by Ren Braueri
La puerta siempre estaba abierta. Just in case Javier ever came back.
But let me not begin there, because…if I started there – I’d have to tell you how it was all my fault. Instead, let me start with the day Papá brought La Puerta home.
It was a typical Saturday morning with Mamá rumbling through the house dishin’ out commands, spouting her usual mantra, “Si no trabajas, no come.” Hearing her, I didn’t care if I didn’t eat all day. All I wanted to do was sleep in.
“Mamá, my stomach hurts!” I put extras on it but Mamá was unmoved. With one swift tug, she pulled my blanket off.
“Marisol, stop faking. Somos una familia. Trabajamos juntos para nuestra familia.”
“I’m not pretending!” I lied. From under the covers, I spied my seven year old brother, Javier, tailing Mamá with a box as big as he was. He dropped the box and jumped on top of me.
“You’re supposed to help me!”
“Get offa me!”
I ran to the bathroom. I took my time brushing my teeth, hoping that by the time I was done, they’d be done setting’ up for Mamá’s weekly yard sale, aka “la venta.” No such luck. By the time I got out to the driveway, Javier was sitting on top of a stack of unpacked boxes, inhaling a burrito de chorizo con huevo. Mamá was setting up her taco stand. My stomach growled at the scent of peppery sautéed onions.
“Sorry mija, your stomach aches…” Mamá nudged Javier. Javier flashed a burrito filled grin. I scowled. Okay, so sometimes I was a little lazy. But it seemed like all I did was work, work, work. I’d just started middle school and the homework was kicking my ass. If I wasn’t doing my homework, I was helping Mamá with the cooking, the laundry, la venta, or helping Papá build things or haul and move people’s stuff. And if neither one of them needed help, I had to babysit Javier. By the weekend, all I wanted to do was nothing and la venta felt like the stupidest waste of my time.
Feeling hangry, I arranged all the second-hand toys on an ugly blue tarp and turned every toy on until the whistling, popping and beeping drowned out Mamá’s fussing.
“Mija! You’re going to give me a headache!”
“Sorry Mamá, can’t hear you, the toys are too loud!”
Mamá started in on me but stopped when a couple stopped by to order two tacos.
By the time Papá’s dented red truck rolled into the driveway, I was packing up what was left of the holey shoes, ratty shirts, and broken toys that Mamá insisted on selling every fin de la semana. While Mamá and Javier put away the food, I hid behind a stack of boxes and stared, mesmerized, at pictures of a volcanic black sand beach in a travel magazine. I wanted more than anything to be on the beach half asleep.
Papá’s face was locked in a grimace and he was grumbling under his breath but his expression shifted the moment he saw me. Ever since I was little, it seemed like Papá was always in a bad mood. When he thought no one was looking, he’d unleash his anger on the junk scattered throughout the yard, kicking or flinging them against our worn fence. The moment he saw me or Javier, though, his anger would wash away, replaced by some mischief he’d pull us into.
“Hey, sneaky girl,” he said, “I see you hiding!” With a silly grin, he scrambled onto the truck bed to grab a slab of wood. Papá’s moving gigs always yielded some choice knick-knacks.
“Kids, miran!” he hollered as he swung over the truck like a caballero flying’ off a bucking rodeo bronco. At the sound of Papá’s voice, Javier came careening into the yard.
“Una puerta?” Javier asked, spying the little door Papá hoisted over his head.
“La puerta es mágica!” Papá said, dashing towards his shed.
“Marisol!” Mamá called, “the boxes!”
Papá winked at me. “She’s helping me.”
Papá leaned La Puerta against the outer wall of his tool shed. Looking at it, I half-believed him. La Puerta was fancy! It was a glittery iridescent shade of purple with a rounded top and a clear glass doorknob filled with tiny golden gears. Half the size of a regular door, it had the quaint appearance of a fairy door.
“Open it,” he said, his eyes twinkling.
“Wha…?” I looked at Papá like he was crazy.
“Just do it!”
I reached for the glass doorknob expecting La Puerta to fall over but, at my touch, the doorknob vibrated and La Puerta melted into the shed wall, becoming part of it. Papá hooted and Javier and I jumped back in shock. La Puerta swung open towards me. There was a dome shaped opening where the shed’s wall should have been leading to a black sand beach with crystal clear blue water, just like the one in the magazine.
“Whoa!” Javier yelled as he ran onto la playa, plowing me over. My heart pounded in excitement. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Behind me, the neighbor’s música norteña was on blast while in front of me, waves pounded in synchronicity on the shoreline.
For weeks, we propped La Puerta open so that we could run onto la playa at all hours like it was our own private paradise. One Saturday, after playing the entire day away, Mamá gave us a tongue-lashing.
“It’s been four Sabados since anyone has helped me with la venta. This food doesn’t grow on trees!” Mamá said, as we stared at our chicken enchiladas. She looked right at me. “All you’ve been doing is building castillos de arena! You love that stupid beach more than your familia!”
“But Mamá, ¡es mágica!” Javier said.
“Money’s not magically coming up from that sand is it?”
I rolled my eyes.
Papá cleared his throat. “Okay kids, your Mamá is right.”
“Wait, I have an idea!”
“No, don’t start Marisol. I don’t need ideas, I need this family to work together.”
“But Mamá, what if la venta was on the beach? People just want to relax on Saturdays. We can charge admission.” I expected Mamá to tell me how terrible my idea was, but she was smiling.
Mamá spread the word to her friends and soon enough, people came on Saturdays with their beach gear. La Puerta became the best kept secret in the neighborhood with Papá putting the fear of outsiders stealing it into everyone who came.
My job was to work the crowd with Javier, walking the beach, selling cold drinks, tacos, and random junk. Papá was on safety patrol. We even got breaks to play. We did this for a couple of weeks until Papá’s back injury flared up. Once, on a job, he had fallen fifteen feet off a roof and instead of helping him, his jefe fired him right on the spot. His back never healed right. He woke up grumpy and in pain.
“Miguel – help me with the food.”
“Let me rest, vieja! You don’t have to do this every weekend!”
My parents bickered as they set up. I was heading to La Puerta with a box when a plume of fire erupted from it. I skirted behind Papá’s truck with Javier, where we gaped at the molten lava seeping out of La Puerta.
“It’s all these boxes!” Papá said, mean-mugging Mamá, “La Puerta swung shut and when I opened it, all this crazy fire came out.” Papá closed and reopened La Puerta a few times but every time it opened to a fiery volcanic world. “That’s it! We’re not doing this today!”
Mamá bit her lip as he disappeared into his shed with La Puerta. For days, Papá held it hostage, tinkering with it.
“When are you bringing La Puerta back?” Javier whined.
“But Papá!” we both said.
“It’s off limits!”
But, being kids, Papá’s words were more like an invitation…
Summer came a few weeks later and still – nothing. With no school and no homework, I was determined to get back to la playa. Since Papá kept the only key to the shed’s padlock, I had to find some other way in. Made of solid wood with a perimeter of stacked sandbags, the shed seemed impenetrable. But since I helped Papá build it, I knew better. Though it had no windows, the wooden panels that made up its walls were thin, and screwed rather than nailed onto the shed’s wooden frame.
With Javier close behind me, I circled the shed until I found a small square panel on the back side of the shed. Using Papá’s screwdriver, I removed it.
“Did it!” I said. Javier’s eyes bugged in excitement. We both crawled into the shed. Within seconds, we were standing in front of La Puerta, my hand gripping the doorknob, a surge of energy pulsing through me.
“I hope it’s a beautiful beach,” I said.
“I hope it’s Star Wars.”
“What? Star Wars isn’t real. La Puerta only has real places.”
I reached for the doorknob but Javier grabbed my arm.
“What if there’s fire?”
“Okay, well, Papá was mad when he opened La Puerta. I’ll just not be mad and think of the opposite of fire.” I closed my eyes and thought of icicles. I turned the doorknob. It vibrated in my palm and I opened the door to a snowy world.
“Whoa,” Javier said, “It’s Hoth.” We both laughed and stepped into knee-deep snow. I scooped up a handful and tossed it into the air. Javier stuck his tongue out to catch falling snowflakes. We chased each other, throwing snowballs, heedless of our fingers turning blue from the cold.
“Wait!” Javier said, “I can’t see La Puerta.” I looked behind us. We had run so far from La Puerta that it was just a dot in the distance.
“It’s right there, dummy.”
“Remember Papá’s rule. We can’t let it out of our sight.”
“But we haven’t even seen anything. Let’s explore.”
Javier pouted, his face swollen and flushed with fear.
“Oh my god, I can’t believe you. If we just walk in a straight line, we won’t get lost!”
Javier shuffled his feet.
“Ok fine. You’re such a big baby.” I said it under my breath, but Javier heard me.
“Am not.” We headed back to La Puerta, me stomping and Javier sulking.
Right as I was about to close La Puerta, Javier asked, “What if this place goes away?”
I gazed at the icy winterland, a twinge of sadness hitting me.
“Then we’ll go somewhere else just as cool.”
Every day that summer, we snuck out to the shed before Mamá and Papá woke up. I set my wristwatch for an hour, then we’d take turns opening La Puerta. When it was Javier’s turn, he imagined crazy delirious worlds with creatures as tall as the sky, buildings made of sand, and water worlds with watermelon sized islands. Whenever it was my turn, I imagined vast beautiful beaches with rainbow coral reefs and tidepools.
Javier always wanted to swim or run along the shoreline. All I ever wanted to do was nap. But with Javier being only seven and not that great of a swimmer, I spent most of my time either yelling at him to stay out of the water or dragging him out of the water. After a while, the beaches stopped being fun and they became just another chore. Javier became a chore.
So when Javier woke me on the last morning of the summer, I wasn’t even interested.
“Marisol, let’s go,” he said.
“Eh. I don’t feel like going. Just let me be lazy for once.”
“But it will be our last adventure.”
“Adventures,” I snorted, “All I do is follow you around.”
“Come on Marisol!”
“Leave me alone. I’m tired of babysitting you.” I covered my head with a pillow.
He fell silent. I snuggled under my covers, lulled by the haze of sleep. Some time later, I woke up. First thing I saw was Javier’s empty bed. A shallow pang of fear stabbed my stomach. Then I remembered him waking me up. I went to look for him. I found Mamá hanging up clothes on the iron gate in the front of the house.
“It’s about time. Wake up your brother. I need help.”
A cold spike stabbed my heart. I raced to the back of the shed. The square panel had been thrown aside. I scrambled into the shed. It was blanketed with a thick fog. La Puerta was open, mist swirling out of it. I rushed to La Puerta and peered inside. I wanted to run in, but saw no ground. I fell onto my stomach and reached in, flailing around for the floor. I felt nothing. Did it open onto the clouds? Terrified, I dragged Mamá to the shed.
“Javier’s fallen into La Puerta!”
Mamá stared at the small opening behind the shed. “No, no,” she said, her voice rising in a panicked crescendo, “Go wake Papá!” I ran to my parent’s bedroom.
“Papá,” I shook him, “Javier’s gone into La Puerta. It’s all my fault.” My words tumbled out in sobs and Papá sat up, bewildered. Then he sprang out of bed. He found Mamá hacking at the padlock with a crowbar. Fumbling with his keys, he unlocked the shed and ran towards La Puerta.
“Wait Papá. There’s no ground.”
“What?” they both looked at me, incredulous.
Papá stuck half his body into La Puerta.
“It’s nothing but air, Luisa.” Mamá looked aghast. She bolted and returned with a long rope.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going in after him is what I’m doing!”
“No,” Papá intercepted her, “We don’t know what’s down there.”
Mamá wailed into her hands. Papá took the rope from her and tied it around his waist. He tied the other end of the rope to the chrome fender of his truck. Then he grabbed the crowbar and a flashlight.
“He just fell and he’s down there waiting for me,” Papá said. Mamá and I gripped the rope, lowering Papá little by little.
The bottom wasn’t as far down as we thought – only a dozen or more feet. For hours, the rope was slack as Papá walked around. When we finally felt a tug on the rope, Mamá backed up the truck to pull up Papá. He was alone.
“I can’t see anything. This world,” Papá banged the flashlight on his thigh, “is just swamp and mist. The light – it just swallows it.” Papá choked on his last words.
Mamá pushed Papá aside. “It’s my turn.” Hours later she too returned disheartened, her eyes swollen red, her voice hoarse. I wanted to roam in that world screaming for Javier until I, too, returned gruff-voiced and deflated, but they wouldn’t let me.
For days we stood at the threshold of La Puerta calling for Javier until our voices cracked. Papá positioned a tall lamp at the edge of La Puerta like a beacon for Javier. Then one stormy night even that little bit of hope left us when a merciless wind blew La Puerta shut, taking the light with it. La Puerta was only closed for a heartbeat before Papá yanked it open. Javier’s foggy world was gone, replaced by a vast, red, cracked landscape.
Papá’s roar echoed throughout the shed.
Not caring if it spat out fire and burnt everything down, Mamá demanded that Papá install La Puerta in the house. His face emotionless, Papá placed La Puerta into the fireplace. When he was done he stepped aside.
“Well,” Mamá said, “Open it.”
I reached for the doorknob.
“Not you,” Mamá snapped, “This is all your doing!”
My cheeks flushed red with shame. Mamá looked at Papá and pointed at the doorknob. Papá’s face paled.
“No, I’m cursed. My worlds are always angry.”
Mamá clucked her tongue and reached for the doorknob. I jumped in front of the door.
“Mamá, you have to think only of the foggy world.”
Mamá’s eyes twitched at the corners as if the sound of my voice grated on her whole being. Then she took a deep breath and reached for the doorknob. Just as she opened La Puerta, a sob escaped her lips. Rain pelted from the world within La Puerta onto the living room floor.
That first week was madness. Mamá existed only to search for Javier’s foggy world., standing tortured at the edge of La Puerta, calling for Javier. Papá dragged their bed into the living room and they took turns calling for him. I felt as if a part of me died every time Mamá opened La Puerta. Her worlds were never foggy: always rainy, drenched, sad.
When both of them were asleep, I crept to La Puerta. Filled with fear for little Javier, who was wandering some world all by himself, I opened it.
“Javier?” I’d whisper, afraid to wake my exhausted parents. Each time, even though I filled my mind with fog, fog, and more fog, I found only silent, pitch dark worlds mirroring the emptiness inside me.
La venta forgotten, Mamá did nothing but pine for Javier. She floated past me like a ghost, hollow and broken. Papá’s lips murmured Javier’s name nonstop even when he wasn’t kneeling in front of La Puerta staring at desert landscapes. Obsessed with the search for Javier, both of my parents were wasting away, their faces narrowing into shadows.
One night, I stood in the kitchen remembering our family dinners. My ribs felt like leaden weights carrying my broken heart. Seeing the pile of dirty dishes, the cold pots and pans, the food moldering on the counters, I wanted more than anything to make things right. I decided to fix a meal. After an hour, I emerged with arroz con pollo, Mamá’s favorite.
Mamá barely glanced at the food. Instead, she glared at me. Papá took his plate without a word, his eyes shadowed.
“You,” Mamá spat at me. Then she slapped the plate, spilling the food on the ground.
“Luisa!” Papá’s eyes followed the trail of rice and chicken on the dirty wood floor.
“You took your brother to La Puerta even though Papá told you to stay away!”
“They’re just kids. I should have never brought it home.”
“No Miguel, you shouldn’t have.” Then she knocked his plate off his lap. Papá put his head in his hands and wept.
“You never cared about this familia!” she yelled at me, “You were always hiding, never wanted to help. Since we’ve brought La Puerta in here, not once have you called for him.”
“Stop! Not another word.” Mamá’s eyes seared into me. “I don’t want food; I want Javier!”
I ran to bury my tears into my pillow, swearing that I’d do better. After that, I cooked every night. Papá always ate the food, but Mamá refused to touch her plate. Then one night, she nibbled the corner of a quesadilla. Pretty soon she was cleaning off the plates. My dinners revitalized her and her vigilance doubled. Her voice was strong and her determination rigid as she called for Javier.
Mamá’s vigils paid off a week later when the first Javier arrived. She was chanting his name like it was a prayer when she cried out. I ran in to find the dark living room filled with dappled sunlight, its mildewy musk overshadowed by the scent of jasmine. In her arms, Mamá was rocking Javier.
“Mi hijo…” Mama whispered into his hair.
“Javier, I’m so sorry,” I blurted as tears gushed down my face. Javier gave me a wide smile and nuzzled my arm, sniffing it. It made me laugh and cry all at once. Mamá swept him up and carried him to the bathroom. That’s when I noticed that Javier was completely naked.
I ran outside to the garden to get Papá. I was crying so hard that he couldn’t understand me but he knew it had to be about Javier. A weight lifted off his shoulders the minute Papá saw Javier. He gathered Javier and Mamá into his arms. I wanted to join them, but I fell back, not wanting to ruin it.
For the next few days, Mamá and Papá fussed over Javier. Javier just took it all in stride, never complaining. In fact, he never said anything, just sat there, unblinking with that same wide smile on his face. He seemed younger, maybe 5 years old, and hairier; and he never stood up – only shuffled around. There was something very not Javier about Javier. But Mamá didn’t give one rat’s ass of a damn.
“He’s just in shock, he’ll come back to his old self,” Mamá said.
But he never did. Then the day came when even Mamá couldn’t deny something was off. I found her cowering in my bed.
“Mamá, what’s wrong?”
Mamá’s only answer was a shudder. I went to look for Javier and found him in the yard tearing open a cat. With his teeth. Blood and raw meat dripped down his mouth. I hurled my lunch into the bushes and stumbled inside. Falling to my knees in front of La Puerta, I lambasted myself.
“What’s wrong with him? I should have woken up, I should have gone with him!”
Javier crawled into the house. He nudged me until I sat down so that he could lay his head on my lap. Unwilling to look at the bloody mess of him, I locked my gaze on La Puerta. Mamá came into the room. Out of habit, she opened La Puerta to yet another water-drenched, melancholy world. She regarded the world in silence before warming a damp towel to wipe Javier’s face.
“My little angel,” she cooed as if she was wiping mud and not blood.
We both jumped at the deep bass of a man’s voice. Peering out of La Puerta was a beautiful man. Mamá’s mouth fell open. The man stooped and stepped through La Puerta. Dressed in a black button up shirt and long dark trousers, the man towered over us. Droplets of rain clung to the chiseled angles of his face. Mamá recognized him instantly.
“Javier?” she asked, “how can this be?”
The man let out a stifled sob and pulled Mamá into his arms. “Mamá,” he whispered. Mamá let loose a loud wail and clutched at him. Jolted awake by the commotion, little Javier sniffed the man’s legs, his wide smile replaced by an expression of utter confusion.
By the time Papá came home from work, Mamá had cooked a five-course meal, all the while grilling Beautiful Javier with a million and one questions.
“Papá!” Beautiful Javier said when Papá walked into the kitchen. Papá stiffened, uncertain of whom he was looking at. Javier rose to embrace Papá.
“It’s Javier, Papá, I come from the world of the living.”
That was Mamá’s favorite Javier. Beautiful, tall, polite, endearing. Convinced that he was in the afterlife, he always looked at us as if we were a distant memory.
“I lost you all so long ago.”
“How did you lose us?” Papá asked, fascinated.
“You don’t remember? Is that what happens when you die?”
For a moment, I almost believed him – that we were the ones lost in some strange ghost world while Javier lived on.
“It was your truck, Papá. It was pouring. The truck flipped.” Then Beautiful Javier cried.
“Oh Javier,” Mamá took his hand, “We never meant to leave you.”
“We never left him!” I said, “He got lost – remember? Mamá? Papá?”
“Sh!” Mamá hissed.
“Come – sleep, stay with us,” Mamá said. Javier thought she meant the night, but Mamá meant forever.
For a little while, Mamá went back to her old self – cooking enormous meals for both Javiers. She kept La Puerta open so that Beautiful Javier could come and go. She floated about as if in a dream attending to her two Javiers.
But Papá was unhappy. And so was I. Where we had none, we now had two Javiers – one perfect, the other terribly flawed. But neither were our Javier.
“Mamá!” I snapped one night, “We have to close La Puerta and find Javier!”
Beautiful Javier straightened. Then he looked at little Javier who was gnawing on a T-bone. “This isn’t the spirit world, is it? It doesn’t make sense that in the spirit world I am a dog.”
Papá and Mamá laughed.
“I can stay with you and help you find your Javier,” he said, his eyes bright. But Beautiful Javier had his own family to return to. So we sent him back.
“I’ll be listening for you,” he said before stepping into La Puerta.
Long tears trailed down Mamá’s cheeks. She took a deep breath, opened La Puerta…and we started all over again.
Over the years, there were dozens of Javiers. Mamá doted over all of them – the mean ones from the crass unruly worlds, the skinny ones from famished worlds, the elderly ones from desert waste lands. She loved them all. But none of them had ever gotten lost because their Marisol had failed them.
They all eventually returned to their worlds – all but little Javier. In all his years with us, he never quite grew out of it. Whatever it was. Though a bit taller, he still chased after cats like a little wolf. I had gotten attached to him even if he was curled up on our porch chewing on rodents. At least we would always have one Javier.
But one day Mamá changed all that when she found little Javier’s world and sent him back. I found her laid up on the floor near La Puerta, staring up at the ceiling.
“I sent him home, mija.”
“No Mamá! Why? He was good here.”
“It wasn’t right to hold onto him. He’s got a Mamá in his world who’s missing him…just like I miss my Javier.”
I was heart-broken, “Damn it to hell!” I pounded my head, hating myself. I lunged towards La Puerta, grabbing the doorknob.
“Give my brother back and take me, you stupid ass door!”
A violent pulse electrified my fingers. I yanked La Puerta open to a loud windy world. A bright light came speeding towards us as a motorcycle zigzagged into the room. I grabbed Mamá and dove onto the bed. Atop the motorcycle a thin faced boy snarled down at us. Mamá and I rolled off the bed seconds before he split the bed in half.
Leaving the motorcycle smoking in the wreckage of the bed, the boy stalked toward us, his fists clenched.
“You left me!”
“Javier? We never stopped looking for you!” Mamá rushed to him but he growled and rammed his elbow into her nose. Stunned, she fell back, her face bloody. He advanced on her but I blocked him, pummelling him with my fists. He responded with a vicious head butt binding me with vertigo. I fell onto my back. Javier closed his hands around my neck.
“You forgot all about me!”
I tried to shake my head, but his hands were too tight. Full of anger and hatred, the Javier that looked back at me didn’t look anything like my Javier. Did I do this to him? Just as my vision swam black, Papá wrenched Javier off me.
“¡Cálmate!” Papá said as Javier thrashed. And then he did what no Javier had ever done – he pulled out a dagger and brought the blade down on Papá’s arm. Papá snatched his arm away but not fast enough to escape an ugly gash along his forearm. Javier kicked Papá’s legs out from under him.
“Javier, stop, please!” Mamá pleaded. Javier turned, aiming the dagger at Mamá. Papá let out a roar I’d only heard once before – the night the wind blew La Puerta closed. He jumped to his feet and threw Javier into a headlock. He dragged him to La Puerta.
“Papá stop!” I said, “It’s our Javier.”
But Papá didn’t care anymore. Though there were tears in his eyes, only curses escaped his mouth. He threw Javier into La Puerta. Mamá screamed, burying her head in my chest like a ravaged beast as Javier flipped like a feather back into his tumultuous world. Papá slammed La Puerta shut and ripped it out of the fireplace. Seeing the madness in his eyes, I tried to stop him, but Papá side-stepped me.
Mamá followed him as he charged for the backyard.
“Miguel, what are you doing?”
Once in the yard, Papá dropped La Puerta and seized his axe.
“Miguel, don’t do it!” Mamá threw herself on La Puerta.
But even Mamá’s body sprawled across La Puerta could not stop Papá. He swung the axe down on the only part of La Puerta Mamá did not cover, splintering it.
Mamá fell to the side, begging him to stop but Papá kept going until he demolished it. When he was done, he grabbed lighter fluid, doused La Puerta, and lit a match, torching it. Mamá opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out.
Afterwards, we sat in front of the fire, numb and wide-eyed, Mamá tending to Papá’s wound.
“I had to do it, mija. I wasn’t sure what else was gonna come through it.”
“What.” Not “who.”
When they were both asleep, slumped in lawn chairs, their breathing heavy, I collected what was left of La Puerta – mostly ashes and tooth-pick sized splinters of wood. Underneath it all, I found the glass doorknob, unscathed. I held it and it throbbed with a faint pulse of energy. I thought of Javier splashing salty ocean water on a black sand beach and wept.
For years, unbeknownst to Papá and Mamá, I carried La Puerta in a tin can with me wherever I went. It took me hundreds of trials before I finally realized that no matter how many times we opened it, we would always be destined to fail. The only person who could find Javier’s foggy world was Javier because it was through his imagination that the world was revealed.
Armed with this knowledge, I set up my apartment for yet another attempt. Each time, I try something different. La puerta, well La Puerta Nueva, is just a slab of untreated wood. In recreating it, I had brushed on La Puerta’s slivers and ashes with wood glue, but I did not repaint it or add a sheen of glitter to it. There’s nothing fancy about La Puerta Nueva.
None of that matters anyway. It’s all about the impenetrable doorknob and its mysterious intricate gears.
Without me, the doorknob holds a multitude of worlds. But because of me, all those worlds collapse into one dictated by my unique chemistry and all the emotions and thoughts raging through me. When I realized that I would never find Javier’s world, I concentrated on the only world I could find. The doorknob is very exact.
I take my time to stage my apartment. It’s not enough to simply remember. I have failed many times before. The details were not right, distracting me in my subconscious state, or my mind was flawed to begin with. Either way, the doorknob reads everything – so everything must be meticulously recreated.
On a small table I place Mamá’s tacos – fresh and warm. Mamá delivered them just moments ago. Holding the plate of tacos, in the middle of my apartment, she twirled around, looking at the boxes of junk, piles of folded clothes, and noisy toys arranged on a worn blue tarp.
“What’s all this, mija?” She sighed. “What are you always doing? Working so hard. You need to rest. Look at your poor Mamá, all these wrinkles.”
I sent Mamá home to Papá, who had lost his mischievous smile the day Javier left us. I get La Puerta Nueva ready, placing a special gift beside it for Javier. I get into my twin-sized bed. Across from me is Javier’s empty bed.
Turning on la música norteña that played on repeat in my neighborhood, I lay down and remember that amazing summer when Javier and I visited dozens of worlds. I set an alarm for 3 hours. A few hours later, I wake up dazed. The scent of Mamá’s tacos remind me of my childhood home, fragrant with her cooking.
“Marisol, let’s go,” I hear Javier’s voice in my head.
“Eh. I don’t feel like going. Just let me be lazy for once.”
“But it will be our last adventure.”
“Adventures,” I snorted, “All I do is follow you around.”
“Come on Marisol!”
I picture him standing there, waiting for me – my compatriot.
“Okay,” I get out of bed, “Lead the way.”
It could have happened. I will make it happen.
I shuffle in my apartment, imagining myself tip-toeing to the shed. I am lost in my own memories, filled with the exhilaration of sneaking out to brave new worlds. I imagine us crawling into the shed, brushing dirt off each other, and standing in front of La Puerta. I imagine Javier opening La Puerta to a foggy world.
I reach for La Puerta Nueva, my hands sweaty with excitement. I tug it open. Reality collapses. I can feel the doorknob calibrating, its receptors taking in my emotions, my thoughts, my memories. I step through La Puerta Nueva into Papá’s shed.
Javier lets out a yelp when he sees me. He is standing in front of La Puerta, the fog of his world filling the shed.
“Javier.” My chest is burning with unshed tears. My arms ache. I want to embrace Javier, but I stand rock still, breathing in the fog of the world I have tried to find for a decade.
“Mamá?” He squints through the fog, looks past me into La Puerta Nueva. “What world is that?”
“The future.” I pick up Javier’s gift: a glowing blue lightsaber. I slash the saber in the air, cueing the artificial whirls of a plasma blade.
“Whoa!” Javier reaches out for the lightsaber.
I step back into my apartment. “Let’s go on a real adventure.”
About the Author
Ren is a nomadic daydreamer; her memories are more grounded in distant worlds than the present. Ren is currently working on a young adult series about doors and witches and skateboards…and somehow all of it landing on the same page together. Ren is a diasporic Southeast Asian writer, pening out her bards with her two feral (don’t-you-ever-touch-me-just-feed-me) cats in akland, California. Visit her at www.renbraueri.com. Currently a bit too shy for social media but hopefully will join the matrix soon (or maybe not).
About the Narrator
J.M. Bueno is a current high school senior from Miami, FL. She is an avid creative writer, and her pieces have won numerous awards including a National Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Competitions. In her free time, she enjoys playing viola and watching movies at her local AMC.