FRENCH DOORS

By Lori Titus

When I dream of that house, I see the French doors that open onto the back porch, and the way the sunlight made squares against the maple floor. I feel the breeze coming off the lake, but my gaze is not directed there.

I look towards the ceiling and feel it moving towards me, like a shimmer in the desert. Just a trick of my imagination, but I can feel it there, like arms around my body.

***

“Samora,” Jeremy breathed.

I opened my eyes and for a moment feel confused. Where were we? Then memory began to creep back. This was Jeremy’s cabin. He’d planned this trip for the better part of a month. Time away from the city and the demands of his practice.

“Darling? You having that dream again?” he said, with a wry smile.

“No,” I said—a little too quickly. “I don’t think so, anyway.”

“This is vacation, you can’t just be asleep all day. Come on.”

His voice held amusement, of a sort, but I imagined that he’d soon become irritated.

“What do you want to do?” I asked. I hoped he wasn’t going to try to lure me onto the boat.

“I have an idea,” he said. “I need to go into town, for some last minute stuff. Why don’t you take a hot bath while I’m gone. Make yourself beautiful. And when I come back, we can have a nice dinner.” He stroked my thigh. “ From there we can go onto other things. We don’t have to try the lake, if you don’t want. But we could…”

“Okay,” I said, and kissed him. He felt so good. When he stood, there was still that playfulness in his eyes. “I do have to go. Really. I’ll be right back.”

If he stayed much longer, he wasn’t going anywhere, and we both knew it. I was surprised when he pulled himself away. His footsteps died down the hallway, and soon enough I heard his car pull away. I’d have been more curious about just what it was he was up to if I were not caught up in my own thoughts.

So I got up and made myself content to look around the house.

I wondered why they even bothered to call it a cabin. The den had a rustic feel: full of brown leather, books, a wide fireplace with a buck‘s head mounted above it. The house sat near the lake, but other than that it was completely modern. High ceilings, clever lighting, granite and marble counters, rich oak wood floors. A rich man’s getaway into the woods.

I imagined what it would be like to live here full time. My whole apartment could fit into the kitchen.

The house held a certain coldness. I supposed this came from the fact that no one had lived here in a long while. Jeremy and I had been seeing each other for about a year, and this was my first stay. He’d remodeled the house over several years, and this would be the first time anyone had stayed in it since.

The house had no sense of history to it whatsoever. Beautiful, but antiseptic. Maybe, in that way it fit Jeremy. He had a beautiful face. Intelligence. A handsome man in his early forties with a romantic history full of short-lived entanglements. He was rich.

Underneath, he was missing a certain something.

But I’d chosen him for that reason. No questions with blanks to be filled. I tended not to stay in one place very long. My own relationships had short shelf lives, and this one had lasted longer than I’d expected. An entire year.

I left the bright gleam of the kitchen, and rounded the corner into the hallway.

The woman nearly walked into me, and she screamed before I could open my mouth.

***

Jeremy felt sweat gathering on his brow as he pulled his car away from the house. Of all the damned stupid things that he could do, how could he forget the ring? He knew it was sitting in its little velvet box, probably next to his computer back home. He’d been staring at that box for a month now, charting out his plan.

Fucking idiot. How could he have not put it in his coat pocket before he left?

He’d gone through all kinds of torture looking for it while Samora slept. For once he was grateful that she was such a sound sleeper. It gave him time to tear through his luggage looking for the ring.

And now that he was sure he didn’t have it with him, at least he had a plan of action.

***

The jewelers’ in town was called Boer’s. Jeremy wondered fleetingly if his own Mother’s ring—which he’d intended to give to Samora—had come from this store. They kept the lighting overly bright inside, probably trying to emphasize the shine of their jewels.

The elderly man behind the counter smiled at me. He was familiar with all the symptoms: a beaded brow, the look of thinly veiled panic. He knew a nervous fiancé when he saw one.

“How can I help you, Sir?” he asked.

***

“Who are you, and why are you here?” I demanded.

“Shouldn’t I ask you that question?” the girl spat. “This is my house.”

“Really? What’s your name then?”

She paused a moment. I sighed.

She was very pretty, but not much more than a kid. She was wearing an overstretched pink sweater and sweatpants that swallowed her small frame.

“What’s your name?” I asked again.

“Michelle,” she said with a bite. I could tell she was relieved to say the word. “Why are you here?”

“Jeremy brought me here.”

“Did he?”

Michelle thought about that for a moment, as if trying to grasp something she’d forgotten a long time ago. And then her eyes narrowed. “I see. You’re one of them.”

“One of who?” I asked.

Michelle took off in a run down the hallway, and I followed. She went up the stairs, and stopped when she reached a closet.

“This is the only thing that they didn’t take, that they couldn’t change, because the door was stuck,” she cried, her eyes turning dark. “So while they cut up the rest of the house, I stayed here. Here with all his secrets.”

She pulled the door open with such force it almost snapped off the hinges.

She screamed, and it was a roar.

The contents of the closet tumbled onto the floor. Amongst them, a shoebox opened. The photos erupted out of it in a foul breeze of air, a miniature tornado.

When the winds subsided, I stood alone.

***

“You cooked?” Jeremy said, surprised.

The smell of meat and spices met him at the doorway. Samora smiled and kissed him when he walked in, but she moved out of his way when he tried to embrace her

“Yes, well, you said you wanted a special night. I thought a special meal was in order.”

“I didn’t even know you could cook. I was figuring we’d order in.”

“Why bother?” she said, looking over her shoulder.

“Is something wrong, honey?” he asked.

“No,” she replied coolly. “Just have yourself a drink, and I’ll join you in a minute. I’m going to change into something nice.”

“Okay,” he said, and sat down at the dining room table. Jeremy sighed and loosened his tie.

Once Samora was upstairs he went to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a good stiff drink. He reached into his pants pocket and touched the box, making sure it was there for the hundredth time.

***

When I reached the bedroom, Michelle was there.

She stood in a corner. The French doors were open, and the diaphanous curtains flowed around her like gossamer. The breeze from the lake flowed in, the water invisible in the darkness. But I could feel it where I stood, the dampness, the cold. The smell of the trees carried the pure scent of water with it.

Michelle wore different clothes, having traded the baggy sweater for a short black dress. She lifted her chin. How old was she? I wondered. Twenty was her guess. I didn’t want to ask that question, because I feared it would start the girl off into a tirade of tears and screaming.

Poor thing, I thought. She’s trying to be strong. She wants to be mature.

“I was so glad when they brought back these French doors,” Michelle said softly. “They took them off the house when they were tearing everything down. I think one of the contractors said they were valuable, and should be put back,” she smiled with nostalgia. “It gave me something else that was real to anchor to, something other than that stuffy old closet. Once the doors were back on the house, I’d go lay against the glass. And I could feel the sun, like it was caressing my skin. And when I stretched against the glass, everything was warm there.”

“Not like the closet,” I offered. “Not like the dark.”

She smiled. “Yes.” Her eyes filled with something like tears.

I heard chimes moving out on the porch, and for a moment I looked away from her.

When I looked back, nothing was there.

***

Jeremy had to catch his breath when he saw her.

Samora was beautiful. Her hair styled in soft waves that spilled around her thin face, her eyes rimmed with dark liner. The dress she wore accentuated her every curve. It was dark blue, and backless. He watched her graceful fingers as she struck a match and lit the candles on the table.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, and wrapped his arms around her.

“Hmm,” she said. “Dinner honey. Come on.”

“Really,” he said. “I am not that hungry. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I want to sample your cooking, but…” an evil grin flashed across his face. “I’d rather you first.”

“Yes,” she said, and pulled something from her bra. “Like these?”

Samora slapped the old pictures onto the table in front of him. In the dimness, he had to lean forward to see what they were.

He was barely aware that Samora moved away from him. When she came back she was carrying a bottle of red wine and two fresh glasses. She poured them both a glass and sat down at the far end of the table, crossing her legs.

Jeremy continued to stare at the photos, mouth agape. “Where did you get these?” he finally said.

“Does that really matter?” Samora asked. “ Unless you’re going to try to tell me that isn’t you. And I mean, really. Even the ones where I can’t see your face… Well let’s just say I’d know your body anywhere.”

“Who gave this to you? What are you trying to do to me?” He reached for the wineglass and downed half of it.

“It’s not what I’m doing. It’s what you did. I found the bondage stuff very interesting,” Samora said, taking a sip of her own drink. “I’d never figured you for the type.”

“It was an… indiscretion,” he mumbled. “And it only happened once. Samora, that was a long time before you.”

“Yes it was. That would be forgivable, if that were all. But it went too far. Why don’t you tell me about Michelle?”

When Samora mentioned Michelle’s name, he felt his face go cold, like all the blood had drained away. He scowled at her, narrowing his eyes in outrage. “Who told you about her?”

“There are a lot more pictures where that came from. And some video tapes.”

“Baby,” he said. “You have to believe I never meant to hurt that girl. But after it was done, it was done. I couldn’t bring her back. She was gone. You can’t let this wipe everything away. I love you, Samora. I want to marry you. That little bitch. She doesn’t matter. That was five years ago.”

He tried to walk towards Samora, and felt himself falling.

***

When Jeremy woke, he heard voices.

After a while, it seemed there was only one voice.

“Samora?” he said, looking into the darkness. He tried to move his hands.

He was strapped to the bed. He was laying in the master bedroom. The French doors stood open, and he felt the cold air pouring in from off the lake.

Samora’s voice continued, but he quickly realized that she was speaking with someone else.

“I have been able to see…people like you since I was a kid. It’s the reason I move a lot, never stay in old houses.”

The other voice was faint but familiar. Jeremy couldn’t place it.

“This was meant to be—that you were brought here. Samora, you don’t know how long I have waited for someone who could see me. I wanted to move beyond, but couldn’t.”

“I have brought you this far,” Samora said. “But I can’t do this part for you.”

“And you won’t have to,” the other woman replied softly. “Take the ring. It’s in his pocket. Make sure you’re wearing it. And don’t let anyone stop you on the road.”

He felt a hand reach into his pocket. “Hey! What are you doing? Samora! Talk to me! What’s going on.”

“I am so sorry for everything,” Samora said, again, not speaking to him.

“Don’t be sorry,” the female voice replied. “Go now.”

Jeremy heard a sigh, and then Samora was gone. His heart sank when he heard the door slam, and then a few moments later, the sound of his car, speeding away from the house.

“Who are you?” he whispered into the darkness. It couldn’t be—because that would be insane—but he believed he knew who the voice belonged to.

“Lover, you’re so quick to forget,” Michelle said, as she laid down. Her cold body felt heavy beside him. He thanked God for the darkness. He could not stand to look at her face. He imagined the dark horrors writhing in her eyes. Had her body become bloated with water from the lake? Had insects eaten at her dead body after he dumped her?

“Is there anything that you’d like to say?” she said with a hint of hysteria in her voice. “Any words to carry us out?”

“This can’t be. You can’t be Michelle.”

She lit a match, and for a brief instant, her face was illumined in the tiny flame. Her dark eyes, like the eyes of a seraphim, seemed to cut at his flesh.

She opened her mouth, and what came out was a roar.

The flame ignited and swept over the bed.

***

I try not to think of Jeremy.

I don’t know whether he loved me, but it doesn’t matter. He’s dead now. The house burned down quickly, they tell me. The authorities concluded he’d been smoking in bed when the fire started.

I know that Michelle is now at peace. Sometimes, I imagine she is very near me, warm and happy on her side of the veil.

When I dream of that house, I see the French doors that open out from the bedroom, and the way the sun slants through the panes, cutting sunlight into squares against the maple wood floor. I feel the breeze coming off the lake, but my gaze is not directed there.

I look towards the ceiling and feel a presence moving towards me, like a shimmer in the desert. Just a trick of my imagination, but I can feel it there.

The warmth settles around me, like arms around my body.

_________________

©Lori Titus 2010

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