The Knock

A friend has two jobs in our town: policeman and soldier. In both, he is the guy who knocks on doors to tell mothers and fathers, wives and husbands that their son or daughter, husband or wife is dead. He has to knock on a door five or six times a year. He has become a student of doors and how people open them.

First, you never bang on the door, even if you are knocking for the fifth time and have been freezing on the porch for ten minutes. “I always start with my knuckles, then go to the knocker or the bell if I have to. Most doors have a good loud hollow sound. Usually people answer right away. You would think that with houses bigger than they used to be, people wouldn’t hear a knock. But this isn’t so. Women who answer the door look first to see who you are. Men just open it. I don’t think I have ever had a child open the door.

“When I wear my Army uniform, people know immediately why I am there, whereas if I am a policeman, it could be for anything. I have had people cry in my arms. Some invite me in and give me tea, even after I have delivered the news. It’s like their automatic-pilot function is to show courtesy. I’ve had some people refuse to believe me, and some who got angry and asked me to leave. I’ve never had someone swing at me, but I have heard stories like that.

“The thing I look for is shock. I’ve had people faint, men as well as women. People can go into serious shock and you...

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About the Author

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland.