By a slow accretion the three shelves had filled over our seven years. A pencil sharpener, eight hanks of green wool, a worn toothbrush, a pewter letter rack, two wooden ashtrays and a box of “B and M Fusees” hardly justified three dedicated black wooden shelves in the alcove. Also. An eggcup with potpourri, a Scarborough letter knife, a lost sucker from a child’s bow and arrow. Then a nail file in its case , a compass with a broken glass. A pill that could have been an aspirin. Sheer inertia, sheer lack of will caused this assemblage to assemble on on not one but three black shelves supported in the decorative alcove with little more than strong adhesive paper tape.
Had we three sat down we could have apportioned each item to its logical repository. But that we never did, sharing the joke of it all. Only when you brought a capodamonte figure down from the bathroom cabinet, were we forced to decide on a swift dispersal occasioned by the specatacle of a melancholic, patched tramp filling his pipe with squirrel droppings
For a month we would eye this Samuel Becket character before tiring of its associations. Perhaps you two noticed a certain physical resemblance to your housemate. So it was in my own interest to expedite the clearing of the shelves, and the return of the tramp to the Bathroom Cabinet.
We had made considerable progress that week selling field beans to the Salvation Army. One of you had done well out of kale futures at the Exchange . We were, to be modest, full of ourselves So on Thursday, 15th May at four in the afternoon, we gathered with a cardboard box and tissue paper to clear the shelves with a view to a new artful arrangement of plants and faience. Cleared of the detritus, the three black shelves however peeled easily from the wall, leaving the impression of an ingle nook without the seating.
Normally I wouldn’t have shown off a familiarity with Passepartout, but I just couldn’t resist it. Flicking the cracked tape with a finger nail, I pronounced it;
“In fact…” I pushed at the plasterboard with a finger. “In fact the whole board is barely clinging on.” A scattering of starlings swept overhead on their way to the pier. The long case clock chose that very moment to change to its rasping wheeze.
“In fact…” the whole panel seemed to fold in. The taping split. We pulled the whole sheet of plaster board, five feet by three , forward and into the room revealing a space leading to a four panelled door. You see, it made sense. An ingle nook with padded seats. Leading to a small pine doorway of the sort that accommodates a dumb waiter. “And, there’s a key!” said the Scrutineer holding it aloft on a perfect red ribbon.
We are a cautious grouping, we three. No, it was not shown on the leasehold plans which clearly post-dated the original Baillie Scott interior. The key functioned perfectly in a well lubricated lock. The only question whether to open the door now or later, having taken advice. A question of asbestos. A problem of owner responsibility. Hairline cracks in the newly revealed ceiling . A curious whiff of napthalene. All of this and more required research . And perhaps there was a sense of extending pleasure by the means of suspense. Architectural foreplay.
A door. A key. Moth Balls.
Removing the panel and cleaning the revealed space took about an hour. On the ceiling in its dedicated plaster moulding was a brass rimmed pearl-capped electrical signal which could now be traced back to the scullery. For years, a small rasping noise was to be heard often coinciding with the soup course. Now we had proof this was no psychic presence or ghostly emanation. The mechanism kept going for an hour before expiring from overuse.
Opening the door in this way coincided with dusk. We were equipped with torches. Opening it about two inches, it was clear something was impeding it. The further the door opened, the less possible it was to shut it. Having often experienced the Doppelganger Effect in this house, we had to be prepared for three people just like us pushing through the door to get out.
At one stage it was evident the door would never shut. That whatever was the other side of the door had to be first removed.
”Should we wear masks?”
Good thought. Rubber gloves, Overalls, masks and some stout binbags. By ten o’clock we realised we were out of our depths. That the great imponderable had better be faced after a night’s sleep.
I suppose it was superstition that required a prop of wood wedging the door closed or as much as the imponderable permitted. A dust sheet seemed called for. Slightly foolishly we retired to bed.
I came down early the next morning to find you both seated in the nook.
The wood prop was removed. The door slowly opened. A hessian sack filled the aperture, evidently filled with some granular material that insisted in rolling forward. This was some imponderable, which we clawed into the room, carefully checking for rents and seepages. I thought fit to pull it outside on to the drive. It was beginning to rain so I used a tarpaulin.
With the imponderable gone, you could now see through the door into a small vestibule with shelves, smartly carpeted, measuring about six feet by five. The bulbous electric light fitting still worked. We discussed the capacity of the house to spring surprises on us. For all three of us to cram into the vestibule might be amusing, but it risked triggering the spirit of the puckish that surrounded our ménage.
RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT. "A House in Devon England Europe was pulled down this month to clear the land for an ecological waste plant. Three perfectly preserved skeletons were found, touchingly entwined in a space behind the living room, walled up in some mysterious ceremony associated with fertility and the concealment of Catholic priests."
Jac being less prone to the wobblies stepped in with her torch. In true Noir fashion, the beam immediately dimmed in the veil of disturbed dust. The objects in boxes piled on the shelves were only faintly discernible. She gave a small cry and immediately stepped out. She slammed the door. “Fuck that.”
We crammed the imponderable (slightly swollen from the rain) back in using improvised tyre levers and slammed the door quickly before it realised what was happening. The lock seemed none too strong so screws to the frame seemed in order. Fortunately the original plaster board had been preserved. The shelves were claimed back from the skip.
“Got any more of that passepartout?”