The lock opens on the forbidden door; no turning back. My heart beats out of control as cold chills run the length of my spine. Hinges groan as a blast of air catches me off guard and slams the door shut. OK, fear out prioritizes curiosity anytime as I change my mind about entering.
My fascination with the door starts with the first day of my new after school job, I was 16 years old. I was on a tour of the newspaper and told to ignore the six steps and the door that seem out of place on the top floor of this building on Main Street. That is the one word you should never say to a young man on a mission wanting to be a newspaper man “IGNORE”. Curiosity now consumes me. My initiation to the newspaper business came on the first day, I was told to clean the ink trays; needless to say I was covered with ink. My mom and dad enjoy an unexpected laugh at my expense. My boss Nicholas Joseph Sonnatello explained to me that I must learn all jobs here at the Observer if I wish to be a newspaper man. He began to teach me hands on, from the bottom up, just as his father taught him. Not once have I regretted my decision, I bleed ink, not blood. I am now employed, full-time after graduating from Indiana State University. I have been employed six years, working part-time during high school and college. Nick gave me a full time position, with one stipulation. He could not afford what the larger newspapers could; however if I would work a few extra hours on Saturday doing various chores, that always seem to pop up he would match their offer. I gladly accept the position of reporter, assistant pressman and gopher. Truth is I did not want to work anywhere else. It is a family atmosphere, at the Observer and I love what the name implies “THE OBSERVER”.
My name is Robert S. Garrity, “Bob”, my Grandmother nicknamed me “Sneak” when I was a toddler, later changed to “Seek” by my Mom and Dad. I always had more than my share of curiosity and sneakiness as my Grandmother called it. My actual middle name is Stanley so I just go by S., (WOULDN’T YOU!)
There was never a problem ignoring the forbidden door while the building was buzzing with people, but it plays with me when I am here alone on Saturdays. I hear “Bob” soft and sweet in a womanly tone, it seems as though it is coming from the top of the six steps. It’s impossible to walk anywhere near the door, without sensing the drawling power it has on me. Countless times, I have walked to the top of the six steps and turned the doorknob, expecting it to open. I find myself dreaming about it. The door opens and I see myself in a mirror.
One day I was snooping around in the storeroom, I am a young reporter with the nickname Seek, so curiosity must be expected. Underneath a canvas tarp, I find an old roll-top desk. It was a huge desk with endless amounts of drawers and cubby holes across the entire back side. I meticulously examine the old antique, and “HELLO”. There is a key. Could this be the key to the “THE FORBIDDEN DOOR?” Soon I will find out.
I choose the next Saturday to test the key. It will be midday with plenty of light for the fearless reporter. I go about my chores filled with anticipation. I’m now standing at the bottom of the steps. The door seems to be toying with me. I visualize the steps as they might appear in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, growing larger with every step that I make. I shake my head as though something might be wrong with my eyesight and force myself to take another step. I am overwhelmed with apprehension and anticipation at the same time. I place the key in my right hand and try to insert it into the lock. Cautiously I turn the key and the door opens. I take a deep breath and step inside. I now stand one step inside. Musty stale air overwhelms my senses. I’m standing motionless to allow my vision time to adjust. Slivers of light are making their way through hundreds of tiny holes in the drapery. It’s a living room with couch, end table with a lamp, table with a radio, record player, telephone and chair.
Light shines from a hallway on my right. I walk into the light. The door slams scaring the bageegees out of me. I think I’m either brave or stupid; no both seem appropriate. A small dimly lit bathroom is to my left, fifties in appearance. A bedroom is at the end of the hallway with fifties décor. A door to the outside is in the bedroom, rather odd place. The light draws me like a moth into the flame. I turn right and look directly into sunlight. Two oversize windows allow sunlight to penetrate every inch of the kitchen. I’m submersed back to another time. I’ve gone from fear of opening the door to the darkness of the living room to the light in the kitchen. The few steps I’ve traveled have given me the strangest experience of my life. The kitchen is fully equipped. General Electric range and refrigerator just like my grandmother’s; the countertop is equipped with appliances, all of the same era. A table with four chairs sits in the middle and it has place settings for two. The table has huge chrome legs with chrome trim on the sides and grayish white top. The four chairs have oversize chrome legs that match the table with a generous amount of red padding on the seat and back, very comfortable in appearance. They represent the modern look of that era, ancient in appearance by the look of today.
I stand motionless and take a deep breath, excitement builds. I gaze out the window and focus on the Wabash River on the horizon. I now see why the windows are so spacious; a beautiful view from the tallest building in town. Such contrast from the darkness of the north view. The south is simply breathtaking. My imagination is in control, too much to take in, enough for today. I retreat touching nothing but the doorknob. I lock the door and return the key to the desk. It’s seems as though I have taken a trip back in time, it was amazing. While in the apartment my imagination ran rampant, out pacing reality. After seeing behind the door my quest begins. I must remain calm in the apartment allowing my inquisitive nature to compliment my education and above all else I must be in control of my senses. First priority is to find out who once used the desk in the storeroom.
Nick’s secretary/ bookkeeper Ruth Goins has worked here since high school. She must know. I bet she is as tight lipped about Nick as she is with his money. I decide to question my first boss here at the newspaper, Keith Larrison, the pressman who has been here almost as long as Ruth Goins. Keith and Ruth probably know each other well having worked here all these years. Keith knows and or can find out information that should help me. He should be able to discuss the past with Ruth rather than a young nosy reporter. I must not allow anymore doors to stand in my way. Keith’s talk always ends up back to his Navy days. Keeping him focused will be the trick. I’ll take my lunch with him and maneuver him into answering my questions. I could only listen to so many navy stories so I ask him straight out. “Do you know anything about the apartment upstairs?” He roars with laughter. “That old apartment has the young reporter curious. I’d ignore it. If anyone wanted you to know it would not be locked now would it?” Why is it so important to you? I have been her thirty years and I don’t know; someone has a secret, let it be. If you don’t have enough to keep you busy, bring your white shirt down here and I’ll show you what works about. Have you forgotten your first day here when you went home covered in ink? Is that why you have been listening to me talk? And here I thought you enjoyed my company. You could at least invite me to Zona’s for a beer. A few drinks most certainly would loosen my tongue. Meet me at six and promise that our conversation will not be abused and maybe this old pressman can remember something”.
I’m seated when Keith walks in. He’s wearing jeans and a white tee shirt; looks much different. His biceps are stretching the sleeves of his shirt. He looks like Mr. Clean on the cleanser commercials with his bald head and overall resemblance. He is larger than life with his muscular physique. I have always seen him in his work coveralls and he appeared large built not muscular. Funny how things change according to the perspective at which you view them.
Keith spots me and makes hand motions meaning order me a beer while he walks around talking to everyone and patting some on the back. He gives Zona, (the owner) a big bear hug actually picking her up off the floor. She smacks him playfully. He is extremely friendly, apparently he comes here often. A beer is waiting for him as he finally sits down. I smile while telling him I thought he was running for political office.
“Very funny” he laughs. ”What I’m about to tell you is fact along with my intuition. My friend, I am going to tell you about the very thing that is eating away at you, the door on the third floor.”
After the Navy I come to work here at The Observer. After working here a few years Nick builds that apartment up there. He is now running the newspaper after his father retired. Nick works long hours and has a rather long drive home, it made sense. Sometime later I notice a dark haired woman, getting out of a‘53 Mercury. Normally I would never take my eyes off a looker like the lady but hell kid a man has his priorities. I see the Mercury parked out back sometimes when I take break. I think she works close by or is visiting someone. That certainly was the case; I put the lady and Nick together. Whenever that mercury was out back Nick was the happiest man alive, his smile lit up the room. Never did I see them together, it made sense. Sometimes after dinking a few beers I would drive by the apartment and there was that Mercury. Hell, it appeared to me that Nick had everything. He marries his high school sweet heart who is rich. He inherited the family business and has a mistress. Truth is I was jealous. I would play Hank Williams on the Wurlitzer and cry in my beer. Nick appeared to have fairy tale love. Sadly all things come to an end. Around the spring of 60 I quit seeing that Mercury. Nick’s passion was gone. He ran a successful business but no more pats on the back, jokes or small talk. Looking in his eyes you could see the void. My good friend, he had for a period of time what all of us wish for our whole life. The real deal Bob, “LOVE”. There is an old saying it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I certainly don’t buy that. I’ve never seen another love like Nick’s. I believe his heart has ached every day since the lady left. What is sad, I never knew her name. I think she must have been an Angel because while she was around, Nick walked on clouds. I doubt he has entered the apartment since her departure. Out of respect, no one here at the paper speaks of it. I trust you will do the same. I am convinced there is one person here at the paper that knows all about his relationship and that would be Ruth. She watches out for Nick like a mother hen would her chicks”.
Keith asks me to describe the apartment. I describe what I saw of the living area, bath and bedroom and how lack of light prevented further inspection. I explained how large the kitchen was and the ample supply of light the large windows produced. Also how there was two place settings. I explain how I felt overwhelmed unable to investigate. I invite him to join me next time, he declines. He wants me to give him all the details here at Zonas. The apartment was once a special place known only to a few. He doesn’t want to give up his fairy tale version until he knows the truth. Keith gives me some advice. “Listen to what your heart tells you in the apartment. It’s impossible to live somewhere without leaving a part of you. Your college education has taught you how to construct a story. Did you cover compassion and understanding in any of your classes? The fifties is representative of simpler days yet the ‘53 Mercury was a classy, powerful automobile of its time. The lady was well dressed and probably well educated. Nick and her share a timeless love, long candlelight dinners, holding hands, looking at the candle light flicker in others eyes. A look so penetrating you could see the soul of one another. The flame glows forever because the fuel that feeds the flame will not stop until the last heartbeat. Do you understand Bob, “THE FLAME.” The bedroom consummates the physical pleasure but it is the giving of your heart and soul to another, to the depth you never thought possible, when two become one”. A tear rolls down his face. I’ve never seen this side of him before, I’m speechless. Neither one of us say a word as we finish our drink. I’m so lonesome I could cry is playing on the Wurlitzer. Hank Williams recorded that song a long time ago. Another era cries out. I shake Keith’s hand, “Thank you I’ll see you Monday”. He smiles but was lost in a fairy tale world we all wish for but only a few find.
On my drive home I think about what Keith said. His heart was deeply touched by a lady he saw only a few times. His imagination filled in the blanks that he spoke of tonight and I am in awe of his emotional rendition. My mission is to not treat this story as an investigation. Unlike the way I would handle a news story. I will let the story take its own path. I’m under no dead-line. I’ll use all the patience the story demands. The apartment has been there for a long time, we’ve only just begun.
I quickly finish my chores on Saturday and retrieve the key from the desk and enter my new world. Unlike the first visit, I now understand my mission. I unlock the door and step inside, allowing the door to close behind me. My eyes shut as I feel the room. It smells of staleness from all those years of being sealed up. Upon opening my eyes, light from the kitchen once again reels me in. Instinctively I sit down at the table opposite the place settings. I relax and become comfortable in my chair placing my hands behind my head and take a panoramic view of the room. Time and sunlight have taken its toll; the wallpaper is dried out and sagging. The south side contains two large windows showing kitchen utensils on the curtains. On the west houses a refrigerator, range and sink. The north side is a large pantry. The last side of the kitchen has a counter with a blender, cookie jar, toaster, metal bread box, utensils and such, all covered in dust. The woodwork once white is yellow. Eerily the appliances look the same, aged. Thoroughly reminiscent of the whole room, too much light and time have done it in.
I am at ease and let my mind drift off to my childhood. I no longer smell stale air. I smell aroma of home cooking, licking icing out of a bowl. Birthdays and Sunday dinners all served with love and family togetherness. Mother helping me with homework, doing puzzles, playing games and of course dad falling asleep in front of the T. V. and snoring. Mom and I always laugh about that. All of these smells and scenes flash through my mind.
I feel sunshine on my body while I warm up to the apartment. I open my eyes and see millions of dust specks bounce off sunlight as it shines into the kitchen. My eyes play tricks as two forms appear directly across from me. Years of dust particles have blended together showing the outline of a man, and to his left a woman. The sun recedes and the forms disappear. I’m bewildered at what just happened. It was certainly unexpected but not the least bit frightening. My mind play played a trick on me. That is the only thing that makes sense. I leave the apartment peaceful; rather different emotion than last week.
I have unlocked the forbidden door and daydreamed in an oddly yet seemingly familiar chair. My first visit saw me in a state of nervous euphoria. Today was completely opposite. I have opened a present that has been a long time coming to me. It’s now within my grasp and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest. After opening the door I want the secret it holds. I cannot help but think that I play a vital part in the mystery. It has waited for this young reporter.
CURIOSITY SERVES A NEED
AS I OPEN THE BURIED SEED
EERILY COMFORTABLE CHAIR
VISIONS FROM OUT OF NOWHERE
LOVE CROSSES THE AGES
THE REPORTER STARTS THE PAGES
End chapter one “TIME CHAIR”
ROBERT S. GARRITY