3047

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Six steep steps descend into the doorway of 3047 Dolores Street. It is one of those indented doorways, carved into the concrete underbelly of the condo like a burrow, and its pallid space is airless. As doorways go, the way to the door in this one seems irrationally long. With men’s size ten shoes it takes the midsize pedestrian a dozen paces to navigate from the bottom step to the door. The journey (should you choose to make it) is enlivened by a row of gaunt, potted yews on your left and graffiti glyphs on your right. There are no yews on your right because if there were, you would be obliged to squeeze through sideways. The doorway of 3047 Dolores Street is anemic. There may be graffiti on your left but the haggard shrubs are tall and in the way. I cannot tell you why there are yews in the doorway of 3047 Dolores Street. A lifetime in the musty light has bled them of their colour and vitality. They are sallow and sterile. A chocolate mat congratulates you on your arrival, but the door itself is not worth reporting on. At night or on sunless days, a wretched lightbulb smears the doorway in a grimy glow. On sunny days the lightbulb sleeps, and the doorway is a thick, opaque grey and you will probably knock over a yew or two for lack of sight.

If you stood with your heels to the door of 3047 Dolores Street, looking up and out over the sixth step from the bottom, all you would see is a slender gash of the outside world, the scoot of feet and tires and machinery. If you stood with your heels to the door of 3047 Dolores Street today, at this moment, you would struggle to glimpse even these mysteries. Beyond the shimmering curtain of rain, beyond the grubby haze of the lightbulb (it’s one of those sunless days), only shadows flit by. You would hear the splosh of soggy soles, of course, and the wheeze of wet rubber and gears, and in time you may even begin to find it all very soothing in the dry underbelly of 3047 Dolores Street. Soothing, that is, until one set of sploshes penetrates that teary curtain, and a fugitive in spectacles lurches down those six steep steps.

If you were standing at the door of 3047 Dolores Street (you are not, of course, but if you were) it would take some moments for you to make out his face. The fugitive is hunched, poised for a fall, and he reels into the yews like a raft into the surf. He staggers forward with a furtive glance behind. As he turns again into the light you would meet his face, and it would be as if those mysteries of the outside world had been brought to you, naked and immediate. The relentless patter of the rain, the splash of puddles, the hiss of spewed mist, the damp muffling of life in a torrential downpour—the sounds are etched into the folds of his face, amplified by every line in his countenance. You would get wet just looking at him.

It is unlikely that he would see you, however, even if you were standing at the door of 3047 Dolores Street. In the first instance, his spectacles are smeared with rain. And through the distorted streaks of lens and water there is only the glimmer of eyes that are blind except to an old, yawning terror. They are the eyes of one to whom all things are background spectres to a living agony. Perhaps you have never met such a truth in any person’s eyes before, but I am convinced you would recognize it instantly now, if you were standing before the fugitive in the doorway of 3047 Dolores Street. He would look right through you.

Wiping the rain from his glasses with a wiry thumb, the fugitive gropes for the occupant list. Finger and eye dart across the names in opposite directions. His eye scans too hastily, and it is the finger which ends up reading the names. It does not seem to know any of them. Coming back to hesitate upon the resident of 7, the fugitive looks again over his shoulder. He stares out through the gash into the wet beyond, and thrusts the buzzer.

“Yes?” a fuzzy voice inquires from within 7.

The fugitive’s lips mangle soundlessly.

“Who’s there?”

Clammy palms press against the wall, and the fugitive leans in toward the invisible occupant of No. 7. His eyes scurry to every remote corner of their sockets and back again, fretful, avoiding contact with any external thing.

“Yes, hello.”

“Who is this?”

“I…” The fugitive trails off, and dries his lips with his tongue.

“No soliciting!”

“Missus…” Reluctant eyes swivel to the name on the board. “Missus Willus?” The swift inflection catches the voice from 7 by surprise.

After a suspicious pause, it responds: “Yes.”

“Missus Willus,” croaks the fugitive, and slumps against the door. “Missus T. P. Willus.” He plunges a feverish hand through the drenched, knotty strands of his hair.

“Who is this? Are you the FedEx guy? You’re very late.”

“Missus T. P. Willus. Missus T. P. Willus.”

“If this is a hoax I’m hanging up now.”

The fugitive leaps up and slams his nose against the voice.

“Please!” he bleats, as if his very life-force was exhaled with that wimpy syllable. “I need…” He has nothing left within himself. Beyond the doorway the rain comes down in sheets. The fugitive clamps his eyes shut and lets out a whimper. He caves in a grotesque bundle onto the chocolate doormat.

A hint of his desperation burns up through the wires to the resident in 7.

“What do you need? Who are you? Are you alright?”

“Please.” The word is silent, nudged out from wilting lips, but Missus T. P. Willus in 7 hears it all the clearer for that.

“Hey! Are you alright?”

Another whimper.

“Hang on, I’m coming down.” A sharp click, and the voice from 7 dislodges itself.

Perhaps the fugitive registers the meaning of these words, and perhaps he doesn’t. He knits his temple, forcing some of the mystery that resides there to seek refuge in other parts of his face. Time drifts away within a garbled prayer, and all existence seems contained in the sounds of the rain—outside, on his face—and in the fugitive’s murmured supplication.

It is just as well that you are not standing by the door of 3047 Dolores Street. You’d have been obliged to extricate yourself from the crumpled, soggy heap of the fugitive, for one; and having done this you’d be thrust into a yew pot, now, in the event of Missus T. P. Willus oozing out the front door. She is immense. As I say, you are well out of it.

“Oh!”

The fugitive squirms, like a worm caught between two muddy fingers.

“My dear man!”

Two pairs of eyes, one horrified and the other horrific, collide into each other in the dingy light of the doorway.

“My dear, dear man!”

The fugitive’s face, still trapped in a film of rain, looks out into the gash of the wet beyond and back at Missus Willus. There is no meaning in the gesture. He is too defeated to invest even an ounce of significance in it. Its blandness paralyzes the colossus from No. 7.

Missus T. P. Willus puffs heavily. Perhaps she is worn out from her descent to the front door. Her breaths shudder over the fugitive. He is a shattered, sopping being. His eyes no longer move, and they are sunk beneath their lids like suns half-set below the horizon. They do not even flicker when Missus Willus retreats again behind the door of 3047 Dolores Street.

“Here.” Missus Willus returns. A long rod, its shaft wrapped in blueish cloth, drops onto the fugitive’s thigh. “Take it.”

The fugitive slowly raises his chin to her. His fingers coil around the rod, and as his grip tightens life surges into him. The folds of his face draw up in a great beam, and all its mysteries flee into the doorway to suffocate. Vitality is now gushing over him, pouring into him like a mountain stream, and it spills over onto the yews of 3047 Dolores Street. Those closest to him seem almost green, now. If you were standing in the doorway of 3047 Dolores Street (squashed against a yew by the immense Missus Willus) you would turn green, too. You would blossom and foliate and put down roots.

Gratitude, and two dead eyes are reborn. They glisten at Missus T. P. Willus.

The resurrected man swells to his feet. Without another glance at the resident from 7 and clenching the clothed rod like a bayonet into battle, he strides toward the gash of the wet beyond. It takes him only four paces, though his feet are size ten.

“Oorah!” he cries, charging up the six steep steps of 3047 Dolores Street. The umbrella is open before he reaches the top.

By: Josef Lindl

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