Monday, November 14, 2011

The Door

Random photo/creative writing challenge number II, complements of Mrs. Sandra Ward and her lovely talents. Here goes nothing ...

The Door

There it stood, stark against the blinding florescent light that cascaded down the walls surrounding it. The dark, wooden door, framed by brick walls and an arced piece of glass, looked as though it housed a secret vortex into another world. Or perhaps it conveyed the exit of a long, fitful labyrinth, crowned by a halo of light. Maybe, it was a theatre's backstage door, a place to escape behind the scenes. Evan had so often longed for escape.

As it were, the door was just a door, its pane of glass shielded by disheveled blinds. Evan stepped forward, squinting his eyes beneath the bright light and peering into the glass, but saw nothing between the opened slits in the blinds. He turned around and began walking across the town square toward his home, unsettled somehow.

As he got in bed that night, he looked over to his left, the place his wife once slept, and felt a cold chill slither down his spine. It'd been 7 years since she left. In many ways, he continued to blame himself for her abrupt departure. He had never been in love with her, he wasn't even sure he knew how to love. He shut his eyes tightly, wishing flashbacks of his own mother leaving him as a child would disappear with the blackness of his closed eyelids. But it seemed to make the image of her slamming the door, getting in her jeep and disintegrating into the dusk-filled horizon all the more vivid. He had been 9 years old. His father had always been emotionally detached, an alcoholic; his mother, verbally abused, restless and unsatisfied.

Slowly, he slid his back down the backboard and slipped under his plaid sheets, crossing his hands over his chest as he stared at the ceiling. He felt nothing. The walls practically dripped with stagnancy, as though taunting him with the fact his life was a charade. His thoughts suddenly drifted to his father's funeral two years ago. He had no siblings, his father had been disowned by his family for his drinking problems and Evan had never looked them up once he grew old enough to move out. Sometimes, he wished he had, but he wasn't sure what he'd say. So there he had sat at the wake, surrounded by no one else. His father had drank himself into a life-long oblivion after his mother left. Evan still had the physical scars to remind him just how blind and broken his father had been. These images played like a broken record in his mind, until he fell into a dark, dreamless sleep.

The next morning was the day before Thanksgiving. He'd spend it alone, as he did every holiday for the last 7 years. Evan looked at himself in the mirror, noticing the light flecks of silver hair on the sides of his head. It made him sad somehow, not because he felt his age setting in, but because he was despondent about the entire thing, numb. He worked his shift at the local library before grabbing a cup of hot cider on his walk home. The leaves had turned, the wind was picking up and he could feel winter's breath on his neck. He pulled his coat collar up and his scarf tighter as he began to walk home.

But as he passed the spotlit door again, he couldn't help but see a dark shadow in the peripheral of his vision. He looked to see a young girl, curled up in a ball in front of the door, her breath silver underneath the florescent light. It wasn't the first time he'd seen someone curled up there. Sometimes bums found their way here during the colder months. But this girl didn't look like a bum. Overall, she looked in her early to mid-20s, though her face could have been mistaken for younger. She wore a thick coat, winter hat and gloves, but she was clearly shaking.

Evan hesitated, unsure of what to do. Any other time, he'd have continued on, sipping his cider, without a moment's notice. But something held his feet still. He felt himself strangely sinking in place as though the bricks beneath his feet were morphing into quicksand. He knew he had to move toward her, so he did. He could see she'd been crying, her mascara running, creating subtle dark streaks down her defined cheekbones and jawline. As he approached, she began to pull from whatever trance she had been in and looked up at him. She quickly glanced around her, startled, as though realizing where she was for the first time. He stopped in his tracks and put a hand up, as if to show he meant no harm.

What am I even doing? He thought, suddenly mortified and wishing he'd never stopped in the first place. 

But then she did something that surprised him. She stood up and turned toward him, wiping away some of her mascara streaks with her gloved palms and loudly sniffled. Her long, dark hair poured out of her hat and fell past her shoulders as she put her right hand forward.

"My name is Kayla," she said.

Evan was flabbergasted. For a moment, he said nothing, leaving her hand abandoned. But then he cleared his throat, put his own hand out and shook hers.

"Evan," he gruffly said, before pulling his hand quickly back and shoving it into his pocket. Clearly, she was OK, he observed, deciding he'd better head home. But she moved toward him as he began to turn to leave.

"Wait ..." she said, sniffling again. He stopped and turned back toward her. "May I have a sip of your cider? I haven't had anything warm in days. My insides feel like ice."

Evan felt something stir inside him. He didn't like it. It felt foreign and dangerous. But he couldn't continue on either. So, he bent down, put the cider on the ground and told her to keep it, before he turned and quickly shuffled off. The wind was biting now, as though angry with him.

Kayla scooped up the cider, took a long, mournful look at the door and then ran after him. He heard her footsteps and briskly turned around.

"Don't follow me," he said.

"Why?" she asked, her dark eyes large and innocent. His chest felt tight suddenly, as though deciding to cut off air to his lungs.

What is going on? He thought angrily.

"Look, I only wanted to make sure you were alive. I gave you cider. Please, let me be," he growled before turning back around. But still, he felt her following him. And what was worse, his anger was beginning to subside and confusion had set in. Finally, curiosity won out. He spun back around, jarring her to stop and take a tentative step back.

"Why were you by that door? Why were you crying? Why did you look back at it, as though closing a chapter you didn't want to close?" He hurled at her.

"Because ... I was," she said.

The simple answer somehow satisfied Evan, as he began to walk again, now almost expecting her to follow. They finally got to his door and he turned toward her.

"Do you have no one?" he asked. She shook her head; her sad, layered eyes now brimming again. He unlocked his door and pushed it open, gesturing for her to come in. He felt as though he was possessed. Since his wife, he'd let no one come into his home, and here he was, inviting a complete stranger in, and one half his age for that matter. As she took off her coat, Evan noticed horizontal scars across each of her inner wrists. His stomach tightened again, instantly frustrating him.

How is it possible this mess of a person that stood before him was somehow pressing against his caulked insides?

He decided he must be losing his mind.

"You can sleep on the couch," he said, heading to his linen closet to grab sheets and a blanket. She merely stood in his hallway, in a long, black sweater and torn jeans, staring back at him, before softly nodding. Tears poured down her cheeks again, creating new streams of mascara. Something about the unkempt, messy look of her ignited something inside him, burning his insides. It was a completely unfamiliar feeling, one he didn't understand at that very moment. It was only later, he knew.

He handed her the linens, coming within inches of her face. She softly sniffled again, using the inner sleeve of her sweater to blot her nose before grabbing the sheets from him. Their eyes locked for a moment. Hers were as dark as the oak wood of that door, with faint golden rings of wisdom and age that spiraled to a terrifying depth he was on the brink of plunging into. Startled, he withdrew, quickly pivoting and scampering back to his room. He barely made a sound as he lay in bed, staring at his ceiling, afraid to even breathe.

What is happening to me?

The next morning, he woke up and blearily looked over at his alarm clock. 8:15 a.m. Suddenly, he recalled the girl from the night before and shot up in bed. He felt both terrified and full of anticipation to see if she was up or still asleep. But when he got to his couch, he saw it was empty. In fact, there was no trace of her at all as his linens were back in his closet, virtually untouched. Baffled, he looked around the rest of the place, scrambling to find some semblance she had been there. Nothing. Evan threw on his hat and coat and went outside toward the square.

Toward the door.

He stopped abruptly before it, now cloaked in shadows while the sun peered out from the clouds above him. He looked down on the ground and spotted his Styrofoam cup of cider.

But she'd taken it with her ... I remember it being in her hands as we walked and as she entered my house, he thought, utterly incredulous.

He kept staring at the cup, bewildered, before he finally swooped down to pick it up. It was still half-full, as he'd left it for her last night. He slowly shook his head and began to walk the cup over to the nearby trashcan when something on the side of the cup by his thumb caught his eye. It was faint writing, but distinctively female. It simply said: Call them.

Evan turned the phrase over in his head again and again, pondering its meaning. He searched through his memories over the last several days and then it hit him, like a punch to the stomach.

Today was Thanksgiving. He was alone. He was always alone.

He suddenly thought of his estranged family. He had a number. It had always been there, buried in between the pages of his address book. He felt a sense of madness set in. Quickly, unsure of every movement he made, he ambled back to his house and pulled open his address book. And before he could let a single thought assail him, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number. An older woman's voice answered. His aunt Hilda. He hadn't forgotten ... in all these years, he hadn't forgotten.

"Aunt Hilda ... it's me, your nephew. It's Evan."

And as he heard his aunt let out a tearful gasp of relief, Evan's eye landed on the cider cup in his hand -- where he softly ran his thumb over a faint trace of dried mascara.

~ C ~

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