Every time Dee heard the kitchen door crack against its frame she looked up expectantly. It was loose in it’s frame, the draft pulling it back and forth. It was years since a Door had appeared to her but this morning….she shook her head. She must have dreamt about it and the leftover tension was wearing. Turning back to the fruit on her board she continued chopping. Laughter from the play area across the road came through the open window. It sounded like her girl. A glance instead showed her Cosima was sitting on a swing leaning forward, watching the other children with a furrowed brow. She had been quiet all morning and repeated attempts to engage her had led to an abrupt announcement that she was going out to play. Dee had been so surprised she let her go with no more questions. Now she was finding reasons to stand at the kitchen window and watch. Looking down at all of the fruit and vegetables she had now chopped up Dee put the knife down. Cosima was probably just reacting to her. She’d been jumpy all day. Despite knowing it wasn’t going to happen she still had this…she could only describe it as somewhere between an itch and a headache. Every time she had touched a door handle today she had held her breath. Looking at the kitchen door a final time she turned back to the chopping board. She would make a fruit salad for dessert. That would use up all this fruit.
The chicken she put in an oven dish with the vegetables looked as pale as the chicken Cosimas father, Dorian, had been served in hospital. It was like it had been boiled. It fell apart easily enough but smelled like plastic. He had joked that he didn’t have a sense of taste anymore so what did it matter. She had laughed for his sake. Cosima had slept silently on her lap, the beeping machines lulling Dee to sleep as well. She had dreamed that Dorian had forgiven her. When she had asked what for he had shown her the first wedding ring she had ever worn. With the feeling of falling she had woken to find he had passed in his sleep. Instead of just grieving she had felt angry. She had no reason to feel guilty or be forgiven but on the day he was buried and Cosima had gripped her hand painfully she thought maybe there was.
Feeling tears coming she clamped her eyes shut until it passed. The counsellor had told her to think of happier times, good memories. The problem was all the good memories led to the final thought that he was dead. That didn’t bring her any comfort. Instead she had begun to think about life before him. When the Doors had appeared to her.
Her friends had been so jealous. But they couldn’t pass through. Adults couldn’t either. She remembered being so scared. There were stories of some never returning, being eaten by monsters or kidnapped by mercenaries on the other side. But her mother had dismissed those stories. Why would people make up such fibs, she would ask. And who exactly is bringing the stories back if they never return? With a Traveller’s survival pack her parents had purchased off the internet she had ventured alone through her first Door. Like many other people who went through the Doors, she didn’t tell much of what happened to her parents. It starts to fade for some after a while, especially the ones who went when very young. Too many memories for the brain to handle, doctors thought. And as you grow up again they get replaced with memories from your Stationary life.
There was a support group but Dee had stopped going. They spent so much time trying to keep hold of the memories. She hadn’t wanted to forget, precisely, but she didn’t fear it. Some memories she would be happy to live without, just dumb luck which ones stayed.
She thought of the house she and Marl had lived in. She had chosen the wallpaper for the front room. And Marl had painted a mural on one wall. It had reminded her of the field near her parents house, when summer turned to autumn. The humidity changing to crisp decay and cool breezes. That had been the only time she had felt homesick. Marl had held her then, warm and safe. They continued to travel together, always returning to their house. Doors had stopped appearing. They got married. She knew then why people made up awful stories about children who never returned. It hurt those left behind to think their children didn’t want to come back.
That was the real reason she couldn’t go to the support group anymore. Those Traveller’s had searched for a way home. Trying every door in every building in the hope one led back, sometimes years of searching. Dee had been happy in both worlds but deep inside her she had made the decision to stay. Marl had been her reason. He touched her as if she was actually alive. True she was only a child with her parents and first love is powerful, but the life they had built still felt like it was more real than the dream she had returned to. She still wasn’t sure why. So while the others tried to remember their time away, feeling guilty for spending most of it trying to return, Dee felt guilty for wishing to stay and hoped to forget.
The front door slamming shut made her jump.
“Cosima?” she called.
“I’m going to the garden, Mum!” The back door slammed.
She thought of other children, her and Marl’s, slamming doors and running around the house. Marl would yell at them because he was more worried about the floor getting dirty than she was. It annoyed him when she laughed at their unruliness. But it reminded her of him when they first met. She had never told him but, after making the decision to remain, every door she opened she hesitated before going through. Even when Doors stopped, as she must have grown too old for it, still she would pause. That last day was sunny and hot. Her hair was wet and water droplets ran down the back of her shirt, Marl was yelling at the kids as they ran through the house still revved up from swimming outside. She was laughing, turning to look at him as she walked into the bedroom. The air felt cold and dry. Marls face changed. She looked around to find herself in her parents kitchen and realised she was back to the same height as when she left. Looking up through the Doorway as Marl realised what was happening she reached her hand for him but the Door slammed closed.
Her mother heard her scream and found her crying on the floor. Her parents mistook her distress for some horrific event on the other side. They took her to the hospital to make sure she wasn’t injured. For years she saw psychologists and eventually ended up in group support. To her parents it had been merely days. It never occurred that the horror was seeing them.
Stationary life continued. Education, work, marriage and a child. Sickness and grief. This time she had something other than memories to live with. She heard the back door open.
“In the kitchen.”
A thrill of panic went through her. Clutching the knife she dashed into the hallway, Cosima stood at the other end and in between them were several Doorways that had not been there before. Dee held her hand up indicating for her daughter to wait. Trying hard not to let her hand tremble she opened the first Door. A damp heat rolled out and a cacophony of tropical birdsong. Eyeing her little girl who seemed on the verge of tears she shook her head. Closing the first Door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. A gust of frigid wind and the blast of salt water from the second had Dee slamming the Door before it was fully open. The third and last was nearest to Cosima.
“Third time lucky,” she reassured her. Cosima tried and failed to smile. Taking a deep breath Dee turned the handle. A warm golden glow emanated from it. Peeking inside Dee saw a study and heard the murmur of voices. As she opened the Door wider Cosima came closer, holding onto her mother’s leg like she had when she was younger. They waited. The voices stopped. Two men stepped into view. One was elderly with snowy, clean cut hair and a sprightly gait. The other was middle aged but slim. The twin looks of shock upon their faces were nothing she was sure to the look on hers.
“Ma?” the younger man said. Dee kept looking at the older man. Marls eyes were still that amazing pale blue but they had the same regret she saw in the mirror each day.
“Is that…you?” Looking at her eldest son she smiled.
“Yes, my darling. I’m so sorry I’ve been away for so long.”
“We’re…the same age?”
“I know.” She looked at Marl again. “This is Cosima. She’s my daughter.” He nodded in understanding and she wished she could explain further. His hand twitched and she saw a different wedding ring on his hand. She hiccoughed as laughter bubbled out along with her tears. Dee cleared her throat and knelt down to Cosima.
“This is Marl and his son. They are very, very special friends of mine. They’ll help you.”
“And I want you to know something very important. They’ll remind you if you forget.” She looked at them and the men nodded. “If you need to stay, that’s alright, my darling. You be happy. Just be careful and always look before you step through. You understand?” Cosima nodded. Dee pulled her in and gave her a hard hug as she looked up at her other family. In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. With a kiss to Cosima’s temple she smiled brightly at her daughter and let her step through. She watched as her children held hands. Cosima waved goodbye, a genuine smile creeping onto her face. Then she and Marl were left. He put his hand out but it was held back as if a pane of glass separated them. She placed her palm to his and imagined his warmth. He cried too. A creaking broke the silence and the Door began to close on her. Reluctantly she stepped away. She held his gaze as long as possible. Then the Door was gone.
Her ears rang in the silence. Then the sound of children playing filtered through the window. She looked down at the knife in her hand.
This story was part of the Pick Three Sentences challenge set by Chuck Wendig over at his blog terribleminds.com. Last week everyone had to write one sentence. This week we had to pick three that suggested a story to us. I chose the following:
1) He touched her as if she was actually alive. By Jezebel.
2) In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. By Ita.
3) Closing the first door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. By Ila Turner.
The picture is used under Creative Commons, taken from pixabay.com
And I hope you enjoy the story.