Between the Door and Nothing

Contemporary flash fiction, set in Japan.

Aerial view of people crossing a black-and-white crosswalk.
Aerial view of people crossing a black-and-white crosswalk.
Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

The morning unfolds like every other. I take a moment for myself, then, just three minutes before the work day officially begins, I enter the staffroom through a sliver in the sliding door. I announce my arrival as etiquette would have me, but all I get in return are two grumbles of half-greeting out of a room of three dozen.

The woman who sits beside me, and who I teach the 7th grade English class with, doesn’t even nod to me when I repeat my cheery “ohayou gozaimasu” to her. This non-response is her usual response. It makes me want to wave my hand in front of her face and repeat the line with exaggerated enunciation, like some anime character.

My desk welcomes me in the middle of the room, littered with its daily dose of handouts. I notice that business cards occupy all desks but my own, left behind by some visiting travel agent.

As if to compensate for the exclusion, my desk is decorated with photos printed long, long ago, when the only color printer in the building still worked. Among miniature movie posters, I have a few comic panels sharing jokes that only other Americans of my generation would fully appreciate.

Sometimes I scribble in additions so that they don’t age too fast and leave behind the emptiness that comes with stretching something beyond its use. I gave a top hat and monocle to one stick figure spewing political puns. The obvious next step is a cane, but I’m holding off until he really needs it.

It used to be that the gusts from others rushing around me were organic and lively upon my arrival, but now only the images plastered to my desk carry such energy. The movement in the room is hollow, the novelty of my white skin and blonde hair worn off. Now the movement in the room is dark and cold. Dark and cold like the coffee I stare into and catch my tired, naked face in every morning.

Voices sound around me, but being within a bubble, I can’t catch any firm meanings. I recognize words and phrases here and there but don’t bother straining my ears because I learned a year ago that it would accomplish nothing. Trying to break through the bubble is what I imagine returning to university would be like, without textbooks, lecture notes, or even a syllabus, and being commanded to snag a perfect 4.0.

So instead of fighting for warm glances and small-talk, I just sit and listen to the silence pushed inside my ears. Moments like these allow me to practice fading into the background din, which is better than being caught in between that and the foreground.

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I’m Korra, academic copy editor, fiction writer, and unabashed foodie. Connect with me on Twitter!

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