The doorknob is an overlooked wielder of magical wonder, which from strangers secures intimate secrets and mystery but to guests and those noble enough for a key opens to a world of adventures and dreams. Whether one passes within or without, it matters not, for on either side, that which is shut in or shut out, is a fascinating story just waiting to be lived in or found out.
Jackson stood upon the stoop in the rain, long looking through the antique doorknob standing guard before him, reluctant to pass through to the story within, though he was no stranger to its plot and twists. The melancholy sky dripped and poured along Luellen Street, puddles forming over the wooden soles of his tattered burgundy wingtips, dampening the bottoms of his feet, and up along Madison Circle where the children played in the elaborate fountains on hot summer days but at that moment had been transformed into a pool in which the pigeons bathed, and up Main Street along which vestiges of long forgotten businesses of yesteryear lingered and haunted like ghosts, and along the walkways leading up to the First Presbyterian Church on the Square from which he had walked so slowly away.
He ran his tired fingers through the gray peppering his temples and listened softly to the drops and splashes, a lullaby to those tucked tightly away in their beds and a burden to those heavy-laden souls sloshing about in the night. The chill from his damp feet prompted him to fumble through his pockets and satchel in search for the key, one he had admired since his youth, one fabricated back in the day when man took pride in his work, and buildings were more art than profit. He found it nestled deep within the hidden pocket of his satchel, withdrew it and marveled at the intricate detail, revealing the care of its forging.
He inserted the ornamental key into the keyhole, gave it a twist, and then reached for the aged brass doorknob, its wisdom highlighted with a Liberty green patina. Resting his hand upon the smoothed metal for a moment, he took a deep breath, then turned the knob and stepped into the lonely and musky entry hall, his wet wingtips squeaking upon the narrow plank hardwood floors. He gently closed the heavy door behind him, sealing his presence in the story within, one that greeted Jackson with both great happiness and a pressing sense of loneliness.
He kicked off his shoes at the door, removed his damp socks, and walked stickily to the parlor room, where his favorite chair sat graciously to receive his old and tired bones, soggy from his diluvial stroll. Jackson had neglected the house longer than he intended because he found the noises and apparitions unsettling, but this was a night he didn’t mind being unsettled for he was lonely for the company and a bit of a startle was good for shaking off the gloom.
He scanned the room with his moist eyes, which had grown heavy the moment he sat, an annoyance he suffered once he became what many described as “old” and those closer to his age called “twilight,” and rested his head back against his chair. He stared deeply into the dark depths of the plaster cracks loitering menacingly above his head, until his mind passed peacefully through them and into another time.
It was near 2:00 a.m. when he heard the first calamity, which dragged him from his slumber with all the subtlety of a baseball bat upside his head. Two little girls came running into the parlor squealing and giggling until they ran recklessly into a lamp table, causing its occupant to rock and sway, beckoning the girls to save it, until they reached, then it fell seemingly intentionally, like an athlete flopping for a penalty, and crashed onto the floor into many indecisive pieces, jarring Jackson awake. He sat straight up in his chair with alarm and tried to focus his mind on the little girls huddled before him in fright. With his heart racing, he smiled and opened his arms, and the two little girls ran to him hollering “Papa!” As he folded his arm around them, they disappeared.
“No,” he whispered. “Just a few more minutes, please.” His eyes teared up at the quietness. He dropped his arms from the imaginary embrace and surrendered into the chair, once again examining the contents of the room. He sat peacefully for several minutes reminiscing about the sweet little girls when the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. The goose pimples warned him that someone else was coming. He held his breath anxiously.
Seconds later, a young woman entered the parlor searching for the little girls. Kneeling to examine the broken lamp, she called for them in a perturbed voice. Jackson sat breathless, unable to bring words to his lips. When she rose and turned to leave the parlor, she spotted him hunched in his seat with mouth agape and wide, teary eyes.
“Jackson? Is that you?”
Still he was unable to move and hardly able to breathe. Time smudged her delicate features, and when he searched for them, he lost her entirely. For years he searched after an ache that he could not identify, and a silhouette would haunt him occasionally during the night. Her presence restored splotches of time and space ruthlessly robbed from his mind and memories, which now flooded his consciousness with love and beauty, and more than that, admiration, which swelled his heart to capacity.
She pulled up a chair and sat before him, taking his hand delicately, not wanting to frighten him. His tears flowed freely, joyous tears, dammed up tears healing a broken heart, matching the drips and splashes of the rain in the story he stepped out of when he turned the knob and came inside.
She smiled lovingly at him and lightly kissed the back of his hand. “It has been a long time, hasn’t it?” she asked.
He nodded his head, still searching for his voice that had seemingly drifted away along the billowing gusts of the wet and dreary night.
“Everything’s okay now,” she whispered, looking deeply into his bleary eyes. “I have missed you terribly, and not just in my mind but in my arms, and in my legs, and, oh my God, in my heart! Your absence has been an infectious paralysis, stealing away my body’s desire even to move. And just when I would learn to walk again, a memory would snatch the progress away, tossing me back into the lonely and paralytic deep. But I am here now, and it is quiet, and we have precious moments in which to speak.”
Jackson wiped away some of his tears, for all of them he was powerless against, and forcibly swallowed down his overwhelming emotions. “You have restored my heart, which I thought was lost forever. When you fell through my mind’s gaps, my heart went with you, but I could not remember the source of the pain until you stepped into the room, then my heart almost overtook me.”
She patted his hands passionately, leaning into his presence as if warming to a fire.
“You were such an amazing wife and mother.”
Her eyes glistened with delight.
“I truly mean that, and it grieves me that I never told you. You took my young heart and stored it away, and though we grew used to each other, I never looked at another woman the same way. It was like we fused into one, and you had my heart and mind forever, even though I failed to show or tell you every day as I should.”
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
“I never doubted you loved me,” she responded tenderly.
“Maybe not, but I want you to know now how deeply I love you. When you were taken from me, my heart rent in two, and I was never the same again, the person I once was vanished, leaving behind a stranger with no peaceful place to lay his head. I drifted through time and space but my feet never firmly touched the ground again until this very moment.”
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
She leaned in and kissed him softly on his cheek, a simple gesture that he often took for granted but now set his heart ablaze.
“And the girls,” he choked up with the memory of them giggling and racing into the room and calling him “Papa.” “You danced through parenthood like a professional ballerina, dazzling me with your grande jetés, pirouettes, and pliés. And though they dance to their own music now, oh, the ballet you danced will always be a part of them. In their every leap and spin I will always see your elegance and grace.”
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Releasing his tear-dampened hand, she stood with a smile, assumed the ballerina’s first position, then spun eloquently on her foot, ending with a delicate curtsy. Laughing, she fell into Jackson’s arms. She had never looked so beautiful to him, and his heart ached with her touch.
As he clutched his hand to his heart, she stood and kissed him softly on his forehead.
* * * *
She smoothed and straightened his crisp pinpoint jacket following her last kiss, tucked her gray hair behind her ears, and reluctantly stepped away, bullying her feet into motion. She stopped, however, for one last glimpse of the man who shared her heart for as long as she could remember, tears falling upon his polished but tattered burgundy wingtips, and whispered, “Thank you for the dance.”
In the dark and damp parking lot, she turned one last pirouette and smiled at the Church weeping in his wake.
Originally published on James Payne’s blog at http://thedaddyblitz.wordpress.com. Reprinted with permission.