Door

It’s just a door, plain and set in an even plainer wall. In a word: unimpressive. And, for the most part, unnoticed.

For Jim Gregory, however, the door is anything but plain and unimpressive. Or unnoticed. He knows it’s there and gives it wide berth as he passes it every single day.

It is, after all, just a door.

“Why don’t you open it?” his buddy Tommy Harris questions, not for the first time, over coffee one afternoon.

Jim stares him down until Tommy’s concerned gaze falters and shifts away. “No.”

“But if you saw what was on the other side, you’d know there was nothing to get so worked up about,” Tommy tells the café table.

Jim and the table are in perfect agreement—they respond with silence.

“Fine, whatever. You don’t want my advice, then stop bringing the damned thing up.”

Sipping his espresso, Jim changes the subject completely. “How’s Karen doing?”

“Good since she’s entered her second trimester and gotten over the morning sickness. Of course, all she ever wants to eat now are hot wings. I guess it’s to make up for all the bland food she’s been stuck with the past couple months.”

“Better than pickles and ice cream.”

Tommy chuckles. “Yeah, you’re right. Although, she’s not happy with the basic hot wing; she want the extra-spicy, make-you-cry type. That can’t be good for the baby.”

“Clearly they’re not bad if Karen keeps eating them.”

“Maybe.” He shrugs. “Hey, Jim, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

“Anything as long as it isn’t about the door.”

Up goes an eyebrow. “If only I had a recorder.”

There’s no winning with Tommy.

“Anyway, Karen and I have been wondering…how would you like to be Baby Harris’ godfather?”

Jim freezes with his cup halfway to his lips. “Godfather?” he asks over the rim, hoping but knowing he hasn’t misheard. “Me?”

“No, my other best friend named Jim Gregory. Yeah, you, stupid.”

It’s…well, it is an honor, if he’s honest. And… “I’d really like that.” The whole thing makes him feel a little giddy. Or maybe it’s the caffeine taking hold. “Seriously?”

Tommy rolls his eyes. “Keep that up, and I will take it back.”

“Don’t you dare.”

Godfather. Him. How cool.

***
“Uncle Jim? Where’d you go, Uncle Jim?”

Jim stops and scans the hallway. There is no one else around.

Then he sees it.

The door.

But something isn’t right, well, more not right than normal.

He takes a few tentative steps closer as he tries to figure out what’s off.

“Hey, Uncle Jim! I’ve got a great one for you. Wanna hear?”

Squinting, he runs his gaze over the smooth gray paint. Unmarked, unmarred.

“Okay, here goes. When is a door not a door?”

He mouths the question silently to himself. When is a door not a door?

“Come on, Uncle Jim. Take a guess. You know you want to.”

A door is a door is a door is a rose by any other name.

Jim frowns. Who the hell is Uncle Jim? He doesn’t have any nieces or nephews.

“You hafta guess, Uncle Jim. It’s no fair if you don’t.”

Crouching down, he tries to see if a change in perspective helps him figure this out. Still the same door. Gray. Ordinary.

“Uncle Jim!”

Startled, he falls back on his ass. Hard.

Oh, that’s what’s wrong.

“When it’s ajar,” he finally answers.

The door creaks open farther, reaching for him.

Jim sits up, heart hammering as he stares into the darkness of his bedroom.

No door. No Uncle Jim. Just a dream.

***
Jim turns left instead of right when he exits the record room, too focused on the heavy stack of manila folders he holds to realize where he’s going.

The door.

“It’s just a door,” he mutters, but walks faster.

“Uncle Jim.”

No, he needs to keep walking. He’s carrying too many files to indulge his paranoia.

One foot in front of the other.

He reaches his desk out of breath. He didn’t run, exactly, but it was a pretty near thing.
At least no one seems to notice.

***
“I can’t do it,” he tells Tommy the next day. “I’m honored you asked, but I can’t do it.”

“Can’t do what?”

Jim doesn’t meet his eyes. “Be your kid’s godfather. I…I’m not cut out for it.”

“Not cut out for it?” Tommy looks at him as if he’s grown a second head. “It’s a title, Jim. The only responsibility you have in the whole thing is spoiling the kid extra rotten. I swear.”

“No, I can’t do it, Tommy. I’m really sorry.” He nearly knocks the table over in his rush to get away.

“Jim! Where are you going? Come back!”

“Come back, Uncle Jim!”

***
He lingers at his desk well past the usual time he leaves, watching his co-workers head out, until there are only him and the night cleaning staff.

Pushing back his chair, he stands and slowly walks out of the main work area and toward the hallway.

It’s a stupid door and this had gone too far. He’s flaked on his best friend. Unforgivable.

The door is even more innocuous in the turned-down light.

“What are you so damned afraid of, Jim?” he asks himself. “Open the silly thing, then call Tommy and apologize for being a jerk.”

He stops at ten paces away, the door sitting harmlessly up ahead.

Nothing to worry about.

Nine.

Storage. Or janitorial supplies.

Eight. Seven.

Maybe another stairwell. Have to meet fire codes, right?

Sixfivefourthree.

He teeters between three and two. If he wants, he can reach out and open the door from here. Distance is good. Safe.

No.

Two.

He has to do this. All or nothing.

One.

Jim lets his hand hover over the doorknob, dull, unreflective.

His eyes are squeezed shut when he finally grabs hold of it. It feels like any other doorknob on any other door.

Slowly he rotates his wrist and eases the door back, meeting no resistance.

When he’s certain the door is open, he finally looks.

“Took you long enough, Uncle Jim.”

A small hand grabs his shirt and tugs him forward.

Jim Gregory knows no more.