Collateral Damage – Mandira Pattnaik
Spin – Rob Walton
The Advent Calendar – Gregory Bennett
One-one-five – Gerard O’Brien
Safe House – Sophia Wilson
The Coming – Jeff Taylor
Everything Open – Rachel Smith
Resistance – Alex Reece Abbott
Outdoorables – Jude Higgins
Earthquake Safety – Bi Ming
Post-Everything, Day 186 – Sarah Leavesley
Oiling the Hinges – Ruth Skrine
Walking into Doors – Stella Peg Carruthers
Blue Heart – Rachael Taylor
When the laughing stops – Keith Nunes
Identity Papers – Michael Loveday
No One Remembers Your Name – Amanda Hurley
Red Door – Stef Smulders
God of Doors – A.N Myers
Rebel Yell – Allen Ashley
On Notice – Will Musgrove
Prairie Home Companion Cruise 2020 – JR Walsh
Doorbell – Doug Mathewson
Doors – Carrie Etter
Continuity – Thomas Elson
The other side – Mike Crowl
95 North – Linda Wastila
A Turn – Salena Casha
Once You’re Dead That’s It – Shirley Muir
Yours or Mine? – Stephen Oram
Until Death – Colin Lubner
Horn & Hardart/American Pie – Beth Moulton
A light in the darkness – Jack Remiel Cottrell
The Door to Other Worlds – Evelyn Freja
Kōrero: Renee Liang
In conversation: Siobhan Collins and Jude Higgins
Interview: Adrienne Jansen on Somewhere a cleaner
Excerpts: Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility
Poetry: Fiona Farrell, Nouns, verbs, etc.
Book: Philip Brady, The Elsewhere: Poems & Poetics
Book feature: Nancy Stohlman
Collateral damage, she says, scoops the bird into wet paper towels and lets it rest on the doorsill. Then sleeps among scattered feathers on the bed, beside panting cat Fiona.
Collateral damage, she says, walking barefoot out the door, broken shoe in hand; she’ll mend it on her way to third interview today.
Collateral damage, she says, crumples envelope with eight-dollar-postage, flings it into trash outside the door, not cleared for weeks. Could’ve just called me, she chuckles.
Collateral damage, she says: seventh-grader daughter pleads in court she wants to stay with alcoholic Dad. Judge looks blankly out the courtroom door.
Collateral damage: snow shrouds her home, door sealed by a heap of fresh powder. She’s been sacked again, wind whispers.
Collateral damage, she deletes her search history. After nine hours, she’s found how to tie the most useful knot in the world. Door swings open.
Collateral damage: she’s welcomed by the angels, but is so excited by the entire thing, she spills wine near their marble-arched doorway.
Collateral damage, the angels say, as they take her away to be incarcerated; her euphoric laugh didn’t go down well in heavenly abode, and she’s refused to repent.
Collateral damage, she says when prison door gives away from her insistent banging. She can see the wormhole opening, and out she slides through the trapdoor for one more ride on a risky Ferris-wheel, on another delicately fashioned wonderland.
Andrew was surprised to see his old flame Philippa in the revolving doors. She was wearing the silver necklace he bought for Jo the day he was in one relationship in the morning, and a different one by bedtime. It was always too tight on Philippa and left a sad red mark. He was more surprised when childhood sweetheart Ailsa appeared. The ways out of the doors were no longer there, but Bob and Sharon from Morley Road were. Sharon held a condom. Bob held a grudge. Andrew’s mum was in a section with Patience from next-door, both shaking their heads. He sweated. That girl whose name he never caught was there, wearing her Ibiza 96 t-shirt, nursing a green drink and pointing and laughing. He was sick for the first time when he saw Irina holding hands with a toddler with a parting like his. He put his hand on the central shaft, a small glass cylinder filling with images of holidays and parties and forgotten histories. He looked at himself wearing boxer shorts and Y-fronts and swimwear and leers. The glass started to thin and the people came closer.
The Advent Calendar
He stared at number 24, afraid to open it. The final door. The last chocolate. Except he knew it would be something else. The first few days of the calendar were normal. Square chocolates with little images of Christmas etched into them: a reindeer, a gingerbread man, a wreath.
“Dad, what is it? I got a Santa.”
He remembered buying three identical advent calendars so there would be no arguments over who had the best. Two for the children and one for himself, to play along.
On the 4th day, there was no chocolate behind his door, only a message: those aren’t your kids.
The children continued to get chocolate, but his calendar reveals grew stranger, as the knots in his stomach grew tighter. Day 5: car keys. Day 7: darkness. Day 10: radio static. Day 13: fumes of whisky. Day 14: a broken promise. Day 17: the scrapping sound of metal. Day 18: a flashing red light. Day 19: a blinding white light. Day 20: the smell of burning flesh. Day 21: a scream.
Day 22 was chocolate again. A mean trick.
Day 23 was the complete memory of what happened. Every brutal detail combined and thrust upon him. The full horror. He didn’t want to remember. Why won’t they let him forget?
“I’m not,” he found himself saying. “I’m what happened to him.”
He reached down and opened the final door. Behind it was December 1st.
Since I moved to one-one-four, I’ve noticed as you regularly disappear.
We chatted after we parked in adjacent slots, dragged groceries to the lift, then vanished to our separate worlds. Your curls of hair, your bouncy laugh, following me to mine.
Next time, we joked about me borrowing sugar and I imagined you dressed in leather.
Isolated in my apartment, I wonder what chance there is to see you in your finery, or out of it.
Now your hospo job has totally evaporated.
Your music booms across the corridor at eleven AM. I’m unsure if I should knock and demand quiet, or request an invite to the party within. Instead, I do nothing and click the link for my sales call.
It’s Saturday. “Hallway conference at two,” I say in a note – my attempt at humour. I slip it under your door; chill a bottle of sav in the fridge.
I stand – until two thirty-four – shouldering my doorframe.
It’s six. I’m back inside my apartment, regretting my last glass, when I see your note on the back of mine. “Sorry, just saw this. Hit me up when you’re free. Got heaps of sugar. x.”
I’m disappointed you didn’t knock – then glad you didn’t witness my self-flagellation.
It’s seven. I decide I’m sober.
My knock echoes down the hall. Patricia of one-one-seven sticks her purple-rinse out. “Jess popped to the supermarket,” she says. “Can I help you?”
I doubt her hip would hold up.
I hope you get home soon.
The body opens its doors; an egg is a chamber;
a womb, a home; a home, a refuge; a refuge, safe.
A wooden rectangle (thirty by twenty-six centimetres)
slid up and down in a groove, is door to a house.
A nearby opening (ten by twelve centimetres) is doorway to a ramp;
A ramp, when trodden on, seesaws as locked door of a cage.
A metal grille (ten by twelve centimetres) at the end of a cage
is also a door, permitting kill, or release.
A stoat is (not) enticed (by dried fish, fresh egg, a dead bird)
to climb the ramp (to a trap).
Instead, it waits, watching doors that lead to homes.
A scattering of leaves, fur and earth, is a door, daily
deconstructed and reconstructed by devoted paws.
A predator studies a mother’s movements in order to study her offspring.
Doors are breached; rabbit’s kittens, slaughter-scattered; hens, battle-wounded —
one down – eggs crushed, yolks gulped. A stoat dances, gloating, teeth bared.
A mother feverishly seals nebulous doors –
safety-locks, filters, monitors, limited screen-time.
Predators, quintessential, bide time, locate chinks, follow tender scents.
A rabbit rebuilds her burrow.
A hen rearranges straw in her nesting box.
A mother re-secures a hen house; grieves for rabbit doe; re-primes stoat trap;
deletes Dealers, Extremists, Haters, Racists, Ruthless Materialists,
Pimps and Predatory Cocks from an inbox; gathers her small daughter in,
tries to wash her clean.
These were the only words he’d ever utter through the few teeth he had left.
Everyone called him The General. Mental-as, thin, a whiff of old warfare about him. Shuffling around with his stick, always in that long khaki coat, black beret, army boots. Rows of medals on his chest like metal bunting. Never answering a greeting whether friendly or mocking. Head on a long neck swiveling from side to side all anxious, like he’s looking out through those wire-rim glasses for trouble that might come his way.
If it was snipers, they’d be rare in Resolution Street, that’s for sure.
Wife long departed, they said, and his brain now wandering off to look for her.
Making a nuisance in our street, knocking on doors. Every single door in fact. Loud and urgent. Once a week at first, and now every day.
Sometimes at night.
It was okay to start with; he was invited in, offered a cuppa. But he’d only say, “They’re coming!”
The Neighbourhood Council met and it was decided to put a stop to the nonsense. A delegation was sent, but he slammed his own door on them.
The knocking became hammering, and the doors were now closed to him, the street infected by his presence.
Another meeting was called, and the men in white coats came to take him away.
All is now peaceful, but the doors of our street remain closed and locked.
Just in case they come.
He never locks them, back or front or the side one that opens out from the laundry. His marbles are the first to go, the tin of them that sit on the hallway table. I’d taken five of his bumblebee marbs to school last month and now the lot of them are gone. A week later it’s his torch, seven boxes of matches and a half-empty packet of bean seeds from the kitchen drawer.
Today he tells me that he woke from his favourite TV show, the one where old people bring in their old shit, and his best pair of reading glasses was gone from the top of his head. I tell him to lockup, that it might be the same rat that stole my sister’s Easter egg. We wonder how a rat can get into a closed drawer or scramble unnoticed across the baby soft skin of his forehead.
I hunt for rat tracks while he takes a piss. On the windowsill in the spare room, the one that was his daughter’s before she went missing, it’s all there – smooth seeds and glass, blackened matches, twisted frames and fractured lenses. I add a once-chewed piece of gum from my pocket.
When he comes back, I make him a cup of tea and eat all his chocolate biscuits. We wonder what will be next to go. I wonder what his daughter sees through closed windows and open doors – what it will take for her to come home.
Alex Reece Abbott
Elena doesn’t get out much. She’s at her chair all day every day, working the old black Singer, the thrum of her balance wheel her company.
He’s out the heavy, arched front door seven days, doing men’s business. Cards. Backgammon. Football. He and his friends will bet on a belch. Or a lame dog crossing the square.
And when a game runs long enough, she takes the worn wooden ladder up to the ground floor, unlatches the creaking kitchen door and goes outside. Not out to the lane, but into the stone-girdled courtyard where the creamy weathered Venetian walls offer a soft gaoler’s embrace.
Blinking, she warms her haunches on the narrow step and remembers to breathe, lets musky geraniums and sweet, sharp lemons overlay her machine oil scent. She slips off her sandals, trades the resistance of the treadle against her toes for flagstone grit. She stretches her hands to the sun, her fingers thawing and straightening before she returns to the cellar.
By his slam of the front door, she can tell whether he is celebrating, or if she’ll be suffering. While he lurks, pacing, planning his next tussle with fortune, she is taking in. Letting out. Unpicking. Pinning, tacking, stitching, hemming, overlocking. Watching her needle piercing the fabric again and again, knowing that not all resistance is futile.
And when he leaves, Elena rises from her chair again and takes herself to the little courtyard. There’s no door, but some days, she sees over the wall.
My neighbour Shauna named me Olive because my nose is the shape and colour of an olive and she likes olives. I like her too. This morning, she leaned over the fence and dug her fingers into my curls. “Designers call posh fleeces like yours ‘Outdoorables’ these days, Olive. You’re so on trend.” And, she joked that I’m even more adorable now my Outdoorable has grown winter thick and fluffy.
Since she’s been furloughed, Shauna only ever wears pajamas and a jumper – her Indoorables. She comes to the fence everyday to find out how I am. I cried non-stop after they took me away from the flock. “For your own good,” the sanctuary folk said. “Because you’re barren, they’d have carted you off to the place of no-return. That’s why we rescued you.” Shauna helped me recover.
I worry about Shauna. Her and her chap don’t argue in the garden, but you never know what happens behind closed doors. Today, after Shauna went in, I heard her shouting, “I’ll do what I want, I’m not a sheep.” He bellowed, “well, stop your bleating then.” There was a big thud and, soon, the sound of his car driving away. Afterwards, silence.
I call loudly for hours to get Shauna to come out. I forgive her the comment about sheep. I’m probably freer than her anyway, and she’d be safe in a bubble with me at the sanctuary. But the curtains stay drawn and she doesn’t open the door.
I’m making a cup of tea when the ground begins shaking. Reflexively, I look towards the doorway. I know they aren’t actually safer, but that’s what my grandma taught all her grandkids. During an earthquake, stand in a doorway because they are the sturdiest part of the house. This was disproved decades ago, but the reflex is still there somehow.
The shaking stops and I survey the damage. It wasn’t bad – a few books fell over on the shelf. I wonder where the chasm has opened up this time.
It’s been happening pretty often these days. The earth rends apart and a giant fissure appears, glowing red with clouds of ash and sulfur gas billowing out. Every now and then, something will come out of the earth. Once, it was packs of three-headed dogs, another time, it was giant, oddly humanoid looking bats. Some think it’s a portal to hell, but the only major evidence for that has been the faint cries of the damned, carried up through the air. Anyway, we’ve found that the chasms usually serve as excellent waste-disposal sites.
I look outside, past my prized bougainvilleas, and see a vortex of transparent figures swirling and dispersing, probably near where the children’s park is. That must be where the chasm opened up.
I hear a knock on the door. I see my grandma’s ghost standing before me. Anna, she says. What did I tell you about surviving earthquakes?
Post-Everything, Day 186
The door creaks on its one rusted hinge as Zack knocks. He eases a gap to step through, then offers me his flower.
The tulip is yellow. Not scorched-sun, chick, or yolk colour but daffodil bright and buttercup delicate, though the petals are longer tongued, lapping at the wilting air.
Really, it’s his heart that he’s thrust towards me in a one-bud bouquet: bold and shorter living than filling-station carnations or Martian roses.
I know it won’t last as long as the now-extinct real thing, blown even before its stem senses the vase. Still, the vivid wildness of its spilling out, shouting love me, love me, love me. And what it is to feel needed, however briefly.
I place my reader against its stalk – 90% drained. When I scanned the chip in my arm this morning, I was 48% fluid. They reckon we used to be 60 to 70% water all the time. Nowadays, I’m lucky to hit 55. Even with my modifications, there’s no way I can piss and purify enough for a flower that’s nearly dead.
I look at Zack’s face, see the glistening of hope in his eyes. I tell him I’ll search for more water.
Oiling the Hinges
The bush was spiky, laced with brambles. I raised my ‘bins’.
“Look, a goldcrest,” I whispered to Laura.
I made shushing noises to bring the bird to the front of the bush. Laura turned away.
I pursued her. “Are you enjoying the trip?”
“Have you been to Minsmere before?”
This girl was so withdrawn I wanted to give up. Or shock her out of her isolation. “My father died last week,” I said.
She stopped, as if she couldn’t move and talk at the same time. “I’m sorry.”
I walked on, ashamed.
She took little steps to catch up. When I said nothing more, she took a deep breath. “I don’t know what that feels like. I never had parents.”
“Fostered. One home after another.” After a few more steps, she stopped again. “I was impossible.”
“In what way?”
“Every way. I ran away, stole things, kicked and bit people.”
“But you’ve changed?”
“I found birds. I learned their names. Things are controlled by names. The name gives them a place. Keeps them in line.”
I had never heard her use so many words. “Actually, my father died more than a year ago. Of Alzheimer’s.”
“They say I have Asperger’s. It helps to know I am not alone.” She paused. “I don’t like people much. But you’re all right.”
My arms lifted to hug her, but I stopped myself in time. That would have smothered the crack of light between us.
Walking into Doors
Stella Peg Carruthers
Andrea stands behind the doorway, shaking. She can hear Tim breathing on the other side. In, out. In, out. It is a heavy breath. She reaches up to touch her split lip. She swallows. Her mouth tastes like red. Red is his anger. Red is the colour he likes his steak. Red is the colour of skin after a slap. Yet Red is also Valentine’s roses and hearts that beat life into us. Red is the colour of dresses that make women feel like they own their lives. Red is the colour the sky fades to when the day ends. Red, the colour the world can grow into when it begins again.
Maddy tells me fairies can grow to be human-size and humans can shrink to be fairy-size, but they can only use the spell once either way before they’re trapped in one body or the other, magical or mortal, forever. She hands me clothes pegs, two at a time. The washing line is too high for her; it’s almost too high for me.
It’s Maddy’s seventh birthday. I gave her a necklace with a silver filigree heart. There’s a blue glass stone in the centre of the heart and a tiny old-fashioned key that slides up and down the chain. This gift isn’t valuable, it isn’t even new. It used to belong to Maddy’s grandmother when she was alive. Maddy likes to look for clues to an ultimate mystery. The little key, she says, can open a secret door to the fairy world – if only we could find the door!
Cavities and cracks around the house are potential locks. Objects, especially very small ones – a tiny book, a spoon, a trinket – are all part of the magical game. There are clues everywhere. Maddy makes a connection: our house key is attached to a blue sodalite heart-shaped keyring. I tell her sodalite is a stone for insight, peace, logic and truth.
I wish I could believe in the power of these objects. I want to lose myself in Maddy’s fantasy world, find a doorway leading elsewhere, but I’ve had my one chance at magic, I’m stuck in the real world.
When the laughing stops
Sam raises her hand to strike me.
She’s still as a statue.
After I grimace, I laugh.
Her hand is still raised.
I stop laughing.
I run – I’m a woman who prefers flight to fight – out the front door and into the middle of the road.
The street lights are intermittent.
Sam is framed in the front doorway, silhouetted by the hallway light.
Her arms are folded.
She’s not laughing.
Identity Papers – i
Compose a letter addressing your front door as though it were a human being.
Think carefully about the door to your home, and visualise yourself facing it:
- What does it look / feel / sound like?
- How do you feel about the role it has at your home?
- Are you grateful?
- How fully do you know this door?
- How much contact do the two of you have?
- Do you truly cherish it?
And so begin: Dearest Door…
Identity Papers – ii
Of course, you’re going to consider the door’s reply.
Don’t force your own voice into this. Become the door. Embody it.
- How do I feel about my human?
- Do I believe they value me, make the most of me?
- Do I treasure the role I have in their home?
- Do I long to be doing something utterly different?
- Do I dream of being a cat, or a telephone?
- Do I yearn, crave, ache to belong to someone else
Now: Dearest Human…
No One Remembers Your Name
There’d been a death in Paris the night before I went looking for Jim Morrison’s grave. Well I presumed there had been; from my tiny balcony in the 20th arrondissement overlooking Pere Lachaise, I had watched as a convoy of ambulances and police squealed to a halt at the apartment building next door. There had been a clamour of emergency services as the first responders had entered the building. The night was so quiet, I could hear their booted feet on the stairwell. Then a shattering of breaking glass as a door was kicked in and a dislocated silence until the procession returned again slowly, emerging into the streetlight-clad night. The vehicles drove away one by one, leaving only a solitary ambulance into which two paramedics despondently hoisted a blanket-clad gurney.
In the morning, Paris’ first garden cemetery wept tears of rain as I followed splashes of colourful graffiti to the Lizard King’s final resting place.
Emptying my hipflask of its bourbon offering, I thought of Paris, a city of souls, the famous and the infamous keeping guard together; of life as a transient mechanism, as fleeting as newsprint in the rain.
As I planted a kiss on Jim Morrison’s grave, my lipstick smeared across my dampened cheek and my eyelashes were pointed spikes in the drizzle. I felt it then: the Earth’s rotation, and how we are always in exactly the place that we are meant to be.
On my way home, I found a beautiful Victorian door, painted red, left behind on the sidewalk. It shone in the morning sun. I couldn’t let it lie there and hoisted it on my bicycle to take it home.
I carefully placed it against an empty wall of my living room. Then I sat down and admired the antique beauty from my worn-out sofa.
Suddenly, there was a knock. And another knock, louder now, clearly coming from the back of the Victorian door. At the third knock, the door swung open and a man stumbled into my room. He looked around with shifty eyes.
“They’re not here, are they?” He was panting.
“I’m alone,” I answered. “But who are they?”
“The demolition men,” the man said. He took a deep breath and approached me, a nervous smile on his face. “Thank you so much. You’ve saved me.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” I replied.
“You did, you did, you rescued me from those horrible guys.”
“But who …”
The heavy roar of a motor interrupted me. The man looked around with large, fearful eyes. A loud bang hit the outer wall and several bricks dropped on the floor. A large black demolition ball appeared, looking like the eye of a gigantic monster.
“They’ve found us!” the man cried. “We have to run! Come!”
I ran to the red door where my guest was already yanking at the handle.
“O no!” he shouted.
God of Doors
Out past the Boondocks, three parsecs beyond the pink spidery luminescence of Orion’s Nebula, the survey craft RSS Janus hangs broken and afflicted. The terrified crew holler above the claxon.
“The computer keeps trying to open the outer doors!” screams Engineer Miro. “Meteorite impact damaged its logic core.”
“Computer,” wails Captain Irma Vallance, “Desist from attempting to open any other doors.”
“Negative,” announces the affable British voice. “Sensors indicate airlocks closed. All bulkheads must be opened.”
“That’s illogical! Emergency override C1!”
“Cannot comply. Crew preservation takes priority.”
“I’ve temporarily diverted door protocols,” yells Miro. “Should give us three minutes. After that …”
“What about the Getaway? We three can escape, at least.”
Vallance’s blood congeals with fear.
“But we can divert door command to Getaway’s navigation computer,” says the ever-calm Vishinski. “It’ll take a few moments.”
“Which we may not have.” Vallance can hear the locks clicking erratically inside the impassive steel bridge door. Only space lies beyond.
“Controls regained in sixty bananas,” announces the computer.
“It’s not the sensors!” shouts Miro. “It’s the vocabulary bank!”
“Computer, define the word open.”
“To seal or prevent access.”
“To facilitate access, passage, or…”
“Captain!” says Vishinski. “Think I’ve…”
“Not now.” Inspiration. “It’s flipped the words open and close. Computer, open all doors. This order is irrevocable!”
An unfamiliar voice, female, cold, declares, “Affirmative, Captain.”
“But that’s Getaway’s computer…” cries Vishinski, “I swapped command function already.”
Vallance is mid-curse when the vacuum sucks the last molecule of oxygen from her lungs.
The Empire’s troops had mostly vanquished the rebels in their urban strongholds. Melton was checking for survivors.
“Help, get me out of here.”
The sound had emanated from behind the steel door on an industrial unit. Possibly a trap.
He booted the handle, sprang back, weapon ready. All quiet. Tiptoed within. Inside had no mechanism. Melton propped it open with a broken paving stone. He felt a concussive wave from an explosion elsewhere in the city.
“Cool it, guys, war’s nearly over.”
He entered a poorly lit corridor.
“On my way, feller.”
Torch in one hand, gun in the other, softly, slowly.
Melton reached a lobby area. A couple of vacant chairs and four closed doors. He poked each portal with a chair leg.
The fourth had a standard handle and yielded to his gloved pressure.
As he stood on the threshold, a control message came through the comm: “Prepare for Operation Obliteration. All ground troops withdraw.”
Was that really necessary? He probably still had a few minutes’ grace.
Into the room. Nothing. Except it was L-shaped and there was a glow from round the corner.
“Please help me.”
It was a hologram. A mockery of the Emperor, concocted by the rebels.
Melton turned and scooted back through the room, through the doorway, along the corridor.
Another concussive wave hit him. He watched as the paving slab rolled and the exit door folded closed.
“Help, get me out of here.”
It was his voice this time.
These days a lot of people are struggling to make rent, including me, so when my landlord asks if I can lift a sofa, I don’t mention the twinges I wake up to each morning. Years of concrete work will mess up anyone’s back. But I’m not as shot as some guys. I have a high pain tolerance. The trick is to observe the pain instead of experiencing it. He promises to keep a roof over my head if I help him evict the delinquent tenants. He calls it the gig economy. Young, old, and between, I move peoples’ belongings from their homes to the street. Soon I’m the only one left in the building. My landlord says not to worry, says he owns a building on the south side with the same issues. I can’t sleep in my bed anymore. Instead, I wander the halls apologizing to locked doors.
Prairie Home Companion Cruise 2020
Nostalgia wants to keep up but only so much. So Nostalgia owns a radio. Bloody pixels won’t fit through the speaker. The war sounds terrible but it must look worse. Does it? Remember when it was less worse? Nostalgia can’t compare.
Nostalgia enters a radio contest: 360 words of salty air everyone wants to breathe. Inhale jug band hootenannies. Exhale prairie sunsets that never end & marionberry pies. The prize: a marionberry pie. Nostalgia doesn’t need to win & doesn’t.
These cabins are private, just like in the old days. Though Nostalgia fears upgrades, the locks have no doors. Airflow flows like saltwater to your lungs.
Nostalgia writes letters marked return to sender to remember the experience of having someone to write to. So many are gone.
Garrison Keillor never asked, Do you have one minute for dead children? Garrison Keillor knew: letters. We’ll get letters.
So crank up the ol’ washboard & sign those ol’ nondisclosures. Nostalgia wants to whistle tonight, on the open seas. Mostly poverty songs.
She couldn’t tell, honestly couldn’t, if it was Carl or Bernice who came to the door and asked to borrow a cup of spit. They were spirit people (not nice to say ghosts) and new to the neighborhood. She told whoever it was to come back later, maybe after dinner, and promised to work on filling a cup, but now she had her doubts. Patrick called them her ‘bardo buddies,’ dismissing the whole matter so he was no help. What did they need it for? And borrow? ‘Borrow’ as in bringing one back to replace the first? She didn’t want anything back, not even the cup. What could they need it for? Why can’t they use their own? Maybe spirit people don’t salivate. Maybe they do. Who knows? Oh crap, just give it to them.
Say it’s a Welcome to your afterlife in our neighborhood gift. But then Bernice or Carl or whoever might feel obligated to give her something. Well, it would have to be better than a cup of spit wouldn’t it? Some unwanted swag-bag bon-voyage pre-death memento.
As long as it wasn’t alive. God knows the cat is enough to deal with.
The last time you visited my mind, I was standing outside your apartment. It was a bitter cold December night. The curtains were drawn, and a light was on in your bedroom. I imagined walking up to your door and knocking. I imagined hearing your footsteps and the door opening. One of us started crying; I forget which one. When we spoke, the words were empty. When we looked, we didn’t see each other. Then you closed the door, and I looked up at the sky. It started snowing. I stuck out my tongue and tried not to say, “ahh.”
On Sundays since Mum died, I visited Dad for a ready-meal roast dinner (“Marks and Spencer,” he’d say. “Quality.”), then a walk about the neighbourhood. His pace slowed on Kingston Terrace, and one afternoon, he stopped at number 4.
“What is it, Dad?”
“This, this door.”
I’d never noticed it. It had a glass panel at the top and was painted sage. “Nice colour.”
He nodded, and we resumed our walk. “Dad, do you want a new door, or perhaps some new paint on your old one?”
He shook his head and smiled faintly. “It’s that door.”
“What do you mean?”
When we turned onto Kingston Terrace the following Sunday, the sage door opened, and a woman about my age emerged. She had wavy black hair and wore a billowy white blouse and blue jeans. She halted when she saw us.
“You Cathy Wright’s daughter?” Dad asked. I’d never heard the name.
“I am,” she said. “Did you know her?”
Dad nodded four, five times, blinking hard. “She gone then?”
The daughter nodded. “Three weeks ago.” She fished a business card out of her handbag. “I’m late for an appointment, but if you ever want to talk …”
I took the card and thanked her. Dad remained quiet all the way home, quiet as he made us tea.
As I was leaving, he said, “Joe, you think we can get that same colour?”
“Same colour as what?”
“The door. The pale green door.”
“Next week,” I promised. “I’ll bring everything.”
He likes this warm feeling. Not so much their extended evening, nor the release, not sitting in the passenger seat next to the six-foot blond in the mini skirt driving her green Jag, not even the rising sun.
What he really likes is leaving her and getting into his own car parked under his re-election campaign billboard in the parking lot of the book store where his father had taken him at the age of twelve which is one block down from the church where he and his wife were married a year earlier, and that feeling of continuity.
The other side
It’s easy to tell the more gullible kid that if he digs a hole in the sand and finds crockery then he’s dug all the way to China. It’s easy to sit on the beach chair burning slightly in the sun making jokes at his expense.
It’s not so easy when he shouts, “I found two broken plates!” and then, when you look into the hole, to discover that the plates are sitting on a battered shelf, and below that shelf are more shelves with more broken pottery on them.
He grins at me. I look at him, look in the hole. He jumps in it before I can stop him.
Cacophony. He’s knocked plates off shelves. The shelves themselves topple over.
On my hands and knees in the sand, I peer into the hole. Someone peers up at me and it isn’t the kid.
And swears at me in Mandarin. (I did a degree in Mandarin.)
The kid appears, pushing the man aside. “You said China was on the other side of the world! Hello from the other side!”
I might have said it was on the other side of the world. But I’m sure I didn’t say it was four feet down in a hole at Brighton beach.
His younger brother stops building his sandcastle. Stands, gives me his familiar, irritating stare. “So you don’t need a passport to get to China after all.” And leaps in the hole.
It’s six am when you close the front door, keys heavy in your hand, the morning slick with the sweat of the day, and you slog through your suburban grass to your SUV, and when you turn the ignition, your car rattles and thumps as it does every morning, so you sit in the vinyl seat, feet planted on the floor, breath fogging the windows, and consider the work ahead of you and the home behind you, and you breathe and breathe then shift into drive and the exit ramp beckons and you head onto the freeway, the traffic swarming south, and you drive north toward Philly, New York, Boston, all the way to Calais where wild blueberries bloom tender and sweet like nothing you’ve ever eaten before because the air goes chill at night, the salt licks your skin and hair, and terns keen as they tumble into the ocean, sea otters peer over waves with curious eyes, and you remember those summer days, how there was not another soul around but you and God, but now it’s February and snow still dusts Katahdin.
Petrified driftwood from Dominica made the door’s core. Alan layered them to be thick, not raft-like, but it had the opposite effect. A knocker from a manor in Surrey, older than himself and likely with more insurance. The frame had taken longer; he made that from Pennsylvania beech.
I miss you everyday.
The last piece, its curve sweating in his hand. He screwed the double-sided knob on until it caught. $10,000 Soho pride in blue resin. She’d always had expensive taste.
Something stolen, something blue, wasn’t that the rhyme? He wasn’t a superstitious person but the woman in black instructed him to assemble the door himself but not open it. Only then would he get back to her. Or get her back, he wasn’t sure which. Regardless, he took her advice seriously.
It looks like you, Sylvia. He meant it in the most flattering way possible.
He wasn’t sure if it needed hinges. He’d settled on leaning it against the stone foundation of his rented flat. He stepped back, hope crushing through him followed by rank fear. A fantasy: that summer woman. Eyes closed, he smelled the waft of her spent cigarette.
Fifty years he’d opened so many doors, looked into so many empty rooms. This had to be the last.
The knob turned and he found himself on his knees, hands outstretched. The door ajar, a shadow in its gap.
I’m here. Come back to me.
A light wind rustled his curls and the door shut.
Once You’re Dead That’s It
“I saw your father at the bedroom door last night,” she said, and I knew she was losing her marbles.
“Once you’re dead, that’s it,” she’d say. She’d denounce anyone who had a tale about the dead connecting with the living. She wasn’t wishy-washy in her opinions, my mum.
I smirked. “You didn’t dream it, then?”
“He had on that red and navy sweater that I knit on the machine,” she said. “I smelled his Old Spice after-shave.”
She stroked my hand. Her fingers were cold and bony, the skin on the back of her hand wrinkled like dry parchment. “He held out his hand,” she whispered. “He asked me to go with him.”
I knew she wanted to. She kept telling me, “I’ve had a good life, two lovely children…”
I nodded and my tears welled up.
“But I’ve had enough. My eyes are hopeless. I can’t hear the TV, love. My bones are worn out.”
I put my arms around the thin shoulders and held her tight.
I hid the sleeping pills. I wanted her to stay with me.
But she longed to join my dad.
That night he stood in the red and navy sweater at my bedroom door.
“I’m taking your mother, pet,” he said.
Yours or Mine?
We arrived at the same time, wet and shivering. We both thrust a wrist at the panel.
“Uh?” she said and edged in front of me.
It was late, it was my home for the night and the alternatives were unpalatable. I held my ground. Discovering a home every day was a drag, but that’s how my generation lived. Free and easy. Always active. Always on the lookout for the next piece of work, the next piece of love and the next place to rest our worn-out bodies.
The apartment didn’t open, for either of us.
“Glitch,” she said and dropped her shoulders in defeat. “Why does this stuff never work?”
I grinned, delighted that the argument over who it belonged to was avoided. Micro-living was fun when it worked and horrible when it didn’t, but being haunted by hunger and threatened by dirt and danger kept us brimming with life. We loved it.
I pushed the homemaker chip buried under my skin closer to the panel, willing my home to take payment and open. There was no under-skin tingle. The chip hadn’t even instigated the transaction.
Behind me, she giggled. “Not so smug now,” she said and laughed. “Or snug for that matter.” I blew her a kiss of contempt, but she chuckled. “Got its wires in a twist. Won’t take either of us.”
She shoved me and ran off, but it only took three metres of separation before the chip tingled and the home became mine.
The appeal of a cult is the unspiked Kool-Aid and the complimentary continental breakfasts and the winnowing of opened doors. Do you know what I want, more than anything else? I want someone to tell me what to wear in the morning. Forget transcendence. I loved a woman, once, who, following our ending, decided to live her life according to the itinerary laid out every day (bright and early, six o’clock sharp) by a YouTuber who did not use their real name. This went on for seven years. The YouTuber (IronSights? FireSide?) died one day while trying to outrace a SEPTA line on an ATV. After which the woman had apologies to make. Anyway. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am glad it is over. (In the absence of precedent, what is this it? Or, a better question: what is yours?) All that remains, I suppose, is for me to find another. For us to endure. To close a forest of doors behind us. To appreciate, in time, our lack of substantial locks.
Horn & Hardart/American Pie
Sure, there were sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and five kinds of pudding. But it was pie we craved. Horn & Hardart’s pie was the best – apple, lemon meringue, cherry, chocolate – and in that summer of “American Pie” we, with the first coins of a lifetime of employment, ate pie for lunch and listened to that song.
We didn’t know who wrote the book of love, and there’s no telling who, or what, we had faith in. But we sang along, each jaunty verse. As we straddled the line between childhood and adulthood there was only one constant in our lives – drop in some change and the door would slide open to any kind of pie we wanted.
Through illnesses, betrayals and other deaths – always shared over pie – we could rely on Horn & Hardart to be there for us. Sherry cried over blueberry pie when she told us about her divorce. Nancy was dry eyed over coconut custard when she said the cancer had returned. I cried over many varieties of pie, for many months, over the babies that wouldn’t come.
But yesterday, they closed down Horn & Hardart. Tore out the machines, emptied for the last time of sandwiches and pie. I stood across the street, next to my child who is taller than me, and watched as they turned off the lights, locked the doors. So bye, bye, Horn & Hardart, and bye, bye, American Pie. I know all of the words by heart, but the final verse always makes me cry.
A light in the darkness
Jack Remiel Cottrell
The house across the road has the light on outside the front door every night. The streetlights end at the corner of my cul-de-sac, so that door glows from twilight till dawn like the entrance to the promised land.
No matter what time I’m up with the baby – feeding him, or singing to him, or just walking with him until I’m half-blind with exhaustion – that light is always burning.
I wonder who it burns for.
In the blue-black muzzle of the night, as I hold my baby boy, I stare across the dark street. Watch the glittering light play off the leaded glass. I imagine the night when someone walks through the door, the moment when the house across the road goes dark.
I lay my baby down. Trace one finger over the back of his hand while I wonder when he’ll leave me. If someday the only thing I’ll have left of him is a light I keep on all night, every night, trying to draw him home.
The Door to Other Worlds
Wind gives chase to us, sweeping chills down my sweat-soaked back. High in the sky, the sun beats down on the slew of skyscrapers towering above our heads. We cross the street, disappearing in a tunnel of darkness between stacks of buildings. Your fingers tangle against mine as our enthusiasm and sweet anticipation pull us along.
Matching me step for step, your legs keep pace with mine, as we twist and turn around cracks and shallow pools of scum. Gallivanting through the blackness, we stop at a familiar faded door. It sits between two empty shops, a forgotten nook from another time. I pull the ring of keys from my belt loop, easily finding the thin bronzed one. The air grows heavy with our eagerness, mingling with the scent of our salt-slicked skin. You stoop down, bringing your lips to the valleys and ridges of my ear.
“The door to other worlds,” you whisper, sending shivers tickling down the knots of my spine. The key clicks into place and I push the door open, a slice of golden light spilling across us. Our feet don’t hesitate, stepping inside the brightly lit room. Countless rows of shelves hold slumbering books, lining the walls from floor to ceiling. The books sit ready, waiting to be pried open, waiting for someone to fall into their papered pages.