The Door

The kitchen telephone stops ringing before Annie can answer it. In the other room, Roland hits two toy cars together and imitates the sound of a crash, then pushes them along the carpet. Annie sets their dishes from dinner into the sink, and a movement through the window catches her eye. A car stops in front of her house and two men step out, both dressed in their military uniforms. One wears the hat of a captain.

Why didn’t Mason drive back in his own car? Annie wonders.

But as the men near the house through the gentle dark of just-past-sunset, Annie can see that the soldier accompanying the captain is not her husband. She drops the glass bowl she’d been preparing to rinse out. It hits the sink and a shard breaks off.

Annie glances back at Roland, a mere four years old, and her hands begin to tremble. On the mantle above him rests a picture of Mason, who shares the same glowing blond hair of his son. How many other similarities does Roland share with his father that he will never witness himself? Roland roves his toy cars around the room, making a screeching sound like a car making a tight turn. Annie can see Roland as a teenager now, eager to get behind the wheel of a real car, but without his father to teach him the ways of the road—or the ways of the world.

A strong, three-beat knock sounds at the front door, a sure knuckle against the thin pine door that seems to send a tremor through the house and straight to Annie’s heart. Maybe they are here to say that Mason has been deployed an additional six months and they thought it kind to tell her in person?

Annie reaches Roland and holds her shaking arms out to him, but forces a smile. “Come here.” Smiling, Roland throws himself into her welcoming arms. She scoops him up and holds him close as she walks toward the door—the brown door that has never looked so large or felt so far away, but not far enough.

Maybe they are here to tell her that Mason was in a training accident and they’d like to escort her to the hospital to see him when he comes out of surgery.
Another step closer.

Maybe they are here to say that he’s a suspect in some navy-base crime and they’ve come to ask her some questions, like in those TV shows her dad likes so much.

Another knock at the door.

Annie halts and Roland squirms in her arms, reaching back towards his toys. The door is only a foot away. She could open it from here if she chose, but does she dare? As long as the door stays shut, Mason stays alive. But if she doesn’t open the door, he will not be mourned for just that much longer. And that feels like a disservice to her brave, brave husband. To the man who enlisted straight out of high school, not because he had no other options but because he wanted to serve. To the man who proposed to her after her father refused to give his blessing. To the man who held her and promised everything would be okay when the announcement of his deployment came the day after she found out she was expecting.

Roland starts to cry out, not wanting to be held any longer. Annie kisses his forehead and speaks soothing words. “Sweetie, we have guests.” She could put him down, but she can’t bear to. Roland is her rock now, and she may fall without him.

Mason has always had a sort of unquenchable optimism, even in light of his job and all that he’s seen. Maybe, with some luck, Roland will have some of that optimism too.
Annie takes another step forward, breathes in, and swipes her hair behind her ears. Whatever is on the other side of this door can’t hurt her more than not knowing, can it?

She can’t help it now—she imagines the door opening and the captain lowering his hat, his face solemn. “Mrs. Roads, can we come in?” he’d ask. Once inside, the captain and his lieutenant would break the news—would break her heart. Roland would continue to play with his toys as soon as he’s given the chance, oblivious. It wouldn’t be until later, much later that he would know, that he would understand that his daddy is never coming home. He’d have no epic stories to share with his friends, no father to take to career day at school, no man in his life to teach him how to be brave while afraid, to be optimistic when all hope is gone, to die with honor.

A third knock at the door.

Annie takes the doorknob and turns.