Doors and Knobs
The little girl was staring at the door in her bubble gum pink room, its color reflecting off her skin. She was starting to sweat quickly the way a cartoon does when it knows something has gone wrong. The deer-in-headlights look couldn’t have been imprinted on the child’s face any better: a four year-old having an eye lock down with the door. She wasn’t the kind of little one to sob or scream aloud; in fact, everyone thought her quite calm and collected. Her mom liked to brag about how her daughter cried only twice.
Going over to the door, she stuck her finger through the gaping hole where the doorknob should have been. She shouldn’t have slammed it, her dad said to never slam a door, but she angrily did, and clearly, this was the reason why one doesn’t slam a door.
It had clicked closed and with nothing to twist, there was nothing to let anyone out or in. The little one fidgeted more with the door, getting more desperate with each push. She tried with her shoulder but that failed. She poked some pieces of the exposed lock but nothing budged.
“Daddy!” the girl yelled through the door hole. With each passing moment, she grew more and more anxious, fretting as to whether or not she would be trapped in her room forever. Suddenly the walls seemed to be the wrong shade and the ballet boarder looked horrendous, the carpet was dissatisfying, and her toys were absolutely unappealing. Then her bunkbed seemed unwelcoming and what she once thought a winsome room turned ugly. How could she stand it? She was trapped! Doomed! Sliding down the door into a puddle, the little one dissolved into despair. She hated life! Although she could hear delicate melodies passing through under the space between the door and floor, they weren’t reassuring. They only made her irate in the eons that passed within the four walls.
Up the stairs came the man and peeked through to see his distressed daughter on the other side. He couldn’t help but laugh at her never-ending drama.
“What did you do, grasshopper?”
“I can’t open the door,” she moaned.
“Why did you close the door?”
“Do you think that was a smart idea?”
“Why wasn’t it a good idea?”
“Because I can’t get out and now I’m trapped,” she wailed.
“Do you need help?”
“Good girl,” he chuckled. He disappeared for a moment and re-emerged with a blemished door knob.
“That’s the old one,” the little girl pointed out.
“What we need to do,” her dad answered whilst focusing on sorting a screw, “is put this one back to open the door. I’ll put the new one later today.”
The little girl’s eyes went wide for a few moments as the sight of her father disappeared from the hole, a brief moment of fearsome loneliness, but it was soon replaced with some old gold to let her out. She half wondered if she’d ever escape, what if her father couldn’t do it? Despite being young, she had become an expert in scaring herself out of her wits.
The little one heard her father let out a wheeze of air as he stood up from squatting. He opened the door. She cautiously went through as if the room might steal her back if she went too fast.
“Why’d you slam your door?”
“How’d you know I slammed the door?”
“I could hear it, grasshopper.”
“I was mad.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
He rolled his eyes, “Off you go then,” and he set her loose in the living room. Her mother turned away from the piano and eyed her daughter with a smile.
“You look a little shaken. What happened?”
“I’m sorry dears, you can’t come over tonight. We haven’t gotten any doors up yet,” Mrs. Williams assured her son and his partner.
“Oh, no worries! Who needs doors?” the partner chimed in.
“Goodness no! We’ll have them up this weekend and then you two can move back.”
“It’ll be funny, let’s try it,” she chimed again, this time letting a giggle escape and clapping her hands merrily.
“No, no, everyone needs their privacy.”
“Privacy’s overrated. It’ll be jokes, what do you think?” she poked her own partner in the ribs, but she could tell with immediacy he wasn’t fond of the idea either. She didn’t like the idea of taking things into her own hands, yet she just knew they needed to do this, but she wasn’t sure if it was for the shits and gigs or something more. Intuition was one of those tricky things where the logic was explained after the proceedings.
“We’ll get a fire going. That should warm you two up for the night,” Mr. Williams stepped in, his docile nature doing its best to be assertive. He was not to have them over in his door-less house either, whether they had heating or not this evening.
That was why they were over in the first place: a phone call from their two exasperated kids, son and hopefully daughter-in-law soon, that their house had gone frigid. No matter what buttons they pressed, the damn place refused to emit any warmth. Their poor bodies were rattling with the cold. It was unbearable, they declared! Mr. Williams found the situation a combination of fussy and amusing but his Mrs. was worried sick. What if they got sick? Her son was always coughing despite his persisting denial of it. She swore she heard him hacking up his lungs down the street one night.
“Pretty please?” she asked both with sincerity and her winning silliness. Mr. Williams sighed at his wife's caving, but truth be told, he agreed. They couldn’t resist fulfilling the plea as the daughter they never had had never outright asked for anything. Except bananas and battered sausages, those, she'd gently requested on occasion.
Off the four went driving through the tortuous, foggy roads of England’s garden, the high beams slicing through the water vapor with inefficiency. It was as if the country's coast had caught a cold.
The two unpacked their things and got dressed for bed after descending the L-shaped staircase, but then the daughter-to-be realized there was to be no kissing, no squishing, no intermingling of any kind with no door on the frame. In the bathroom, the couple brushed their teeth and when she left to excuse him for more humanly duties, she nearly fell over grabbing an invisible door to pull closed.
“Could you do me a favor?” he asked.
“Can you listen to some music, please?”
His partner went off with a nod, giggling a bit too loudly for the late hour; she hoped she didn’t awake the Williams but judging by their light breathing, she guessed as much she had. She cringed. What she was laughing at was the fact she had made the same request several months prior in the beginning stages of meeting the man she both adored and admired. There they were in a hotel room, their first weekend together, and how embarrassed she was, that he might hear her being too human through the paper thin walls! It had made him laugh too.
Jazz was what he had selected to obscure his partner's plops. She, on the other hand, chose a heavy metal earful he had introduced to her just the week before. Not a plop was to be heard.
He came over and joined her in bed, pulling her in for their much loved routine of snuggling.
“Do you see how silly it was to come over without doors now?”
“Are we going to do it again?”
“No,” she smiled, but it would bring smiles to their faces for years to come just thinking about it.
“You know, I got stuck in a room once because I slammed the door and it didn’t have a knob.”
“You knobhead,” he poked her. She tickled him back.
“I was so stubborn!”
“Why’d you slam the door?”
“My mom was playing piano and I hated it."
“But you love playing piano.”
“Yeah, I started learning the day after.”
“Why’d you hate it then?”
“It didn’t sound the same when I played. It just came out a mess because I hadn’t learned jackshit. I was so pissed about it.”
“Who’s my silly?”
She laughed delightfully because she was above all, the silliest.
She watched him from afar, from an old body, and she could see his expression of amazement from where she stood. He was the last to visit since her newfound home had been completed, the air force having kept him at bay. How she had bit her tongue when he said he wanted to enlist; she never wanted to be that mother who hindered a choice to be made. Advice, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter and it brought her great joy to see her grown children now seek it out willingly.
He could see his mother up in the tree, her long gray hair a sharp contrast against the luscious green. He offered a wave and he saw her return it with her usual enthusiasm. She seemed indescribably wild up there, yet she retained the equanimity of an elephant, or perhaps a leopard. You never quite knew when she would pounce or stomp but at least you could rely on her timing; it was impeccable. The son walked up to the dangling rope ladder and began to climb alongside the trunk thicker than his own apartment.
“Morning, mom! You never make it easy, do you?” he shouted up to her, the strain on his muscles unexpected.
“You know I like to complicate things. How else am I going to keep up my upper body strength?” she yelled back and shook her arms, “I don’t want flabby wings!”
He heard her laugh as he traversed the halfway mark. It surprised the man to feel beads of sweat rolling down his face, which he attributed to the humidity and not any lacking in physical fitness. When he finally reached the top, the son rushed over to embrace his mother. She looked as happy as ever, as if widowhood were an easy feat.
“I must say, I didn’t think this would be one of the projects you finished.”
“Give me a little credit–
“It’s unreal, mom. You’ve achieved the incredible.”
“Nonsense. Let me give you a tour,” she pushed him along. There was an unmistakable pride trying to emerge from below the surface, but she assuaged it with modesty as always – too much modesty her son would often remind her. She would retort back, “What are my accomplishments in comparison to nature? To life? Infinitesimally small and I love them all the same. That’s all that matters.”
This was one of the first life lessons she hammered into his siblings and him from the beginning: never, ever compare yourself to others because you are always growing. Your focus should only ever be to grow in every direction like the expanding universe itself. Grow your body, which he had excelled at most during puberty, he thought. Grow your mind, which had led him down many pages of books, pathways of schools, and planes around the world. Grow your heart, which was why he was visiting his mother in the first place, though now, his reason had become twofold.
The man waited, keeping his lips shut lest the news slip; stealing his mother’s thunder was the last thing he wanted to do. And thunder it was the more he saw of her new home.
The two walked around wooden beams fanning out like a wondrous, gigantic sunflower perched in a rainforest. There were traditional pieces of wooden furniture, of which he surmised had been carved out by locals, old relatives once lost but now gained anew. Each pillow popped a vibrant shade of color and it caught him off his guard to see iguanas and lemurs lounging on a few. He didn't have enough sensors in his eyes to take in his mother's treehouse.
“They come and go as they please,” she said pleasantly. He asked about their droppings but she shushed his question; their presence was welcome and a quick cleaning was the least she could do. He asked her if she ever got lonely but his mother assured him she was too busy for such trivialities.
Her mornings were spent on the first tier of her treehouse in the kitchen preparing elaborate breakfasts for herself and her guests: monkeys who dropped by. Even the eagles swooped down on occasion. She wagered she’d have gained enough trust to lift one in a few months’ time. If she was strong enough to, that is. Their wings must be heavier than they seemed, she mused.
Afternoons were spent in the freshwater river near the base. The locals had brought her tubs galore and she could choose between cold dips, hot natural springs, or indulgence in the sulfurous pools. Patting her cheeks, the woman told her son it was good for the skin. The results did not contradict as he marveled at her visage; she didn’t look a day over forty. His mother spent time with the geckos at this hour, mimicking their “uh-oh” calls and assuring them that everything was fine. She splashed the stray cats and dogs that would appear and swim circles with them.
And the nights, those were dedicated solely to reading and writing with whatever company materialized. Many of the children from the village would appear and join her. Sometimes she would give in to their beseeching and tell them a tale of adventure. It was on these nights that the treehouse was filled gasps and shrieks, oohs and ahhs, and the animals observed from a safe distance, listening to the strange sounds of humans.
“You’ve become Snow White,” her son joked.
She led him through a rope bridge that opened to a hanging library – a swinging pendulum of knowledge hidden in the vast recesses of the Philippines. He was astounded at what she had collected in so little time and appreciated the care of glass walls and fortified ceiling to keep the rain out. The piece de resistance was a grand piano situated in the center.
“There’s even Wi-Fi,” his mother said. As he walked through the aisles, the floating enclosure slowly rotated to reveal more of the rain forests scenery. The covers of classics and contemporary alike had quite a view.
“This is…Mom, I’ve run out of adjectives,” he murmured.
“I had to make it interesting. What else will lure my grandchildren into this room?”
“Everyone! You’re the last, my sunny son.”
“Don’t be. Duty calls.”
“Speaking of, I’ve decided not to reenlist again.”
“Thank goodness. What will you do next?”
“Oh dear,” his mother groaned, “Well, if there’s anyone in this family suited for it, it’s you.”
She was right. He couldn’t imagine any of his brothers and sisters going into the field. They had become pianists and directors, engineers and architects. One was even a heart surgeon. But a politician? No. His mother disdained the art of power and preferred simply art, something of which had greatly influenced her children – most of them, anyway.
They continued catching up and discussing his plans as she led him to the bedroom. It was a delicate canopy over the forest’s canopy itself. He wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if she had plucked clouds from the sky to weave the inviting, fluffy cottoned bedding beckoning them to relax and take a nap.
“I can see all the stars out here like I did in Mongolia. And Brazil. Every night.”
They lied down and gazed out of the crystal clear glass to the passing cumulus with a twilight backdrop.
“See any shooting stars?”
“About two every fifteen minutes.”
“Wow. Do you wish for anything?”
“I learned to stop wishing when I was twenty-two stoned out of my mind. I saw one go by and you know what I realized? I had everything I already needed. Everything else was just something I wanted, and of course, I went after it.”
“We know,” he chuckled. Despite all his successful siblings, they were still shadowed by their mother. A moment of guilt washed over him as he thought such a thing because there he was, comparing them to his mother. They were all happy in their own way.
“It’s do,” she said.
For some time, they relaxed in silence and he understood the appeal. She had done so much. It was time she took a breather and truly enjoyed breathing for the sake of breathing, before she took an eternal rest and joined her partner. This was the calm after years of wildly riding lightning.
“Do you miss him?”
“You act as if he isn’t here. Just because his body’s gone back into the earth doesn’t mean I don’t still speak to his mind and feel his heart. He quite fancies this place, you know.”
“Mom,” he pressed. She sighed.
“Of course I miss him, but that’s life. That’s change for you. And I’d rather not spend the rest of my own time missing. I have my memories of us together and that’s enough. You can’t ever go backwards, despite what people think. It’s the only thing that’s impossible.”
They reminisced about the son’s father – their favorite stories and silliest of moments. It had left everyone in hysterics when he was thrown out of a boat, which served him right because he was acting so seriously throughout their entire holiday. He had laughed the most, humbled before his children. They joked about the way he ate apples and refused to play checkers since he somehow lost every game, yet won every chess match. All the times they played tricks on his color blindness were treasured, just like all the funny faces he made when his partner had her glasses off and she couldn’t see him. He liked to have debates with her when she couldn’t see properly and she pretended she didn’t know what he was doing, but her children’s giggles in the background were a dead giveaway.
“I met someone.”
“What’s her name?”
“A beautiful name,” his mother affirmed.
“I think I’m going to ask her to marry me.”
“Tell me everything!” his mother bolted upright and eagerly propped herself up on one arm, all ears. He went through the usual details of how they met, their first date, and how it had been going. His mother loved seeing the way her son’s face lit up.
He was joy.
As he finished divulging all the juicy facts, something dangling from the ceiling caught his eye.
“A door knob.”
“Why do you have a hanging doorknob?”
“Because I have no doors but I needed a way to show my home is always open.”
And with that, his son saw the big picture, how his mother had achieved a world without walls. There were no safeguards against her and nature, no barriers between her and her children, no blocks between her and the deepest, most loving appreciating one could muster for life.
“Took me seventy years but I finally got my treehouse.”
“I love it, mom. And I love you.”
Her heart swelled and she ruffled his hair, “I love you too.”