The Locked Door

Submitted into Contest #130 in response to: Write a story titled ‘The Locked Door.’... view prompt

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Drama Friendship Inspirational

This story contains sensitive content

TW: Emotional struggles.

Meredith stared out the window while Trevor bustled about the kitchen preparing to leave.

“More coffee?” he asked while refilling her cup. She didn’t respond. “I’m going now. I won’t be late. Anything else?”

“What time?”

“I’ll stop by the ‘Door’ and then I’ll be home.”

She reached for her coffee. “The door… Bye…”

Trevor left the apartment in silence.

The Locked Door was an unassuming local bar frequented by a particular clientele.

The black brick façade rendered the building almost invisible to anyone not familiar with its location. A black sign with red neon lettering jutted out above the entrance. A poster by the door read, ‘ALWAYS OPEN.’ Someone had scrawled, ‘except when we’re not… subject to local ordinances… blah, blah…’

Ed asked Chuy, the bartender, “You know who wrote on our sign, outside?”

Chuy looked guilty. “No, Eddie. I saw that too. I don’t know.”

Ed smiled, “Pretty funny. I wish I’d thought of it.” They laughed together.

People came and went. No velvet ropes. No live music. Just a juke box.

Never ‘the place to be seen,’ some clientele were never seen anywhere else. Elbows on the bar, always on the same stools, a few seemed to pre-date the building. They would bend an ear or listen, as needed.

Ed sold more coffee than booze. Anyone with a second thought figured it was his tax write-off. The Locked Door was a labor of love. He provided a safe place to talk. And coffee.

Despite the smell of stale beer, it got mistaken for an AA meeting more than once. But meetings were militantly informal. No written rules. And liquor was available. Ed always did ‘last call’ at the required hour. But the doors stayed open ‘til whenever.

Over years, a core of regulars evolved. But anyone could join in on what they couldn’t mention at home.

In a word, shame.

The Locked Door group let people talk without interruption. Advice is too easily given and not often taken. Offering it, however practical or sincere, remained off the table. They listen. That’s all. Each had traveled similar, cracked paths and bumpy roads. Though diverse, these men and women formed deep friendships by the airing of shared pain.

Emory is a regular at the Locked Door. He suffers from caregiver burnout. For years his partner has struggled with AIDS. Emory cares for his daily needs. The emotional roller-coaster is exhausting. He keeps it to himself, not wanting to burden his partner. He can’t face the pending loss. He worries about getting sick. What then? Will he lose it when things get bad? He can’t enjoy rare good days. His well is dry.

When he needs to talk, the Locked Door lends support. “He hasn’t given up. He might linger for years. I can’t tell him there’s no hope. But I see no light down that tunnel. I can say that here. But I can’t tell him.”

Michael, a fixture at the Locked Door, had a bi-polar break in college. The illness destroyed his bright future in medical research. Mid-way through his program, he went manic and flew to Monaco for a long weekend. He quickly gambled his tuition into dust after being up just shy of $100K. After that, he couldn’t face his parents and never saw them again.

“How does anyone go on when their identity consists of being a disappointment to everyone who believed in you? ‘I could’ve been a contender,’ is such a cliché. But it’s a real thing too.”

Trevor’s wife, Meredith, miscarried after years of trying. He feels terrible about feeling disappointment. She feels a failure. He doesn’t want to blame. He wants to be strong. He knows he’s not. They struggle against silence. He visits the Locked Door.

One night, a young woman came in, previously unknown. She spoke of getting pregnant after a one-night stand. Fearing their rejection, she couldn’t tell her parents. Any solutions promised greater problems. “I heard about you guys. I have nowhere to turn.”

Someone passed a hat and she left with a few hundred dollars. No questions asked. She never returned.

People drifted in, greeted each other, ordered drinks, coffee, or both. The usual suspects gathered loosely around a large table.

A woman, not seen before, entered and sat on the periphery. She listened to the stories. She laughed at jokes.

Trevor entered.

Michael commented, “There he is…”

Looking for an open chair, Trevor stopped when he saw her.

“Meredith? Why are you here?”

“I’m waiting for you to introduce me to your friends.”

He stalled, looking at the expectant faces turned toward him. “Hey, everyone… Meet my wife, Meredith.”

Everyone said hello. She smiled and patted the chair next to her. He moved to it without sitting.

He whispered, “What are you doing? Let’s go.”

She said, “Isn’t this where you come to talk? Let’s talk.”

He looked trapped. A few nodded. He sat.

All eyes turned to Meredith. She spoke matter-of-factly.

“Tre, you talk about our marriage to strangers. But not to me.” She looked at them. “I don’t know any of you. You know my whole story. Know secrets, I never shared. I feel eyes on me in the market. Now I know why.” Everyone listened. “Tre, it’s important to sit and laugh with friends. You share how sad you feel, while I sit at home, suffering in shame.”

He touched her arm. “Meri…”

“It isn’t fair. You leave me alone with my pain. And come to whine about how tough you have it? How selfish.”

“It isn’t that simple. That isn’t what…”

“How can we heal if we can’t face the pain, Tre? This could draw us together.”

“But this is my pain. Why should I add to your burden?”

She nodded to each individually. “I speak only for myself.” A few nodded. “Do you have any idea how worthless I feel? What a failure? The nights I considered suicide? But didn’t because I feared you wouldn’t find me until too late.”

Chairs creaked.

Trevor sighed. “I was ashamed of my feelings. I don’t want to add to your pain.” He touched her. “Let’s go. They don’t need to hear this.”

Meredith pulled away. “Am I not allowed to speak? Because my pain isn’t second-hand? Because I don’t co-sign your BS?”

Trevor shrank into his chair.

“Do I embarrass you?” She emptied her glass. “Do I need to buy your attention?” She raised her hand and called, “Bartender! A round of drinks. Trevor’s tab.”

Chuy brought her another. She thanked him and raised her glass to the others.

“What a pity party. I feel abandoned for my inability to do the most basic function. To passively bear a child. I’m a flop. And a lonely one, at that.”

Trevor implored her. “I didn’t know how to help. I’m angry and hurt. But not at you. It’s nothing next to what you’ve been through.”

She looked into his eyes. “You listen to them, but not me? Am I too real? If this must split us, then split.” Trevor balked. “But doesn’t splitting multiply the pain? Isolating doesn’t lessen it.”

She sipped her drink and touched his arm. “It doesn’t have to be a wedge. Be there for me. Don’t split. But that takes balls.”

He leaned in and they embraced. Someone clapped. Another joined in. Applause spread to the room.

Meredith looked at Trevor. “Why’re they clapping?”

He smiled. “You told the truth. The only rule.”

“They needed to hear it.”

“I think they did.”

Meredith noticed the crowd thinning. People hugged, shook hands, and said good-bye.

“Where’re they going? The night is young.” Trevor smiled. “I hope I didn't...”

He draped his arm over her shoulder. “I don't think so. I’m hoping they’re going to find loved ones.”

They leaned close. “Already have…”

She rattled the ice in her glass. “Another? Or continue at home?”

“At home and forever.” Meredith gave him a squeeze.

Trevor paid the bill and left a big tip.

January 27, 2022 22:46

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4 comments

Moon Lion
19:40 Jan 28, 2022

This story was really powerful, I've never experienced anything like this but you made the characters and their struggle really fleshed out and understandable.

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John K Adams
21:12 Jan 28, 2022

Thank you, Moon. I'll admit this wasn't an easy one to write. Woke up at midnight and wrote notes much of the night. I'm glad it worked for you. Thanks for the comments.

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Bonnie Clarkson
14:39 Jan 28, 2022

Good story. No faults that I can see.

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Barb Leedom
00:07 Feb 03, 2022

Not sure I understand the end. Dialog sounds trite.

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