Jane noticed the door for the first time when she was six years old. She was staying with her father that weekend in his cottage in the Cotswolds near Tewksbury. Her mother was attending the funeral of Jane’s Grandmother in a medieval church on the outskirts of Birmingham. Her mum had taken her there once, but she’d cried the whole time and complained of the smell. Jane had never really known her Grandmother – though in later life she could never remember why.
Jane’s dad had taken her on a walk along the banks of the Avon that day. They fed bread to the geese and ducks on the murky waters and laughed at the rowers in their Lycra as they raced by. The air was hot and damp. Jane was humming a tuneless tune from her perch on her father’s shoulders. Her little legs could only carry her so far before she got tired.
The door saw her before she saw it. At least, that is how it seemed to her these days in moments of recollection. She had been chuckling at the honking struggle of a signet taking flight – all splashes and rapid thwap thwapping of young wings hitting the choppy water.
Jane cooed in delight as the young bird finally lurched unevenly into the cloudy bright sky. The sun’s heat beat smoothly through the thick vapour and warmed her skin. It was then that she felt it’s gaze for the first time. Her smile slipped and her little head turned. On the far bank of the river about a hundred yards into the sheep field that resided there, she saw the door. It was an old door of thick oak panels with a big brass knocker sat squarely in its middle beneath which sat a letterbox that was long rusted shut. The door had been painted red once, but this had mostly peeled away leaving only aged russet patches here and there. It looked so out of place, standing there in the field like that. It held itself proudly, as if unable to admit that there was no hallway beyond it, only more grass and more sheep.
‘There’s a door watching me’ Jane told her father quietly. She didn’t want to speak any louder lest the wind carry her words and the door might find out she had noticed it. She had a feeling that that would not be good.
‘Hmm?’ her father had replied and followed the trajectory of her pointing finger. ‘That’s just a field, sweetie’ reassured her dad in that unintentionally patronising way parents have for speaking to their very young children. Jane didn’t argue with him. She could see the door. She wasn’t that surprised that her father couldn’t. The way it gazed at her was too personal. She thought maybe only she could see it – but the sheep stayed away from it so that couldn’t be true. There was a ring of solitude about the old door. It didn’t seem to court the company of the sheep, and they for their part ignored it completely.
Jane saw the door many times in her dreams over the following years. Often in the dreams she couldn’t remember where she had first seen it. Always it stood without support, alone in the landscape.
Jane flew through primary school and finished secondary school with four A stars. She was accepted onto a psychology course at Durham University. Her mother passed away in her second year after a long battle with cancer. The door appeared to her again on the day that she heard the news.
It was waiting for her at the bus stop for her.
At first, she hadn’t been sure. The tears for her mother were still blurring her vision and she was shaking with cold and misery. Her boyfriend of the time had his arm about her shoulder as he walked her to the bus stop, but the warmth of his touch was unfelt. He could have been a thousand miles away.
Jane’s feet stopped dead in their tracks and she stared ahead. Vaguely she was aware that her boyfriend was making noises that could have been words, she wasn’t too sure. She only had attention enough for the freestanding door at the bus stop ahead. It looked like it had had a paint job some time ago – it was in need of a fresh coat but it was an improvement on the way it had been. Maybe that’s why it was unashamed to come so close this time.
‘I want to walk’ she told her boyfriend, and guided him around the stop firmly. He didn’t argue – not with her in mourning as she was. He cared about her. Jane loved that about him… that he cared that is. It wasn’t enough though. She’d known she was going to leave him for some time – she just wasn’t sure how. She felt the door watching her go, longingly. It didn’t need a voice to express its invitation. It was a bolder creature than it had been.
When she was thirty, Jane got married to an Estate Agent from Pityme and they moved into a well-appointed flat overlooking the Quayside in Newcastle Upon Tyne. They had a nice group of friends and holidayed in the South of France. Not long after the wedding Jane fell pregnant with twins, Alice and Tim.
When the twins were three Jane began to dream of the door again.
Alice became ill in July that year. The doctors took blood and hair samples and put her in big machines that were loud and made her cry. Jane hated those doctors in their cold white coats with their know-it-all tones and patronising jargon. They mouthed caring platitudes but cared more in the end about their professional records than the fact they didn’t have a clue what was wrong with her.
The door appeared in the hospital on that final occasion. Jane knew it was there without turning her tear-sore eyes from the bed where her daughter lay in a sleep so close to death it might as well have been.
‘I thought you might come’ she said finally. The door said nothing. Jane raised her eyes at last, and took in the glossy red paint and the shining brass of its new knocker and handle. Even the letterbox had been polished to a shine. Without moving, it seemed to smile softly. It wasn’t scary. Jane knew there was no sense in fearing it any longer. There was a decision to be made – but this kind of choice was no choice at all. She took a step away from the bedside then paused and looked back one last time back at the sleeping face of her daughter. Her heart swelled with love and determination. Already Alice seemed to be breathing more steadily. Colour flushed back into her cheeks. Jane smiled and blinking through the tears turned at the sound of a latch clanking open. The door opened silently. Jane’s smile deepened at what she saw on the other side. Drying her tears she took a breath and stepped through to the other side.