On Monday 5/06/15, P___ was surfing the net during his lunch break when he saw a house to rent on Daft.ie. It looked perfect so he sent M___ an email with a link to it. M___ must have got on to it straight away because within the hour she texted P___ to say she had arranged a viewing for 7 o’clock. She reminded him that she couldn’t make it because Thursday was kickboxing night, but P___ could go on his own. She ended her text with an ‘x’ which meant that she was in a good mood. In recent times P___’s lack of initiative had become an issue in their relationship so P___ was pleased at M___’s use of ‘x’ in her text and set out at 6 o’clock to view the house.
It was a long walk and the evening was cold, grey, and it was quietly raining. The agent was already at the house when P___ arrived and he introduced himself with a handshake. There was no one else at the viewing which surprised P___ as there was usually a long queue. While the agent showed P___ around, the two men chatted about hurling. P___ was wearing a Kilkenny jersey as he was originally from that county and, although the agent was originally from Galway, he agreed with P___ that ‘The Cats’ would bag it again that year. The house was nicely decorated with a modern-style kitchen and a balcony off the bedroom and P___ began to wonder if there had been a misprint on the website regarding the rent. Affecting a casual tone, he asked the agent what the rent was. The agent confirmed that it was as P___ had seen advertised on Daft.ie, at which point, unable to disguise his enthusiasm, P___ said that he would take the house.
The agent said that there was just one ‘proviso’. What do you mean by ‘proviso’? P___ asked. The agent explained that the rent was ‘restricted’ because of the access route required to the door at the end of hallway. P___ did not understand what the agent was talking about, but when he looked down the hallway he saw a door at the end that he had not noticed previously. What do you mean by access route? he asked. The agent explained that every few months he would require access to the door at the end of the hallway. He assured P___ that he would not be inconvenienced in any way. He said, You have my word on that. I’ll send you a text giving at least 48 hours’ notice and then I’ll arrive at a time of your choosing and access the door via the hallway. The agent said that he would have a person or people with him but that he would simply be escorting them to the door and that once they had gone through it he would leave via the hallway and that would be that. The entire process would take no more than a minute or two. Furthermore, the agent told P___, the soundproofing of the door at the end of the hallway was Grade A certified.
A lot of thoughts passed through P___’s mind. They passed through almost simultaneously and so the order in which they are presented below is purely arbitrary:
What person or people is the agent talking about?/M___ won’t like this ‘proviso’./Where are the person or people going to?/M___ will be in a very good mood if I we have a house like this./What is behind the door?/There is absolutely nothing else available to rent in this part of town that we can afford.
The agent waited. P___ reiterated that he would take the house. Once more the agent shook P___’s hand heartily and the two men, having exchanged mobile numbers, parted by throwing genial phrases back and forth in the cold air. Talk to you./Mind how you go./Be good./And if you can’t be good…/Up The Cats!
P___ and M___ moved into their new house on Saturday, 23/06/15. It was a warm day, although it clouded over in the afternoon. M___ organised all aspects of the move with the help of her father who owned a van. It went smoothly and by 9 o’clock that night the couple were in the living room, M___ unpacking the last few boxes, P___ setting up the new flat screen TV, a bottle of wine open and a lemongrass candle burning on the mantelpiece. Life was good.
P___ had not yet got around to telling M___ about the ‘proviso’. In the weeks leading up to the move he had intended doing so, but something always got in the way. Either he was too busy or she was too busy, or M___ was in a good mood and P___ didn’t want to ruin it, or M___ was in a bad mood and P___ didn’t want to make it worse. P___ reasoned that since the ‘proviso’ was no more than a minor inconvenience, why make a big deal out of it. Sooner or later M___ would notice the door at the end of the hall and ask him about it, although it surprised him that she hadn’t noticed it by now. When she did, he would explain it to her in a calm, reasoned way, exactly as the agent had explained it to him. He had already mentioned to her on more than one occasion that the agent was a decent type, originally from Galway, and a great man for the hurling.
M___ and P___ settled into their new house and life went on pretty much as it had before, except that now they shared bills and had to desist from habits such as shopping for superfluous clothes or masturbating in the shower. M___ never mentioned the door at the end of the hallway and after a week or so P___ forgot about it completely.
On the morning of 27/10/15, four months after he and M___ had moved into the house, P___ received a text from an unknown number. It read, What time Tuesday? He stared at it for a long time before remembering that he had neglected to store the agent’s number in his phone, and only then did he register its meaning. All through the day at work he thought about the text. He felt as if there was a bird dying in his stomach. He did not eat lunch. On the bus home he finally replied to the text. 3.30? Almost instantly he felt his phone vibrate in his hand. It was a reply from the agent saying,* OK*.
On Tuesday, P___ left work at lunchtime citing a toothache. He took the bus home. He was afraid to put on the TV or make a cup of tea or use the toilet in case the bell rang, so he sat on the second last step of the stairs and waited. Through the bubble glass in the front door he could see if anyone was approaching. Glancing down to the end of the hallway, he looked at the other door. He was perplexed as to how he could have forgotten about it. It was the same height and width as every other door in the house and was stained with the same brown varnish and had the same metal handle. There was no key in the keyhole.
The bell rang and P___ opened the front door.
The agent stood on the doorstep. Behind him was a woman with a sluggish face, as though she had just woken up or recently taken marijuana. The woman had a large baby in one arm and her other hand gripped the handle of a buggy. The buggy was stuffed with bags with more bags hanging from it. A small boy stood beside her. The agent winked at P___ and walked down the hall. The woman struggled to get the heavy buggy through the door and the boy followed behind her. The baby had a soother in its mouth and P___ noted that its face was very red. When the agent reached the door at the end of the hall, he whisked it open and the woman went in with the baby, the buggy and the boy. The agent closed the door and walked back along the hallway and out into the pleasant autumnal afternoon, calling as he went: Well, ye did it again. Two in a row for Kilkenny.
Long before Halloween the shops were full of Christmas decorations. M___ kept repeating the same phrase to everyone she met. The first Christmas in our new home. She explained to P___ how important Christmas was to her and insisted they go shopping most weekends. P___ was easy about Christmas. He could take it or leave it. But since it put M___ in a good mood, he was happy to go shopping most weekends. He was in the homeware department of Penneys in Dundrum Shopping Centre when he got the next text from the agent. It read, Christmas Eve? You have to be joking, P___ thought, even though he knew it was not a joke. While M___ was at the counter buying a set of four wooden napkin rings shaped like reindeers, P___ sent a reply text.* 2.20. M___ was going to her parents in Blanchardstown on Christmas Eve and he was going to his mother in Kilkenny. It had all been arranged months ago so that he and M___ could spend Christmas day together. M___ would head off to her parents in the morning but he was planning to leave it until the afternoon to make the journey to Kilkenny. Two hours spent with his mother who was still sulking over the new arrangements for Christmas Day would be enough. The agent texted back. *OK.
On 19/12/15, M___ went to her Christmas work party and told P___ not to wait up because it would be a late one. P___ planned to chill out, have a few beers, and watch an action movie on the flat screen TV, but he couldn’t relax. Around 10 o’clock he went out into the hallway. He put his ear to the door and listened. Nothing. He put his hand on the handle and slowly depressed it. The door opened and P___ looked inside. A small room, not much bigger than a porch, with the same laminate flooring as in the hallway, the same cream coloured paint on the walls, a picture on the back wall that looked like one from the set of impressionist landscapes that hung in the living room when P___ and M___ had first moved into the house and which M___ had promptly replaced with prints from Ikea. There was also a small potted plant in one corner and on the left wall, another door, just like this one, also with no key. P___ shut the door softly and went back into the living room where he crashed out on the couch. He was still there when M___ arrived home at four in the morning wanting to have sex.
When the doorbell rang at 2.20 on Christmas Eve, P___ opened it and greeted the agent, who shook his hand firmly. With the agent was an Arab man, mid-twenties, wearing jeans and a buttoned black jacket, carrying a rucksack. Without lifting his eyes, the Arab walked down the hallway after the agent, but when he reached the door he hesitated and mumbled something in what P___ presumed was Arabic, before the agent forced him through the door saying, C’mon now. No messing. On his way out, the agent smiled and wished P___ a Happy Christmas. As it turned out, however, it was not an especially happy Christmas. P___ and M___ got up very late on Christmas Day, both with a hangover, and ate their M&S dinner on their laps in front of the TV.
In the new year, P___ and M___ agreed to tighten their belts. P___ undertook ‘Dry January’ and M___ signed up for a spinning class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. She had tired of kickboxing. Whenever M___ was out, P___ found himself thinking more and more about the door at the end of the hallway. Soon M___ had only to leave before P___ was in the hallway staring at the door. Questions about the door had come to P___ in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep but couldn’t get up in case he disturbed M___. Questions—again in arbitrary order—such as:
Where does the other door lead to?/ Who waters the plant?/ Do the Arab and the woman with the baby and the boy know each other?/How can a plant live in a room with no light?/Is the agent a good man or a bad man?
P___ began to open the door more and more. At first, just wide enough to glimpse into the room, but, gradually, wider and wider. The first time he went inside the room was on 5/05/16. He just stood in it for a minute or two. It was not until 18/7/16 that he began enacting what would rapidly become a ritual whenever M___ left the house for more than an hour or so. Stripping down to his boxers, removing his watch and glasses, P___ would open the door and step into the room, shut the door behind him, and then sit in the cool darkness with the wall at his back and his hands around his knees.
A lot happened in the first half of that year. The weather was unseasonably mild and P___ was promoted at work and, egged on by both his best friend and M___’s best friend, he proposed to M___ on 14/02/16 at a special dinner in an expensive restaurant. She said yes and was busy organising the wedding, which was set for 21/06/18. Luckily M___ had a first cousin who was a wedding planner, because there was a huge amount to do. Also, the agent accessed the door at the end of the hallway on two further dates. On 22/02/16 he escorted a woman who looked Eastern European and who had a bruise on her right cheekbone and on 11/06/18, the day after P___ and M___ returned from a package holiday in Greece, he escorted a family of seven through the door. On that occasion M___ was upstairs unpacking their suitcases after the holiday. P___ had seen no reason to engage in elaborate schemes to get her out of the house since the entire process, as always, had taken no more than a minute or two. The family followed the agent down the hallway so efficiently that P___ just managed to do a head count and note that they looked Irish. The agent paused briefly at the front door to ask P___ if he thought Kilkenny were up to the three in a row. P___ replied, No better men.
P___ found himself going into the room more and more often. Sometimes he would go in at night while M___ was sleeping. She had read in a magazine that ‘pure’ sleep combatted the signs of ageing and had taken to wearing earplugs and an eye mask in bed. P___ even went into the room when M___ was at home watching TV, or taking a bath, or—when work was particularly stressful—doing her mindfulness exercises in the bedroom. He would hear her calling him and reappear in the hallway. Where the fuck were you? M___ would say, but she didn’t really want an answer. Once, when P___ opened the door, there were red/brown stains on the laminate floor and he didn’t go into the room. They were gone a few days later when he opened the door again. Another time a half bottle of diet Pepsi was left beside the potted plant along with a clump of hair. But overall the agent was right, the door caused no real inconvenience.
In this way life went on. Things happened. Some good. Some bad. The agent arrived at the house every few months to escort a person/people through the door, but P___ no longer asked himself any questions. Kilkenny did not get the three in a row that year. P___ and M___ developed a routine that, while not entirely satisfactory, was not entirely unsatisfactory either, and included sex on one of the weekend mornings. Gradually they resumed their old habits of shopping for superfluous clothes and masturbating in the shower. One day they will move out of the house and someone else will rent it and accept the ‘proviso’. Maybe P___ and M___ will save up enough money to buy a house in Kildare or Portlaoise or Arklow with a 35-year mortgage and a 4-hour commute. Or maybe they will break up before the wedding and one or other of them will emigrate to Canada or Manchester or Seoul. But before we leave P___ and M___ forever, let us pause on one final scene:
It is late afternoon on a Sunday and M___ is out at a family celebration. P___ is sitting in the room behind the door wearing only his boxers. His back is supported by the wall and the floor beneath him is cool. He reaches out and touches the leaves of the potted plant. They are smooth. Touching the leaves makes P___ believe he is in a dream, a dream in which he knows he is dreaming, and that if he wanted to, he could wake from, but he doesn’t want to. In the darkness P___ closes his eyes. Everything is white and frozen and very silent, as in winter in some country that no longer exists.