I don’t make the doors. I just fix them.
People always think there’s a special trick to it, some training I’ve done. When they ask, I smile but don’t give too much away. Part of the job is being mysterious. Clients expect it. You’ve got a door doing weird shit, you don’t call a repairman expecting him to be normal.
But truth is, there’s nothing special about me or my tools. I just wait until the clients are out of the room, pretending like I need the time alone to do something spooky. Then I get out my tiny old-fashioned oiling can with the long metal nozzle. (It has to have a long metal nozzle.) I hop up on my stepladder, lube the hinges, stop the creaking. That’s it really. Door works normal after that.
People got their theories. Wormholes, rips in the fabric of space-time. They talk about doorways as portals. I don’t go for that fancy thinking. I reckon it’s just a case of poor maintenance. You don’t maintain your doors, they’re not gonna take you where they should, are they? No wonder these blokes are stepping through to the wrong place. What did they think was going to happen? But it’s the kind of common sense that ain’t so common anymore so I keep my mouth shut.
Sundays I usually take off and go skyfishing. But this time I get a call about 9am, and it’s on my way to the boat ramp anyway, and the lady is real distressed. Her partner has gone missing, she says. He was carrying the baby, four months old, a little girl. He picked her up to take her to the next room for a nappy change, and he walked through the door and—
Well, you know.
I try to avoid sighing and tell her I’ll be there soon. Don’t worry, I say, he’ll turn up. She seems reassured somewhat and I grab my stuff, picking up my full toolkit in case it’s a big job. I’m hoping it’ll be a quick one and I’ll be up out there with my fishing kite in hand by lunchtime.
My parents’ house had twelve doors—reckon that’s where I get my knack for it. Too many hallways, my dad would complain, too many bloody hallways in this house! Family of six kids, the place was a maze. Stood me in good stead, but, growing up with all those doorways. So, let’s just say I’ve seen a lot in my day, a lot of doors. Still, when I get to this lady’s house and she shows me inside I’m spooked right away. Whole place is sagging, all the doorways crooked—it hasn’t been maintained properly in years.
‘My baby, my baby, my baby!’ The woman is crying as she shows me where her bloke stepped through. This bedroom doorframe is so crooked and the hinges are so rusted it could have transported him anywhere. The more out of whack a door is, the further it sends you. I explain this to her but I’m not sure she’s listening, she’s just too upset.
I’m always careful never to step through the creaking doors. I don’t want to end up far away and have to spend hours walking back home. But this situation seems pretty urgent and the lady is still crying and I don’t know how to handle emotions but I do know doors and I’ll take my chances with the portal or rip in space-time fabric or whatever. So, I get out my builder’s twine and tie one end around my waist. Then I give her the rest of it and tell her to hold on tight and let it unravel slowly. She nods, seems a bit calmer now that we’re taking practical steps to solve the problem.
The twine acts as a grounding wire, connects me back to this family and this house. Don’t ask me how I know this, in the moment I just do. You can’t learn everything from a textbook or manual; some things are just down to experience.
‘Back in a jiffy,’ I say and I walk through the door.
On the other side it’s bloody freezing. Good thing I’m wearing my beanie and hi-vis polar fleece vest. It’s dark too, nighttime even though when I left the lady’s house it was probably about 10am. I’ve got a little torch attached to my car keys so I get that out and flash it around.
The bloke can’t have gotten far in this snow.
Then I hear the sound – it’s a baby’s high-pitched squeal but it sounds exactly like the squeaky hinge of a crooked door. I shake my head. So that explains it.
‘Mate, I’m over here,’ I yell. ‘We’ll have this sorted soon.’
I step forward into the drifts of snow. The small sphere of light from the torch reveals marble pillars. I point the torch up—there’s no roof, just the blue-black sky and the stars and drifting snowflakes. I keep walking and pass a statue of a nude guy with big hands and a small knob. I don’t get out my measuring tape but it’s obvious by now this broken door has taken us half a hemisphere away and probably back in time too.
I find them huddled near a frozen fountain. The bloke is just wearing a dressing gown and he’s clutching the baby to his chest. His whole body is shaking and his teeth chatter as he says, ‘W-w-w-who are y-y-y-you?’
I’m wearing my tool belt so it’s obvious I’m the repairman but the guy is probably so cold he’s not thinking straight.
‘You’ve stepped through a dodgy door,’ I say. ‘Nothing to worry about. We’ll have it fixed soon.’
Then I put my toolbox down on the snow and open it up. The baby squeals again—
that same creaking door sound. I point the torch at her and see her cheeks are very red. ‘Ah, I see what’s gone wrong here.’
‘She’s been crying. I’ve got just the thing.’
I rummage in the toolbox and can see him watching me, expecting something special. But there’s nothing special about a dummy. It’s just an ordinary dummy, you have to insert it in the mouth right. Hold it out a little so the baby sees it and wants it—then in there real quick. Simple.
I show him how. The baby takes the dummy like it’s a nipple and suckles. She’s silent now, content.
The father looks at me with his mouth open like I’m some kind of miracle man. But it’s simple really. People overcomplicate things.
I help them up, gripping the man’s arm to provide stability. We walk back slowly towards the marble archway where we entered. The snow has stopped falling now and the moon is shining bright. The big marble pillars cast shadows across our path. Even without getting out my measuring tools I can see the angle of the shadows is about right—45 degrees across our path, more or less. Young blokes new to the profession will measure everything up all proper but when you get to my level of experience you can tell by eye. I’m counting steps too and by the time we get to the archway it’s about 50 metres. I’m pretty happy with that. That’s a good distance. I’ve still got the twine around my waist and it’s nice and taut. The lady on the other side has been doing a good job of winding it up, which is reassuring. I don’t fancy walking back home from this job if the twine snaps.
‘All good, mate,’ I say. ‘Just let me tie this twine around you then we’ll walk through together.’ He shivers and nods. I need to keep him talking.
‘She’s a cutie.’
‘Y-y-yeah.’ Even on the brink of hypothermia, he smiles.
After I’m done tying the twine around all of us, I look him direct in the eyes, so we can come to an understanding. Wordless. Man to man.
He groans, hangs his head.
‘Stupid,’ he mumbles. ‘I should’ve fixed that door months ago.’
‘I know it’s hard, mate, being a first-time dad. You’re busy, tired. I’ve been there. But let’s have a chat about where you can get an oil can with a long metal nozzle.’ I put my arm around his shoulders. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.’
He nods. Together we step over the threshold.
First published in Overland, October 2021: https://overland.org.au/2021/10/fiction-creaking/