Find It In The Everyday
Old medicine cabinets…
Old medicine cabinets were often metal, a one-piece design pressed from a single sheet of steel. These were shallow enough to fit within a wall framed with two-by-fours, with a mirrored door that rested almost flush with the surrounding wall. Inside the cabinet there was usually a small slot cut through the metal, with the words “razor blades” stenciled or embossed near the slot.
I’d never given the slot much thought until remodeling a bathroom. When I pulled out the medicine cabinet and the drywall below it, a nightmare waited to be found. I had to step back and stare for a moment before I could recognize what it was.
The slot was a place to discard the used blades from safety razors, so within the wall’s cavity thousands of the old blades had collected. Of course it was there. Like a metaphor for tamped down fears. The slot didn’t send the blades to some magic recycling center. Over the decades the blades had fallen and fused together with some rust, forming a jumble like a beehive inside the wall. This mess of sharp edges and tetanus rose from near the floor to about waist height. The cast-off blades of everyone who’d used this bathroom for almost a century.
Wearing heavy gloves, I pulled the mass of blades out, like a honeycomb, in a single piece. It sat like a sculpture in my life, puzzling and horrifying visitors. Someone would approach it, brows furrowed, frowning, one hand extended to touch it. Then they’d recoil and shudder the instant they saw it was a mass of razor blades and rust.
That’s the kind of horror I’m always looking for in everyday life. Something hidden beneath the surface. Ordinary things that take on a Clive Barker quality after being discarded in a dark place for so long.
This summer started out fairly cool hereabouts. It felt a little silly to hang my usual dozen wasp traps, then August hit. Now the traps are so filled with dead yellow jackets and hornets that they look like the mass of razor blades within that wall. More wasps swarm around the entry points, and as they crawl inside they’ve hardly got room to buzz around above their dead comrades. Again, each trap, heavy with living and dead wasps, buzzing and vibrating, is like something from a Clive Barker film. Ordinary things, but in such a density they evoke fear.
I urge you to look back and reflect on similar things in your life. Consider the pantry of canned fruit and vegetables depicted in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. A huge treasury of jewel-toned canning jars, many so old they contain beautiful spoiled poison. Each label dated by the women throughout the family’s history. An inventory of nourishment and death. In the final scenes of the novel the shelves are pulled down, and the jars are broken, and shards of glass mix with the beautiful colors, the toxins, and the legacy of goodness. A metaphor that’s haunted me since… seventh grade.
That’s the kind of everyday horror that sticks. So much more effective than any made-up monster. Look for such things. Collect them.