Our dear friends, John and Mike, purchased a large, rambling house right by Lake of the Isles recently, with the intention of renovating it into what is guaranteed to be an astonishing piece of beauty. Now John is my husband’s business partner at the architectural design firm Design 45, so I had been seeing the plans to this project for a while as my husband worked on them. But I only went into the house recently.
After exploring its many back staircases and hidden rooms, we went to the basement and found the thing that is currently haunting the stories that my children whisper to one another at night.
A secret door.
A long-since boarded up secret door at the very back wall of the basement. An inch-thick rectangle of plywood has been bolted across it and covered in thick coats of gray paint again and again.
“What is this?” I asked.
“We don’t know,” John said.
“A door.” Mike said. “Or at least it was. The children of the previous owner said that it used to be connected to a tunnel that went under the road and ended in the park.”
I stared at them.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“It’s not true,” John said.
“They said it was true,” Mike said. “I don’t know if it was so that they could access the park without having to go in the road or if it was a 1920’s speakeasy thing or what, but they were pretty sure there used to be a tunnel there.”
I was astonished. “Well, can we open it right now?” I asked.
At this point, my children were nearly hopping out of their skin. Secretdoorsecretdoorsecretdoor etched in their wilding faces. (Is wilding a word? If not, I think we should all declare it so. Wilding is giving me an inordinate amount of pleasure right now.) Their hands shook; their eyes shone; they jumped and jumped and jumped.
“There might be treasure in there!”
“Or all the spiders ON EARTH!”
“Or suitcases full of money.”
“Or another world.”
“Or magic tools.”
“Or ghosts AND vampires AND an anaconda AND zombies!” Leo was beside himself at that point. “Also, the Kraken!”
“We’re not going to open it,” Mike said.
The heads of my children collectively (and metaphorically) exploded. “WHY NOT?” they exclaimed.
Mike shrugged. “Everyone deserves a secret or two. Even a house.”
And I suppose that’s true. If they had opened the door right there and then, we would not have three weeks worth of Secret Door stories wafting through their play and their art and their dreams. We wouldn’t have the nightly requests by my son for yet another installment of “Leo Barnhill And The Mysterious Door,” of which there have been thirteen so far.
And it makes me think about my writing work as well. I don’t like reading books that open every door, that explain every little thing. I like it when the author consciously obscures the truth, when they force me to simply guess at what lies beyond the locked door. Sometimes, it’s enough to know the door exists, and what is beyond it is for me, the reader, to endlessly wonder and wonder and wonder.
In general, I hold Wonder in high regard.
There is a door – a secret door – in the basement at my friends’ house. I wonder what’s inside?
Now, as I wade through the revisions for my next book, Iron Hearted Violet, I am deliberately leaving some doors closed, some questions unanswered, some trails un-trod. Because I need to leave some space for my reader to wander. I want my readers to linger in this world I built, and to explore regions that I haven’t even thought to visit. I want my readers to wonder about the doors that I did not open, and for my story to engender new stories. And I like that idea very much.
Very much indeed.