Open the Door: A Short Story by cam
Tricolored, Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Richard strolled through the park with his tricolored Welsh Corgi on-leash. Boss was the dog’s common name, although the registration papers proclaimed him Boston. The short legged, long bodied five year old was the bright spot in Richard’s dark and lonely life.
He knelt down, and Boss smiled as only a Corgi can, while he scratched behind the dog's ears.
“What an adorable dog.” A French Poodle heeled next to a petite brunette whose smile might have won Richard’s heart at a different time in his life.
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply before standing. Richard had discovered that Corgis were great chick magnets. But a relationship with a woman was something he didn’t need now and felt he would never want again.
“Thank you, and you have a beautiful dog yourself. I hope you enjoy your walk.” With that, Richard and Boss moved on in the opposite direction of the salt and pepper duo. HIs abruptness might have seemed rude to the woman, but Richard was taking extreme precautions against ever falling in love again.
They rode the elevator to the fifth floor in the company of Beth and her fixed gear bicycle. Her helmet covered every strand of bright red hair, cut short so it wouldn’t get in her eyes during fast paced deliveries through the traffic.
She was down on one knee petting Boss when a sudden resolve, the result of months of emotional anguish and confusion, overcame Richard. “Beth, I need to have a talk with you, this evening if possible.”
“It’s about time. We’ve been neighbors for two years haven’t had a decent conversation the whole time.” She stood up. “Pizza at my place in about an hour.” The elevator door opened and Beth pushed her bicycle into the corridor.
“Wait.” Richard and Boss stood in front of the elevator while the doors closed behind them. “Sorry, no pizza. This is going to sound weird, but could you bring a chair out into the hallway and sit outside my door? I’ll be sitting inside and we can talk.”
“That doesn’t sound weird, Richard.” She removed the helmet. “It is weird. But yeah, I’ll sit outside your door and oil my bike chain while we talk.”
Fixed Gear Bicycle
Half an hour later, there was a knock at his door. Richard carried a straight backed chair over and sat down. Boss chewed a rubber bone at his feet. Outside the door he could hear the hum of the upside down bicycle as Beth cranked the pedals by hand.
“What’s this about, dude?”
“It’s about Amy.”
“Did you know I came to the funeral?”
“No, but I saw the flowers you sent.”
“A car accident is such a sudden way to lose someone. It’s like a belly punch. Takes your breath away and you think you’ll never recover. I lost a good friend in college that way.”
“The wedding was only three weeks away.”
“Yeah, I still have my invitation. I was surprised to get one, actually.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Like I said before, we don’t talk that much, you and me. Ouch!”
“Damn it. It’s called bicycle maintenance. The first lesson is don’t stick your finger between the chain and the gear.”
“Are you bleeding?”
“No, but I’ll probably lose the fingernail.”
“Let me get you some ice. I’ll be right back.
Richard returned from the kitchen. He opened the door a crack and passed the bag of ice out to Beth.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Richard paused before going on. “You never knew Sheila.”
“Sheila? Who’s that?”
“She was my fiancee before Amy.”
“What happened? She didn’t leave you standing at the altar, did she?”
“Oh my God, Richard.”
He turned the bolt lock just before Beth pushed.
“Why?” The strain in her voice betrayed the tears on her cheeks.
“Two women I loved, both dead within four years. What are the odds?”
“Good enough that it happened. It’s not like you had anything to do with it.”
“Whoa, dude. We just stepped into the deep end of serious issues. I’m a kiddie pool counselor. You need some real help.”
“I don’t need a counselor, and I don’t need a friend. I just need someone to walk my dog and bring me groceries.”
“That’s what this is all about?”
“You’re not coming out? Ever?”
“Women who fall in love with me die. I can’t run the risk of doing this to someone else. If I stay in here, it can’t happen.”
“That’s a stupid solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“Will you do it?”
“Of course I’ll do it. The dog has to go outside even if you don’t. By the way, what are you going to do for money? I don’t work for free.”
“I’ve taken care of it . I can do all of my work from home online.”
“I’ll be by later to take Boss outside.” The bicycle tires thumped on the floor, and Beth’s door opened and closed.
Richard put his forehead against his own door and let the tears drop onto the rug. Boss rubbed his nose against Richard’s leg and whimpered.
Beth’s knocks to get Boss, marked the passage of time. The two mumbled greetings, and he passed her a grocery list or she set bags outside on the floor. Boss went out and came back in, over and over.
One day she asked for his email. He objected, but she said she wanted to send photos of Boss playing in the park. She always typed a little commentary along with the photos, how Boss would charge after a squirrel or chew on a stick while she sat in the grass and read a book. What kind of books would she read? he wondered. Romance? Horror was more likely, although, to him, the two were the same.
One evening the knock came at an odd time. He stood in front of the door. He had memorized the long grain of the wood and could see faces with eyes peering out. A woman’s profile always drew his attention no matter how hard he tried to look elsewhere. Her hair cascaded down over her shoulders and, of course, there was a heart.
“I got us a pizza.”
“Shut up and open the door. I’m holding a slice out now, and a beer.” When he took his pizza, their hands touched. Richard felt something deep inside, both pleasant and painful. They sat in silence and ate with the door slightly ajar. Boss stuck his nose through the crack and was rewarded with pieces of crust. It was a Friday, and thereafter, Fridays were pizza nights. On one of these occasions, Richard surprised Beth and spoke more openly.
“Beth, I’ve met someone.”
“What?! A woman?! But how? Oh, I get it. Online, right? Why the hell would you go onto a dating site? You’ll never meet her if you don’t come out of that damned apartment. Not to mention how unfair that is to her. Have you told her how you live?”
“She knows, but…” Richard heard Beth’s apartment door open. There was a moment of silence.
“And here’s another thing not to mention—how this makes me feel. Actually, I’m surprised at how much it hurts.” The door slammed shut.
His life had become a series of slamming doors.
For the next week, day flowed into uneventful day. Richard felt like a snail crossing a desert. Beth continued stopping by to take Boss for his walks, but they shared no unnecessary words, no talks at the door, no emails.
Richard stared at the door. Eyes peered back. The curves of the woman’s body became Sheila, then Amy. Would they still be alive if they hadn’t loved him? He grasped the door knob. Boss ran too his side. He pulled the door open and for the first time in a year, he crossed the threshold into the corridor. He stopped outside Beth’s apartment and knocked. Footsteps, and another door swung open.
Beth gasped. Richard’s hair had grown to shoulder length. Her’s was longer still.
“It’s time for Boss’s evening walk. I thought I’d tag along and see what books you like to read while he’s off chasing squirrels.
“What about your girlfriend.”
“There was no dating site, no woman on the internet.”
“Dude, if you’ve got something to say to me, then say it.”
“When I told you I had met somebody, I was talking about you.”
“You’re almost there, Richard. You just have to try a little harder.”
“I love you Beth.” He stepped forward and took her into his arms.
Her hands were clasped behind his neck and she pulled him in for a kiss. “It’s Friday. We could go out for pizza.”
“Maybe you could give me a haircut first.”
“And maybe not. I like it.” Beth took Richard’s hand, and Boss tugged on his leash. It was time to go outside.”