“Cut a good story anywhere, and it will bleed.”
Anton Chekhov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Notes from the author:

I wrote this one shortly after rereading Karin Tidbeck's short story collection Jagannath. The tender, lovely weirdness of her tales in many cases springs from the juxtaposition of two things that don't go together, like steampunk contraptions and love affairs ("Beatrice") or faerie kind and time ("Augusta Prima"). I composed a list of ordinary things in unusual contexts, and chose one of them--doors in people's chests opening onto their hearts--to write from.

The door to Rebecca's heart was locked tight, and no one seemed to have the key. In fact, there didn't even appear to be a keyhole.

"Break it down," she told Rahab.

Rahab had the misfortune to be named by parents who were pious but somewhat absentminded. They'd wanted to give him a name from the Tanakh, but they'd gone completely from memory, and their memory couldn't be bothered. Rahab in the book of Joshua was a hero, but Rahab was also a woman, and quite possibly a prostitute. This fact had inspired no end of playground teasing. He'd tried to get his classmates to call him Bob, but it didn't take.

Anyway, that was reason number 147 for why Rahab loved Rebecca so much. She didn't care about his name. As far as she was concerned, it was a two-syllable word that meant the boy I want most to love.

How very much she wanted to love him was reason number 5. "I don't care if it hurts," she told him. "Just pound on the damn thing until it opens."

The door to Rahab's own heart had opened easily, swinging free on its tiny oiled hinges, and the carvings on its interior were wonderful to behold. Rahab himself had never seen them before; up until now, he'd never opened his heart for anyone. Lions and lambs, phoenix and unicorn, all coiled together in snaking vine and exquisite detail upon the ivory surface as though carved by a master of the craft of scrimshaw. The door's exterior was more simple, but something about its geometry intrigued the eye. Not that many eyes got to see it, of course. You learned early in that community that good children kept their shirts on. Baring your heart's door for all to see just wasn't done. Why, just last month a man had gone swimming shirtless at the neighborhood pool, and it was a full ten minutes before even the lifeguard could overcome her discomposure sufficiently to tell him he must cover up or leave. He only grinned a triumphant grin and left, still shirtless and barefoot. No one really knew where he went or who he was. The door over his heart had been iron-gray with a weird reddish sheen which no one admitted to having stared at for any length of time.

Rebecca was endlessly fascinated by the patterns on the outside of the door to Rahab's heart. When Rahab opened that door to her, she had gasped in wonder and delight at the menagerie cavorting on the interior surface. She had reached a trembling finger toward the aperture, asked, hesitantly, "May I touch them?" The yes stuck in Rahab's throat; it wanted to come out in so many different ways, screamed and sung and shouted and whispered, that it didn't manage to come out at all. Finally, Rahab simply nodded. Rebecca traced the lines of the unicorn with a trembling index finger. She followed the line of its flank to where it intersected the belly of a sphinx, thence to the beak of a roc, each creature's outline taking her closer to the hinges of the door to Rahab's heart.

His heart itself she did not dare to touch, though Rahab's breath quickened in anticipation of this new and intimate contact. Rebecca's finger hovered just over the threshold, then withdrew. Rahab began to protest, but fell into emotional silence at the realization that she was reaching for the handle of her own door.

"You don't have to," he blurted. "Not just because I did. You don't--"

"I want to," she said. She put finger and thumb to the door knob, gave it that quick twist with a slight jiggle that she'd never given it before. She'd never had occasion to before. She'd never even known how. But suddenly the knowledge was there, bone-deep knowledge, body knowledge. Just a quarter clockwise twist with a bit of a vertical shimmy. That simple.

Only it didn't work. The door refused to open.

"If my father did this, I will kill him," she said. Her tone was chillingly dispassionate. "I bet he did. I bet the moment the doctor said 'It's a girl,' I bet he said 'No one's going to touch my little princess,' and he got the doctor to seal it up so I'd have to ask him first. He figures he owns me. It's sick." On the last word, all her disgust and anger came out, loud, and the panic underneath her anger made the word sharp.

That was when she looked up at Rahab and said, "Break down the door. I want you to."

Breaking down the door to another's heart was a crime. It was a violation of body and will alike. In old novels, it was the brutality implied between the lines when one character was said to have another under their spell. No good and humane person would want to force an emotional attachment where the other wouldn't give it willingly. But Rebecca said, "I mean it--do it. Do it now."

Rahab reached out--and hesitated. He unclenched his fist, stroked a finger down the outside of the door. Rebecca's door was made of a substance like wood with inlaid segments of lapis lazuli and silver, painted shapes in red and black and white. Some people painted their doors, but this was Rebecca's natural coloring. Rahab touched the silver and the blue and said, "I can't. It's too beautiful. I love you. I can't."

"Then close your own damn door first!" But that was nonsense, and she knew it as well as he. Having once opened his heart to her, Rahab would always love her. Physically closing the door wouldn't change that. How awkward if it did! Having to go around with his heart exposed to the elements all the time, the open door making a tell-tale lump under his shirt for all to see, vulnerable to every blow both accidental and deliberate. And there'd be a lot of deliberate. The bullies who'd made fun of him for his name in second grade had grown into more physical ways of exerting their dominance now that they were all in high school.

Rahab felt suddenly exposed, despite that only Rebecca was there to see him shirtless. In desperation he leaned close to Rebecca's chest and examined the tiny hinges of the door, the tiny knob. "There is no keyhole, you know that? It's not locked. Maybe I can disassemble the hinge..."

Rebecca bit back a scream of frustration. "Look, I'll break it down. Find me a chisel. Or a screwdriver or something."

The thought of Rebecca doing damage to her beautiful door frightened Rahab. And what if she used too much force, and the tool skewered straight through the door to impale her heart? "I'll do it," he said. "Don't hurt yourself. I'll do it."

He raised his fist again, but once more he found himself unable to strike a blow. He loved her too much to hurt her. But he loved her too much to leave her like this, so he tried his best. But his fist simply wouldn't move with any force. The love pouring out of his open heart wouldn't physically allow it. When at his knuckles made contact with her door, it was a gentle contact only.

It went like this: Knock, knock, knock.

And at his knock, the door swung open.