The Death Door by Stephanie Vitarelli

The long and windy driveway trails up a small hill where a colonial mansion stands tall and stands alone, its four massive columns towering high in front of a façade of brick. Three chimneys release smoke, three fireplaces warming the house inside. Or, at least that’s what the outsiders think. Yellow and red leaves litter the four and a half acres of land; autumn is flaunting its show. The hedges are landscaped daily, perfectly green, but there are never any flowers. I make sure of that.

The flagpole stands tall on the other side of the house, but there’s never been a flag to blow in the wind. The pole just stands there lonely as ever. Lonely like it should be. Lonely like my mother. Lonely like I used to be.

Come on in, if you like. You know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover?”

The front door creaks open to a claustrophobically thin hallway that smells of dust and a sick mix of rotting meat and faded perfume. The old faded carpet is greying more as each day passes, withering strings laying in every direction. The walls of the narrow hallway are lined with mirrors of all shapes and sizes, some of them cracked, and in no order whatsoever.

On the left is the door to my home. It’s a two-bedroom apartment, more like a shed, that I used to share with my mother. As a child, my favorite past time was climbing up onto the toilet seat to look out the small rectangle window into Apartment Two of the mansion. Apartment Two was much bigger. Almost triple in size to the shed. I’d watch what went on behind the other door in this house. It was a little peep show. What do they call that? Voyeurism? Except I was watching something different than what most kids were watching at that age.

Back up. I almost forgot to tell you about my favorite part of the property. The weeping willow. It weeps on the side of the house, its leaves blowing in the wind like the long hair of a sad little girl. It reminds me of my childhood. My mother always cried under the weeping willow. She’d just lie there under the tree and let the tears fall to her ears until the chill of the night forced her back inside the home. I got tired of this, my mother moaning every evening, all because my father left. It was her fault he left, didn’t she know that? He worked hard for us just to live in that little apartment. He would work long, exhausting hours. Sometimes he would leave at dawn and wouldn’t be back until long after supper. She must feel guilty for what she’d done. Guilt. It was never really a thing I understood…

When my mother knew my father was going to be away, she would invite the neighbor, John Hart over. He was the owner of the funeral parlor next door, or Apartment Two. Technically, we rented from the Harts. It was all one big house separated by no more than the two front doors.

John would come over and they’d sit and eat cheese and stale crackers and sip on cheap wine, candles lit throughout the dim kitchen. I’d spend the time in my room, hating the way my mother leaned over the table and grabbed his hand, laughing at jokes that weren’t funny. I’d see it every time I had to leave my room to use the bathroom, and each time I did my mother was a little drunker until eventually she was slurring her words and spilling wine on her ivory frilled dress. Eventually, she’d forget I was home and they’d make their way to my mother’s room. The first time, I didn’t know what it was. I heard the bed creaking and I heard my mother yelling, though it didn’t sound like it was in pain. It lasted a few minutes and I assumed they had passed out or that John had left before Daddy got back. But then I heard his footsteps coming down the narrow hallway.

I didn’t know if they were John’s or Daddy’s. The doorknob to my bedroom turned so I assumed it must be Daddy coming to kiss me goodnight like he always did when he got home. It took me a moment to realize that it was John standing in the doorway. He just stood there for a few moments, his head cocked to the side, my nightlight shining on his glossy eyes and on his hand moving up and down his groin over his pants. He walked closer to me, still touching himself in that same way. I tried to ask what he was doing, but no words came out of my mouth. My mouth was glued shut or I forgot how to talk. I just prayed Daddy would come home now. John sat next to me on the edge of my bed, his breathing heavy and strained. He kissed my forehead like Daddy does, and I could feel his 5 o’clock shadow rough on my skin. I thought maybe he just wanted to say goodnight. But then he kissed both my cheeks, and then my mouth, and Daddy never did that. I laid there, not knowing what to do, trying to yell for Mommy until the words finally came out, but Mommy didn’t hear me. She was in a drunken stupor passed out in her bed. John’s hands pinned my shoulders down to the mattress as he continued kissing me down my neck and chest. I was crying and yelling for Mommy but it was no use. I was smart enough to know that. I heard a metal clinking noise and realized John was taking off his belt. He unzipped his pants, still stroking himself with one hand as he stared into my eyes, kissing my face. I turned my head away from him, feeling my tear soaked pillow cold on my cheek.

And then he stood up and he walked out.

That continued for years until John was no longer our neighbor. My pure hatred for him is what inspired my “peep show” habit. I could barely reach that bathroom window standing on my tiptoes, but I would watch the people cry in despair until my toes burned from holding my weight up. I would watch the funerals and pretend it was John in the coffin instead of John giving the service. I would make up scenarios in my head of how he died. One day he got hit by a truck, his body mutilated between the wheels in the process. Another day he was out on his boat with his kids. He jumped in for a swim, and his son, not knowing any better, turned the engine on. John got sucked into the propeller before his son’s eyes, and if one piece of John was left, it was left for the fish.

I remember a time when I was ten years old. I was wearing my favorite overalls and I knew a funeral was about to start. The cars lined up the driveway, more than usual, and I knew it must be someone important that had died. I ran to the bathroom and climbed up on the toilet seat, peeking out the window. As the people filed in and took their seats, my excitement grew wondering how John was going to die today. As John was about to start the service, he looked over to the window, seeing me watch for the first time. I should’ve jumped off the toilet seat and ran to my room like nothing happened, embarrassed. But I just stared into his eyes, feeling a smile slowly form on my face as the gears in my head began to turn.

As I grew up I became more and more interested in the history of funerals and dead people. Most cultures throughout history have three common threads for the dead and how to get rid of the dead. First comes the ceremony or ritual. Next, a sacred place for the dead, and finally, memorials for the dead. Funeral homes weren’t established until after 1800. Up until then, families got rid of their loved ones on their own, which is how I think it still should be. Homes used to have what is called a death door; a door in the home that led down into a basement or cellar, where they’d keep their dead family members. I’d always wanted a death door in my home, and I saw to it that I got what I wanted.

I was able to “buy out” the funeral home. The Hart family mysteriously went missing. How odd! I guess I finally had enough of John Hart and his games, so I played my own game. I finally decided how he was going to really die. I waited until he was preoccupied holding his dick in his hands on my bedside. I was ready, with a rock the size of an orange in my hand. I acted fast, nervous but excited. I heard his skull crunch under the force of the rock and I smiled as he fell over. I didn’t want to kill him just yet. I just needed him unconscious so I could tie up his hands and feet.

When he woke, I gave him three options. Three different weapons: an ice pick, a dagger, and an axe. I won’t spoil it for you; I’ll leave it up to your own imagination. But what I will tell you is that his choice was a fun one for me. And no, I didn’t feel sorry for him, though I did feel slightly sorry that I had to kill the rest of his family. They’d never done anything to me, but you know what they say: guilty by association.

The Hart family was my first addition to the Death Door. John lies at the head of the dark room in his vestment with a cross in his pocket. Oh John, you bastard. Now I can do whatever I want to him. The stupid prick must’ve known this was coming. Revenge creates a surge of power through me, and it’s a feeling like no other. On the adjacent wall lies Beth Hart, John’s wife, and their two kids Addison and Benjamin. Their wall is what I refer to as the “friend wall”. You know, people who never really did me wrong but had to die by default. They can be my friends now that they’re dead. I’ve never really had a best friend until now.

I just never saw the point in making friends. I didn’t need a friend when I had the house. This house has been my only friend and my best friend. When I was younger, the shutters winked at me every time I came strolling up the driveway. It got me through the hard times, and that’s when I knew that we had a connection. We became very close once the Hart family no longer resided here. Resided here alive, at least. Now we can really be together, just the house and me and my dead friends.

My mother was the next addition to the death door. I made the door from the wood of the weeping willow, in memory of her. Before she died, I made sure to tell her all the filthy things John had done to me. I made sure to tell her it was all her fault. I made her look beautiful, though she really didn’t deserve that. I gave her ruby red lips and long eyelashes. She is still my favorite of them all. I put her in her favorite silk robe; it was the only expensive piece of clothing that she owned and she wore it only on special occasions. She sometimes wore it for John Hart. Now she gets to wear it forever.


Stephanie, a recent SUNY Cortland graduate, has had three short stories (one fiction and two non-fiction) published in The Cortland Writer: “The Thing That Happened”, “My Grandmother’s Bathroom”, and “Salted Avocado.” Two of these pieces won second place in monthly contests. She also has fourteen articles published in Social Lifestyle Magazine, where she was interning as a journalist.

 

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