The door appeared mid-conversation. Large enough for one person to fit through, floating in the air between them, frameless, with hinges that showed the only way to open it was by pulling the door knob. Slightly embarrassed, Almog pushed it aside, as she would a rogue strand of hair from her eye.
It was a date. The man’s name was Zack. In his thirties, he was slightly balding, but still had enough hair to avoid shaving it completely without looking ridiculous. The shoulders under his buttoned-down shirt hinted to a well-built physique, although he had clearly gained some weight in recent years and just might develop a small gut later on, if he doesn’t watch his weight. He had handsome green eyes and a serious gaze, and the way he made her laugh when they met was the primary reason that Almog was seeing him now. he was ten years older than her.
Between one word and the next, the door emerged. One moment, Zack was talking about his university days, years ago — the next, there it was, waiting as if it were the most natural thing in the world. For a brief second Almog merely stared at the odd phenomenon. Then, not knowing what else to do, she moved it away with her hand matter-of-factly.
At first, it seemed that Zack wasn’t even aware of its existence. He was still smiling, a smile that revealed hidden laugh lines, those which at his age still added grace to every expression, but is several years will no longer be dependent on the movement of his face to reveal themselves. Almog thought he might be smiling because of her apparent fluster, before realizing that he froze completely.
She looked around to make sure that the rest of the world was aware of her situation, only to find, to her surprise, that the world around her seemed to carry on normally — completely ignoring the floating door and the motionless Zack, his face frozen in a charming smile.
“Zack”? Almog said, knocking on the old wooden table for good measure. The door became transparent, disappearing almost completely. She could still see its faint outline floating in midair only because she’d seen it appear a moment ago. She suddenly wondered if it had been there all the while, and she simply hadn’t noticed.
“Yes?” Asked Zack, snapping back to himself abruptly.
“Oh,” she faltered, “I lost you for a moment there, sorry. What were you saying again?”
He smiled again. “I was talking about my time in school, when I was your age.”
“I know. It’s just the way you were talking about it.” She pondered this for a moment before continuing. “You sound like you repeat yourself a lot.”
He leaned forward and touched her hand. “Am I boring you?”
“No, not at all,” Said Almog. She stared at his hand touching hers. It felt nice, but she pulled it back nonetheless. “But I get the feeling you’re not really talking about yourself.”
“How about we talk about you, then?” he offered. “You look beautiful tonight, by the way.”
She smiled, almost managing to forget the door, which was fading away by the minute. “That’s corny.”
“I’m a corny guy. I bring flowers, I like spontaneous kisses, I enjoy holding hands and long walks on the beach. I’m like a fictitious online dating profile.”
“You’re avoiding again.” She smiled.
“You’re beautiful again?” he suggested.
Almog almost laughed, but the laughter caught in her throat when the door reappeared out of thin air. She glanced at the re-frozen Zack.
“Dammit, you’re ruining my date,” she blurted at the door. Then, befuddled, she looked around to check if anyone heard her.
She got up, shoving her chair back, and placed her hand on the round doorknob. The door seemed to be brand-new, still gleaming, having never been used.
She sighed. Damn, first time in forever I’m dreaming about a man, and the dream has to mess everything up. Though, she added as an afterthought, if this is a dream, it is an extremely realistic one.
Almog took a deep breath. The other people at the café went on talking as if nothing was amiss. The waitress didn’t even notice she’d gotten up. Zack was still motionless. She turned the doorknob, and the door swung open silently. The street seemed the same on the other side.
When she stepped through, she found herself at the exact same café. Or maybe not exactly the same one. She brushed brown hair from her eyes and blinked. The people sitting at the tables were different than the ones she’d remembered. The waitress was a waiter. Zack was still sitting at the same place, but another woman was sitting across from him. She was about Almog’s age, perhaps a year or two older than her. A redhead with beautiful hair and ample breasts.
“I’m a corny guy. I bring flowers, I like spontaneous kisses, I enjoy holding hands and long walks on the beach. I’m like a fictitious online dating profile.” Zack repeated the words he spoke to her a minute ago.
The redhead laughed. She had bright blue eyes and made Almog feel pale by comparison.
“You’re so funny,” she was saying.
He reached out and touched her. Almog felt a stab of jealousy. None of them noticed her for some reason.
“You’re so beautiful,” Said Zack.
“You really are corny,” said the smiling redhead, but her eyes softened. Their gazes locked.
Almog stormed over. “Hey!” she tried to draw their attention.
“I’m very happy we got together today,” said Zack, as if ignoring her.
“Really? You’re always so quiet at the office. I thought you probably had a girlfriend already. Or a wife.”
The office? Wondered Almog. She tried to remember what Zack does for a living. Something in human resources, perhaps. She met him at salsa class. He was one of the only men that would arrive regularly, and an excellent dance partner.
“Me? Nah. Just a bit shy.”
He wasn’t shy at all at salsa class. Quiet, sure, but not shy. After all, he was the one who asked Almog to dance.
“Not that shy, apparently,” said the redhead, raising her eyebrow at his hand caressing hers.
“Should I be shier?”
She giggled. She was probably prone to giggling, because Almog saw nothing at all amusing about the current situation.
“You’re just shy enough.”
Zack’s smile deepened. Almog was about to pound the table with her hand. Then she spotted the door. Not the one she came in through, which was still hovering open at the same spot she arrived from, but another one, hanging ethereally in the air between the couple. Neither of them noticed it. And when she reached out to it, she found they couldn’t see her, either.
The transparent door became substantial when she touched it. Almog frowned thoughtfully. She then reached a decision, turned the doorknob, climbed up on the table — still completely unnoticed by everyone — and stepped inside.
She stumbled back into the café. The people sitting by the surrounding tables changed again. A family took the place of a couple, a group of men changed to three women. The waiter went back to being the waitress from her date with Zack, but she was wearing different, shorter clothes. Odd. When they met, it was winter. Now it was warm, and the sun was still out.
Zack was still sitting at the same table, his buttoned-down blue shirt now a finer, red one. Sitting opposite from him was a dark-skinned girl, her hair in gentle curls, her eyes black as her skinexceedingly black. She was studying the menu.
“Do you come here a lot?” she asked. She had a quiet, piercing voice.
He briefly hesitated. “Yes.”
She nodded to herself, apparently affirming something she’d noticed. Almog already noticed a transparent door between the two, but decided to stay and listen for a few minutes.
“So, what can you recommend?”
“You’re not a vegetarian, right? In that case, the foie gras is fantastic.”
“Okay. I’ll have that, then. And maybe a glass of wine.”
The waitress arrived and took their orders. Zack seemed to be pondering something.
“You’re quiet today,” Said the woman.
“You’re beautiful today,” Said Zack, and smiled slightly.
“Don’t be corny.”
“But I am. I even enjoy long walks on the beach.”
“You probably bring flowers, too, and enjoy spontaneous kisses, and like to hold hands. You’re practically a fictitious dating site profile, Zack.” Said the woman, sipping her wine.
“Yes. Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.” Said Zack. “If that’s what you think, why agree to go out with me?”
She tilted her head thoughtfully. For a moment, the transparent door almost manifested. Almog could see it flickering in midair, on the brink of materialization.
“Because it seemed to me that there’s more to you than meets the eye. A kind of stillness, hidden under all that pretense I see during the seminar. Like now. I like it.”
“A stillness, huh?”
“Might be the pretty eyes, too.”
He seemed surprised. Then he composed himself, leaned forward, touched her hand, and quietly said, “And I wanted you, Gil, because you’re brilliant. But you really are beautiful this evening.”
She didn’t move her hand. The door’s outlines faded and it became transparent without her noticing.
There’s a pattern here, thought Almog. She pulled the door towards her, certain she would go unnoticed, and swung it open. Again the people changed, but the café, and Zack, were in their usual spot. The transparent door was also still there. This time he was wearing the same clothes he wore for his date with Almog. And was it just her imagination, or was his hairline lower down his forehead than she remembered?
The woman sitting with him was pale and dark-haired, with kind brown eyes. She wore a light green dress exposing her legs.
“You look wonderful today, dear,” said Zack, and winked. “Good enough to eat. You’re lucky we’re at a restaurant already.”
She laughed. “That was possibly your worst yet, Zack.”
“A man has to have some bad ones, so the good ones stands out. True for jokes, and true for women,” he said.
“You’re really full of yourself, you know that?”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Being full of me, I mean.”
She made a face, half-amused, half-appalled. “Sleazebag.”
“A bit. It is our first date.”
“Sorry, I’ll do my best to self-moderate. I’m just so pleased that you agreed to meet,” said Zack.
“Well, you are cute. And you seem relatively committed. Not like the other men from the site.”
“What’s noncommittal about them?”
“Well, like how they mostly want to meet in bars. Which is already a bad sign. But your profile was fuller. Though, kind of corny at times. I mean, long walks on the beach? Really?”
“Can’t help it, I really do love the ocean. You wrote ‘meat balls’ in favorite foods, doesn’t make you a liar.”
“Hey, you got a problem with meatballs?”
They both laughed, and held hands. Almog snorted in disgust and opened the door. She passed into another date at the café. When it bored her, she moved into another, and another. Zack switched outfits, summer turned to winter. She wasn’t mistaken — his hair became fuller with each passage, his laugh lines less distinct. Then, on the fourth time, she suddenly found herself somewhere else.
It took her a moment to get her bearings. It wasn’t the café, but a bar. Zack was sitting on a barstool next to a tall, curly-haired girl. They were sitting very close to each other. He was undoubtedly younger than he’d been when she first met him — his hair fuller, his face covered in hard stubble. They were both smoking, which Zack told her expressly that he hated. The transparent door was still there above their heads, its outline traced in cigarette smoke.
“So you studied business administration?” the curly-haired girl was asking. Almog realized she arrived into the middle of a conversation.
“Yeah, a year ago.” He smiled, his green eyes squinting slightly. “But it’s not the most fascinating topic.”
“Why not? You know, these were several years from your life. It makes sense to talk about them at least a little, to share. It wasn’t just something that happened to you, it was a choice you made.”
“I see.” Zack fell into a thoughtful silence, which stretched into a longer one.
“When was your last relationship?” she asked.
“Don’t you know talking about your exes on a date is a turn-off?” Zack flashed his smile again. He placed a hand on her back.
“Oh, so this is a date?”
The curly-haired girl did not shy away from his touch. She leaned in a bit. “Zack, at some point you’re going to have to stop taking women to bars. We both know where this is going. It’s nice, and it’ll last for anything between one night and a few months. But it’s not what I would call a date.”
“Really.” he muttered.
Zack kissed her. She did not resist.
Almog sighed and pulled the door toward her, passing through it.
She was at a bar again. This time Zack was sitting next to a girl with very dark skin, most likely Ethiopian, whose teeth shone whitely through the gloom. Her hips were spitefully narrow and her face was sharp and beautiful. Her beauty was marred, in Almog’s eyes, only by the cigarette she was holding.
“Cigarette?” she asked.
“I don’t smoke,” said Zack, but smiled so as not to sound critical.
“Maybe you should start. It’ll make your silences less awkward,” she said, and caressed him. She spoke without the slightest trace of an accent.
“Maybe I should.”
Where’s the door? Wondered Almog. She could only see the one she came in from.
“So, what? Graduating, huh?”
“Honestly, I kind of hated it there.” Said the Ethiopian. “A lot of it was just hot air.”
“Yeah,” said Zack, smiling again, “a lot of it.”
“Your smile is a bit sad, you know that?”
“Oh, is there something sad in my eyes?”
“Thanks, sometimes it slips out.”
“Kind of quiet, but not bad once you open your mouth.” She said. “And, really, a man who knows when to shut up is pretty rare.”
“When should I shut up?” asked Zack.
“Now would be a good time.”
Almog rolled her eyes at them. Bar flirtations always sound better to the flirters themselves. They’re usually too wrapped up in the result to notice what comes out of their mouths. But when Zack leaned into the kiss, she finally spotted the door behind his back.
This time the bar was slightly different. A bit less dim, slightly less depressing. Zack was sitting at a table with a blonde whose hair was tied in a bun. She was smoking a long cigarette.
“So what are you studying?” asked the blonde.
“I’m finishing my master’s in business administration. I actually started with a bachelor’s in engineering. It’s where I met the ex.” said Zack.
“Zack, it’s kind of a turn-off hearing about your ex on a first date.”
“So what isn’t a turn-off? Smoking?”
“Shutting up and being pretty, but that you’re good at. Laughing a little. You should smile more, you have a great smile.”
Zack smiled at the compliment and the blonde caressed his stubbled cheek from across the table.
“Always so serious. But, if you are talking, talk less about boring stuff. At least people will think you’re good listener that way.”
Almog wanted to punch her. Her and every other woman she passed on her way here, with their ever-crappier advice. Why was the starting point always to try and change him? She opened the next door and passed through. This date was also at a bar. She didn’t even wait to hear the conversation before hurrying on to the next. And the next, and the next. Until, finally, she found him somewhere completely different.
Suddenly he was almost her age. Young and awkward, as men often are before their mid-20s. All gratuitous gestures and open, exposed eyes. The lines in his face have either faded or disappeared completely. Strange — she hadn’t thought his skin seemed old when they met, but now realized how tight and radiant it had been when he was younger.
He was sitting on a long brown sofa. Beside him was a girl around the same age as he, her hair a light, nearly golden brown. She was as tall as he was, with long legs and a slender, somewhat flat physique. Her eyes were light, sky blue. Her eyes looked like they were accustomed to joy, but now they were silent, solemn.
“I’m sorry,” she said, quietly.
He leaned forward, refusing to look at her. “I don’t understand what the problem is.”
“It’s just not working anymore. Zack, please. I still love you, you’re great, but it isn’t working for me anymore.”
“But what isn’t working?” Zack insisted. “What’s wrong? Just tell me, I’ll change if I have to.”
“People don’t change, Zack.” The girl murmured softly.
“Sure they do. People change all the time. We just don’t notice, because we’re right there with them. To notice a change you have to meet someone years after you’ve lost touch.”
“Fine, I’m not going to argue that with you. You think like an engineer, always trying to fix everything. But humans don’t work that way. You can’t just tell them what the problem is and expect them to change.”
“Yes, you can,” a slight hint of anger seeped into his voice. “You can, if you just say exactly what needs to change.”
“Tali, don’t go.”
“I have to.”
Almog could feel tears welling in her eyes. The door appeared between the two. By now it looked ancient, stained from the passing yearsage of time. A simple wooden door, fallen victim to time. Neither of them saw it. Almog walked toward it, feeling an irresistible urge to know where this one leads.
It was the café. The smell of rain hung in the air, signaling that winter was just beginning. The table seemed brand-new, the décor slightly different. Zack was sitting in his usual spot, his face smooth and smiling. It was completely unlike the smile she received from him, lighting his face up with its naivety. Tali sat opposite him, going over the menu.
“What should we order?” she asked.
“Don’t know. What do you think?”
“The foie gras?” she suggested. “You’re not a vegetarian, right?”
“No. Is it good? I’ve never had any foie gras.”
“Really?” she seemed surprised. “That’s adorable. Let’s get it, I’ll be your first.”
He laughed. “You’re making fun of me.”
“Because it’s so easy!”
“It’s nice to see you outside the university.”
“Well, no thanks to you. If I waited for you to ask me out we’d both have our PhDs before our first date.”
“Date?” said Zack. “This is a date?”
“Wow, I heard engineers were kind of retarded, but this has to be some kind of record.” Said Tali. “We’re on a date, Zackaria. I like you. You’re really clueless when it comes to people, huh?”
“I’m sorry.” He mumbled.
“Don’t be. It’s kind of charming.”
“But I really had no idea. Was I supposed to bring flowers?”
“Do you also enjoy holding hands and walking on the beach?” she teased.
“Oh, Zack, Zack.” She leaned over the table to take his hands in hers. “You said your family is really religious, right?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Yeah it is, you charmer, you. No wonder picking on you is so fun.”
Her bright eyes smiled at his. Zack seemed completely dumbfounded, stunned at his good fortune. Almog leaned against the wall of the café. There were no more doors in the air. She bit her lip and left through the door she came in from. She was now standing beside Zack, sitting alone on the brown sofa. She wanted to go over and embrace him, but knew that she couldn’t.
Not here, anyway, she realized.
She looked at that sad youth, pondering the man he would become. Almog frowned, playing with her brown hair. Then she went to the door that led her to his first date with Tali, grabbed and flipped it over. Holding it under her arms, she went back out into the bar, dragging the door with her. She didn’t stop there, but continued to the next date, to the next bar, dragging the door along with her, from blonde hair to curls, from smoking Ethiopian to dark-skinned and solemn. Woman to woman, bar to café, until eventually she came out the first door she entered. She sat down and tossed away the door she was carrying. It slammed hard against the table, cracking from the force of the blow. Zack unfroze.
“Sorry?” he asked. “You were saying? I guess it was my turn to get lost in thought.”
A corny man is not something you find every day, she thought. Especially one with such a beautiful smile.
Almog placed her hands on her chin. “I was saying: Let’s talk about first love.”