When I woke up that morning it was like every other day. Everything was familiar. Except…
The first thought that popped into my head was a question, “Why did I walk through the blue door?”
Usually, it was those few minutes when the aches and pains of old age were something to look forward to the moment I got out of bed.
The blue door?
Here’s the thing. I don’t remember walking through a blue, or other coloured door. When I thought about it, it had been in a dream where, the night before, I had wished I could go to a place where the pain was negligible, and, more importantly, the family were at peace instead of at war, over, of all things, our father’s will.
I hadn’t thought that money would be everyone’s first thought, but I was wrong. I guess the amount he left behind was large enough to fuel that inherent monster in all of us, greed.
Being the only one not motivated to dispute the will, and being the principal beneficiary, I was over it, and in fact was ready to wipe my hands of the whole business, and let the lawyers take most if it in fees, leaving the rest with next to nothing.
All of it had come to a head and good old-fashioned pugilism. Blows were exchanged, words that couldn’t be taken back, said, and threats made. What was meant to be a congenial meeting of family members to discuss the will, very quickly degenerated into a disaster.
No surprise then that I would metaphorically step through any coloured door to escape reality. There had been a green door, a red door, a blue door, a yellow door and a brown door. Blue was my favourite colour.
OK, so another fragment of the dream returned while I was staring at the ceiling and thinking it was not like that the last time I looked. Each of the doors represented a different outcome in my life. Then I realised the MC, dressed in a ring master’s outfit, yes, there was a circus element.
Obviously, my mind wanted to go somewhere, anywhere but where I was right then.
I looked sideways at the form that had burrowed under the blankets, not the sort of thing Margret, my wife of many long-suffering years did. She hated my family to begin with and we had distanced ourselves from them. It was not a thing I did to please her, I hated them too.
Having come back to nurse my father to the grave, the last six months had been difficult. The relatives, known and obscure, had come from everywhere, smelling blood in the water.
Her hand was on the pillow, and I gave it a squeeze.
A head popped put, a smile, and then shock. Not hers, mine.
It was her younger sister Margery.
“What the hell,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
I remembered having a think for Margery before I met Margaret and had been resentful and bitter when Margaret stole me away. But, as a first love, she had never quite left my mind.
“Have you been dreaming again? Yesterday you thought you’d turned into your father.”
Good Grief. Behind the blue door was one of my fantasies. I shook my head.
“Forgetful too it seems.” She sighed as if this was normal for me. “She died two years ago. Cancer. I came back to see how you were, and you were broken. Then I discover you had this crush, so we gave it a fling. Married last year, don’t regret it, just hated Margaret more for stealing you.”
My dreams summarised in seven sentences.
“OK. That sounds about right for me. What about Dad?”
If my life with Margaret was over then everything else could be changed. I could only hope.
“Still hanging by a thread, knowing the longer he drags it out the more he can torment the family. It’s going to be a blood bath at the will reading. God, I hate money. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.”
“Isn’t that women for men and men for women?”
She punched me in the arm. “Don’t try and make me feel better. On the other hand,” she leaned over and kissed me. “Please make me feel better.”
It was the one thing I remembered about Margery, how much fun it could be with her. She was one of the few what you see is what you get girls and I had loved her quite intensely until Margaret came along and turned me into the dull and responsible version that my father approved of.
That was when my two brothers both irresponsible troublemakers abused the privilege of their position, squandered their inheritances, and then went cap in hand to our father for support and instead got disinherited. Now, knowing what he was worth they were like Hyenas circling their prey, waiting to swoop.
I wasn’t going to burst their bubble by telling them that disinherited meant no recognition in the will. I’d seen a copy where the bulk of the estate was left to the responsible one, me. They got nothing.
Margery was right. It was going to be a bloodbath.
I visited my father every day. He had been a heavy smoker and suffered because of it. Now breathing was almost impossible and the cancer was going to kill him. Did he regret any part of his life or anything he did? No. What was the point? You do the best you can. There’s always someone telling you what you did was wrong, but there’s no such thing as being perfect.
Except for our mother, his first wife, was perfect. And I agreed with him.
He was looking better. To me, that meant the end was close, that short period of remission before death. Time to order up the priest to administer the last rights. He might have been a bastard and a crook, but he was also steadfastly religious.
“The jackals were in. Never saw a worse pair than those two. Their mother would be ashamed to call them hers.:
“No. She had a higher degree of tolerance than you. She expected more of me, like you, but they could do no wrong. In a way it was her fault they turned out the way they did. Are you sure you want to cut them out?”
“Teach them a lesson. They’re survivors. People like them always are. You can take pity on them if you want, but once you open the door you won’t be able to close it.
That conversation was different, but then so was the woman I was married to. Perhaps there was some sort of joke in this alternate universe, that my father just shunted all of his problems into me.
If the blue door was what I wanted rather than what I had, the red door was hell. I mean, it was a red door. What was I expecting?
The green door was all sweetness and light, everyone was sickly kind and thoughtful without a hint of discord and enmity. Even my father was the epitome of generosity and kindness.
Behind the brown door was a void. It was like stepping from the light into the dark. There was no one but the voices in my head, and if I’d stayed there too long, I would have gone mad.
That left the yellow door. There was a reason why I’d been dragged three ought each, leaning more about the people I knew or thought I did, and in an odd sort of way discovering more about myself.
I knew that I’d spent most of my life compromising, taking the easy way, doing what was expected of me and not what I wanted. I guess that was what life was meant to be like. So few of us ever got to do what we wanted, mainly because we couldn’t afford to, and that was basically it. Money ruled our lives.
I looked at that yellow door for a long time, believing it was going to be more of the same. A horrible father, obtuse relatives, greedy little sycophants who’d willingly sell their souls to the devil for 20 pieces of silver.
Did I want to see more about a life I should have had and didn’t get?
And there it was, the yellow door beckoning, and who was I to resist?
I opened the door and went in. It was a room, with a desk, two chairs on opposite sides of the table, and a sign on the back wall that said, “Please sit”. Below that was a two-way mirror, that only reflected one way.
An interview room in a police station?
Five minutes later a door opened beside the mirror and a woman came through.
Or a very young version of her, before my memories of her started. I had not known she was so beautiful, or blonde.
I said nothing but watched her sit, then when settled, smiled.
“Well, Walt, this is a fine kettle of fish.”
Metaphors? Who was this woman?
“Why am I here, and just to be clear, you are my mother.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. This is your imagination, Walt, and I could be anyone. But, you have used a memory of your mother.”
“So, you do know about me?”
“More than I care to, but yes. You’ve come to a crossroads in your life, and you have to make a decision that will affect the rest of it. You can choose to live or you can choose to die. You’ve always made the right choice, Walk. Always. Quite often to your detriment, or to please others, while all the time suppressing your hopes, wishes and desires. Admiral but depressing.”
She was right. But it wasn’t that simple.
“I had no choice.”
‘You always had a choice, Walt. You just chose the most expedient. Like marrying Margaret rather than Margery. Of course, you knew that was a huge mistake. So did your father and I which is why we paid Margaret to steal you away before Margery’s bad ways destroyed you, like she was destroying herself. You loved Margery, I know, but love was never going to be enough. You needed solid and dependable. That was Margaret.”
“What else did you do?
“Too many to be listed. Just be assured we did it for your own good. And, fortunately, it had led you here, now. I guess if your father hadn’t been the bastard he was, we wouldn’t be here, but he was dependable like that. And lazy, leaving all his messes for you to fix up.”
“Like my bothers?”
“Nice boys, but utterly useless. We knew that from the moment they could speak. You were our only hope, Walt. Those two, all the love in the world was never going to fix them, and that’s apparent now in spades. You must look after them, Walt. Your father wouldn’t, but you are not your father.”
‘You’ve been planning to leave her. She’s financially independent and will have no claim on the inheritance. Like I said, we gave her a fortune, so you can leave. Find someone else.”
“If you can find her. Last we knew of her whereabouts, it was a commune in Tibet, or on the side of a mountain.” She shrugged. “That PA of yours, Ms Pendle, she seems a good sort. “has a thing for you, too.”
Ms Pendle was a little too staid for me. But then, perhaps I was the same and didn’t realise it.
“Right, enough yammering Walk. Time to go.” She stood. “Just remember, the future, your future, is n your hands, no one else’s.”
I woke, in the same bed, in the same house, looking at the same roof, and when I looked on the other side of the bed, the same hidden form with a hand on the pillow.
I touched it, thinking it might be Margery, but it was Margaret.
I watched her wake and wondered if it was true, she had been paid to get me away from Margery.
“You were late in last night.”
“I was with my mistress.”
She snorted. “You, with a mistress?” She shook her head. “When did you become a comedian?”
I decided on a change of subject. “Did my parents pay you to get me away from Margery?”
The smile disappeared and a frown appeared on her face. “Who told you?”
“Mother, just before she died. Wanted to go with a clear conscience.”
She thought about what sort of answer to give me, then said, “It was the right thing to do. They wanted you to have a future, not flame out before you were 35. Margery would have killed you, Walt.”
“Well, your job is done. I made it. Today is the first day f the rest of my life, and while you may be in it, it will not be as my wife. I thank you for your service.”
“To be honest, I thought you’d divorce me long before this. I did love you, you know. I guess we just sort of grew out of love in the end.”
It seemed so, well, I had no idea what it seemed like.
“What are you going to do with the family?”
“Annuities. They live within their means or go to hell.”
“First day and all, Margaret. I have no idea.”
It was odd to discover Margaret had a case packed and ready to go, she had for a long time. Everything else she owned; she didn’t want. It would be, she said, like taking her memories with her, and she was past that.
We had a last breakfast together, one last kiss, and she was gone. No, she wasn’t parting with the Audi A5.
I was going to go into the office but decided not to, and instead called the lawyers and for the next hour told them what I wanted done.
Then, I went out onto the patio, put on some melancholy jazz, and stretched out in one of the sunbeds, my last thought before dozing off, was the endless possibilities of what I was going to do.
I was lost in a mist, going upriver in a boat, slowly wending towards the mountains. It had started out very warm, and the further inland we went the closer it got. I had the feeling I was not alone on the boat, the figures were indistinct shadows, flitting about in the background.
Then it started to rain, and I woke with a start.
I realized I was at home and the automated sprinkler system had started.
When I went to get up, I realised something or someone was holding my hand and a looked over.
“What are you doing here?”
“My, my, Walt. I thought you would be more pleased to see me.”
“I am. But…”
” Margaret called me about a week ago. She told me what had happened all those years ago and apologised. She said you two were splitting up, and if I wanted to get first in line, I’d better get my butt home. I just knew she had something to do with splitting us up. Not that it wasn’t a good idea, I was in a bad place then.”
“Now I know better. And the best thing about it. We have a lot of years to catch up, perhaps it will take the rest of our lives. Never stopped loving you, Walt. Not for a minute.”
“Nor I you. I was just coming to find you.”
“Then everything is as it should be. Now, let’s get out from under these sprinklers before one or other, or both of us get pneumonia.”
© Charles Heath 2023