This Time – A Short Story for NPR’s 3-Minute Fiction 8
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. When she opened the portal of a new book, it was like waking up to a beautiful morning, shrugging off the dark nightmare, shadows and mists of sadness. Instantly, the thankless, cloistered, exhausting life to which she was born fell away, like an easily forgettable dream.
She was ever so captivated, so excited, and enthralled by the people, ideas, images, feelings, and adventures those printed words conjured in her mind. She could see now that books had become her escape; captivating chimeras; alluring, evocative drugs to soothe her aching emptiness. She had read about the world long enough.
She looked around her room with fresh eyes. Two windows looked out over a four-acre, weeded field. Each spring, her father clove the dark, rich Missouri earth into their garden. When she was five, she remembered stumbling over the clods of the furrows, carefully taking seeds or kernels of corn from the basket she made by holding out her skirt, and dropping them into the moist recesses of each row. Later, she picked ripe, juicy, deep-red tomatoes, plucked funny, long, light-green, string beans, and tore off rough lower ears of corn with the fluffy, silky hairs on top. Her mother stood, toddlers in tow, waiting for her in the yard, smiling that broad smile that made everything happy.
She turned to her simple bed: two pillows and a gingham bedspread her mother and she made. Against the faded, blue paisley wallpaper hung an illuminated paper cross from Sunday school when she was twelve, and a gold-framed picture of Jesus with a lamb and three little children.
She lifted the lid of the large wooden steamer trunk at the foot of her bed, and gazed at her neatly folded clothes, her extra blanket, and her Bible. She ambled slowly, deliberately touching and recounting the six clothes hooks along the wall next to the door, including the one with her best coat.
The tall, wide door to the upstairs hall loomed heavy and old; its thick, aged, wood showed its rough grain through layers of lacquer and paint, coated over, again and again for the fifty years since her father built the house on his father’s farm for his new bride and future family.
The patina and tarnish on the huge brass hinges and the solid brass doorknobs showed where she, her parents, her younger three brothers, and two sisters had opened and closed the creaking, groaning gateway to her life. The large brass key waited deep in the cavernous lock, ready to turn the hidden tumblers, to seal and unseal the haven of privacy she needed and loathed; her fortress prison, her protected penance.
She smiled as she touched the knob. This time, she would march past the door to the empty crypt, no longer haunted by the lost, hungry, inconsolable ghost her mother had become since her father died; she would boldly stride past the signs, reminders, and implements of the past eleven years of caregiving.
This time, she would throw the dark heavy curtains wide and fill the mausoleum with sun. This time, she would walk outside through the wind-riven grass, stroll under the tall, rustling, trees, and run down the sloping meadow to the cold, clear, restless stream just inside the forest.
This time, she would be reincarnated, find her true calling, and discover her life’s purpose. She would find love, explore the vast globe, and create her own destiny. This time …… she would not return.