Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Red Door

I grew up on the seventh floor of a flat (apartment block) in Ballymun. The lift (elevator) was constantly breaking down. Sometimes it would be broken for weeks at a time.

I fretted constantly that its cable would snap, even though I was reassured that it had a back-up cable. I remember considerable discussion about the best thing to do if that happened. Jumping in the air just before the impact was popular advice. How you were supposed to judge the right moment, I never knew.

The cable never snapped, but something else happened several times-- something which terrified me (and my younger brother) way out of proportion to its actual danger (which was, when I think about it, zero).

There were actually two doors on the lift-- an outer door and an inner door. The inner door was a rusty red colour, and obviously not intended to be seen by the public-- it was not smooth, but corrugated and and criss-crossed with thin rods. It had a scarily industrial look. Sometimes it would get stuck and remain in place after the outer door had opened.

Me and my brother were terrified by the red door. I doubt we saw it more than twice or three times at most, but the prospect of seeing it filled us with dread.

There was nothing very logical about this. We knew that the worst that would happen was that we'd be stuck in the lift until someone came to rescue us. It had an alarm button, which was the only thing about it that always worked. Also, the apartment block was so busy that a broken lift was soon noticed. In any case, it usually started again of its own accord, after a few minutes.

So why were we terrified at the prospect of seeing it?

I think it's because we weren't meant to see it. There's something viscerally terrifying about seeing something you're not supposed to see, or not seeing something you're expecting to see.

Blood is the obvious example. For the most part, blood is supposed to run through invisibly through our veins. The sight of it is inevitably disturbing.

But there are other examples. Have you noticed that, in "zombie apocalypse" movies, the creepiest moment is often when the TV and radio channels cease to broadcast? Then you know that things are really....wrong.

That was what was terrifying about the red door. It was wrong. I can still remember the dread of seeing it. Our lives are lived in such a narrow zone of expected and looked-for eventualities, even for the most eccentric and adventurous among us.


  1. there's often frightening incidents in elevators, your fears weren't unfounded

    1. I guess that's true. The stairs could be even more frightening, though, since they were a haven for bullies.