Weekly Writing Challenge: Through the Door

The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?

As usual, I’m leaving late for work. I was up at 2am, wide awake and unable to get back to sleep; the curse of the newly widowed, middle-aged women and guilty people. I fit two of the three categories. Which meant that by the time I finally got back to sleep my sleep cycle was off and when it was time to wake up I was still tired and ended up sleeping for another 15 minutes. Which is why I’m racing out the door at 7:45am instead of 7:30am.

I locked the apartment door and ran down the two flights of steps; it hurts my knee but I could hear the elevator was busy and I didn’t have time to wait. Got to the front door and pushed it open while still buttoning my coat. It’s been a cool spring and the temperatures are still chilly early in the morning. As the door shut behind me, I realized that everything seemed a bit odd. The air felt thick, like walking through fog, and everything seemed a bit hazy. I pushed forward and there was an almost audible snap I could feel; suddenly whatever had been holding me back was gone.

Well, that was unusual, I thought; and then stopped. Somehow, some way, everything seemed different and I couldn’t figure out how or why. The first thing I noticed was that the construction on the street corner looked to be about a week further along than it had yesterday. Then I realized that the day was a lot warmer than forecast. And the trees – those same trees that were just budding yesterday afternoon – had fully opened leaves on them. I stopped, unconcerned about work. This was odd, really odd. Something strange was going on.

Still standing on the front steps of the apartment building I started looking at everything carefully. I realized that, while most of what I saw looked the same there were differences. The cars going by were mostly familiar, but about every fourth one was a kind I’d never seen before. A lot of the cars were painted bright colors, purples, greens, pinks, that looked almost fluorescent. There were fewer SUVs, more bikes and people walking.

Something had happened and I wanted to learn more before I went any further. I turned around and went back inside. The hallway of my apartment building looked reassuringly the same. I took the elevator up to my 3rd floor apartment and then stopped to stare. There, outside my door, pushed into the corner was my pair of rain boots. Next to them was a pair of men’s snow boots.

My husband died last year. The boots were his. But he had died at the end of last summer. I’d brought a big bag of his winter clothes, including boots, to Goodwill at the start of the winter. Those boots weren’t outside the door when I left this morning. But they were there.

It was too much to take. My legs were shaking; I could barely stand. I started to put everything together; the only explanation that fit was that I had somehow made it to a parallel world. One where more people rode bikes, where the cars were a little bit different; where my husband hadn’t died. I could hear the public radio station playing from inside the apartment; the radio that I never played in the morning, but he always had.

With trembling hands I brought the key up to the door handle. What would I see when the door opened? Would he be there, smiling, asking me if I forgot something? Would he be the same person I knew or would he have changed, be slightly askew the way everything else seemed to be? If he hadn’t died, what else had changed? Was our relationship in this world better, or worse, or just different?

It didn’t matter. It was a chance, a chance to fix everything I regretted, right every wrong, appreciate every moment, a chance to get the life back that I missed so much. I turned the key in the lock, and went through the door. To my new life.

This weekly challenge fit well into a recurring idea I’ve written about, but haven’t yet shared. Everyone has those moments wondering “what if”: what if you’d made made another choice at some crucial life moment, “what if” some of those major events, either in your personal life or of greater import to all of society, had happened differently (or not at all). I’ve been writing a series of vignettes on the idea of being able to visit different versions of yourself in parallet worlds. This challenge seemed perfect for that idea.

Daily Prompt: What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?

I can’t choose just one; here are the 2 books that meant the most to me as a child.

The first selection is actually a series of four books, the original Mary Poppins as written by P.L. Travers. These books are nothing like the Disney movie. The real Mary Poppins was scary; the adventures the Banks’ children had weren’t pleasant outings she concocted for them, they were journeys that were sometimes wonderful and sometimes horrible, and almost always dangerous. This Mary Poppins had her own agenda, and lived her life on her own terms. Travers skewers the class basis of Edwardian England, and the books are as much trenchant social commentary as they are children’s stories.

These books influenced me in two main ways. First, and most important, they taught me to look for layered meanings. I picked up these books as a 9 year old and enjoyed them for the exciting tales they told of the adventures that Jane and Michael had with their nanny. As I read the books, it gradually dawned on me that there was another story being told, about the different levels of British society, and about the people in charge and all the other people who quietly and stealthily lived lives that were very different than what was being promulgated as the right way to live. I’d read other children’s books that had SERIOUS MESSAGES, but this was my first experience with a book that managed to get a point across without driving it like a hammer.

The second way this book influenced me happened when the Mary Poppins movie was released. My parents took us to see it, and I was so excited to see my favorite books on the big screen. I still remember how severely disappointed I was with the sweet, caring figure who was played by Julie Andrews. Over time I came to appreciate the movie, but the lesson I started learning that day was that movies and books are different media, and you can’t expect them to tell stories in the same way. It took me a long time to recognize that, but Mary Poppins started the process.

The second book that affected me was I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. I picked this up when I was 12; it the first science fiction book I’d ever read, and launched me on a life-long love affair with speculative fiction. The I, Robot stories were a revelation; the hero was a woman who broke every convention of what women were supposed to be. She was smart, often smarter than everyone else, and proud of that fact. She spoke the truth as she saw it, even if that upset other people; she didn’t care about how she looked; and she was in charge; and her career was important. Reading those stories in 1967 was my introduction to feminism.