October 22, 2010

Hidden History

Prompt from Promptly: while remodeling a room of your house, you discover a door to another room you didn’t know existed

My muscles burned, my sinuses complained from the sawdust and paint dust, and my forehead and forearms dripped with sweat. Jay and I had just moved to Poland to do missions work and teach English at a local college. We had found a beautiful old home that dated back at least a century, but we wanted to do a little work on it before moving in – modernizing some of the plumbing, expanding a few of the rooms, and improving the overall structural integrity of the house, while still maintaining its historical charm. We had started the morning in one of the tiny bedrooms, hoping to connect it with its adjoining room and combine them into a spacious master suite.

I was so intent on getting the wall torn down before lunchtime that it took my brain a few seconds to register what my eyes were seeing, and my hammer almost swung right into it. I managed to stop my arm in time, however, and called Jay over to my side of the room. He laid down his hammer and walked over. Warsaw’s best classical station blared out of the stereo into an otherwise quiet room as we both stood there, staring at an old door that had been hidden behind the wall.

Jay finally reached over and muted the speakers, then rubbed his sweaty dust-covered hands against his jeans and reached out toward the rusted door latch. I held my breath, curiosity holding my hesitation in check. But the latch stuck. As Jay fumbled with the rusted pieces, trying to pry them apart with his fingers, I looked around the room for something to help. Spying the toolbox in the corner, I grabbed a screwdriver from it and handed him the tool.

A few minutes later, I winced as he pulled rusted metal against rusted metal. The latch pulled free and the door loosened slightly from its frame. Once again, the screwdriver came in handy, as Jay used it to clear the thin film of paint that still lingered around the door itself. As he broke through the last few inches, I grabbed the edge of the door and started pulling it open. Mustiness hit us full-force, along with paint dust and a few splinters of wood. I sensed Jay leaving me there, and turned to see him grabbing a flashlight from the toolbox. It was small, but it would give us some idea of what was beyond the darkened doorway.

The light penetrated just a few feet, and we cautiously stepped forward, hands outstretched and toes testing the ground before our feet landed fully. I had only taken two little steps before Jay stopped in front of me. He had come up against a wall. He inched to the right and we realized the space extended sideways. We moved further into the darkness, the flashlight almost useless in the confined space. This time, we had gone about five feet before Jay paused again, having come up against another wall. I moved back to the doorway and let him continue on in the other direction, while I watched from the now-spacious feeling room. He didn’t get very far before scuffing his foot on something.

My curiosity got the better of me, and I went in to join him. He had picked up an old book from the floor, its pages curling and binding almost worn out, with a piece of fabric tucked inside like a bookmark. He handed it to me and continued further, searching the floor more intently now as he inched along. The flashlight’s beam caught a glimpse of something else, and Jay leaned over to pick it up. As he handed it to me and I felt its contours, I instinctively realized where we were standing, and the thought overwhelmed me.

I walked back to the room for better light. I held a doll in one hand, its features faded and its clothes as tattered as any well-loved doll would be today. In my other hand, I held a worn-out book. The words on its cover looked like Hebrew. I opened the book to examine the pale fabric that was sticking out.

It had a yellow Star of David on it with a black “J” in its center.


  1. Love the letter J,
    my name has it,
    what a pleasant ending.

  2. http://jinglepoetry.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-potluck-love-and-romance.html

    welcome linking in a poem,
    thanks for the attention.