It was Eron’s idea to crack open the window, but she dared not move from the bus driver’s wide-open eye—one eye for a face, seeing everything. Sometimes Eron even felt the eye watching her thoughts—always watching, even in her dreams.
The road leading from school to home was a long, straight path, paved in dirt and canopied by ancient trees. These trees had thick skin and abundant foliage that all-but blocked out the world beyond. Inside the blanketed tunnel, the air was saturated with oxygen and thick with sap. Here, an entire ecosystem of insects, animals, plants, and microorganisms coexisted amorously. The vitality was palpable. During the long bus ride home, Eron liked to close her eyes and imagine she could feel the swell of life closing in around her.
Spring was giving way to a new summer. Eron had known seven prior summers, but she could feel that this one was different. This summer burned in her abdomen, sometimes making her dizzy.
And the heat was within and without. It crept through the atmosphere like a languid cat. The schoolbus children felt they might suffocate underneath it.
The driver forbade children from acting out of place, and so when Eron realized the idea to crack the window, she buried it deep inside of her conscience, where it might be safe from discovery. She further concealed the idea with a blanket of worry: her teacher had sent a note home from school, for her mother to read. The note was on fire, in the hideaway pocket of her knapsack. It read: Eron is too timid in class. She is in danger of falling behind.
Eron’s mother wouldn’t approve.
The worry was enough to almost fully enrobe Eron’s idea of a cracked open window. So, when the girl one seat ahead stood to open the very window Eron transpired upon, Eron had to wonder at their connection. She watched as the girl’s arms lengthened to push the window open. A cool and bewildering wind swept into the bus.
A blood vessel ruptured in the driver’s eye.
“My name is Mare,” said the girl.
“Did you read my mind?” said Eron.
“It’s very hot,” said Mare.
“But it feels better now.”
Mare smiled and sat back down, so that Eron could see only the top of her fine-haired head—stray wisps drawn out the window, taking root in the wind. Eron decided she would grow her hair out in the same way.
Eron’s mother was a lonely woman. She inherited the loneliness from her mother, who’d inherited it from her mother, who’d been an Indian priestess. Although Eron couldn’t understand her mother’s loneliness, she could hear her thoughts. When her mother read the letter from school, she thought this:
“Is my daughter too much like me to be good?”
Eron’s mother once told her a story. The story was this: As a fetus, Eron had been too large for her mother’s birth canal. Her mother did not know this until it was too late—until little Eron had ripped right through her, tearing her into two separate parts. These two parts could never be reconciled, hard as Eron tried.
Eron spent a lot of time alone, in her bedroom.
Eron spent a lot of time alone, in her bedroom.
The bedroom was mostly pink—pink walls and pink carpet and pink curtains on the picture window overlooking the front yard. This color was chosen for Eron, before she even existed.
There was a giant four-poster bed, with a canopy, underneath the bedroom’s picture window. It was Eron’s bed, and hers alone.
At night, Eron liked to lie in her bed and watch the images in the canopy change as the moon rose behind the trees, revealing to her shapes that she didn’t understand, in foreign movements, dancing but not dancing.
“You’re too loud,” the bus driver said to Eron.
Eron wondered if she’d heard correctly, as she wasn’t used to being heard.
“Don’t make me separate you two,” the bus driver said.
“You two.” The words echoed in Eron’s mind, like a siren song.
When Mare giggled, Eron cupped her hand to her friend’s mouth and shushed her, like she did her baby dolls when they had trouble sleeping at night.
Eron’s father had a condition where he couldn’t be seen by anyone but her.
He lived underneath a door in her bedroom floor, and came as often as he could to visit, but only at night. He had other obligations in his invisible life under the floor—obligations he sometimes only hinted at to Eron, the way adults do when they want to shield their children from information that might be a burden on the brain; it was his intention to protect Eron, and so he told her very little about his world, and made her promise to keep him a secret from her world.
That was the deal, between Eron and her father.
It occurred to Eron that she might like to tell her father about Mare.
This happened after she told Mare about her father.
The bus seemed especially confined that day. After a long spell of heat and rain, the air underneath the canopy had become a noxious musk. It coaxed the children into a state of drugged lethargy.
Mare sat next to Eron, that day, and rested her head on Eron’s shoulder. “Tell me a story,” she said.
Eron shared the story her mom had told her, which Mare did not like.
“Tell me about your bedroom,” Mare said.
When Eron’s father visited, she removed each of her doll babies from their places on her bed—always the same place for each doll, carefully chosen, in accordance with the doll’s station in Eron’s sacral solar system—and arranged them so that they sat in a semicircle on the floor, around Eron and her father. When she watched him choose a doll to play with for the night, the rush of happiness she felt for the chosen baby was the greatest joy she’d known in her entire life. Still, there were the other dolls, and as Eron was a good mommy, she gave the others extra love.
Summer came. The schoolchildren erupted from their classrooms with more immediacy each passing day. School would be out soon.
In the last night before the school year’s end, Eron watched her canopy and imagined the intermingling shapes were her and Mare. They danced without effort, lost to the wind. Eron thought she might like to stay there, in that canopy with Mare, forever.
Eron decided it was time to invite Mare over to her house. She loved Mare, and so her father would love Mare. This thought comforted her.
When Eron boarded the bus that afternoon, Mare in hand, she met the bus driver, eye to eye. Only, on this day, the driver’s eye was no longer there. Or perhaps it had never been there—Eron couldn’t know for sure.
In the eye’s place was a mirror. Eron looked into the mirror and saw her reflection. And she felt safe in that image, despite the unsettling buzz in her abdomen.
The bus ride home was so long that Eron couldn’t remember having gone to school. It was a comforting sort of timelessness, as if it didn’t matter if there really was nothing before or after. It was the hottest day, and Eron and Mare passed the time playing hand-slap games and getting drunk on the liquid air until their tiny pores welled up with droplets of dew.
“Miss Susie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell
Miss Susie went to heaven
The steamboat went to . . . ”
Stepping off the bus, Eron was at once aware of the harshness of daylight. Its intensity was a far departure from the hypnotic womb of the canopy. In the sun’s sterile glare, Eron could see everything in stark detail.
There were cracks in the concrete leading up to her home.
An owl in a distant tree called out to her. It twisted its head 360 degrees, then burrowed its gaze into her. And then Eron could see everything the owl saw, as if looking down from overhead: school, mother, canopy, Mare, bus, concrete, father.
He was there, waiting for her at the end of the driveway. Eron startled to her barest senses, as she’d never seen him in the daylight. Her mind raced with anxiety, but then he smiled—a fixed smile. He was making effort; he wanted to forgive her.
Eron pulled Mare behind her as she approached her father—her father, waiting, with a fixed smile.
“Daddy,” she said.
“It’s okay,” he said.
Eron’s father lifted her into the air. He was playing their favorite game; he wanted to forgive her.
“I knew you’d be happy for me, Daddy!”
He threw her higher and higher, and Eron erupted in a rapturous laughter with each of his strong-armed rescues.
“I knew you’d forgive me, Daddy!”
But, something had changed. Eron first noticed it in her father’s eyes. They were the bus driver’s eyes.
The eyes grew giant with hatred, and giant blood vessels protruded from them. Then Eron’s father’s head grew into a giant’s. And then he was no longer her father.
The unfamiliar creature’s arms expanded to push Eron out into the sky further than she’d ever gone before. She was scared. She wanted to beg her father to stop, but she could no longer see him, and the thing in his place had stepped away—one decade at a time and in the flash of a thought—until it was gone completely.
Mare had already receded from the scene, in escalating degrees of detachment.
Eron knew she was going to hit the ground. She thought she would die. She closed her eyes in anticipation of the dull thud of blackness.
Cool concrete broke her fall. Then the glaring sun labored for a victory, dissolving her into the concrete. This happened instantaneously, and as if there had been nothing before it.
The concrete wasn’t so bad, as Eron had feared it would be. There were many others just like her there. As it turned out, this happened to most girls.
Door in the Floor
A work of fiction
Published: Signet 50th Anniversary Edition
Door in the Floor
Published in Signet Literary Magazine, 50th Anniversary Edition