Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Girl in the Hallway

A girl was born in a hallway. She opened her eyes and saw a white expanse of stillness, and then began to grow. Years passed as learned to walk, talk, and dance. Then one day while playing she realized for the first time that she was moving.

A black speck appeared in the distance, at the furthest end of the hall. She stood up to see it clearer and put out her hands to catch it, but her hand passed right over or through it. That was her first idea of distance.

Soon the speck was quite large, and she saw it was a door, plain and wooden with a single handle on the right side. She reached out again, and this time she really could touch it. She felt the grain of the wood, looked up at the shiny hinges, and then gave a gasp. The hinges had been directly in front of her a moment ago, but now she faced the door's middle. It was moving to the left, making its way down the long wall.

A minute later the knob had slid toward her hand. The door was drawing away from her, or she was drawing away from the door. Then it was few feet away from her, and she faced the empty wall again. "Well, I can just follow it," she said. But that was the day she realized her Great Limitation. She could not walk back to the door but was forced to watch it turn into a black speck once more, and disappear at the other end of the hall.

That was the first of many doors. Sometimes they came singly, other times in pairs. Once or twice in those early years, she had three doors within arm's length at a single time. She never opened any of them, though she did turn the knobs now and then to see if they would give. All were unlocked, all the hinges oiled, but she never felt the need to open one.

There had been hundreds of doors, some rough and some worn smooth, some round and others jagged, in madcap shades of the rainbow and of all heights and widths. Weathered red barn doors, sleek metal ones, round doors that looked like eyes and very old ones banded with iron. They passed very quickly now, hardly there before they were gone.

Still, she was afraid to open them, for who knew what lay beyond the comfortable hallway?

More years passed, or she passed by the years, and it was not until she was 30 years old that she noticed the first crack in the wall. The hallway had always been white and flawless, but on the girl's 30th birthday the speck that appeared at the end of the hall and drew closer was neither the same shape nor nearly as big as a door. It was a long, jagged crack running from the shadow where the ceiling met the right wall, and it passed her by like all the doors. After that initial fright, the hallways looked just normal for two or three years. Then another crack and a water stain or two made their appearance.

The girl became worried and climbed inside herself, trying to ignore the hallway that was her only existence.  It was not as comfortable as it had once seemed.

She was 52 when she woke up, gasping, from a nightmare, and realized that it was true. The bright, clean hallway was rusted, grimy, clogged with trash, and falling down in the corners.  The doors were much rarer now than they had been when she was in her 30s or even 40s. They came every few months instead of every few minutes and seemed rather smaller and less appealing than ever before.

Panic seized her, but what was there to do? For decades she had sat or stood, fingering knobs and watching for the next speck on the horizon, waiting for a sign perhaps that would galvanize her into action.

The sign never came.

In her nightmare, there had been a door, but different than any other door—that speck had not shifted to the left or right but stayed straight ahead of her, and she would be forced to go through it. Her sleeping mind knew that it was the Final Door, and the hallway ended with it. In a sweat, she jumped up and looked around. The only thing in sight was a slightly battered door disappearing behind her. In front, there was nothing. No specks. Waiting, muscles tense, she steeled her nerves. Waiting longer, she sat down again.

Two weeks had passed before another speck appeared. It grew larger, shifted to the left, and showed itself to be a blue cottage door with a tiny round window near the top. The girl pressed her nose to the glass as soon as it came near enough but saw nothing but mist. It looked dark, wet, and unpleasant. Then she touched the wall beside her, and a bit of grimy plaster came off on her fingers.

Then, grabbing the door handle, she closed her eyes and jerked it open, half expecting something cold to grab her. It was a little cold, but there was also something strangely nice—a breeze.

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