Do Not Open This Door at Night

Do not open this door at night.
In the daytime, you may open any door,
the two side doors for customers,
and this
back door.
You may go out to empty the trash
or to take a break, to breathe the air,
to glance off in the distance, past
the hedges to the waste fields beyond.
But do not open this door at night.

Your rotation is
Hour one: Work at the counter
Smile. Take the order correctly.
Give the proper change.
Address all complaints with a smile.
Take back any orders for which there are complaints
with a smile.
Dump them in the trash and give the customers
what they claim they want.

Hour two:
Work at the take-out window.
Let your voice smile.
Listen to the voices from the cars, and if you don’t hear,
politely say, Excuse me, would you repeat that please?
and listen harder.
Smile as you take the money and hand the order
into the waiting hands.

Hour three:
Go into the dining room.
Sweep, sweep softly,
away from the diners.
Remove trash from the empty tables.
If need be, mop the floors.
Empty trash into the kitchen bins.
If time allows, go outside and pick up trash.
Put it in the big blue dumpster.

Hour four:
Work the fryolator
Set the timers
so the burgers will cook to a turn.
Set the fry baskets and step back from the sizzling oil.
Pass the food to the warmers and set the timers there.
Be courteous to the counter staff.
Empty the trash from the bins

During the daytime, you should take the trash
through the stainless steel kitchen
with its immaculate walls and counters
sparkling in the fluorescent lights.
Press down on the push bar,
turn your back, and push out
to the back and the blue dumpster.

But do not open the door at night.

Wolves are at the door
that howl and keen
They will crack your bones
and draw you in,
suck your marrow,
and pick their teeth with your finger bones.

Some, they say, can open the door,
stare down the wolves,
block out their cries and,
holding their arms straight out,
walk forward.
But then they walk into a rip in the sky,
into a whirling tunnel
that spins them around and around
to a thrumming sound.
A storm of wind
stretches their bodies
from the center out
so their fingers are caught as if by wire
pulling, pulling.
Their eyes pop out
their legs stretch wide,
and moving, writhing
their bodies shatter into molecules
and pfft! are gone.

Do not open this door at night.
Some, they say, have opened the door.

I know a boy who opened the door.
He was holding a basket of fries one night,
and he said he heard cymbals and drums
from outside the door.
Before we could stop him,
he had pushed down on the bar
and was gone.

Some say they have seen him
standing on the high rocks beyond the surf
under the moon.
Somebody saw him on a city sidewalk,
huddled over a heated grate,
using his coat as a tent,
a plastic container of soup in his hand.

And one woman,
ill with a sickness
doctors can’t name,
walks the streets at night
from one end of town to the other
over the bridge to the city,
and back again,
step by step,
walking off her pain.
She says that the boy joins her
stepping out of the shadows,
striding beside her.
Hands in his pockets,
shoulders bent,
he walks with her through the town
across the bridge
and back again.
They walk in silence, she says,
except that the boy
sometimes mumbles
random words, like
Stone in my shoe,
What should I do?
Yeah, yeah.
She doesn’t mind this, she says.
He’s helping her heal.
I have heard those things.
I saw a girl once,
young, slender, a reader,
who came in the afternoons
and would stare beyond us at the counter
through the kitchen.
Day after day she came and read her book.
Then night after night
until the night she walked past us,
and before we could stop her,
she had pushed down the bar
and was gone.

And this time we heard,
just before the door slammed shut,
of the stars singing,
to a rhythm like a clapping of hands.

Some say they’ve seen her
dancing on the moon.
Others have seen paintings
on city walls,
rich in yellows, greens, and midnight blues—
all the colors dancing—
that they swear she made.

And others believe
when they wake from dreams at night
and turn to the window to seek the moon and stars
they hear branches clicking,
mice moving through the grass,
and her singing with the breeze,
and the song they hear is sweet
and brings them peaceful dreams.

So they say. But I don’t believe them.
Neither should you.
Go to school.
Get good grades.
Work here after school.
and earn your raises.
Go to college.
And do not open this door at night.


Photography © Allison Goldin

Photography © Allison Goldin


Noreen Cleffi has taught ESOL for many years and worked at the UMass Dartmouth Writing Center. She is currently a tutor in the New Bedford Clemente program
for the adult learner. She studied poetry at UMassBoston and loves
discovering the world through writing.

Allison Goldin is an artist living in California. Her work is a collection of spontaneous drawings from the imagination. The most common link throughout her art are the semi-recognizable creatures scattered amongst and bringing together the surrounding doodles.