steel doors with double turning locks that engage four side deploying steel probes with a milled steel accepter for those probes to engage when the lock is double turned and one vertically down thrusting steel bar that engages a milled steel accepter imbedded in the thick oak plank floor, again with the double turned lock.
The other door on my floor is not one of those.
The other door on my floor is really not on my floor at all. That door is really about half way up the spiraling staircase that ascends from below me. If I stand just outside my door and look down the staircase I see that door immediately to my left halfway down to the next lower landing.
That door is much flimsier than the doors fronting the apartments. It is very old, like everything in this building except the apartment doors and the plumbing and the electricity. The building is part of a cluster of very old buildings. Héloise and Abelard lived a few doors down the quai according to a bronze plaque affixed to one of the buildings. This very old door has external, spidery thin, painted iron hinges. It is divided in two equal segments: on the top are three horizontally long rectangular opaque glass windows. Those windows are opaque because they are made of glass that must have been kneaded when its sheets were still malleably and kneadably warm. Below those opaque sheets there are two equally sized vertically long rectangular panels. The door’s wood is oak, but it is thin and more of a decorative type than a barrier type. The barrier type is the type of the apartment doors.
Out of curiosity, several times since I have been here, I have stood in front of that door on my way up the stairs to my door. I have tried to see inside that opaque glass; if it is daytime the interior - behind the opaque glass - is very bright. Clearly, the sun has access to the area behind this door. I eschew using the word “room” for the space that exists behind the door because I don’t know what exists behind that door.
But what is it – if anything – that happens behind that door?
And why does it exist?
I didn’t realize it until today, but I have wondered these things from the first day that I have lived here. But initially it was a low level type of wondering. There are too many things to take all upper levels of my concentration, not the least of which is the constantly changing scene of the river – the marvelously beautiful Seine. That and getting used to things, getting things placed where they best serve my needs and best use the tiny space that is my apartment – those sorts of things and my adjacency to the river have left little mind-space for wondering about the door. In fact those questions and my vague conjuring upon them might have been on the way to completely vanishing but for what occurred today. Late in the afternoon, just back into the apartment from a picture taking expedition in the Bois de Boulogne I realized that I had heard a door open and close outside mine.
I didn’t want to be a nosy old man and pop open my door and peer out, so I pulled the garbage sack out of the kitchen poubelle and opened the door to take the garbage down to one of the city provided garbage bag-lined decorative metal frames that line the streets of Paris. I didn’t even take time to put on a coat. But I was too late to see anyone.
So I continued on my mission of taking the sack to the street.
As I ascended the stairs coming back and came to the landing in front of the door I paused.
The sun sets on the side of the building that the space behind the door would have windows, if it does in fact have windows. The space behind the door was clearly light, although I couldn’t make out anything that the light illuminated due to the opacity of the hammered glass panes. Such light as I could see somehow didn’t look or act like sunlight. The light that I saw seemed to have a fluidity of color that neither sunlight, nor any other kind of light with which I am familiar, have. It reminded me more of the swirling iridescence of a small drop of gasoline spilled into a pail of water as the gasoline spreads itself across the surface of the water. But that was a fleeting impression. I couldn’t be sure of anything due to the opaque glass barrier through which I perceived it.
Since standing there staring like a goon seemed a thing to avoid I went the additional few feet to my door and went back into my apartment. I left the questions about the door and the possibility of some kind of inhabitant being behind it there behind me on the stoop and quit thinking about it.
But I looked out of my door again later. And that swirled iridescence of light remained even after the sun had set.