The Null Set

The Null Set

Eight of us stand outside
the locked door in the cold
the door that reflects us back at ourselves
in its glass panels. No one says a word
because we are strangers
waiting for the door to be unlocked. That is
our only bond
that and being out in the cold. We stare at our reflections
rather than looking at each other
except for me. I do look. The girl in too-small leggings. The man
who stands favoring his right leg. The fellow with no hat and with his ears
reddened by the cold. I examine these people with interest.
They do not return it. They wait
in a blank space. I do not. I have never found myself
in a blank space
I don’t allow a blank space
and so
I smile
though no one
reflection or living
smiles back.

Door and Stairs 6-10 small

Door, Allentown, PA, 2010.

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21 thoughts on “The Null Set

  1. Ha ha! It’s obvious you’re not in France. Eight people locked outside in the cold=eight people swearing and complaining and egging one another on to start a revolution, well, sometime, later.

  2. I like that concept of not allowing yourself to live in a blank space. I think that’s why I felt uncomfortable in London so often: we were all hemmed in together but everyone else was in their psychological blank space, a bubble where no one else existed or mattered.

  3. In this case it was me and otherwise a group of college students, except for the man with the gimpy leg. I am not sure the college students were actually awake.

    Now if this had been the YMCA door and the group outside a typical daytime crowd, well-off suburban ladies with small children, there would have been indignation rising to someone using the cell phone to call inside and demand service. While the others angrily discussed how busy they are and no time for this kind of shenanigans.

    The grocery, complaints at the service desk (taking longer than they had to wait for the door to open, but it’s making the point that counts).

    I am enjoying thinking about this!

  4. Yes, I am the lady who chats and everyone else looks at me hoping I’ll quiet down, but I like doing it and too bad for those in my orbit! I thought the door idea was interesting, too, and it really struck me also the random assortment of people in these situations, all converging here for their own reasons.

  5. Yes, I think in the situation you describe, but even in something as small as this door-waiting thing, people seem to want to hide in their own spaces. I have always been the person dragging them into conversation because I don’t like the studied ignoring of people or things or anything that is right there with me, I can’t seem to do it and I don’t understand others trying to, seems a waste of effort, let’s just go with it!

  6. Sometimes there are situations where nobody wants to talk, whatever happens. I’ve noticed that in hospital waiting rooms. Nobody wants to risk having their ear bent about other people’s problems.

  7. But they do want to talk about their own. I say this because I have the talent (according to amazed friends and family who have seen me in action and can’t figure it out, never mind I can’t) of being the person who, without making any effort, gets the life story out of everyone. I don’t try, I don’t ask questions, I usually just maybe say hello, but people tell me the oddest things and bizarre stories. I am interested, I have to admit, maybe they know somehow from looking at me?

  8. I think they must do. There’s a certain sympathetic calm that some people give off. My maternal grandmother was like that. She wasn’t particularly outgoing, a bit of a solitary really, but everybody told her their most intimate secrets. I remember once when she discovered the toilet was blocked just before she went to bed, and being my grandmother, she called the police. A very nice young police officer came round, unblocked it for her, then stayed into the small hours of the morning drinking tea and telling my grandma about his broken marriage, divorce, what he was doing about it, how he felt, his hopes for the future. She used to collect broken people and mend them.

  9. She had a lot of tragedy in her life and refused to let it break her even though she did have a nervous breakdown when my granddad died. She used to travel a lot, always alone, and always to lonely places, usually on the Atlantic coast. She was able to have her solitude, and since she attracted every lonely or broken heart around, she always had company as long as she wanted it. When she’d had enough of living without her children and her husband she wrote us each a goodbye letter before she went to bed one evening and never woke up again. She even ordered death around. A great lady.

  10. Thank you. What a nice thing to say. I always want to acknowledge the people around me, that we are here, alive, pay attention! And maybe that comes through, that I am interested.

  11. She did a lot of things, for herself and for other people. She couldn’t abide the priests, I think because she knew they were fakes. She wasn’t a happy person, she had too many ghosts. When you lose two children one on his third birthday, the other before she was five, and your husband when you’re fifty, that’s a lot of grief to carry around with you. She wanted to tie up as many loose ends as she could because she didn’t believe there was anything but this life.

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