Two Sides to Each Door (Flash Fiction)

“You gotta understand,” Momma says to the doctor as though Annabelle can’t hear her. “She has always been a special child. Very particular, you know. Apple of her Gramma’s eye.”

The Doctor peers over the top of her horn-rim glasses, tapping her pen against the pad of paper in her lap. Annabelle feels small when the Doctor looks at her, even though it was just her birthday and everyone was saying Look how big you’re gotten!

The Doctor nods slowly and says in her strange, slow voice, “Annabelle, can you draw a door for me?”

Her heart pounding in her chest, Annabelle looks from the Doctor to Momma before shaking her head. You mustn’t draw a door, young lady — Gramma had been clear about that. She could draw whatever else she wanted, so long as it wasn’t a door. Annabelle rubs her sweaty palms on the skirt of her nicest Sunday dress, trying to pretend she doesn’t know that Momma is glaring at her. “No,” she says, her voice so soft that it’s almost too quiet to be heard over the rattle of the air conditioner.

“Annabelle!” Momma scolds her with a word, but rubs Annabelle’s back in slow, soothing circles. “This is silly. Just draw a door for the nice doctor.”

Looking up at Momma with wide eyes, Annabelle shakes her head again. “Gramma said not to.”

“Your gramma was crazier than a — ”

“Mrs. Barrow, could I speak to Annabelle alone? Just for a moment; you could have a glass of water with my secretary while you wait.”

Momma looks up and clears her throat, smiling wide. Momma has the prettiest smile, all straight white teeth and pretty pink lips. Annabelle wants to smile like Momma when she grows up. “Of course, Doctor Clarke.” With that Momma stands, smoothing her skirt before she leaves the room, closing the door softly behind her. The couch seems too big when Annabelle is sitting alone.

The Doctor leaves her chair, kneeling in front of the coffee table that separates her chair from the couch. She sets a piece of paper in front of Annabelle, then a pencil perfectly straight next to the paper. “Draw me a door, Annabelle.”

Annabelle scoots as far back on the couch as she can. “Gramma said that it wasn’t safe.”

The Doctor stares for too long, her eyes too wide behind her glasses. She taps her long nails against the edge of the paper, slow and deliberate, one after the other.

“And she wasn’t crazy!” Annabelle adds. “She was a little bit blind and maybe she didn’t always talk so good, but she wasn’t crazy.”

When the Doctor smiles, it’s tight and thin, her lips pressed together.  “Annabelle, the world needs your doors. Did your grandmother tell you what happens when you draw a door?”

Of course she did. Annabelle is very smart — everyone says so — and she asked. Staring at her shiny Mary Janes, Annabelle says quietly, “Gramma said that if I draw a door, things will come a’knocking.”

“Your Gramma was right,” the Doctor says. She spreads her hands flat over the paper, keeping it smooth on the table. “You’re a very special little girl. It’s okay to be special. It’s better, because you can help let them out.”

Annabelle picks up the pencil, twirling it awkwardly in her hands. “Who?”

“The people on the other side of the door,” the Doctor says. Her voice is strange — too nice, like girls at school who act like friends but change their mind at the last minute. “If you don’t make the door, who will?”

“Are they lonely?” It’s not that she thinks Gramma was wrong — and  definitely not crazy — but sometimes at night when her bedroom door is closed and she sees the light shining under it, she wishes someone would come and open it up.

“Yes, little one. Very lonely.”

Nodding, Annabelle draws in slow, dark lines. Then a line for the floor. A rectangle with little window with curtains like the one at Gramma’s house. She draws a little circle for the knob.

It’s just a door. Annabelle looks up to smile at the Doctor, but the Doctor isn’t looking at her. The Doctor is staring at the picture, her mouth mouth twisted in a big smile that’s nothing like Momma’s. Her teeth are yellowed and look sharp at the angle; Annabelle’s fist tightens on the pencil. She looks back down to the picture.

The drawn door rattles, the edges shifting in little movements that make it seem like someone is shaking the picture. Annabelle holds the paper down, but it’s not moving — just the little door in the image. “Doctor?” she says, her own voice shaking in time with the photo.

“Don’t worry, little one. Just let the door open.”

“I can’t!”

The door to the office begins to rattle in time, first softly and then loud like an earthquake shaking it in the jamb. Annabelle’s heart races. She closes her eyes and tightens her fists. The pencil snaps in her grip. Go away go away go away go away —

The doorknob squeaks as it turns. 

Ashley M. Hill found her voice in science fiction when her curiosity about technology coupled with the lifelong urge to tell stories. Her interest in social and feminist issues shapes how she approaches the genre. She's pursuing computer and network repair for her day job.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.