There are too many keys on the ring and most of them to doors no longer open to him. But this door, the bright red one, was never without a warm invitation.
329 Sunshine Way.
The metallic creaking of the storm door reminds him of the attic entrance in his childhood home, an unfolding stepladder hidden in the ceiling, accessed by a pull string. The black hole at the top of the warped wooden stairs was always strangely inviting to him; there were dangers up there immediately above and below the narrow walking planks of plywood: two thousand square feet of itchy pink insulation like quicksand and possibly a deadly fall through drywall, brown recluse spiders that might bite your hand or slip unnoticed into your shirt and burn a hole layers-deep into your flesh with their necrotic venom, exposed rusty nails that would spike the crown of your head if you weren’t careful.
O sacred head now wounded…
The hymn enters his drunken mind, uninvited and unannounced, accompanied by a blasphemous thought and a horrifying vision of blood running down the tortured face of Christ, holy eyes rolling back, barely alive, gagging. He shakes his head and flaps his ears like a dog coming up out of the water—a physical effort to make the unspoken words and images go away. The exorcistic act causes him to stumble. He catches and steadies himself on the door. A coil spring strains and screams in protest under the heavy weight of his body.
He’s always breaking things. His body. Cars. The Ten Commandments. Federal and local laws. Hearts—theirs, hers. Now he’s just broken another law: Hooke’s law. The coil, having been stretched unmercifully beyond its limit, is now permanently deformed and, beyond that, something cracked. The door will never close again on its own without some assistance. It will clack in the wind and, like him, ultimately come unhinged.
He pauses at the blood red door, scarlet as his sins, and reconsiders the reunion. Entering again will be the best and worst thing he can do, both.
The porch is illumined by a single blue bulb, his elderly parent’s visible support for the police. Blue lives matter. He thinks of Officer Gustafson, hawks and spits. He retrieves a flask of gin from the sturdy pocket of his brown leather flight jacket, unscrews the cap, and tips an empty container. An imaginary rivulet reminds him of what he needs, what Lazarus begged for in Hades, just a drop to cool his tongue, and maybe a spiritual warning for his brothers. For a long time, liquor has been his enemy and friend. He fingers the other pocket. A cigarette, a lighter, a flame in the dark. Hot smoke fills his lungs. He closes his watery eyes and exhales. A gray cloud circles the blue light.
He flops down on a white wicker chair and plonks two heavy, worn out boots on the frosted surface of a glass table which reminds him of a frozen South Jersey pond, winter cardinals, and innocent days. Once upon a time. Nine lives ago. Seventy times seven forgivenesses ago.
“Shit,” he says, to no one in particular.
He stubs the remainder of the cigarette to death on the thigh of his jeans, stands, stretches, and groans. He ponders the door once more, staring hard at the stillness of death, thinking, thinking, debating. Minutes later, he reaches not for the key but for the blue light. With swollen knuckles and a bruised hand, he winces in pain as he unscrews the hot bulb and lobs it like a grenade out into the street where it shatters. The popping sound is deeply satisfying as he reenters the cold dark night—a shadow man, black on black.