My brother’s childhood room and mine connect through paired doors, at three different points. Walk out my room and and ten paces would take you to my brother’s door, next to the AC control, across from the panic button. We also shared a bathroom, each room opening onto the sinks where we would brush our hair, or teeth, or forget to, side by side. With both doors open, you could have seen from pillow to pillow if you tried hard. But we never did that. Past the sinks was the quick path when he wanted to trick me into doing something or I wanted to borrow something, and it was the path that rescued me from nightmares, including that one nightmare that came true. Each room also has a heavy oak door to the outside, my brother’s next to his bed, mine flanked by a lightswitch whose purpose remains secret 40 years after its installation. Open both doors and we’d meet on our private balcony, which we mostly yielded to cicadas in their season, suicidal tap tap tap as they hit the closed doors. There wasn’t much to do or see from the balcony: a few trees in our backyard, including the one I slingshot a rubber snake into, the “Credit Cards Accepted here” sign my teenage neighbor’s brothers stuck to her window as a prank it took me a few years to get.
Six doors, in pairs, that sometimes locked, but mostly that marked different paths to each (br)other. I know the gratuitous number of doors makes it sound as though we were rich, and I suppose we were, but the house is not so much grand as an expression of my mom’s sense of design. I don’t know if she wanted the house to say that even if we brothers slammed doors in each other’s faces, there would always be another path, or two, to get us back to speaking face to face. We fought terribly, rather often, usually words, rarely with blows, but we knew we were family and that mattered more, even more than the time he saved my life from an angry steel-wielding teen or the times I took the blame. He might have broken all my toys (even my favorite monsters), but some door or another always stayed open.
My sister’s room was down a floor, next to my parents. She was born years after the house was built, my brother already away for high school, my sister’s room displacing my mother’s unused home office, a pink rabbit on the wall where bookshelves had been. There was only one path to her room, the way toward my parents and the jacuzzi we sometimes used as a pool. Only one door to her room, immediately below the balcony connecting my brother’s room and mine. One door. Perhaps that’s why it was easy for her to stop speaking to us. Close one path and you’re done.
My father died five years ago almost to the day this goes to press. Two years later, my mom sold their office building, in which they had practiced side by side or down the hall from each other for more than 40 years, enough time to wander from promise to Promised Land, but not enough time at all. Before my father died, a forgotten boiler on the roof of the building opened up and rained down, a brief river slinking down the steps, not gathering too deeply, but covering ever floor surface. Oddly, astonishingly, only the art on the wall survived, preserving another piece of my mom’s strange, wonderful vision. The office, a second home to me, was the location of afternoons of paper airplane making, fun with photocopiers, a first job (erasing confidential media), a second job (shelving law books a couple of years before they became obsolete), and the location of my favorite door in the world.
The previous owners of the building, from whom my parents rented office space before their practice grew enough to make the building their own, had converted a private home into offices, a creative but haphazard process that led to drywall cutting a closet off from its own door, which they left in place to save on expenses. It was a door until itself, not even enough room for a single sheet of paper before the door complained on its hinges. I know, I tried to tape a scary photocopied picture there as a trick on my brother. As a child, I didn’t know how the nothing closet actually came to be, and I thought it either magical or hilarious as a practical joke, both equally likely and both equally delightful. The door is gone, not a victim of the flood but of a more rational renovation that separates the office at its demise from the office as I best knew it, but that happy memory, like so many others, now slams shut leaving me bereft. Closing that closet door in my mind calls to mind the Song of Songs, a poem of love and reconciliation, of gardens never really lost because the beloved only hid away in order to be found. But I’m not thinking of the part that people love, about people in love, but the part people mock or more likely never get to. “If our sister” is… but this is not the bible and brothers neither open nor close doors as guardians of their sisters anymore. Closed doors aren’t funny and their only magic is sinister, not sisterly. “We have a sister,” though she says she has no brothers.
Named after the matriarch with a tent with four open doors, our sister is a door unto herself and she is closed..
Dov Nelkin is a high school Judaics and philosophy teacher in NYC. He loves to play with language, but this is the first time he’s thought about submitting to a literary journal since his undergrad days. Connect with him on Twitter @Drnelk.
featured image by lovebutterflies