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There Are Doors
* 1 *
"Do you believe in love?" he asked her. "Yes," Lara replied. "And I hate it."
He did not know what to say. It all stuck in his throat, everything he had planned that afternoon walking home from the store.
"We use it, you see," she told him. "My women and I. We must."
He nodded. "Women do use love, of course. But so do men, and men usually use it worse. Don't you think that only proves it's real? If it wasn't, nobody could use it." The brandy had gone to his head; by the time he had finished speaking, he was no longer quite sure what they had been talking about.
"It's real, all right," Lara told him. "But I am not a woman."
"A girl--" He was groping.
So was she, a hand in his pajamas.
"A lady." His glass was at his lips. He took it from her hand and drank.
" ... and then the men die. Always. She holds his sperm, saves it, and bears his children, one after another for the rest of her life. Perhaps three children. Perhaps three dozen."
"I love you," he said thickly. "I'd die for you, Lara."
"But this is better--your way is so much better. Now I'll go back. Listen. There are doors--"
She did not go back at once. They embraced again, on the floor in front of the gas log. For the second time that evening he poured himself into her.
And afterward he held her to him, tightly, oh, so tightly, feeling as though the two of them were in a boat upon the sea, a little boat that rocked and spun with every billow; that only his body against hers, her body against his could save them both from freezing in the freezing spume.
"You must be careful," she said when he was almost asleep. "Because we've been so close."
He woke up with a throbbing headache. Sunlight was pouring through the window; from its angle he knew that he had missed work that day. He got up and made himself drink three glasses of water.
Lara was gone, but that was to be expected; it was nearly eleven. She had probably gone out to look for a job, or to get some clothes, maybe even to get some lunch.
He called the store. "Flu--came on last night. Sorry, so sorry I didn't call in sooner." I sound like a Jap, he thought. Too long selling Sonys.
Ella in Personnel said, "I'll mark you down. Don't feel bad--it's your first sick day this year."
Aspirin, he thought. You're supposed to take aspirin. He swallowed three.
There was a note on the coffee table, a note in Lara's angular writing.
I tried to say good-bye last night, but you wouldn't listen. I'm not a coward, really I'm not.
If it weren't for the doors I wouldn't tell you a thing--that would be the best way. You may see one, perhaps more than one, at least for a little while. It will be closed all around. (They must be closed on all sides.) It may be a real door, or just something like a guy-wire supporting a phone pole, or an arch in a garden. Whatever it is, it will look significant.
Please read carefully. Please remember everything I'm saying. You must not go through.
If you go through before you realize it, don't turn around. If you do it will be gone. Walk backward at once.
PS: You always put these on, don't you? At the end. At the end, I loved you. I really did. (Do.)
He read it three times and put it down, feeling that it was wrong, that something important had been left out, that his eyes had followed four smokestacks down to three chimneys. Was that underlined word really significant, and if so, just what did it signify? It might be signature.
He stuck his head under the shower and let the icy water beat his hair and the back of his neck full force. When he had stood there (bent, a hand braced against the tile) for so long that the slow drain had allowed the tub to fill, he washed his face seven times, shaved, and felt better.
If he went out, there was a chance that somebody from the store would see him; but it was a chance he would have to take.Knotting his brown tie, he studied the door of the apartment. It did not look significant, though perhaps it was.
Capini's was only a block and a half. He had a glass of red wine with his linguine, and either the wine or the linguine made him feel almost normal.
But Mama Capini was gone or back in the kitchen, and it was Mama Capini he would have to talk to. There were three or four sons--he had never learned their names--but they were not likely to tell him anything. Mama Capini might, and he decided to come back for dinner. Meanwhile, the police, the morgue ...
"I'm looking for a woman," he told the gray-haired, buck-toothed woman at the Downtown Mental Health Center who saw him at last. And then, because that sounded so dirty, he added, "A particular woman."
"And you think we might know where she is?"
"What was her name?"
"Lara Morgan." He spelled it. "I don't know if that was her real name or not. I never saw any identification."
"Then we'll hold off running it through the computer for a moment. Can you describe her?"
"About five foot nine. Red hair to her shoulder blades. Dark red. Auburn, is that what you call it?"
The buck-toothed woman nodded.
"Very pretty--beautiful, in fact. Viridian eyes. A lot of little freckles. A buttermilk complexion, you know what I mean? I doubt if I'm much good at estimating women's weight, but maybe a hundred and twenty pounds."
"Viridian, Mr ... ?"
"Green--viridian's a bluish green. You'll have to excuse it. Isell tape decks and so on now, but I used to be in small appliances. Viridian has more blue than avocado."
"I see. And how was this woman dressed the last time you saw her?"
He bit back the impulse to say she wasn't. "A green dress. Silk I guess, or maybe it was nylon. High-heeled boots, I think lizard, though they might have been snake. A gold necklace and a couple of gold bracelets--she wore a lot of gold jewelry. A black fur coat with a hood. Maybe it was fake, but it looked and felt real to me."
The buck-toothed woman said, "We haven't seen her, Mr. Green. If someone who looked and dressed like that had come here, I'd know about her. If she's seeing someone, which I doubt, it's a private psychiatrist. What makes you think she may be disturbed?"
"The way she acted. Things she said."
"And how did she act, Mr. Green?"
He considered. "Like, she didn't know about ice-makers. She went to the refrigerator one time to get ice--she was going to make lemonade--and she came back and said there wasn't any. So I went and showed her how it worked, and she said, 'How nice, all these little blocks."'
The buck-toothed woman frowned, putting her hands together fingertip to fingertip like a man. "Surely there must have been something more than that."
"Well, she was afraid that somebody was going to take her back. That's what she told me."
The buck-toothed woman's expression said now we're getting someplace. She leaned toward him as she spoke. "Take her back where, Mr. Green?"
He started to ask how she knew his name (he had refused togive it to the temporary receptionist) but he thought better of it. "She didn't say, Doctor. Through the doors, I guess."
"She talked about doors. This was just before she left--the doors, or one door anyway, that was how she got here. If they came to take her back, they'd pull her through a door, so she was going to go on her own first." When the buck-toothed woman offered no comment, he added, "At least, that was the way it seemed to me."
"These doors would appear to indicate an institution of some kind, then," the buck-toothed woman said.
"That's how they sounded to me."
"Has it struck you that the institution might be a prison, Mr. Green?"
He shook his head. "She didn't seem that way. She seemed, well, smart. But a little disconnected."
"Intelligent people who've been institutionalized often do. I take it she was about your own age?"
"And you are ... ?"
"Then let us say this beautiful woman who calls herself Lara Morgan is thirty also. If she had committed a serious offense in her teens--a murder, perhaps, or if she'd had some complicity in a murder--she would have been sent to a girls' correctional center until she was of age, and then transferred to a women's prison to complete her sentence. Thus she might easily have spent the last ten or twelve years in one or the other, Mr. Green."
He began, "I don't think--"
"You see, Mr. Green, escapees from our mental hospitals are not punished. They are ill, and one does not punish illness. Butprisoners--criminals--who escape are punished. I'm glad that you've come back to us, Mr. Green. I was getting rather worried about you."
He was shaking when he left the Center; he had not really known he cared about Lara so much.
The Downtown Mental Health Center stood on one corner of a five-way intersection. The five streets were all congested, and when he looked down each they seemed to spin around him like the spokes of a wheel, each thronged, each noisy, each straight and running to infinity, thronged, noisy, and congested. None was like the rest; nor were any--when he looked again--exactly the way they had been when he had come in. Hadn't that theater been a bowling alley? And weren't fire trucks supposed to be red, buses yellow, or maybe orange?
Were the doors here? "It may be something like a guy-wire supporting a telephone pole." That was what Lara had written. Looking up, he saw that he stood under a maze of wires. There were wires to hold traffic signals, thin black wires going from building to building, wires for the clanging trolleys. There were buildings on the sides, streets and sidewalks below, the wires above. A dozen--no, two dozen at least--two dozen doors, and all of them looked significant. Had there been a hospital for dolls there before? Had there ever been such a shop in the world? Feeling rather like a broken doll himself, he started toward it.
Copyright © 1988 by Gene Wolfe