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A House with Mughal-Style Doors

by Cathy Ulrich

     After the party, Deirdre’s mother will find a pack of cigarettes under her daughter’s bed, in the white box with the red, take one out on the back step with the kitchen matches and smoke there, sat down on the concrete in her thin floral dress. She’ll hear the phone ringing from inside the house, think she should answer it, but she’ll smoke instead, let the wind rustle the hem of her dress.

           After the party, Deirdre’s mother will wash dishes and vacuum the floor. She’ll stub out cigarettes in the potted plant by the back step, leave the butts sticking up like incense offerings. She’ll buy another pack of cigarettes, smoke it too. She’ll wear her hair in low ponytails, forget to put on makeup. She’ll roll the cuffs of her jeans, eat sandwiches standing over the sink, brush crumbs off her chin onto the floor.

           After the party, Deirdre’s mother will telephone other mothers, did anyone see, did anyone say. She’ll listen to the other mothers make appropriate noises of sympathy, excuse their children, excuse their boys. She’ll set the phone down on the counter and walk away, light a cigarette, breathe the smoke out through the window screen, come back to the sound of a dial tone.

           After the party, Deirdre’s mother will sit naked at the base of the shower, water pouring over her, cold and cold and cold. She’ll think what do they call those keyhole-shaped doors. She’ll think who has keyhole-shaped doors anyway. She’ll think I should never have let her go to a house with keyhole-shaped doors. She’ll wish she had a cigarette.

           After the party, Deirdre’s mother will take the bus to work, switch lines three times, hands twitching, tapping in her lap. She’ll look out the window at something, the passing streets, she’ll think, but she won’t really see them. She’ll have a pen in her purse, put it in her mouth like she’s smoking a cigarette. She’ll breathe. She’ll breathe. She’ll breathe.

Author's Note

In college, I briefly dated this local actor. Part of the time, he lived at his dad's house, which had these keyhole-shaped doors. I loved how going through them made me feel like I was going somewhere else, somewhere special. Instead, I usually ended up in the actor's bedroom and we'd listen to Bruce Springsteen or Zeppelin or something. I'm always thinking of that house and those doors and the sound of "I'm on Fire" from the tinny stereo.

Cathy Ulrich hates riding buses. She lives in Montana, so she always drives, but when she travels, she loves taking trains. Her work can be found in various journals, including Longleaf Review, Passages North, and Black Warrior Review.