Like other Iain Crichton Smith stories, The Painter, The Telegram and Mother and Son, this story takes place in a small, rural village.
We can deduce from the name of the main character, Murdo, and references to peat, porridge, the sea and the
The Daily Record newspaper that this is a small Highland, coastal community.
Murdo is a bachelor. The morning after Halloween he finds formerly green front door has been repainted red. He is puzzled as to why anybody would do such a thing.
He recollects the previous evening, and giving treats to the children of the village, who had worn beautifully painted Halloween masks.
As the story continues, more of Murdo’s character is revealed. He is well liked because he conforms to the codes and expectations of the village:
However, the newly painted door awakens something in Murdo and he begins to question the quality of his life. He notes that no other house has a red door. He wonders if he may even be thrown out the village, now that he is different.
He reflects on his one attempt at romance with a local spinster, a stout girl who lived with her
grossly religious mother. The relationship ended after she cooked him a meal of cocoa and salt herring, a diet he refers to as so
ferocious that he
could not look forward to its repetition with tranquillity.
Murdo gazes at the door as though he was viewing a priceless piece of art and experiences
strange flutterings. He notes the almost loving way the door had been painted. Gradually a link between the door and a local spinster named Mary is formed.
Like the door, Mary’s clothes are often red. She has been known to paint fantastically creative masks for the children and she often likes to walk in the village at night.
Mary is different from the rest of the villagers. Unlike Murdo, she has never sought their approval or tried to conform. She reads books and writes poetry and is distant from the others.
Her intellect has led her to be considered odd. Murdo himself had a less than ideal experience of schooling. He took longer to learn to speak than other children, was mocked at school sports and was poor academically. However, unlike the other villagers, he is impressed by Mary’s creativity and love of literature.
As the village begins to wake, Murdo realises that he has never really been himself. Instead he has
always sought to hide among other people.
He reconsiders his place in the village. Gradually a sense of excitement builds in him. After eating his breakfast, he steps out of his newly painted door once more. He makes his way towards Mary’s house. The story ends with him knocking purposefully on her door.