by Mitch Levenberg
The doorbell rings. At first I don’t answer. I mean it can’t be good. If it’s a package they’ll leave it at the door. I figure my window of opportunity to pick it up before it’s stolen is about five minutes or so based on the average time for things to be stolen around here. But it rings again. The doorbell. This is serious. One more time and I was sure whoever it was would leave after the third ring. That was the average-of how many times a person rang the doorbell in proportion to how long it took them to leave. So I waited but the time between the second and third ring was so long so beyond the average time between rings that I actually thought whoever it was at the door had left. But I was wrong. The third ring came with a vengeance. In fact, the third, fourth and fifth rings came in rapid succession. What now? I thought. Just let whoever it was keep his finger on the bell until doomsday? Maybe it already was doomsday. Maybe it was the grim reaper. Who knows? Yes, I have aged. Maybe I’ve even gotten old. Certainly since the last time I answered the door. Who would even recognize me anymore? My beard had become overgrown wild and bushy while my eyes have become cryptically penetrating. Disturbingly engaging. Maybe it was a package, I thought. That wouldn’t be so bad. Unless it was a bomb, a package was in general a quiet visitor, it didn’t particularly want to be there at your front door anymore than you wanted it to be there but then again maybe it was a package for my neighbor who always had very large and very heavy packages delivered, yet was almost never home to receive them. One time I took in a great big package for him, the postman and I struggling to get it into my house. For days afterwards there was no sign of my neighbor at all. Soon the box became a dumping ground of sorts, a place for me to drop stuff on like letters and papers and gloves and dirty dishes. Once, not certain where to put a lamp I had found in the street, I put it on the box and decided it looked good there so that the box finally became a table and gradually I dragged it further into my house where suddenly it became another, or to be honest, one of my only pieces of furniture. Sometimes I used the box as a dining room table. In order to prevent the table or box from getting stained or burned, I put coasters and placemats and even trivets on it when I ate and drank. Then one day when I couldn’t be happier, when I felt my home was finally complete my neighbor came home. I had forgotten all about him. The first thing he asked me was whether I had received a package for him, a rather large and heavy package that I would certainly not forget receiving. “It was a table you see,” he told me. Then he saw the big box I was using as a table with the lamp and all my dishes piled on it, some clean, some dirty, with the morning paper and several days mail mostly junk on there too but that didn’t stop him from saying, “There. That must be it. It would have come in a box just like that one.” “But that’s not a box,” I said. “That’s my table.” “That’s fine,” he said. “You can keep the box just give me the table inside of it.” I mean what nerve this guy had to just come out and say that was probably his table inside my box but what are you going to do? I mean after all it was his, his name was right on the box. I never thought about crossing it out, so I gave him the table inside the box and later true to his word he left the box outside the door without the table in it but it wasn’t the same. Now it just seemed like box and not a table and when I tried to eat on it it would just start to sag especially with the lamp on it and besides I couldn’t get it out of my head that there was once a table inside it and now what I was eating on was just a big box like you couldn’t have one without the other, so eventually I threw out the box and decided then and there I would never accept a package or anything else for that matter from anyone ever again.
The doorbell rang again and now I was angry. Mostly I was angry I had ever installed that doorbell in the first place. A person couldn’t possibly knock on a door as often and easily as they could ring a doorbell.
I mean who could it be? I had very few friends and the ones I did have would never come to my house without calling first. I needed no repairs and therefore it couldn’t be a repairman. If my house were on fire I would have smelled the smoke or heard the sirens. If it were a cop I would have had to have done something illegal which I couldn’t remember for the life of me doing. Besides, everything wrong I did concerned no one else, was no one else’s business but my own. And if it was a package or a box most likely for a neighbor since I certainly wasn’t expecting anything, well you know how I felt about that, so no, let them keep ringing, I thought to himself. Now I won’t answer no matter what. I mean they want to play hardball so can I. They can keep their finger on that damn bell until it fell off, the finger I mean.
But they kept ringing. All night they kept ringing until I fell asleep, until the ringing became part of my dreams in which it was me who was ringing that bell until I experienced a terrible pain in my finger shooting through my entire hand and arm and shoulders into my neck and finally my head until I thought my head would explode and I woke up screaming knowing I had to answer that door. That no matter who it was this had gone too far and I had to answer the door. But the moment I jumped out of bed, the moment I put my pants back on, the ringing stopped. I waited. I waited through the average amount of time one waits between rings. I waited through an above average time between rings. I waited through a new record time between rings. I even called out, yes it’s true, in my kindest most welcoming voice I even called out, “Who is it?” But there was no answer. Whoever it was had gone away. I thought of going back to bed but something pulled me towards the front door. It was a smell. Not smoke or garbage or some dead rodent but a pleasant smell, perfume or soap something I was familiar with and when I opened the door the smell was even stronger. “It’s you,” I thought to myself looking at the doorbell where the smell seemed to be coming from. “It’s you,” I kept saying to the doorbell. “It’s you.”
Yes, it was her. It was her. But how could it be? I hadn’t smelled her, for years. I remember how she had the day shift at the company, and I the night shift, and how I would smell her the moment I came to the office, she having left only moments earlier. And this went on for days and months until finally I was summoned quite unexpectedly to work the day shift and how the moment I arrived there was the smell again, so I walked along the cubicles, hundreds of them it seemed until I found the one from which the smell had emanated and even though she wasn’t there I still said, because even if she weren’t there her smell was, “It’s you. It’s you.”
The next day, for some inexplicable reason, they sent me back on the night shift, but that didn’t mean I didn’t keep leaving notes on her desk. The first one I described a diner I had been to a lot, the kind where the menus are fifty pages long. Then I left her a note about my house and described every room to her down to the box with the table in it. And then there was the note kind of an addendum to the last one I left saying the only thing missing in my house was her, that she would be the last good component of a good life. And finally, and this perhaps was my favorite note of all, I mentioned how much I liked her smell. I was never sure she read them or not since each day I found the one from the day before in the trash can. I mean that made perfect sense. I mean why save them? Certainly she didn’t know me well enough to save them-no I couldn’t really expect that, could I? But the thing was that the same smell was still there, that she never changed it despite the fact I I had told her in at least one of the notes, how much it meant to me.
One day I left my address and phone number. The phone never rang but the doorbell did and I found myself opening the door every time it did even for people I didn’t want to see, salespeople, people with clipboards; I became like a dog and howled at strangers; every person every footstep every shadow that passed I would howl at and so eventually they took me away not to the dog pound but to a hospital where every time a bell rang I jumped out of bed until finally they had to tie me down.
When I got out, I went back to work but all I did was sit around all day and wait for the night shift. But she never seemed to be there. Even her smell didn’t seem quite as strong as it used to it was still there holding out hope she would show up one day. When I asked people if she had gone away they said they never heard of her. Eventually I was gone too. I couldn’t go out anymore. I found a job online licking envelopes. At one point I even started my own advice column to the lovelorn where I advised others, mostly myself, to pursue one’s romantic desires until their dying breath. But most of all not to accept large packages for absentee neighbors.
So now I stand at the threshold of my door and I swear I can smell her again. I could swear she was there ringing my doorbell all day and night. I looked up and down my block but there was no one in sight. I walked in every direction but I couldn’t detect her or even her smell anywhere. She was gone. It was her. I’m sure of it. She was here. I just know it. She was lonely, as lonely as a loveseat without an end table. I looked around my house and knew now just where she would fit in too. I needed her. She would come back. She just had to. After all, she was the final component to a good life, wasn’t she? I wouldn’t tell her that, not in those words, but she would be. Yes, she would sit next to me every night and I would say to her “It’s you isn’t it? I mean, it is you, isn’t it?”