f o c u s i n g o n t h e c a n a d i a n s m a l l p r e s s s c e n e a n d o t h e r m a t t e r s o f i n s i g n i f i c a n c e

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The Watch

by Tim Conley

He was a doorman and his friend was a doorman. There they were talking and he was saying yes we do have an unexamined role in society, I've put a lot of thought into that. Not like we're invisible, his friend rejoined, though the way some of them walk by you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Here the schism of debate opened. He disagreed with his friend in principle if not in fact, for to his mind the watchword of the doorman is faith. In what? In the virtue, if you like, of those for whom we hold open the door, he said, and his voice's timbre showed a growing warmth to the subject. Holding further he said we have an eye, a critical eye, in our profession and we use it. Scratching his beard, his friend admitted that there was something in that, of course he did not always open the door, he had certain responsibilities to the integrity of the establishment as did any doorman. The affirmative reply added that one often offered a form of salute while holding the door. His friend cut in to say often, you mean always, least I always do, it's that sort of thing, that attention that makes a great doorman. He nodded at his friend and asserted it's faith that underwrites that attention you see. No I don't see. I'll try to explain, let's go back to not opening the door. Yes. Why would you not open the door all the time if it's your job as a doorman? His friend blinked and began to say confusedly well there are guests of the establishment and then there, oh ho, and his face assumed a slight leer, you're driving at the ethical conduct of the doorman. Ethos has much to do with it, I suppose, said he, but you were going to say there are those who aren't guests and you don't hold the door open for them. Unless they're guests' visitors, his friend put in. He replied then you have to judge, discriminate, evaluate, and that takes the critical eye. You say you've put a lot of thought into this but so far I don't see much evidence of anything beyond a rather uncomplicated exegesis of black and white regulations. This was said with a genial tone, for they had long been friends and doormen. In my opinion, he answered in an equally genial tone, all serious acts of criticism stem from some faith, though perhaps the nature of that faith is unstated, in transition or even being criticized itself. No need to get too heady all at once, I was just saying, but go on. We are agreed, we have long been agreed, he said, that ours is without putting too fine a point on it a noble profession. More than most understand, came the customary reply. This nobility is part of a transference from the a priori nobility, arguably lesser or greater, of those for whom we hold open the door, in fact that crossing of the threshold, synchronized with the offering of a form of salute, could be considered the point or moment of that transference. I take back what I said, chuckled his friend, you have definitely put thought into this, and I like to think I've followed you this far but you'll have to explain your thetic emphasis on faith. He said well suppose in the course of your shift, and his friend interrupted with watch. The schism opened further while he and his friend realized they had a terminological divide between them, never before recognized, concerning the duty hours of the doorman. Eventually he deferred to his friend's use of the word watch, though not without commenting on its strangeness and prompting from his friend a digression from the dialogue in the form of an anecdotal defence of the usage of watch. I call it a watch, said his friend, more or less on account of the voyeuristic qualities encouraged and developed by years in the profession and my own appreciation of those qualities' primacy. Have I told you, his friend slowly asked him, of the night I left the door? He looked at his friend with amazement and said no, you left the door, I can imagine anyone else but. I left the door one night, his friend said. There was a lady who arrived at the door this night overburdened with packages, to this day I wonder what could have been in them to make them as heavy as they were and yet as fragile as she assured me they also were when I offered to help her, this was some time ago and one of those occasions when some seasonal virus had thinned the working personnel to a skeletal affair and left me with extra duties, and I did not know this woman but she was entirely a lady and had visible among the many objects she was juggling a set of keys, so I assisted with the heavy packages and found myself in the elevator with her for the elevator operator was among those recently dispatched by the virus and I listened to her apologize and though naturally I told her it was nothing, part of the job, a pleasure, and made other such pleasantries it was becoming distressingly clear to me that she was somehow enjoying my discomfort, watching me repeatedly volleying harmless, charitable responses under the weight of the heavy packages. What do you mean she enjoyed it? His friend shrugged and scratched his beard again, this time more vigorously, and said and that's not all, she was looking at me and then not looking at me, I mean this lady was not unattractive but there was something in her eyelashes and it was very distracting because I couldn't determine what it was, not without openly staring at her and it was all I could do not to, but it goes back to what you were saying about the critical eye, there was no way I could notice it without wanting to, how did you put it, judge, discriminate, and evaluate? That sounds right, he said, but now tell me what was in her eyelashes? I'll come to it, said his friend, I'll come to it, but let me follow the sequence of events. All right, so you were in the elevator. Yes, and it was the longest elevator ride of my life, or maybe from another point of view the shortest, but at any rate we arrived at her floor and she directed me to a suite, and all I could do was follow her exposed legs which I could see beneath all the packages I was carrying, like I said not exactly unattractive, heard the keys jangle and drop and could see more of her come into my little view bending down to collect them slowly, and then we were in the suite with its different lighting and my arms were trembling under the weight of all those packages and. And? And it's strange, never happened before or since but I suppose I lost consciousness for there was nothing but the weight and the call of duty to return to the door and the fact of her there, seemingly enjoying this inner conflict of mine, all of it at once made something give. And? He met his friend now at the midpoint of this ad hoc bridge which had momentarily appeared across the schism. His friend looked away briefly and admitted coming to without a stitch on, the first thing to be seen his uniform neatly folded as though freshly laundered, ironed, and buttons polished, on an armchair nearby the bed in which he found himself lying, the next thing to be seen the reflection of himself in what were remarkable silver eyelashes. After a pause he said so there was nothing in them at all, save the image of yourself. That's right. And then what did you do? Why, his friend said with surprise at the question, I returned to my watch. He and his friend began laughing in a way they had not for many years, laughing and laughing. All right, he said at last, I take your point and shall hereafter refer to a given doorman's tour as his watch, but your account of the night you left the door fortifies my dissertation with a serviceable illustration, seeing as the person for whom you held open the door that night was unknown to you and yet you held open the door for her. Yes. Why? I already said, his friend retorted, she had keys and was a lady, so I assumed. Excuse me, he interrupted his friend, but you did not assume, you placed faith. In her? Opening the door was an act of faith, as it always is when you hold open the door for anyone, especially a stranger, faith in their deserving that act. Then the critical eye is not paramount? My thinking hadn't extended to any certainty on such a point, he confessed, and I am uneasy at the suggestion, I hope not simply because of pride, but the faculties of apprehension may well be integral to the manifestation of this central faith. I see what you mean, his friend nodded, and will have myself to reconsider the relation of duty to faith. He winked at his friend and replied but it is I who must be thankful to you for illumination, for your telling me about the night you left the door throws my dialectical top for another unexpected spin, that is, more than the relation between acts of duty and acts of faith, what is the difference between an act of faith and an act of love? His friend looked a little sad and said it may be, my friend, that there are things even beyond the understandings of a doorman.

Tim Conley lives in Kingston, Ontario.


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The Danforth Review is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. All content is copyright of its creator and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of its creator. The Danforth Review is edited by Michael Bryson. Poetry Editors are Geoff Cook and Shane Neilson. Reviews Editor is K.I. Press. All views expressed are those of the writer only. International submissions are encouraged. The Danforth Review is archived in the National Library of Canada. ISSN 1494-6114. 

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