Day 5 of my blog a day from a set list of topics, and I am 1/6 through the challenge! After a struggle with the previous four, maybe ‘Door’ will be more straightforward! Lots of ideas spring to mind, and I have written a few posts about doors before, maybe because my birthday month is the month of Janus, the god of doorways, entrances and exits, looking out, looking in, looking forward, looking back. It’s tempting to share something I have written before but that would not be in the spirit of the challenge!
I looked up as the bell on the door jangled. It was actually the most irritating sound, and I guess old Mumps had it like that to make sure anyone working in the shop couldn’t pretend they hadn’t heard it. It had a really painful, discordant reverberation that sometimes seemed to hurt my ears… especially if I was trying to read as I was now.
A tall man, not old but I guess old middle-aged had come in and was looking around. He stood still and gazed at the piles of stuff, the tables laden with things, the shelves jammed full, most items with a silvering of dust, corners bewebbed grâce à the secret spiders. He stood with the door open so a coldness grabbed my ankles and wrapped a chilly scarf around my shoulders. Actually nothing grabbed my ankles or wrapped me in anything, it’s just me trying to write in an original way.
I don’t like speaking to the customers unless I have to so I just gazed at him. Old Mumps had told me off for ignoring people, and although I didn’t think OM was in the shop, you just never knew if some suspicious eye was watching through the bead curtain which led into the back. Come right in or go back out, but don’t just stand there and force me to ask if I can help you! As if he’d heard my thoughts, the man came in and shut the door decisively so the bell jangled painfully again. The man had a good look round and then began to slowly wander in a way I recognise from other customers. Some come in and head bam! for the books, or straight to the china, glass and odd crocks, others just wander and amble at a variety of speeds. There is the person who almost dashes round, their eyes flashing over everything, or the person who wanders fairly purposefully, they don’t necessarily know what they are looking for, and they don’t want to waste too much time here, but they don’t rush in case they miss the very thing they didn’t know that they wanted. Then there are the slow and steady, and the really slow who probably want to live here.
This bloke was a slow and steady, he seemed to be looking for something in particular, in his brown waterproof coat, tightly belted, its buttons buttoned, even the one at the collar. He had sandy coloured hair above a rather square serious face, lined and serious. I cleared my throat and asked if I could help, but he shook his head and continued to mooch, picking things up, moving things to see what was behind them. I tried to go back to my book but I couldn’t really concentrate; it was quite dim now but I didn’t want to turn the lights on for some reason.
“Are you looking for something in particular, sir?” I asked because he was somehow very irritating and I wanted to get back to reading.
“Maybe,” he had a very deep voice and said the single word as if he disapproved of me. “I am looking for a Janus.”
“A Janus?” Well, I’d never been asked for one of them before.
“I don’t suppose you know what I’m talking about,” he said snootily, and I felt he bit back the word ‘boy’ at the end of his sentence.
“January comes from Janus, doesn’t it?” I tried to sound polite. “He was a Roman god wasn’t he, doors, god of doors…” I stopped because he was really staring at me, and rather creeping me out. I wished old Mumps would put in an appearance but in actual fact I didn’t even know whether there was anyone out the back or not, sometimes I discovered I was on my own – which usually was good, but not now.
“Indeed, young man, Janus, the spirit who presides at doorways, who stands at entrances, who straddles archways,” he stopped and looked round as if he expected to see some god lounging in a corner with a face in the usual position and another on the back of his head. “He stands at the beginning of a journey and waits at the end, a journey across place or space, looking forwards, but also looking backwards. Janus looks to the future, Janus sees the past.”
I must have goggled at him. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a book which he held out to me. Dennis Delorne, ‘everywhere two faces’ – no capital letters but that was the title. I turned it over and there was a photo on the back of the man in front of me.
“My latest slim volume,” he said in a sarcastic way, but I think he was being funny, or trying to be. “It’s a quote from John Dryden about Shakespeare, I don’t suppose you have heard of him?”
Dryden or Shakespeare? I’d heard of Shakespeare alright. I opened the book and glanced at some of the pages but the man, Dennis Delorne was speaking again.
“I wish to have a Janus, I wish to have an image, or preferably an object.”
To say I was dumbfounded – well, actually I wouldn’t say I was dumbfounded, but anyway, I was dumbfounded.
“Why do you think you might find one in here?” I asked, which shows how dumbfounded I was because I don’t like speaking to customers and avoid it at all costs.
“The name, dear boy, the name!” he looked at me as if I was an idiot, which I am sometimes. It took me a second to cotton on to what he meant. I don’t know what old Mumps’ name actually is, he’s just called old Mumps, but the name of the shop, barely visible on the peeling fascia above the grimy window, is H. January & Son. “Come now my boy, I see you are a likely young lad, help me find my Janus!”
I must admit writing that just now I did have a bit of a chuckle, help me find my janus…
I left my book and began to go through the piles of what for the most part was rubbish. I was looking for what old Mumps called figurines, and also looked through the crappy paintings he had acquired from somewhere, and I even peered into the filthy glass-fronted cabinets in case there were any knickknacks of a Janus nature. Mr Delorne was doing the same, chuntering on all the time as he did so.
I was on my knees under the table when I felt something metallic, it felt like a small figure. I retreated back and Mr Delorne was asking me what I’d found.
“Is this Janus, sir?”
Well, indeed it was and Mr Delorne was almost beside himself with excitement and joy. The figure was made of some metal and quite small, maybe fifteen centimetres, maybe twenty and it was a Roman type figure but he had two faces although his body only faced one way. It was extremely dirty and around its neck was a thread with a price tag, £3.12s.6d – goodness knows what that was.
I wrapped Janus in a sheet of newspaper and told Mr Delorme he could have it for £3; he insisted he paid £5, lucky old Mumps for having an honest customer, I thought. Excited, Mr Delorme bade me farewell, and the door opened with its irritating jangle. He was halfway out when he turned back.
“Are you a student, my dear fellow?” he asked. A-levels I told him. “English literature? The classics?” No, geography and maths. “A shame, a shame, the classics’ loss… but maybe you would accept…” and he held out his slim volume.
“That’s very kind sir, but really I shouldn’t…”
But he insisted, shook my hand then he left with a resounding jangle.
Sometime later old Mumps drifted in and looked at me suspiciously as he always did. He asked me if I was revising for my exams, and I said no. Good, he said, he didn’t pay me to revise for my exams. I told him I had sold Janus. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about and for me to shut up the shop, lock up and go out the back way. He would see me tomorrow. …help me find my janus… I smiled to myself as I pulled down the faded blinds.