I am a door, thinks Maria. An opening and a closing at the same time, and the static moments in-between when you are not moving – when you are either inside or outside, baked in the sun or chilled by the ice storm. But I am a door, and in the driveway is a car with more doors, and in an office tower, other doors. In fact, she is a long series of doors, glistening with ice at times, sweating with condensate at others.
“I’ll help you,” assures her daughter, but with what Maria is not sure.
“Do you want me to come stay with you?” asks her sister, but she’s not positive that it’s a genuine offer, and there seems to be little point in taking her up on it if she’s simply going to turn her ankle or get a cold or become so stressed that her doctor has recommended bedrest for a couple of weeks.
Her neighbor is better. Betty is a business development professional for any industry, as she calls it, and so she travels a great deal. Most of her work is done in restaurants, bars and golf courses. She happens to be home when Gerald dies in the crash, and Maria calls her over. Together, they huddle on the couch, Maria and this fat woman with the crooked teeth and the long nose, who says of her own self that she is so ugly. But she leans in close, the first time she has ever touched Maria, and offers her arms. And in that moment, she is the most beautiful ugly person that Maria has ever met.
A week later, at the front of the funeral home, a man in a dark jacket is smoking. He sees her get out of a cab and walk towards him, and suddenly the cigarette is gone – but where did it go, wonders Maria? Why didn’t he offer her a drag? Is it because she is too pretty? Too straight-up? She doesn’t know. But when she reaches him, he nods as though he knows her and opens the door, and Maria thinks that this is what I am now, a door. Just a door, on one side or the other, and nothing much more than that.
Hank dances not very well. He finds it unsteady to be moving on this concrete floor, as it’s not entirely even. May. That was her name. Still is. Her name is May, and he is dancing with her. She has fine eyebrows, a single wrinkle just under her hairline, ears that droop with the weight of massive earrings. She’s thin, and the first time he met her, she was on a park bench eating a muffin, her dress hiked up with a hint of panty showing, as Hank and some boys played soccer on the pitch and pretended not to notice. He’d always been the sort to be fair about everything, to let others have the first shot, to take whatever shot they wanted, because he wanted that treatment in return generally if he could find it, but nothing works out quite like that. He’d kicked and slid like a superhero, allowing the other boys to go over there first – just to be fair. But no one had, and then he’d found himself on the bench, a hint of panty!, as she’d licked her fingers clean of muffin. And now he’s here in the uneven basement, dancing around an empty bottle with May, who was born in June and died in September.
In the morning, Hank awakes to a telephone ringing.
“Hi Gao. Yes, I’m not feeling well. It’s Sunday? The hell. I mean, sorry. This has nothing to do with hell. Yes, I feel frail and old, but I’m still going to come today. Count on it. See you at ten.”
He’s staring at a mirror in the bathroom. I’m not the worst-looking fellow, he thinks. He wonders what Gao sees in him, enough to be persistent about dragging him out on a Sunday morning. Hanks closes his eyes and tries to remember May, whose name he retains, but he’s got nothing more of her than that. No face, no shape. She’s gone again, and he’s sober, and somehow these two things are connected.
The phone rings. “Not again,” he says, and shuffles to the master bedroom of Mrs. Victoria’s house.
“You don’t know?”
“May,” he whispers, just in case it’s her, his lips to the side of the mouthpiece.
The voice is talking, and hits a word (‘surely’) that May would never have used, and that’s when he knows. “Mrs. Victoria? Hi. Sorry. Can’t remember the last time I heard you on the phone! Sure, house is doing great. Got your note the other day, and yes, I am remembering her much better. Much much better.”
They talk, but on the scale of a Sunday, it’s not a long discussion. Hanks feels the time of hanging up approaching and tries to keep the conversation going, not because he has anything to say, but because speaking makes his head feel better.
“I’m thinking of coming up,” she says. “In fact, I am coming up.”
“I have a plane ticket, Hank. Didn’t think I would have the courage, but I have one. I’ll be there next week.”
“My God, Mrs. Victoria.”
“I know, I’m shocked too. But I did it, Hank. It’ll be nice to see the house. Been a while.”
“Until next week?”
“Everything will be ready, Mrs. Victoria.”
“Good to hear. Maybe we can even have a sip of Gerald’s whiskey. He wouldn’t mind, after all. I know you’re not interested in alcohol anymore Hank, and I hate to tempt you with the stuff, but one sip wouldn’t be that much of a trouble, would it?”
“I wouldn’t think so.”
“Then it’s settled. We have a date for next Saturday. Perhaps a late afternoon lunch, and a tour around the old place, then some whiskey in the evening.”
The moment of hanging up arrives. Hanks puts his chin on the dresser. It’s a relief to let something other than his neck support his brain. An expulsion is building inside him, starting in his intestines and moving upward, now to his stomach, up his esophagus, spreading out like butterfly wings to his lungs before surging through his nostrils and back-filling his mouth.
It’s Sunday, he thinks. 8:30 in the morning. A peculiar time to be awake, but here he is.
The airport is still. At night, upon the boarding of the last flights, it’s like a vast emptiness, some field strewn with unused chairs and closed-down coffee kiosks, sprinkled with ATM’s and moving walkways. Maria moves through it, and eventually hands over a boarding pass for examination and a driver’s license to prove that she knows who she is and what she’s doing, here on a Friday night with hardly anyone around her. She picked the latest night flight on purpose, because it’s lucky to be this incidental, this unassuming. Nothing ever happens to those who walk on the fringes, and manage to maintain a decent space between themselves and the real movers of the world, the ones who attract the attention of dark spirits when flying high through the sky.