I spend my time now in the space between heartbeats, where silence sings of memories. How could you leave me here, alone, when you were the only one who believed in me? I suppose I chased you away, somehow, like I have others, my willful ways and dark moods exhausting you to the point of breaking.
Each morning I walk down empty streets, before the rest of the city wakens, to take my place in front of the revolving doors that signal the entrance to the huge tower that houses the wealthy and the beautiful. I walk inside, down the short flight of stairs, to my locker, and don the red jacket with epaulets and the hat snapped over my graying hair, signifying my role as Doorman. My feet ache just thinking of the day ahead, the hours spent on gum-lined sidewalks, hailing yellow taxis, tipping my hat, taking possession of parcels and important letters, nodding and smiling at the endless procession of people as they push, to and fro, through the doors on their way to somewhere special, I always reckon, though it could be as mundane and sorrowful as my own life.
Invisible. That is how I feel. Few make eye contact. They brush past me, or bark out orders, and I nod in submission, fingers grazing theirs as they hand me a soaked umbrella, or thrust an address in my hand. “Here, Maury, call me a taxi to take me to this address,” or “would you hold this bag for a moment, while I adjust my coat?” And then they bustle past, a vapor trail, their scents as distinguishable to me as if I were a bloodhound. There’s the ancient guy, Chester, who has lived here since God was a baby. He smells of rich, cherry pipe tobacco and old clothes. Or the beautiful Monica who does not walk, but floats out the door, leaving behind an aroma so tantalizing that I often go home and beat myself up for the yearning I feel. Wet wool coats, leather shoe polish, garlic, hairspray. Sometimes I don’t look up into their faces right away, to see if I can identify them just by their odor, and I often do.
I have been working here longer than I ever dreamed possible. As a young man, when we were still a love song, I took this position as a second job, evenings and weekends, to help support you and little Michael, our tiny studio apartment bulging at the seams, and dreams of moving to a larger space ignited me to work ever harder, so that I could say to you, “You see? I AM somebody. I can take care of you and the baby, make you smile, and you will be so proud that you married Maury Goldstein, who will someday be a great attorney, and you will lead a life of comfort.”
I still, after all these years, cannot believe that despite all my hard work, all our endeavors and dreams and prayers, I failed the bar exam so many times that one day you silenced me with a finger to my lips and said, “Maury, forget it. It isn’t meant to be,” and I knew you were right. There was no law office to call home. No bright career on the horizon, so in desperation I took yet another job as a doorman for yet another building and jostled and juggled my hours until I was nothing more than a ghost, coming in the door at dawn, watching Michael while he slept, and lying down on the couch for a nap while you got ready for work at Woolworth’s.
You were on your feet all day, too, working the lunch counter, swabbing the tables, setting down endless plates of eggs and bacon, cups of coffee, bottles of ketchup in front of distant faces. “It’s temporary, Maury,” you always said. “Things will get better and we will move to the suburbs and have a tiny little house with a white fence and a dog named Juba, and then it will be okay.” You used to pat my face then, do you remember? Your hands smelled of rosewater and glycerin, your eyes sorrowful and hopeful, both at the same time, and I hated myself then because I knew that I could never give you what you needed. But selfish as I am, I dare not set you free, to find another love, a better love, a love that wouldn’t cheat you of your youth or rob you of your future. So you continued, weary and tired, in those old black shoes that should have been tossed years ago.
Like ponies that children ride, round and round in a ring, we revolved and plodded along until our paths were deeply furrowed, so deep that we could not lift our legs to crawl out of it, and before long, my hair was turning grey and I was exchanging one red doorman suit after another as my waist expanded while my hairline receded. We watched Michael grow from a toddler to a gangly young man, his face pale with city pallor, but his dreams bigger than ours ever were. We saved every penny so that he could get a good education, and he pleased us both by studying like a demon and graduating with honors, and then taking off to Australia of all places, to work and live and love and raise a family. Michael sent us snapshots of his life, a kaleidoscope of time captured on paper, but seldom did we see him.
It was a surprise every night for me to still find you there when I opened the door. Your feet were up on the sofa, your head on a pillow, watching the soap operas you loved, and just like at my work, you did not make eye contact with me after a while. We were just roommates by then, jostling each other at the sink, roving through the fridge together, sleeping in separate rooms. You moved into Michael’s the day he left for college, and now the empty bed has become my raft on an ocean of lonely thoughts, while I worry that your mattress may be soggy with tears and broken dreams.
So it was no surprise to me when one day I came home and found you sitting at the kitchen table, papers strewn in front of you, a slow tear lingering on your cheek. “Maury, I am leaving you,” you said simply, and I sat down with a thud and nodded, mute and dumb. Your face in repose was lined with aging, your hair, once a lustrous chestnut, now the color of a house wren. All I could do was agree with you, and set you free, finally. After you were gone, the air was sucked from the apartment, the light dimmed, and I became friends with the bottle for years. Bottles dark with remorse and bitter with guilt, bottles that emptied and filled like the revolving doors at the building, the tide washing in and out of me, past my tongue, down into the darkness of my soul, raining on my sins and secrets.
I cannot move forward. You were the only one who cared. And I depleted you, nursing on the teat of your kindness until the milk of love was dried up, using your good heart to comfort me, when I should have been giving you solace and rubies and the sounds of the theater instead of the useless old man groans that emit from me in grunts and swallows and creaking bones.
I spend every Saturday by your grave. I hope you know that. It cost me dearly, but I used all our savings to buy our plots, side by side, as I cannot bear the thought of us sleeping apart, like we did on this side of the earth. I long to lie down beside you, now, and burrow into the dirt, closing my eyes and seeing you again after all this time.
But God has other plans, it seems, and so I stand outside this revolving door and bear the rain and wind and pigeons, tipping my hat and smiling, my feet as cold as clay.
Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work can be found in several anthologies, as well as Gravel Magazine, BioStories, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Frontier Tales, MidAmerican Fiction and Photography, Halcyon Days, among others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Revolving Doors”
Sharon Frame Gay presents us with an unusual variation on the first-person story because, although it’s told from a first-person perspective, the narrator is not addressing the reader, as do most such pieces. Note how the author guides the reader through the Maury’s touching life story in the span of a mere 1400 words.