Fiction

The time the doorknob broke

By Austin J. Dalton

By 5PM, New Year’s Eve fireworks were already driving the dogs in the neighborhood insane. As often happens when he had time to himself, Johnny gradually found himself feeling more and more perturbed as he sat around his bedroom at home, though not because of anything he could put his finger on. He had not read any incendiary news articles, had not endured any injustices at work or any other juncture of his day, he had indeed taken his medication at the prescribed times.

He had, however, made a conscious decision to commit some time to drawing tonight before heading out to enjoy festivities. When those sketches didn’t go anywhere, he tried to compose a Twitter comment that would stir people’s imaginations and get his profile some clicks, although this tends to be rarely possible if one has, as he did at any given time, about 20-23 followers maximum and not much clout. He simply wanted to have something done. He wanted to be seen.

7:30 PM. It was approaching the time of the evening when he meant to go to his significant other’s house for the holiday festivities. Festivities indeed – to his own chagrin, he dreaded this as much as he desired it, because there was something embarrassing about trying to be gregarious when the evening had unfolded like this and his consciousness had been trapped in this malodorous place all evening. It’s like trying to mask a hangover or a terrible gastrointestinal ailment that materializes out of nowhere but won’t calm down just because you’re due for a meeting that may still have hours to go before completion.

Then, as he was leaving his bedroom, Johnny could feel the camel’s spine aching and fracturing in a multitude of places, second by second. The tipping point was hovering all around him like a terrible camouflaged enemy who had already utilized all the psyops and brilliant tactical offenses to lure Johnny, the target, out into the kill zone for a devastating blow: he closed his bedroom door behind him, and it did not latch. More to the point, it latched for the briefest moment and then the door shifted weirdly and, lo and behold, it was unlatched again.

He tried again. No click.

There were neighbors to consider. He resisted the urge, at first, to slam the door in his re-attempt. He tried to close the door a little more firmly, but not so much that it would echo down to the foundation. Alas, the latch would not do its job, and after every attempt, the door would gradually drift open. Very gradually and accompanied by that light creak of the door hinges. That it happened so slowly was even more of a mockery.

He tried again. No click.

The urge to search for agenticity in inanimate objects is a far more difficult tendency to surmount in everyday life than we perhaps wish to admit. This is why the primal rage that accompanies – for example – a stubbed toe feels so deep, so pure, so borne from the arid abyss of Hell’s stomach. There’s no enemy at whom to point an enraged finger, no complex set of intentions that such a foe acted upon to create your misery. There’s no retribution, there’s only an inanimate piece of woodwork. Having the good sense to know these things, typically, only exacerbates the rage.

He tried again. No click.

Why, Johnny wondered, would it be this goddamn door that drove him over the edge? Is there some cosmic conceptual or symbolic weight to doors? Doors were mentioned figuratively in a sentence written by Aldous Huxley which later inspired the name of a good band. People often walk into rooms and forget why they’ve done so as soon as they pass through a doorframe, for reasons that have been speculated upon by neuroscientists. Some people who choose to commit suicide by hanging do so from doorknobs.

He tried again. No click. He even allowed his temper to momentarily run the show, by slamming it as hard as he could. No click.

In that sort of heat, in that sort of frenzy, it’s only the most amazing things that will trigger a disproportionately upset reaction. Johnny did his best not to break down in tears of slam his fists against the wall in impotent frustration. Perhaps, he thought, the best course of action would be to simply leave the faulty door as it was so as not to lose any more time this evening.

However, because this triviality provoked him so, he had to act. He knew his options: he could simply wait and contact the landlord, he could even wait for his roommate to return home and see if he knew how to repair the door. Or, he could take matters into his own hands.

First, he dropped to his knees and examined the threshold. Nothing appeared to be asymmetrical or otherwise protruding in a way that would prevent a proper close. From the bottom up, he feverishly risked splintering by running his finger along the edges of the door, all the way up and around, and then repeating the same for the doorframe. Nothing out of place. And indeed, as long he was pulling the damn door tight, it would latch properly. The minute he let go of the knob, however. . .creak.

The only thing he could deduce was that the culprit here had to be the latch bolt or the strike plate where it was supposed to stay. The knob itself, a push handle, seemed to be in good shape. Not too wobbly, not ostensibly installed off-center in any way.

The pains of melancholy breathe in situations like this, situations that taunt the subject with how little control they possess over the pettiest and most inconsequential matters which they bloody well know they should be perfectly capable of controlling.

Johnny imagined those who would not be so easily aggravated in this situation and envied them. Bully for them, able to navigate everyday life better than he, more competent at the rudimentary things than he, cooler than he, worthier of being called a normal person he.

8:02 PM. A clever idea then occurred to him, as he glanced over at the door on the opposite side of the all: the seldom-utilized utility room. Surely, it was worth a shot. With no time to lose, he raced to the kitchen to retrieve the necessary tools from one of the bottom drawer cabinets, where – counterintuitively – his roommate insisted on storing household tools instead of the actual utility closet. He was fortunate enough to discover a screwdriver, but no drill. Therefore, all screwing and unscrewing would be of the very traditional variety.

Right as he returned to the scene with a screwdriver in hand, however, an impediment that ought to have been obvious dawned on him: being on the other side of the hall, the orientation of this door would not work if he attempted to swap them out.

Time, he reckoned, to try something else.

The door to the utility closet might have made an ill-fit substitute, but he could tell just at a cursory glance that the bathroom door just might work. It was oriented the right way. It had the same kind of push-handle, so the spindles and lock bodies should be roughly 1:1.

Success was within his grasp. It was becoming increasingly possible that he could show himself of worthy of taking this minor, quotidian task without making a big spectacle of the situation. Sure, the bathroom’s new doorknob would be wonky, but that wasn’t anything a trip to Home Depot at a later date couldn’t rectify. If his roommate asked him later, Johnny could say loudly and proudly: “Well, my bedroom doorknob was acting funny, so I had to switch out the doors before I headed out. Yes sir, that’s me. Look upon my prowess with even the most minute of everyday utility tasks, and bask in it. I am a resourceful, capable adult in the face of whom the minor quandaries of the world that most people deal with everyday are no match.” And then, his roommate would applaud him.

By 8:46 PM, after painstakingly removing every screw, setting aside every hinge. . .he finally realized that the doors were entirely different sizes. By some extraordinary providence, nobody else happened to be home for this humiliating display.

All this struggle. All easily avoided. All for nothing. All at the whims of that terrible impulse in the melancholic mind to seek the worst out of every situation and rush ahead without all information accounted for.

He left the house and before driving away, took a moment to sit in his driver’s seat and cry.

Regardless, he eventually showed up at his girlfriend’s house, and she not only forgave him for the minor setback he caused in their scheduled evening but found that there wasn’t even much to forgive. Despite all the penitence he was preemptively putting himself through on the drive over, she wasn’t even slightly perturbed. He was ready to be cursed, ready to be hated. He faced no such harsh reception.

His mind had coaxed him into acting without all the necessary information because his mind would have delighted into reprimanding him for his ineptitude later. A casual observer will note that Johnny was not all that handy of an individual, surely, but approaching the doorknob situation could have been infinitely easier. Therein lied the rub. Any excuse for self-hatred, his mind assumed a long time ago, is a valid one. His mind had sought out the worst and convinced him that he deserved nothing less.

The pomp and circumstance eventually commenced on television to announce the arrival of 2019, and while sitting next to his girlfriend at his girlfriend’s family’s house, Johnny smiled, contemplating the evasive combat maneuver he had successfully executed tonight in this ongoing warfare with his own mind. He had not won the battle, but he’d suffered no losses. There was no promise that every day would produce such humble mirages of victory, but it was a start.

Categories: Fiction

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