The Door

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Chapter 2

As I squint from the light, a memory dances on my partially closed eyelids.

My mother’s hand slid into mine. As I squeezed onto it, I felt the roughness of her palm against the soft flesh of mine, and remembered all the times I had snuck downstairs during the night to find her at the dining table, preparing meals, stressing over unpaid bills. She had always been hardworking, and strived for us to be every bit like her.

Which was why the tears streaming down my brother’s face were worrying her so much.

“Honey...” my mom had started, now being the one to squeeze on my hand. “What’s wrong? Why… why are you crying?” She tried out a smile after finishing, trying to ease my brother, but we both knew there was only one reason to cry after leaving the Door.

I turn to my brother. Tears are still streaming down his face, but his confident posture as returned, and in his attempt to look brave and strong, his glare almost looks like he is angry with us.

He wipes at his tears. “Oh, you know what happened. My symbol… it changed. It’s not sports anymore, it’s the bank.” He looks my mother in the eye and repeats, as if she needs any more reminding, “It changed.”

I brace myself for the squeeze of my mother’s hand after hearing that, but instead of the pressure, comes freedom. My mother’s hand slips out of mine, and I am left holding onto my own hand, grabbing at nothing.

She barrels toward my brother and gives him a hug. “It’s okay,” she coos, hiccuping from held back sorrow. “It will be fine.”

They stand like that for a moment, each one grasping onto the other for stability, for reassurance. My mother finally stands back to wipe the tears from my brother’s face, and he does the same for her. I am left just staring at this beautiful, in its own way, embrace, wondering how such a frowned upon event can bring such joy and togetherness.

My father comes up to the duo and rests a hand on my brother’s shoulder. “There’s someone here to help you out,” he says, simply and almost mysteriously.

We all turn to look at the stranger my dad has brought; a man with a patchy beard, patchy eyebrows, even patchy clothes; just all around patchy. His jumpsuit is made from various different colored clothes, and he wears a kind smile on his face. From his strange attire and no apparent equipment, I cannot place where he works, or what he does.

“I hear that your symbol in the Door changed, huh?” He gives a sympathetic eyebrow raise, and even though he doesn’t make it obvious, the question is obviously directed towards my brother.

My brother simply nods.

“Well then!” The patchy man, exclaims, smiling. “I happen to work in a program that helps out the people who have had a symbol change in the Door. I know it’s hard to find a career with that following you around, but we’ll help you out! So, what do you say?” He offers a large, black stained hand to my brother, who hesitates before putting his hand in it.

My brother first looks at my mother, who is staring at the man strangely. However, she nods, giving my brother her approval. He then turns to my father, who is giving him an all too eager thumbs up.

Finally, my brother turns back to the man and puts his hand in his.

I shake my head to pull myself out of the past. My brother had then packed his bags and left for this helping program, which had claimed would help him get a future, even with his track record. We hadn’t heard back from him yet, but my parents just assured me he was probably so busy he couldn’t make time to call, but I couldn’t imagine having that many things to do.

Even though my parents had given my brother the okay to go, I was still reluctant to join that program, God forbid my symbol change. There was just something about how the man had approached us, how my brother left the next day, that was just off to me.

Well then, I tell myself, I better get to keeping my symbol so I don’t have to be shipped off like that! I nod to myself, and then, with much struggle, open my eyes wide to the brilliant light coating the inside of the Door.

Luckily, once I can see again, the light has subsided, and I can actually gather what is inside the room.

If I had to imagine what heaven looked like, this room would probably fit my description. When I look down, I see the fluffy rises and rolls of the texture of clouds, and realize I am surrounded by them, not to mention standing on them.

Well, I guess my dream did come true; I am riding on clouds.

There is a beautiful yellow glow bathing the room, as if I was looking down on a sunset.

I turn around, and there is the Door, still magnificent within all this beauty. I remember what my teacher had told the class a week before my going through today; You will have 5 minutes to check your symbol. Once 4 minutes and 45 seconds are up, your key will vibrate to signify that you are to return through the Door. With this in mind, I scold myself for observing the scenery and try to focus on the most important part.

My heart almost pops out of my chest when I see a book standing on a pedestal, exactly like the one I saw when I was a baby.

But then it almost seems to stop when I realize, even from my position a few feet away from it, there is writing on the pages.

There wasn’t any when I was two.

My breathing and heartbeat speed up until I feel as if I am about to throw up. I try to calm myself down by taking deep breaths and keeping a hand over my heart to feel my heartbeat. Finally, I feel as if I won’t die from a heart attack.

I turn back to the book. Maybe the writing won’t mean anything, I try to reassure myself. There’s still a book. That should count for something.

I take a few steps toward the book, reminding myself with each one that everything will be okay, it’s not the end of the world.

Yet it feels like it.

When I am only a few steps from the book, I reach out my hand, eager to read the words, when suddenly my hand touches something solid, and before I can process what happened, my whole body is colliding with what my arm just hit, and I am knocked to the ground.

As I look up to see what I just hit, confused out of my mind, I realize that there is nothing in between me and the book.

But I couldn’t have collided with nothing, right?

Still puzzled, I stand up and reach out my hand, ever so slowly. I don’t want to be knocked off my feet again.

When I am about to conclude I must have tripped, my hand finds a solid surface, and I almost jump from the touch. Yet, when I look at my hand, it is touching nothing; there’s nothing there. But I can feel a cool and smooth surface under my hand; what is going on?

I raise my other hand to the previous one, and under both I feel a glassy surface I cannot touch. I don’t know what is going on, but I do know that I am running out of time and can’t observe my symbol closely.

I move to the left of the mysterious surface, trying to find an end where I can move towards the book, move towards my future. But as I walk along the incomprehensible wall, I wonder if this wall will ever end. It is seemingly endless, which is terrible; I don’t know much about my symbol, but I do know I need to see what it says within the pages of my book. It could change my life.

As I walk along the wall, getting more anxious by the second, the situation gets even worse. From my pocket comes a little buzz, and I reach in, dreading what I will see. But it comes nonetheless.

In my hand is my Key, vibrating and buzzing, causing a tingly sensation in my palm, where it sits. I grit my teeth and shove the key back in my pocket.

I need to find the end of this wall, now.

I stop walking and start to jog, keeping a steady pace so I won’t be out of breath when I leave; I don’t want them to be suspicious, even though they’ll find out about my predicament either way. I don’t want them to think I was panicking, though I am freaking out, imagining what will happen when they find out my symbol changed.

I remember the look on my mother’s face when she found out about my brother, how his trouble just added to the so many she already had to worry about.

I didn’t want to burden her.

My key is ricketing around in my pocket, hitting my legs with such force that it no longer itches and now hurts. I take a moment to rub the spot the key has been poking.

Suddenly, a voice sounds from behind me. “Andromeda? Your time is up; did your key not buzz?”

No.

I am out of time.

I sprint, the Door following my every move as if it is attached to me, an unwanted ghost. I am sprinting, my hand streaking across the glassy surface, feeling as if it is burning my skin, digging into it.

“Andromeda? Your time is up, hon.”

I know, I know, but it can’t be up.

Finally, I stop. My eyes burning from the wind, I look to the book, shining in the beautiful glow. I turn completely to it, my body facing it, and close my eyes, resting my forehead on the invisible wall, keeping me from my dreams.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper.

I turn back to the Door and take out my key.

The woman is waiting for me when I step out from the Door’s doorway. She glares at me the moment she sees me, but tries to cover it up once she notices I’m staring at her face.

“Hon,” she says, trying but failing to sound pleased with me, “I’m positive you learned in school that you’re supposed to come out when your Key buzzes. Didn’t yours?”

“Yes,” I say, after a moment of silence. “I just… I needed to stay in for a little longer than 5 minutes. I’m sorry though,” I add, trying to go for innocence.

She ignores my apology. “Why did you need to stay in longer? What did you see?”

I pick my words carefully, knowing this woman probably wouldn’t advocate for me if it was assumed my symbol changed. “Well, I saw a book like the one I saw when I was younger, except there was writing on the pages this time. And when I tried to walk towards the book to see what it said, well… I couldn’t.”

She raises an eyebrow, obviously confused; just how I was. “What do you mean, you couldn’t? What was stopping you?”

This is definitely the most confusing part; even I didn’t get the invisible wall, and I was there. “There was a… invisible wall. I don’t exactly understand, but even though I couldn’t see it, it physically prevented me from getting to the book. There seemed to be no end as well, so I couldn’t get around it.”

She rubs her eyes. “Y’know what, I’ve heard stranger.” She looks to me, and I see something in her eyes change, for just a second. Could it be sympathy that flashed in her eyes? I doubt it. “Unfortunately, that still counts for a change, so that’s what I’m going to have to put in your record.” She turns away from me and moves to a pile of documents, pen in hand.

My heart drops. No. This can’t be. I was supposed to work in the government. I was supposed to have a good future, not the one of a lowly symbol changer. No, no, no.

I am still staring at the woman, my feet planted to the ground, my hands balled into fists, processing what is now to be my life, when the woman turns back to me.

“Um, you’re free to go,” she says, stating the obvious. “The door to the left.” She clarifies by pointing at the door with her pen.

I fake a smile. “Yes, thank you.”

As I step out of the room and walk down the hallway to the waiting room, where I had been waiting not an hour earlier, my stomach drops.

My mother will be waiting for me. I will have to relive the disappointment I went through 4 years ago, when I had been a 13 year old, when I had been oblivious to what was to come. I will have to feel the twinge in my heart when I had seen her take on a new worry, and it will be more painful knowing I caused it, I caused that disappointment.

I feel as if someone is stepping on my chest, preventing me from breathing, and I must take a moment to stop on the side of the hallway to catch my breath. I must be confident for my mother. I must be strong for her.

Straightening my back, setting my eyebrows, I stride confidently into the waiting room. The yellow walls and empty room calm me, as if someone is setting a blanket over my shoulders, enveloping me in warmth.

The calm is snatched away when I see my mother.

She is sitting in a chair near the one I did when I waited for Willow, and she is gazing at the ceiling as I did as well. Maybe she wishes she could ride the clouds too.

Her hair is in a messy bun at the top of her head, sagging downwards as she looks up. She is in a nice, button down shirt but also in sweatpants, giving her a rushed look, yet a reassuring one, somehow.

Her bun straightens as her head turns to me, and she smiles tiredly, waving. I wave back, sheepishly. I don’t know how to act; I don’t want to give her false hope, but I don’t want her to see I am crushed by the outcome.

I walk towards her, reflecting her smile, and she waits for me at her seat, standing up. Finally, I reach her, and am once again surprised at how much we resemble each other, down to the centimeters of our height.

She tucks a loose strand of hair back into her bun. “So?” she offers, raising her eyebrows.

I sigh. “Well, it changed,” I start.

Immediately, I regret my bluntness. The statement hits my mother hard, and I can only imagine the disappointment of having two failed kids. Her back droops, and her face sags. I can already see tears swelling up into her eyes, and I wish I could snatch my words out of the air between us and forget the Door existed at all.

But that would just disappoint my mother even further. She doesn’t believe in shying away from your problems, only confronting them head on.

“But, I mean, only a little! The book was still there, there was just writing on the pages. A-and there was this invisible barrier keeping me from getting to the book and seeing what it said. But… the woman still counted it as changing.”

I can’t get the words out quickly enough; I need to reassure her that I’m not a complete waste, at least.

At first, my mother doesn’t seem to change. She still sags, still looks crushed, but then her lips move, just a little.

“No,” I hear her whisper.

“What?” I ask, confused.

“No,” she says, louder this time. “Your symbol didn’t change. Those are the rules. You still have the same thing. The woman is wrong.”

I just stare at my mother, unsure how to react. I doubt she knows the rules of a symbol changing, like most people don’t. And would the woman even agree to changing it, if my mom confronted her? But I doubt my mother will back down; she never does.

“But mom,” I counter. “I don’t think she can change my record, and I doubt she would, even if she could.”

My mother shakes her head. “She will.” Before I know what’s happening, she has taken ahold of my wrist, and we are going back through the door I came from, striding through the hallway, and letting ourselves back into the Door room uninvited.

The woman inside looks to us. “What are you doing in here? I have a kid inside the-”

My mother interrupts. “My daughter’s symbol didn’t change. Change the record.”

The woman snorts. “Excuse me?”

Immediately I can tell she has no intention to act show any respect towards us.

“Change the record. She still saw a book, her symbol. It was the same.”

The woman shakes her head. “No. The book had writing in it. That technically means it changed. I’m sorry, but that’s just how-”

My mother slams her fist down on the table, startling both the woman and me. “You’re not sorry! You don’t care! But I do; I’ve seen my child suffer through the effects of something they had no control over. You think you’re all high and mighty because you have no idea what it’s like on the other side of the situation! Now change my daughter’s record before I change it myself.”

The woman just stares into my mother’s eyes. She then turns to me, and I look back at her, also perplexed. I have never seen this side of my mother; she has always been willing to do what it takes to get her way, but I’ve never seen her so aggressive.

In this situation, however, I guess I can only be grateful.

She has suffered enough, after all.

The woman simply turns back to her files and takes out a folder I can only assume is mine. She picks up a pen, scribbles something out, and writes something else in its place.

“There,” she says, her bottom lip quivering, yet not from fear. From anxiety. “Now please get out of my office.”

My mother nods, takes my wrist once more, and walks out of the office. I take one last look at the woman before the door slams shut.

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