I don’t know why I don’t do it.
It wouldn’t be as if I were spying or prying.
It wouldn’t be.
But it would seem to me as if I were – prying or spying.
There is something that keeps me from opening the apartment door when I hear one of the now increasingly frequent bouts of door opening and closing activity in my hallway. I can’t put my finger on what that something that restrains me might be. It almost feels like the shyness that I overcame so many years ago, that shyness that made it so hard for me to cross the floor to the girls’ side of the gym to ask one of them to dance with me at the high school dances. How odd that a feeling I haven't thought of, and certainly haven't felt, for decades seems to be back in full force.
Why would that be? Or am I taking a fancifully easy way out rather than facing what the real reason is? But, as best as I can conclude, in all honesty, I don't know what the real reason might be. Still, it does seem to resemble that long forgotten shyness.
Four flights are quite a few. They become very much quite a few when one’s lifestyle causes one to descend and ascend those four flights perhaps eight or ten times a day. That is getting on toward being equivalent to climbing out of the Tube at Covent Garden or out of the Métro at Abbesses.
But that is the number of times, more or less, that I have been making the trip up and down those stairs. So I have become quite familiar with that spiral of ancient oak planks, worn variably round, concave and convex over a century or two or three. I have made the ascent equally as rapidly as the descent, more rapidly possibly, since going up I have less of a concern about stumbling and falling. But even at a fairly good clip up and down a gradual sense of the feel of that little circular corridor has begun to manifest itself to me. There has become a change of – something – a feeling perhaps, certainly not of temperature, but somehow similar to temperature, at the point where the polished, twisted oak banister has ceased its existence. And the sense of that feeling seems to be incrementally greater with each round trip. It isn’t intensely greater from trip to trip – I wouldn’t have noticed it in that sort of adjacency. But as I feel after a ten days, compared to how I felt after one day, there is a definite change to the stronger in favor of some sort of feeling. And it seems as if time and aggregate encounters are the contributors to the changing and deepening of the sense of whatever it is.
And the closer I get to my door, and to that other door, the more that incremental increase seems to be again amplified by some other increment. But still I have never opened my door to see if I could again see more clearly that once seen, but vaguely perceived woman who seems to spend time opening and closing that old, decorative door with the luminous panes of glass.
I have said that there are two doors on my floor.
But my statement of there being only two doors is not accurate.
There is a third door.
I didn’t mention that door, even though I knew that it is there, because it is a door without function. It, like the door with the shimmering lights is very old. Like that other door it is much more lightly constructed than the apartment doors. Unlike that other door it is solid wood, solid oak, with no glass. It consists of six equally sized oak panels. But it doesn’t go anywhere. It is a real door and it is really old, but it can’t be opened or closed. It is there in its original casement with its original hinges, and with handles and latches just as if it had function. But it has no function because it has at least twelve inches of limestone between itself and the interior of my apartment. It is in the outer side of the wall that forms the container in which the spiraling oak staircase is housed on one side and upon the other side of which is the little alcove that houses my bed. As near as I can estimate, if it could be opened it would open somewhere near the foot of my bed.
But it doesn’t open because it is not possible
That is why I didn’t mention it previously.
That is why I said that there are only two doors on my floor.
But something has happened that makes me need to mention that third door.
And the something that has happened has something to do with a dream that was so intense, and lingers still so deeply burned in my consciousness that it must be mentioned. It was, or must have been, after all, a dream.
But it was unlike any dream that I have ever had.
It had been one of those stereotypically Paris trademarked late fall or early winter days.
It never really got light. It was the same at noon as it had been at nine and by four, night, or something like it, was already falling. The sky seemed to have moved during the previous night much closer to the ground and with that lowering to have brought with it some sort of light absorbing matter that, when mixed with the rest of whatever it is that makes up the contents of the atmospheric bowl of a dismal late autumn Paris day, seems to draw all but the bare remains of daylight from all of the normally day lit hours.
And it was dismally, chillingly, cold. It was a cold that did not register on a thermometer; the thermometers were all saying that it was 2 or 3 or 4 degrees. But it was a cold that I could feel far beyond physical existence.
In spite of the dimness, darkness and coldness I went out to walk, and look, and take pictures, and perhaps stop somewhere on the return leg for a glass of wine. As it turned out I did stop for a glass of wine at La Frégate which is on the Quai Voltaire side of Pont Royal.
And then I went back to the apartment.
In spite of the light absorbing nature of the day the unexplained luminance behind the second door was leaking through the ancient glass panes. I stopped for the briefest of moments, thought my thoughts, and then, with a glance at the third door went into my apartment.
I checked email, offloaded the pictures and movies from the camera to the computer, re-sized to smaller size several of what I deemed the best stills and emailed them out to the people to whom I have been sending emails from Paris.
Then I noted that the time was appropriate to start preparing an American-early dinner. I didn’t think that I could last until the time came for a French-late dinner.
I have adopted a menu format that has become a sort of Paris tradition for me. It is: meat, vegetable, salad, bread and gazpacho.
And so it was on this evening. I made a great zucchini sauté to go with the roast chicken that was left over from the previous night.
I ate, read the Economist and dawdled over my last glass of wine until the vapors of imminent sleep began to invade the apartment.
So I went to bed, read a paragraph of Aubrey/Maturin, and was off in never-never land before it would have been possible to say never-never land.
Something woke me. Waking me doesn’t take much anymore, but I hadn’t been asleep very long, and normally the early stages of my various nightly sleep episodes tend to be deep and unwakeable. So I was surprised to be awakened so obviously soon after dropping deeply off.
But I was awake.
And then almost immediately I questioned whether I really was awake.
The heater on the wall below the window that looks out on the Seine is a real friend. When it gets cold, there is a setting that I have discovered that keeps everything just right – warm but not hot. The day being as I have described it, I put that heater at that setting as I got into bed; I had dropped off with a peasant ambient warmness.
But, now that I was awake again – or seemed to be awake – I was bitterly cold.
The reason became immediately apparent.
In the wall on the right side of my niche of a bed chamber there was a door that had opened. That wall is the same wall that is shared on the other side with the hallway and the landing at the top of the stairs. And the door had opened revealing, not the hallway, but something vastly different.
And the door had opened, not outwardly into the hallway, but inwardly into my bed chamber. It had rotated inward a full 180 degrees to the wall so that it was flush with that wall and parallel with the edge of the bed. And in my bed chamber there was the edge of something impossible to comprehend that had bumped up against the foot of my bed.
To accommodate the door swinging inward, all the way to the wall, through at least a third of the lower part of my bed, and through the lower part of me, something had happened. Because, in lieu of the lower part of the bed, and of the lower part of me, there was instead an area of swirling serpentine glitters of light and dark. It was a multi-hued apparition but the net apparent color was a pale blue phasing to burgundy at the fringes.
And in the center was a woman.
The woman was, at first, far from the major aspect of the scene. It was the rest of the space – not the center with the woman - that stirred mixed feelings of stark terror and bemused wonder.
The stark terror was the result of the fact that there was no longer any bedroom or even any building surrounding me. What was there instead was a vast open curvature of blackness mixed with goldness mixed with redness, mixed with amberness – mixed it seemed with whatever colors a mad theatre lighting man might have applied to the scene. It glittered with all the colors of the sun.
That was the stark terror part of the experience.
The bemused wonder was a dearer thing.
That consisted of what might have been called a slide show if it were not for the cosmic hugeness of its presentation. I saw a tree – a gigantic tree. I saw the entire Seine, from Pont Sully to Pont d’Alma, and then I saw the golden giants of Pont Alexandre and at its edge, I saw a muddy pool of flint gravel mud with a chestnut lying in its middle; I saw a small boat with a hunched boatman, clothed in a manner not of this, or any that I knew of, millennium; I saw, and smelled the raspberry and urine canals of Ton Son Nhut; associated with those smells I felt the abject depths of a despair that I thought that I had long forgotten.
I saw and felt many more things that I cannot now remember or that I didn’t understand at the time. So I cannot give those things names or descriptions.
And then, at the center, where the woman still was, and where it was still flickering blue at the center to burgundy at the periphery, the woman looked at me and said “why did you leave me there? Why have you forgotten me?”