The Open Door: Flash Fiction
When I opened my eyes, I could see light streaming into my room between the door and the door frame. Then I was struck by the silence. A silence that told me nobody was home.
My heart raced. I didn’t move. Paralyzed by fear, I knew I could take the chance but pay for it later. I didn’t want to pay for it, I was tired of paying for it. I had been paying for as long as I remembered. I just wanted peace. I wanted my life back. I wasn’t ready to give up. Not yet.
Still, I remained motionless, evaluating the risk. I had to be certain nobody was in the house. But if I waited too long, it would be too late. Quietly, I inched my body across the floor – Iistening intently for the slightest sound – then gently pressed my fingers against the bottom edge of the door. A fragment of hope rose within me as more light gradually filled the room, then – CLANG! – the chain tightened across the gap, impeding the door from budging further.
The same chain that had forbidden me to live, that had kept me in this place where I belonged.
“You’ll never amount to anything.”
“My children will always come first.”
“You have the worst qualities of your mother and father.”
My eyes fixated on the widened space between the door and the door frame, then quickly glanced at my hands and wrists. How thin I had become. My right hand shook as it anxiously squeezed through the opening, then reached and fumbled for the track on the outside of the door frame. Hope resurged within me as my fingers attempted to slide the chain off the track, cautious to not let it hit the wall, aware that the faintest sound could betray me.
I caught my breath, then slowly exhaled.
“You don’t belong here.”
“Why don’t you go back to where you belong?!”
“You make me uncomfortable.”
Trembling, I thrust the door open just enough to get out. I could feel my heart thumping against my chest as I silently made my way through the hallway to the front door. Still shaking, my hand clumsily seized the doorknob. I stepped outside, the frigid air pressing against my face. How good the air felt. It was the air of life, of freedom. How long it had been!
Instinctively, I started to run, my feet pounding against the cold ground, down the long, extended driveway and then through the stoic archway and iron gate. I had been a runner before. I remembered running in high school.
But now I was running for my life.
I kept going, cutting through side streets that looked vaguely familiar. I had run these streets before. The houses too were familiar. I tried to stay low, my head down, afraid they would see me, that she would drive by and see me, afraid of what she would do to me. I kept going, not knowing where I was going, just knowing I had to get away. Far away from the house.
The next thing I remember was collapsing.
When I woke up, I was in a hospital.
The nurses were asking me questions. Two policemen came into the room and sat down beside me. More questions. At one point one of the cops got up and walked away. I thought he would leave – that they, too, would abandon me. But he came back, and I noticed his eyes were red. At the time, I did not understand why.
They kept interrogating me. I closed my eyes and fell asleep because I couldn’t take all the questions.
Next time I woke up, I was hungry. The nurses brought me food. They told me I needed to get healthy, put on weight. Every night after dinner I worried that they wouldn’t feed me the next day, even though they always did. I would stash food under my sheets just in case.
I asked them to leave my door open at night so I could see the light in the hall. One night they forgot to leave it open. I woke up sweating and screaming until the nurses came in the room. They always left the door open after that.
The day came when I remembered my aunt in Minnesota. I had a memory of blowing on dandelions with her in a green meadow. Her name was Jana. That was all I could recall. The following day I remembered her last name: Tessler. They looked her up. They told me there was no Jana Tessler living in Minnesota. I thought maybe she had died. They found a Jana Tessler living in California who told them she had a niece about my age who had vanished three years ago. She said her niece’s father had also gone missing around the same time. They put this Jana Tessler on the phone with me.
When I heard her voice, I knew it was her. After we spoke for a few minutes, there was a sudden silence on the line. I thought maybe she had dropped the call. But then I heard her voice again. It was cracked, as if she had been crying. Why was everybody crying?
When I gazed at my reflection, I remembered my father. It was because he had always told me I was beautiful.
The nurses told me my aunt was coming to the hospital to see me. They asked me if I would like my hair and nails done. I had not looked at myself in a mirror in a long time. I told them if they thought so, it was fine with me. They fixed me up and brought me a hand mirror. When I gazed at my reflection, I remembered my father. It was because he had always told me I was beautiful. He had also told me I was very talented and that I could accomplish anything in life.
I asked the nurses if they knew about my dad. They said they would have more answers when my aunt arrived.
When Aunt Jana showed up, I immediately recognized the red hair and green eyes. As soon as she stepped in the room, she looked at me for a long time without saying a word, and then her eyes welled up.
She said I had gone missing three years ago, shortly after I had gone to live with my father and stepmother. She said that my dad went missing the same year I did, and she asked me if I knew where he was. I told her I hadn’t seen him in a very long time. I thought maybe he had moved away from the house.
Soon afterwards, I was informed they had arrested my stepmother for abuse and neglect of a minor. But I still didn’t know about my father. A few days later, they told me they found his body buried behind the house. They said he’d been killed around the same time we both went missing. My stepmother was charged with murder and got life in prison. I never saw her again.
I went to live with my aunt and her husband in California. I forgot about my past, or at least I tried to. But I never forgot my father's words to me. They have stayed with me and given me strength to move forward with my life.
“You are beautiful.”
“You are very talented and you can accomplish anything in life.”
© 2017 Madeleine Clays