Jeffrey didn’t really grow up with screen doors. They’re just not really a thing in Europe. “What are they for?” he asked his grandparents while visiting their cabin in Trinity’s Field when he was ten.
“They’re to keep the bugs out,” said his grandmother.
This wasn’t enough for young Jeffrey. “Why don’t youj just keep the door closed?” he asked.
“Gets awful hot here in the summer,” she said. Then she was back to her cooking and her puttering.
It was his grandfather who leaned into him then and whispered “Bugs aren’t the only thing they keep out.” He didn’t say anything else, just winked conspiratorially. But then, Robert MacGregor always was an odd duck.
Later that summer, Jeffrey’s father yelled at him in their native German for leaving the screen door open. An insect the size of Jeffrey’s thumb—the largest he’d ever seen up close—had gotten into the house, into the very kitchen, after Jeffrey had failed to close the screen. Most houses, the screen door swings on a spring, but the MacGregor cottage in Trinity’s Field had sliding doors you actually had to pay attention to.
<<You did this!>> Wolfgang yelled at his son, who was grateful his American relatives didn’t do languages. <<What if it had gotten in the lasagna? What if it had laid eggs?>>
Years later, after he graduated high school in Brussels, Jeffrey decided to take a year off before going to school in the U.S. The simplest way to facilitate this gap-year was to take his mother’s parents up on their offer to house him while he worked to save up some money and played a few gigs on his guitar and violin in town.
It was that year his grandfather finally started to lose his mind completely.
One day, as Jeffrey was headed out the door to his job cleaning rooms at the conference center in town, he was surprised to hear a voice in the house he didn’t recognize. When he turned around, though, it was only his grandfather sitting in his favorite chair, but the voice he was using, younger but also rasping, uttered words in a language Jeffrey didn’t recognize—but it was definitely a language.
“Grampa?” Jeffrey said, loud enough to wake him.
Robert made a snorting sound and jolted, then acted like nothing was the matter.
Jeffrey didn’t think much of the incident while he was at work, but a few days later, he came downstairs in the middle of the night for a bite to eat and noticed that the screen door was open. The regular door was closed, so it wasn’t a German-yelling disaster, but it was odd and unsettling and made Jeffrey think of his grandfather’s cryptic warning half a lifetime ago.
“You know something, don’t you?”
This time, Jeffrey recognized his grandfather’s voice, but there was something off about his inflection, like he was an actor—a good actor—playing a different part.
Robert MacGregor was sitting in that chair again. It seemed almost like he was rocking in it, but it wasn’t a rocking-chair. Was it just his imagination?
“Grampa?” Jeffrey said. “What are you doing up?”
Robert opened his mouth like he was yawning or popping his ears, but instead he shifted his jaw in a way that was painful to look at.
“Sleep is for…” he hesitated. “Other people.”
“Guess you don’t gotta be up in the morning.” Jeffrey still struggled with Southern Dialect, but liked to practice. He opened the fridge, took out a can of Mountain Dew. When he closed the door, his grandfather was right next to him. “Well, hey, there.”
“I like it when you sing,” said Robert MacGregor. “I like it when you play the guitar and the violin. I like that you write songs. I like… I like you, Jeffrey.”
His grandfather reached out his arms. Physical affection had always been a priority for their family, but this “hug” was something else entirely. Jeffrey backed away.
“What do you know?” his grandfather asked.
Jeffrey darted his eyes in the direction of the front door, but didn’t get all the way there. He didn’t want to take his eyes off his grandfather.
“You remember what I told you,” his grandfather said. “You’re concerned about the door being opened, about what it might have let in. That’s what I love most about you, Jeffrey: your mind is open. You accept that there’s more out there than most people believe.”
He came in very close to his grandson, unnaturally close, forehead to forehead. “And what,” Jeffrey finally asked, “exactly, had gotten in?”
His grandfather chuckled. “Nothing.” He chuckled some more. “Nothing at all! At least…” He stopped chuckling. “Nothing that wasn’t here before. Years ago. Decades. You have no idea, my dear, dear grandchild. You have no idea how… how liberating it feels to finally…”
“You’re not coming out of the closet, are you?” Jeffrey found himself quickly weighing his homosympathy against the pain he knew it would probably cause his grandmother.
But Robert MacGregor just laughed. He laughed higher and more maniacally than Jeffrey had ever heard him (or anyone else his age) laugh before in real life. “No, no, no, no, no, no,” he kept saying for entirely too long. “No, my dear boy. Not exactly that.”
“There’s more than just the one closet.”
That was the most answer Jeffrey got out of his grandfather that night. Seconds after he said it, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed. When Jeffrey and his grandmother managed to revive the old man, he laughed it off, but Jeffrey was always uneasy with him after that, wondering between the closet and the screen door if his grandfather had lost his mind or if something even stranger had invaded it.