01 Feb The Red Door
We knock. I straighten my collar. I pull up my pants. Jenny gestures wildly at my zipper, that zipper, and I realize with horror, shit, the fly is open. I fight wildly to get it in place. Sweat builds on my brow. The hot White Valley sun beats down my back like we’re stuck in the Caribbean and the fabric is stuck. Of course the fabric stuck. The fabric always gets stuck. They make these goddamn pants just to get stuck on a schmuck like me. The zipper is caught on my boxers. I’m pulling. Jenny tries to help, but she’s making it worse, stop making it worse. The red door opens before we even have the chance to fix it.
And then I’m standing there, with my hands on my crotch, and my girlfriend’s hands there too.
Her parents stare blankly ahead.
The holidays are a stressful time for everybody. We laugh it off and we step into the kitchen. I go in for the handshake. Jenny says it’s better to shake hands when meeting people for the first time. You have to keep boundaries, Matty, people respect boundaries. Mr. Weber has a firm grip. He is the type of man to look you in the eyes when he does it. Mrs. Weber’s handshake is dainty and petite. She asks if I prefer coffee or tea. And I say –
“Tea, Regina, please, coffee makes me jittery.”
We sit down at the oval kitchen table. Roger wants to know my occupation. He is a professor just to pay the bills, you know, but it’s independent study which intrigues him the most. White Valley University keeps their checkbooks open when it comes to research. He hired two new interns just this past fall, and you would not believe the things these kids uncover in the lab. Mind blowing stuff, Matt, really world altering stuff.
“So what are your passions?” Roger asks in the crooked way only a concerned father could ask. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I tell him about my company. DynaTap may be a small fish in a big market but we have growth potential. Just this week we received a report which stated that 3,000 people use our program daily. The free version of our app is booming but we are working on a solution to move folks into paid subscriptions. I believe our next product will accomplish this goal.
“Oh?” Roger murmurs skeptically. “And what is the name of this product?”
I leap to tell him the name. I know the name. Of course I know the name. I live this product. I breathe this product. It consumes every inch of my life. I plastered the name throughout thousands of lines of code, again and again, working night after night just to get it right. This product is my baby. My future kids will know it’s name. Why the fuck can’t I just remember the name? Just say the name, doofus, the man is waiting.
“I have to check my notes.”
Jenny laughs nervously. Regina looks on in despair. Roger is angry now. Not good, Matty, not good. Jenny said to never make Roger angry.
“You created a product that will change your company’s future,” he huffs quietly. “And you can’t even remember the name?”
Think, think, think. Roger is getting out of his chair now. Why would he get up? Oh God, we’re in a booth, there’s not a lot of room. I have to move just to get out of the way. The kitchen table is shaking. Oh God, he’s pissed, Jenny said to never make Roger pissed. Think, think, think. Think, doofus.
Roger pauses. He sits back down. He lets loose a smile full of crooked teeth and thinning gums. Regina smiles too. She brushes back a tendril of styled hair and sets down the tea, three sugars, before sliding next to me. Regina wants to know about my mother. Regina says a good man always looks after mom.
“My mother lives over on Andover Street, Mrs. Weber,” I say. “*And I’m sure she would love to meet you too!”
Regina, please, Roger jumps back in. Roger wants to know more about the product. He loves tech projects. He loves the name. He loves the concept.
I talk for hours about online banking capability, micro transactions, and minimum fees. Dinner comes and goes. Desert does too. Roger is interested. Roger is impressed. He worked on Wall Street, you know, just for a little bit. Not everybody can hack it with those big number boys. Soon enough, my glass gets empty, and Roger is rushing to fill it with more beer. Good beer. The quality stuff.
“ThinkVest, eh,*” he gushes through a mouth full of high alcohol content IPA. “ThinkVest. Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Jenny floats back to the table. She and her mother just finished the dishes. She’s got the sleeves of that blue dress pulled up, now, and dear God, she’s a vision. She slides down into my lap with an arm draped around my shoulder, in the angelic sort of way women do, with black bangs dripping over light hazel eyes. The sleeve of her dress slips up, and she kisses my cheek, and my mind wanders to a place it shouldn’t wander.
She asks if ‘you boys are done in here,’ as Roger lights up the butt of an already used cigar.
“Seems like you got a hell of a guy here,” he mumbles. “One last question.”
I nod. Roger likes a curt nod.
“What the hell do you want with my daughter?”
I laugh. Jenny laughs and slugs his shoulder. I look down in humility. I feel like I know Roger now. I feel like I know what he wants to hear. I know what any father would want to hear.
“I love her,” I look him in the eyes when I say it. “And I want to marry her one day.”
“*Well okay then.”
The evening ends with a vintage bottle of wine. 1983. The good stuff.
Jenny looks giddy as a teenager in her little blue dress. She smirks with a giggle and shucks off the shoulder straps slowly. Spongebob bed sheets smile back at us unabashedly from the top of her tiny little twin. Pictures of pop culture icons and articles about her dad decorate the walls. A mirror reflects any teenage boy’s dream.
“You passed,” she purrs. “You finally passed!”
She pounces into my arms. Her perfume dances through my nose like candy. She pulls me into the soft spot, between her neck and her shoulder blades, and I’ve discovered peace; pure and unadulterated peace. I want to stay in that peace forever. Nothing would make me happier than staying here forever.
But the lights go out.
And the world turns to black.
I wake up sometime after two in the morning. The house is dark. Jenny sniffles from the (slightly) far side of the bed. Roger snores from down the hall. Somebody tosses and turns, probably Regina, but I don’t care if she’s close to waking up, she can wake up if she damn well wants to, because I need water. Goddamnit am I thirsty. Why am I so thirsty?
I get up and curse the creaking bed as my soft feet shuffle quietly across the cold, wood floor. The staircase has two creaking stairs, and I don’t know why I remember that, but I do, and I avoid them perfectly on my silent descent into the kitchen.
I hit the light.
The refrigerator has one of those water filters built inside. Paper cups are in the cabinet. Nobody will even notice. There won’t be any dishes. I’ll just grab some blissfully cold water and sneak back upstairs my beautiful Jenny.
But then something clatters in the basement.
At first I pretend I don’t hear it. Probably just a Christmas box. Maybe the storm started early. Maybe the wind got inside. But then the clatter rings again, and again, and again, and it’s getting to the point where I have to see what it is. What the fuck could it be? Jenny never said anything about a pet. Jenny never said anything about mice or rats or any other shit living in that house, let alone the basement, but that sure as hell sounds like something living, because I can hear it shaking now. Did it speak? thought I heard somebody speak.
I peak down the basement corridor.
I step down. The stairs are carpeted and protected from my horrible creaking. It’s dark. Too dark to see. I pull out my cell. The damn thing doesn’t work, ever since we got inside, but the flashlight still should.
I step down again. I stumble for the button and point the phone towards the spot in the corner that’s making all that damn noise. And then I’m looking at myself.
I’m staring at an exact replica of me.
I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s me. I’m chained to a wall. I’m wearing a business suit. My tie is a little bit crooked, and green, contrary to my current red, but the outfit is otherwise similar. Black shoes. Black belt. White shirt. A red bruise ripens my forehead, in the corner, by the temple, and blood leaks slowly from the center.
“Run,” he says to me. “Get the fuck out of here.”
I turn the flashlight around the basement and my breath stops. My heart pounds. A dozen versions of me decorate the basement wall like trophies. There’s a version of me with board shorts. There’s a version of me with a crew-cut haircut. There’s a version of me with a manbun and a fucking meme shirted me and then there’s a version of me with a tuxedo. All of them are chained up and bloodied. All of them are dead. Each one of them is more fucking dead than the last – with throat gashes, bruises, and eyes blanker than the fish my father used to catch on his old boat with the barnacles. What’s dead is dead, Matty, he used to say. Don’t spend time looking for the dead.
“Run,” green tie cries with thinning breath. “They’re going to wake up.”
Sure as shit, he’s right. I’m right. We’re both right. We’re all right. Roger isn’t snoring anymore. That’s not good. Roger always snores at night. If he’s not snoring, then Jenny is awake, and Regina’s probably not far behind. Roger keeps a gun in the safe and pliers in the kitchen. Not good, Matty, not good. A door upstairs opens. It closes with a bang.
“The window,” I say to myself. “Now.”
I’m running across the basement. I’m pulling desperately at the clasp. It’s stuck. Of course. The damn thing is always stuck. They make these windows just to get stuck on a schmuck like me. Roger is walking into the kitchen now. Not good, Matty, not good. He’ll have the pliers soon. I can hear him cursing to Regina. Not good, sweetie, not good.
The clasp breaks free.
I can’t believe it. The wailing wall breaks and a breath of fresh air pours in over my brow. Roger is at the door now. Green tie tries to distract him. I leap up sneak my fat butt through the narrow space. The fresh air feels so good. I don’t remember it feeling so good. The night sky looks so beautiful. I don’t remember it looking so beautiful.
There is a struggle in the basement. Curses and shouting rip through an otherwise silent night. Roger rushes up the stairs. He stumbled outside. He rushes and fumbles for the keys while getting into his car. But he is too late. Too, too late. Because I am gone, gone, gone.
It took a lot to try and start my life over. I moved out of state. I found a new job, and a new name, and a new apartment. I lived on my own, away from people, and I tried to put Jenny and her crazy fucking family behind me, even if I still dreamed about her all the time.
I want more than anything to go back to the person from before. I want to go back to the person who sat underneath his father’s boat for hours and cleaned the barnacles. I want to go back to listening to his stories. But one day it occurred to me, after a long time spent dwelling, the facts of my life are only that – facts. I can’t hear their voices anymore. I can’t see their faces anymore. It occurred to me that I can’t truly remember anything anymore.
Everything in my life begins with the red door.