The Keeper of the Third Door

Albert slumped forward on his chair in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. The floor had just stopped melting. He heaved the huge yawn of relief he had been saving for that moment and relaxed his grip.
 
He noticed a man sitting opposite him who had a grey beard. The man was talking to him.
 
"Do you know you are staring at a fucking king?" He said. "Didn’t anyone teach you that you’re not meant to look directly at royalty? You’re meant to look down. It’s these little niceties that keep the world together. Bastards. You’re all the same. Leeches all of you. If you were back in my domain I’d have you whipped. God, I’d stick you on a pole for less. I’d dine while you were being dismembered. Fucking prick."
 
"How good natured you are." Muttered Albert.
 
He was thinking about leaving. There was no reason to sit and be subjected to this outburst. Had it not been for the floor, he would have left already but he could feel it warming up again through the soles of his shoes.
 
"Do you like to drink?"
 
"Not really." Said Albert.
 
"Pimp."
 
The king sighed. He was rocking back and forth, rubbing his hands vigorously. "Do you know that I just got back from the land of Perpetual Afternoon?"
 
"Is that where you are king?" Asked Albert.
 
"I am the king of Denmark." He shouted. "But I travel a lot."
 
"Where is the land of Perpetual Afternoon?" Albert found himself becoming a little interested.
 
"Oh, I’m not sure. In my mind, I think. You see, that’s how I travel – in my mind. I do it more and more. I go wherever I want, whenever I want. Sometimes to places I never thought of going to, like the Land of Perpetual Afternoon. I love my wife. She rules with an iron thumb, just like me. Nothing gets by her. You know I still find her as attractive as I did when we met."
 
Albert was rummaging through his brain for facts about Danish kings. Names, dates, anything.
 
"What are you called?" He asked.
 
"When you are a traveler like me, you never reveal your identity to anyone. It’s enough that you know me as the King of Denmark. Anymore would be an outrage."
 
"You’re not Hamlet, are you?"
 
"Fuck off."
 
There was a moment’s respite. Then the king started up again. "Do you want me to tell you why I am at the doctor’s today?"
 
"If you must." Sighed Albert.
 
The king lowered his voice
 
"They say I’ve developed this thing called Tourette's syndrome. It’s quite debilitating. It comes and goes. Generally it’s worse when I first start a conversation and then it improves. But I’m not going to mention it to that cocksucker doctor, that’s for sure. The Tourettesky thing is a small price to pay once you’ve tasted this mode of travel. The experience is so liberating and so infinitely interesting you can’t give it up. You become a tiger that has partaken of human flesh. It’s a drug. What brings you to the doctor?"
 
"I suffer occasionally from fits of fainting and dizziness." Albert replied.
 
"Well that’s not surprising. Look at you! You look like a fucking corpse. Have you ever tried eating?"
 
"I eat as meagrely as possible. I am of the opinion that there is a direct inverse relationship between quantities of food consumed and quantities of intelligence emitted."
 
"I could use a man like you. I pay well but should you double-cross me, I’ll have your nose and your ears."
 
Albert steered the conversation in a new direction. "Tell me,” he said, “how do you go about this form of traveling?"
 
"Well the first thing you have to do," said the king, "is go through the Third Door."
 
"But what is the Third Door?"
 
"Well the funny thing is, before I had seen it and only heard about it, I imagined the Third Door to be made from whole tree trunks banded together with iron, like the gates of Nineveh. But it’s not like that at all. It’s really more of an opening than a door. It would be easy to traverse, were it not for the man who sits just inside it. He is known as the Keeper of the Third Door."
 
"Does he wear white?"
 
"No. Well not necessarily. You see, The Keeper of the Third Door is always a man but not always the same man. They vary and they wear whatever they want. Sometimes they’re bollock naked. Bastards"
 
"What do they do to you? Do they kill you?"
 
"No. There’s no such thing as death. They greet you. That’s what they do. What you have to do is slip by without getting greeted, which as I have said is almost impossible."
 
"How do they greet you?"
 
"They’re very polite. They ask you how you are, and how you’ve been, and how you will be. They even have the impertinence to wish you well. But they don’t mean it. You can count on that."
 
"What happens then?"
 
"Every time you are greeted you lose a little bit of yourself. You become banal. You lose your profundity, which is a prerequisite."
 
"How do you manage to get past him?"
 
"Sometimes I wait until a group of people has amassed outside and then we’ll all barrel in together, in a tight bunch. It’s hard for the Keeper to greet more than one or two people at once. If there’s no one around I’ll try to distract him by throwing rocks. Sometimes I put my fingers in my ears, put my head down and plough forward. If you are facing the Keeper you must avoid eye contact. The good thing is, that the Keeper never moves beyond ten feet from where he sits. So you only have to run a gamut of about three meters and you’re in. Of course, then there can be other problems, but that’s the irony of life. Irony is the fuel that the world burns. Without it, nothing would be possible."
 
"What are these other problems you come across?"
 
"Beyond the Third Door there are a large number of beings whose trajectories are circular. Being orbited by such a creature has a similar effect to being greeted, but if you over-protect yourself you will starve yourself to death, you prick. Did I tell you that all matter is made of consciousness?"
 
Albert was looking out of the window at a small sparrow. "Tell me" he said, "from what era do you originate?"
 
The king’s broad face darkened. "You should know that disclosing the era from which you emanate is the second cardinal sin. Information like that could rope you into oblivion."
 
Just then the receptionist appeared. "Your Majesty, the doctor will see you now."
 
"Vagina." Said the king as he ambled into the surgery.
 
 
© Tom Newton 2016

The Keeper of the Third Door

Albert slumped forward on his chair in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. The floor had just stopped melting. He heaved the huge yawn of relief he had been saving for that moment and relaxed his grip.
 
He noticed a man sitting opposite him who had a grey beard. The man was talking to him.
 
  "Do you know you are staring at a fucking king?" He said. "Didn’t anyone teach you that you’re not meant to look directly at royalty? You’re meant to look down. It’s these little niceties that keep the world together. Bastards. You’re all the same. Leeches all of you. If you were back in my domain I’d have you whipped. God, I’d stick you on a pole for less. I’d dine while you were being dismembered. Fucking prick."
 
  "How good natured you are." Muttered Albert.
 
He was thinking about leaving. There was no reason to sit and be subjected to this outburst. Had it not been for the floor, he would have left already but he could feel it warming up again through the soles of his shoes.
 
  "Do you like to drink?"
 
  "Not really." Said Albert.
 
  "Pimp."
 
The king sighed. He was rocking back and forth, rubbing his hands vigorously. "Do you know that I just got back from the land of Perpetual Afternoon?"
 
  "Is that where you are king?" Asked Albert.
 
  "I am the king of Denmark." He shouted. "But I travel a lot."
 
  "Where is the land of Perpetual Afternoon?" Albert found himself becoming a little interested.
 
  "Oh, I’m not sure. In my mind, I think. You see, that’s how I travel – in my mind. I do it more and more. I go wherever I want, whenever I want. Sometimes to places I never thought of going to, like the Land of Perpetual Afternoon. I love my wife. She rules with an iron thumb, just like me. Nothing gets by her. You know I still find her as attractive as I did when we met." 
 
Albert was rummaging through his brain for facts about Danish kings. Names, dates, anything. 
 
  "What are you called?" He asked.
 
  "When you are a traveler like me, you never reveal your identity to anyone. It’s enough that you know me as the King of Denmark. Anymore would be an outrage."
 
  "You’re not Hamlet, are you?"
 
  "Fuck off."
 

  There was a moment’s respite. Then the king started up again. "Do you want me to tell you why I am at the doctor’s today?"
 
  "If you must."  Sighed Albert.
 
The king lowered his voice
 
  "They say I’ve developed this thing called Tourette's syndrome. It’s quite debilitating. It comes and goes. Generally it’s worse when I first start a conversation and then it improves. But I’m not going to mention it to that cocksucker doctor, that’s for sure. The Tourettesky thing is a small price to pay once you’ve tasted this mode of travel. The experience is so liberating and so infinitely interesting you can’t give it up. You become a tiger that has partaken of human flesh. It’s a drug. What brings you to the doctor?"
 
  "I suffer occasionally from fits of fainting and dizziness." Albert replied.
 
  "Well that’s not surprising. Look at you! You look like a fucking corpse. Have you ever tried eating?"
 
  "I eat as meagrely as possible. I am of the opinion that there is a direct inverse relationship between quantities of food consumed and quantities of intelligence emitted."
 
  "I could use a man like you. I pay well but should you double-cross me, I’ll have your nose and your ears."
 
Albert  steered the conversation in a new direction. "Tell me,” he said, “how do you go about this form of traveling?"
 
  "Well the first thing you have to do," said the king, "is go through the Third Door." 
 
  "But what is the Third Door?" 
 
  "Well the funny thing is, before I had seen it and only heard about it, I imagined the Third Door to be made from whole tree trunks banded together with iron, like the gates of Nineveh. But it’s not like that at all. It’s really more of an opening than a door. It would be easy to traverse, were it not for the man who sits just inside it. He is known as the Keeper of The Third Door."
 
  "Does he wear white?" 
 
  "No. Well not necessarily. You see, The Keeper of the Third Door is always a man but not always the same man. They vary and they wear whatever they want. Sometimes they’re bollock naked. Bastards"
 
  "What do they do to you? Do they kill you?"
 
  "No. There’s no such thing as death. They greet you. That’s what they do. What you have to do is slip by without getting greeted, which as I have said is almost impossible."
 
   "How do they greet you?"
 
  "They’re very polite. They ask you how you are, and how you’ve been, and how you will be. They even have the impertinence to wish you well. But they don’t mean it. You can count on that."
 
  "What happens then?"
 
  "Every time you are greeted you lose a little bit of yourself. You become banal. You lose your profundity, which is a prerequisite." 
 
  "How do you manage to get past him?"
 
   "Sometimes I wait until a group of people has amassed outside and then we’ll all barrel in together, in a tight bunch. It’s hard for the Keeper to greet more than one or two people at once. If there’s no one around I’ll try to distract him by throwing rocks. Sometimes I put my fingers in my ears, put my head down and plough forward. If you are facing the Keeper you must avoid eye contact. The good thing is, that the Keeper never moves beyond ten feet from where he sits. So you only have to run a gamut of about three meters and you’re in. Of course, then there can be other problems, but that’s the irony of life. Irony is the fuel that the world burns. Without it, nothing would be possible."
 
  "What are these other problems you come across?"
 
   "Beyond the Third Door there are a large number of beings whose trajectories are circular. Being orbited by such a creature has a similar effect to being greeted, but if you over-protect yourself you will starve yourself to death, you prick. Did I tell you that all matter is made of consciousness?"
 
  Albert was looking out of the window at a small sparrow. "Tell me" he said, "from what era do you originate?"
 
The king’s broad face darkened. "You should know that disclosing the era from which you emanate is the second cardinal sin. Information like that could rope you into oblivion."
 
Just then the receptionist appeared. "Your Majesty, the doctor will see you now."
 
 "Vagina." Said the king as he ambled into the surgery.
 
 
© Tom Newton 2016

POST RECITAL

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Before continuing, I'd like to say something to our listeners - should there be any.
 
If you are enjoying The Strange Recital and appreciate what we're trying to do, then I'm glad to inform you that Aunt Bernadette has arrived safely in Switzerland and is now on a walking tour in the Jura Mountains. I repeat: Aunt Bernadette has arrived safely in Switzerland and is now on a walking tour in the Jura Mountains. This is a good thing and merits a huge yawn.
 
Actually I'm trying to buy some time, so I can think of something to say. Time's getting more expensive now, and constantly moves further beyond my reach, but that's another matter.
 
Anything I could say about this story might be just polishing a turd, but the first thing that came to me was the title - The Keeper of the Third Door. This was a position held by a functionary in the court of Haile Selassie.
 
"As the keeper of the third door, I was the most important footman in the Audience Hall. The Hall had three sets of doors, and three footmen to open and close them, but I held the highest rank because the Emperor passed through my door. When His Most Exalted Majesty left the room, it was I who opened the door. It was an art to open the door at the right moment, the exact instant. To open the door too early would have been reprehensible, as if I were hurrying the Emperor out. If I opened it too late, on the other hand, His Sublime Highness would have to slow down, or perhaps even stop, which would detract from his lordly dignity, a dignity that meant getting around without collisions or obstacles." *
 
Those are the words of the last person to have held that position, and I discovered them in a book - The Emperor, by Ryszard Kapuściński. I hope I am pronouncing his name correctly. It doesn't come easily to a Romano-Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Visigoth, Wendish, Norman tongue like my own.
 
Mr. Kapuściński went to Ethiopia in the mid 1970's, after the Emperor had been deposed and the country was still in the throes of revolution. He wanted to find out, by interviewing former government officials and courtiers, what life had been like under Haile Selassie. It was a risky business and had to be carried out in secret. Soldiers roamed the streets in Jeeps with mounted machine guns, killing people without warning. Civilians searched each other relentlessly. As a journalist who had covered numerous conflicts, and had been sentenced to death four times over the course of forty years, Kapuściński was no stranger to danger.
 
His book is a fascinating account of an anachronistic medieval autocracy. He describes the bizarre and claustrophobic nature of the court, where all favours and positions were dispensed by the Emperor personally, and the courtiers were all climbing over each other to get into his presence. Here is another excerpt:
 
"Whoever wanted to climb the steps of the Palace had first of all to master the negative knowledge: what was forbidden to him and his subalterns, what was not to be said or written, what should not be done, and what should not be overlooked or neglected. Only from such negative knowledge could positive knowledge be born - but that positive knowledge always remained obscure and worrisome....." *
 
The words of the former officials have a poetic beauty which only augments the strangeness of life in the palace, surrounded by poverty and people dying of starvation. On a parallel level Kapuściński might have been making a veiled comment about his own government in Iron Curtain Poland.
 
This title - The Keeper of the Third Door, caught my attention like light dancing on water. Once grasped, it's connection with Haile Selassie and Ethiopia faded away, leaving behind its irreducible essence.
 
I used it first as the title of a track on an instrumental record called Levels of Imperfection. Later it became a short story in a collection with the same name.
 
Once divorced from its original context, the Third Door stood alone and unencumbered. I can't imagine a First Door, or a Second, or a Fifth. It became a gateway to nowhere.
 
There is not much sense to the story, other than my literary take on life - claustrophobia viewed from above. Hence two madmen in a doctor's office.
 
The Keeper is partly a wicket keeper in the game of cricket, who tries to prevent the ball from going by. Avoiding the Keeper has more to do with corporate retail America. There is usually a man just inside the door, in big box stores, who says hello to you when you enter. Whether he is there to prevent you from stealing things or just to be polite, I'm not sure. Maybe both, but if it's politeness, it's insincere - just a job. Either way, it has always bothered me, and every time I go to one of these places I try to get in without being greeted. It's a game.
 
Tourette's Syndrome is an interesting condition, if you don't suffer from it. Though my reference to it in this story is most likely full of holes. The king in fact probably does not have Tourette's according to its clinical definition, but then what does it matter?
 
I grew up listening to an unseen woman shouting out expletives on summer afternoons, who I now presume to have had Tourette's. To me and my friends at the time, she was frightening and amusing. Fucking prick. Outbursts which defy social norms are always shocking, especially to children, who are in the process of learning those norms.
 
Years later, I was waiting for a tube train one night. I thought I was alone on the platform until I saw someone walking towards me from the far end. With that edgy heightened alertness that you get when you stand on a platform at night, I watched him come closer. He was wearing a suit and looked like a businessman, with a tightness in his face and distant eyes. As he passed me by, he spoke one word loudly and clearly.
 
"Vagina."
 
When the train finally arrived, I felt a sudden inexplicable urge to throw myself beneath it. I restrained myself by sitting on a bench until the train came to a complete stop, but as I entered the carriage I felt the temperature rapidly rising in my left leg. It got so hot that I began to think spontaneous combustion was a distinct possibility. I touched my leg with my hand. I wasn't imagining it.
 
The next day I decided to go to the doctor's office. That's where I met the king.
 
TN.
 
* From THE EMPEROR, Kapuściński, Vintage International March 1989. English translation copyright © 1983 by Ryszard  Kapuściński.

Before continuing, I'd like to say something to our listeners - should there be any. 
 
If you are enjoying The Strange Recital and appreciate what we're trying to do, then I'm glad to inform you that Aunt Bernadette has arrived safely in Switzerland and is now on a walking tour in the Jura Mountains. I repeat: Aunt Bernadette has arrived safely in Switzerland and is now on a walking tour in the Jura Mountains. This is a good thing and merits a huge yawn. 
 
Actually I'm trying to buy some time, so I can think of something to say. Time's getting more expensive now, and constantly moves further beyond my reach, but that's another matter.
 
Anything I could say about this story might be just polishing a turd, but the first thing that came to me was the title - The Keeper of the Third Door. This was a position held by a functionary in the court of Haile Selassie.
 
"As the keeper of the third door, I was the most important footman in the Audience Hall. The Hall had three sets of doors, and three footmen to open and close them, but I held the highest rank because the Emperor passed through my door. When His Most Exalted Majesty left the room, it was I who opened the door. It was an art to open the door at the right moment, the exact instant. To open the door too early would have been reprehensible, as if I were hurrying the Emperor out. If I opened it too late, on the other hand, His Sublime Highness would have to slow down, or perhaps even stop, which would detract from his lordly dignity, a dignity that meant getting around without collisions or obstacles." *
 
Those are the words of the last person to have held that position, and I discovered them in a book - The Emperor, by Ryszard Kapuściński. I hope I am pronouncing his name correctly. It doesn't come easily to a Romano-Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Visigoth, Wendish, Norman tongue like my own.
 
Mr. Kapuściński went to Ethiopia in the mid 1970's, after the Emperor had been deposed and the country was still in the throes of revolution. He wanted to find out, by interviewing former government officials and courtiers, what life had been like under Haile Selassie. It was a risky business and had to be carried out in secret. Soldiers roamed the streets in Jeeps with mounted machine guns, killing people without warning. Civilians searched each other relentlessly. As a journalist who had covered numerous conflicts, and had been sentenced to death four times over the course of forty years, Kapuściński was no stranger to danger.
 
His book is a fascinating account of an anachronistic medieval autocracy. He describes the bizarre and claustrophobic nature of the court, where all favours and positions were dispensed by the Emperor personally, and the courtiers were all climbing over each other to get into his presence. Here is another excerpt:
 
"Whoever wanted to climb the steps of the Palace had first of all to master the negative knowledge: what was forbidden to him and his subalterns, what was not to be said or written, what should not be done, and what should not be overlooked or neglected. Only from such negative knowledge could positive knowledge be born - but that positive knowledge always remained obscure and worrisome....." *
 
The words of the former officials have a poetic beauty which only augments the strangeness of life in the palace, surrounded by poverty and people dying of starvation. On a parallel level Kapuściński might have been making a veiled comment about his own government in Iron Curtain Poland.
 
This title - The Keeper of the Third Door, caught my attention like light dancing on water. Once grasped, it's connection with Haile Selassie and Ethiopia faded away, leaving behind its irreducible essence.
 
I used it first as the title of a track on an instrumental record called Levels of Imperfection. Later it became a short story in a collection with the same name.
 
Once divorced from its original context, the Third Door stood alone and unencumbered. I can't imagine a First Door, or a Second, or a Fifth. It became a gateway to nowhere.
 
There is not much sense to the story, other than my literary take on life - claustrophobia viewed from above. Hence two madmen in a doctor's office.
 
The Keeper is partly a wicket keeper in the game of cricket, who tries to prevent the ball from going by. Avoiding the Keeper has more to do with corporate retail America. There is usually a man just inside the door, in big box stores, who says hello to you when you enter. Whether he is there to prevent you from stealing things or just to be polite, I'm not sure. Maybe both, but if it's politeness, it's insincere - just a job. Either way, it has always bothered me, and every time I go to one of these places I try to get in without being greeted. It's a game.
 
Tourette's Syndrome is an interesting condition, if you don't suffer from it. Though my reference to it in this story is most likely full of holes. The king in fact probably does not have Tourette's according to its clinical definition, but then what does it matter? 
 
I grew up listening to an unseen woman shouting out expletives on summer afternoons, who I now presume to have had Tourette's. To me and my friends at the time, she was frightening and amusing. Fucking prick. Outbursts which defy social norms are always shocking, especially to children, who are in the process of learning those norms.
 
Years later, I was waiting for a tube train one night. I thought I was alone on the platform until I saw someone walking towards me from the far end. With that edgy heightened alertness that you get when you stand on a platform at night, I watched him come closer. He was wearing a suit and looked like a businessman, with a tightness in his face and distant eyes. As he passed me by, he spoke one word loudly and clearly.
 
"Vagina."
 
When the train finally arrived, I felt a sudden inexplicable urge to throw myself beneath it. I restrained myself by sitting on a bench until the train came to a complete stop, but as I entered the carriage I felt the temperature rapidly rising in my left leg. It got so hot that I began to think spontaneous combustion was a distinct possibility. I touched my leg with my hand. I wasn't imagining it.
 
The next day I decided to go to the doctor's office. That's where I met the king.
 
TN.
 
* From THE EMPEROR, Kapuściński, Vintage International March 1989.

   English translation copyright © 1983 by Ryszard  Kapuściński.

THE STRANGE RECITAL

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