The Rusty Door
by Craig M. Workman
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
I don’t remember much about Grandpa Joe. He was in what he called The Service and fought in a place called Vietnam. He always smiled a lot, just like Stan, except Grandpa Joe’s teeth were all there and looked shiny and white and fake, like the painting of that guy on U.S. News Hour with the white hair and the old-time clothes.
Grandpa was going to take us away from here, but his heart stopped, and that was that. He once told me that when he got back to our town from the war — he said “in-country” — that he went to his favorite restaurant right away with his only buddy to survive the war, a guy named Jack. And then they started to order stuff. They ate for most of that first day “in-country.” Everything they missed about being gone.
Grandpa Joe and his friend Jack ate one meal, and then dessert, drank two glasses of milk, and then started all over again, on and on until they could barely get up from the table. Me and Stanley never went to war together and then came back, but I thought about Grandpa’s only big story to me as we did whatever it was we did to get our feast all through the morning and into the afternoon.
I went next door and took Mr. Takaki’s newspaper, hoping I could find what I was looking for. In the middle of the stack lay the colorful A&P weekly ad. I came back and gave my brother the red and blue advertisement. He could make out quite a few of the words, but those he couldn’t, I requested from our special box. Deli turkey (two-ninety-nine a pound), Red Delicious Apples, Fried Chicken, Strawberries, something amazing called string cheese, and on and on and on we spoke the names of foods unknown to us.
And as we opened the door time after time, we never expected to see what we had just asked for. The food didn’t just look similar to the pictures in the paper but exactly like the pictures in the paper, down to how the berries were stacked in the green basket, like they were being transported from the store. Maybe they were.
At one point, it occurred to us that we hoped our dad wouldn’t come home. Stanley thought he would try to sell our find. He was probably right about that. Smart kid.
We brought our dusty green blanket into the garage and decided to take a break. Stan curled up on the floor next to an oil stain and smiled like he had just learned the secrets of the universe, and then he was asleep.
What had we done? Stanley wanted to know if it was magic, if we were magic. I still liked to read then, and one of the coolest books by that same writer I stole from the library was this one called The Fellowship Ring, or something like that, and there was this guy, a wizard, who could do magic stuff and was really smart, and I read it to Stan a few times before my dad used it to hold up a broken leg on the coffee table.
The wizard escapes from another evil wizards’ house or tower, and I remember the name of that place for sure, because it was really a cool name. Orthanc. Sounds like a monster, though it wasn’t. I watched my baby brother sleep, and thought about wizards and that black stone tower in Isengard, and hoped at that moment that there were now wizards, guys that could escape our tower and go on adventures and save the world, that we could be strong and brave and not be afraid anymore. Can you make something true by thinking about it hard enough?
Stanley jerked awake and scanned the garage. He scratched at his stomach and laughed. “I thought it was a funny dream,” he said, “but I still feel like I ate everything there is. Everything everywhere.” He jumped to his feet and slapped the rusty door. “Ice cream?” he asked the pantry. Stan opened it, and a blue bowl of chocolate with a spoon had shown up. He clapped and did his best impression of a kangaroo, and some of the ice cream ran down his chin and onto his dirty shirt. A few more bites, and he handed the bowl to me, and then took the harp necklace out from underneath his shirt and put the chain in his mouth. I took a bite of goodness, and then two, and then another.
“Man,” I said, “good!”
Stan jumped up with a hi-ya sound, and I caught him with my free arm. He pulled up to my face and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“Love you, Neddy. Thanks a lot, Ned. Ned, why does dad call me Stanley the Stain?”
“He doesn’t mean it,” I lied. “He’s sick. That’s why he takes that medicine.”
“What’s the most mean thing dad has said to you, Ned?” I didn’t need to think about this at all. I puffed out my chest in the best impression of a horrible guy I could manage, and said one word: “Go.” I un-puffed, and sat down next to my brother. “He told me to go. That was the worst, I guess.”
Stan nodded and dropped back down to his feet, knocked on the pantry door, raised his hands like he was about to make something awesome happen, and then burped loud enough to make my stomach turn. I laughed, and a great wad of snot shot out of my nose. I shook my head and ran into the kitchen to grab a rag for my nose.
What a cool little brother. It occurred to me later that we had never really had that much to laugh about before, so why not? Still, when my nose was running there in the kitchen, I found myself admiring a six-year-old for being tougher than my mind could manage. We must have been in shock then, because even though we were eating magic food — or something like that — from that pantry, it seemed weird, but not that weird. We were hungry.
I came back into the garage meaning to ask Stan if he would be interested in trying canned pears: "Three for ninety-nine cents!” and then we could figure out what to do next with our find. Things were really, really looking up. I thought about the people who were coming on Monday to rescue us, and wondered if they would let us stay if they saw we had enough to eat now.
“Hey, Stan,” I said, “what should we chow down on next?” He wasn’t standing where he was just a minute ago. And then the pantry door squeaked open and there was my little brother. His eyes were as wide as dinner plates, and his gums where his teeth were showed up when he started talking a million miles an hour.
“Neddy! Ned. Check this out! Man! Ned! I heard him telling me to come with him, and I could hear him even when the door was shut. I think maybe it was a wizard or something like in that book, so then I opened the door and he told me you wanted me to go hang out with him and but I have to shut the door again. Check it out!”
Stanley stepped all the way in and slammed the pantry door shut with a hollow clap. Our family necklace caught in the door by the harp, and it made me smile. It opened a little bit once again, the harp disappeared, and then slammed shut all the way. This was some good stuff. I felt like Stan was getting pretty silly, and it was great to see him happy. I knocked on the door three times, waiting for the joke. No answer. The biggest surprise was that he didn’t knock back or at least laugh or something.
“Hey, Stan. Stan?” I sang. “Special Delivery from Middle Earth. Your Elves have arrived.”
Nothing. “Okay, Stanley. We should probably get your teeth brushed and get you a bath. Come on, buddy.” I opened the door, and the pantry was empty.
The garage seemed to wobble for a moment before I realized it was me doing the wobbling. That next hour? Two? However long it was, nothing in the garage was as it had been. I moved every box, every bag of trash, and even opened the trunk of that crappy car. I started to cry, and felt guilty because of it. Stanley had to be there. He had to be. How could this be possible? Any more or less possible than a pantry that feeds people on its own? Who was the man Stan was talking to? The pantry fell over onto the concrete floor, and I think I peed in my pants a little at the noise, which made me want to cry awhile longer.
There was something my dad used to say when we did something wrong or, more especially, when he blew out a vein with his rig, and after this much time, looking and doing everything I could think of, and feeling that feeling every day since. What my dad used to say was all I could say, but something I had to say, or I was going to lose my mind forever, like an ice cube sliding down the sink and disappearing into the drain. I sat down on the greasy garage floor and gave the words an incredulous try: “Makes no damned sense in the world. None.”
I woke up the next morning lying on top of the pantry. It was a Sunday. The first thing I saw in one of the trash bags next to the door was that yellow letter. The CPS people would be coming before we knew it, and now there was only me to rescue. Me and a pantry.
I started to panic, and wondered if he really was in there somewhere, and if he could breathe, and if he had food over there, too. I thought of the book with the wizard, and had to wipe the tears for a few minutes. I stood up and shouted the word Frodo told the wizard would open the door to Moria, that strange Elvish word for “friend.”
“Mel-lon!” Nothing. My stomach was knotting up, and I tried not to puke. “Mel-lon. Stanley, come on!” I opened the pantry door, and then kicked it shut. “Don’t worry. We have to go. We’ll save ourselves. We gotta go. Let’s go. We have to go.”
Poor Mr. Takaki. I always meant to write him a letter and tell him how sorry I was. We stole way more stuff from our neighbor than I was comfortable with, and he didn’t deserve that. He had a green, rusty gardening cart with four big wheels and a long handle. I rolled it easily enough into the garage and after a lot of sweat and words Stanley didn’t want me use, I got Grandpa Joe’s pantry on the platform. There was an old dusty suitcase in the hall closet, and I packed the few clothes Stanley and I owned, our toothbrushes, three books, and our Bolt Drop gear. I figured we’d need all this stuff when he came back.
“Water,” I asked the pantry. The door came open easier this time, and I downed the big plastic jug as quickly as my body would let me. “We’re gonna be okay, buddy. Let’s go. I guess he is done being mean to us.” I rolled us on out of the garage without closing the door, and we set out on our last adventure this side of the world.
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Copyright © 2020 by Craig M. Workman