Week 1: Written on January 7, 2016
When Mary heard her father had passed away, she didn’t really know how to react. She hadn’t thought about him in years, but on those rare occasions when his name actually came to her mind, that was the question she always asked herself: is that old bastard still alive?
Now she had a definitive answer: no.
She never said goodbye to him, not after leaving home at 16, and the wounds that hurt the day she left still hurt. Nothing had healed, and she didn’t regret leaving him behind.
But ironically, now that he was gone for good, Mary thought that she could finally bring closure to that period in her life and start to let the wounds heal. She could say goodbye without worrying about how he’d respond. She could say as much or as little as she wanted. The dead held no influence over her.
She visited his grave the weekend after the funeral, driving an hour out of the city back to her small hometown — Casper, NJ, population 424. She had forgotten how much she missed the wilderness, the trees, the fields, the streams. The air was clean, and quiet. In Casper, the loudest sound at any given time was the wind, which swirled about the tiny village like a protective parent monitoring her children.
On this day, the wind was particularly strong near the cemetery. It was old, Revolutionary War old, with a steepled church in the middle, propped up on a hill overlooking the stone markers. On Halloween, the Casper Burial Ground was a hotbed of activity, with nighttime lantern tours exploring the diverse history of the area and all the wartime patriots that were buried there. The rest of the year, it was exactly what a cemetery should be: a ghost town.
Mary knew before she got there where she’d find her father’s gravestone. There was an expansion leading into the adjacent woods. That was where all the new plots were located, including the Jensen family plot. Her grandparents were there, her mother (who died when Mary was just an infant) was there, and she knew her father would be there, too.
Mary parked in the tiny lot next to the church and walked down the path into the woods. It was overcast and windy, which made for a really beautiful and serene stroll through the trees. Were it not for the marble markers on either side of the path, it would’ve felt to Mary like she was lost in the forest. And were her father not buried there, she might’ve chosen to be buried there herself one day.
After a few minutes, she saw the gateway to the Jensen family plot, and her father’s grave marker stood in stark contrast to the others. Most of them were stone crosses, steles, or angelic monuments. She knew which one was her father’s right away. It wasn’t a tombstone at all, but a door.
It stood seven feet high, frame and all, with ornate brass hinges and knobs. Mary walked up to it and ran her fingers along the wood. Polished mahogany. The rich color popped amidst the grays and blacks that dominated the rest of the cemetery.
In a way, it felt alive.
Mary reached for the knob, but the door was locked. There was no key in sight.
She could just look on the other side — and she did, only to see nothing but more graves and trees — but she felt compelled to open that door and walk through it.
She groaned. It was just like her father to leave her frustrated and upset from beyond the grave.
Mary knew where the key probably was, too.
In the casket, with him, six feet under.
She sat on the ground and leaned back against the door, lighting up a cigarette. Her father would’ve hated that.
Mary wondered how many people had gone to her old man’s funeral. She found it odd that, just a few days later, there were no flowers or wreaths or candles or anything else left beside her father’s…door. The door itself still had that new grave sheen to it, but otherwise, it looked like it had been there for years and years virtually unnoticed.
Fuck it, she thought, sticking the cigarette between her lips and pulling a bobby pin out of her hair. If there wasn’t a key to unlock it, she’d pick the damn thing. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Her father had a study back home, a room in which she was never allowed. He had spent most, if not all, of his free time in there, locked away, leaving Mary to entertain herself elsewhere. They ate dinner together on most nights, silently, but the rest of his time was spent in his private study. It wasn’t until she needed a car, and was brazen enough to borrow his without permission, that she broke into the study while he was napping and nabbed the keys from his desk drawer.
A big old mahogany desk.
That time, an ordinary bobby pin had done the trick. She figured this time would be no different.
Mary bent the pin in an L shape and slid it into the keyhole, rotating it to and fro hoping to hear a click. It was trial and error more than science, and after a few minutes of failure, she pulled a credit card out of her wallet to try another well-known trick.
She ran the card along the edge of the door, just above where the bolt would be, but on closer inspection, it looked as though there was no gap between the door and the frame, like it was all one solid piece.
Mary grabbed the knob, pushed and pulled with all her might, but the door didn’t budge. It was either locked up solid or not really an operational door. In both cases, impenetrable.
She wasn’t surprised.
She took another glance at the other side of the door and saw her father’s ugly mug staring back at her. A photo of him was hanging there, older than she remembered him, wearing an uncomfortable smile. Beneath the photo was his name and dates of birth and death, all etched elegantly into the wood.
Then it occurred to her.
She wasn’t standing on the outside trying to break in. She was on the inside, and the locked door was keeping her from getting out.
The wind picked up, as if on cue, and she sighed. That closure she’d sought, a chance to put the past to rest, wasn’t happening.