June 10th, 1998
I hold up the pair of skeleton keys, clipped together with a golden seven keychain.
Mother’s only forty-eight but the cancer makes her seem older. “You’ll need those to contact him.”
She means my father. A man I’ve met twice. A man who blamed his life long absence on a top secret job. He didn’t even come when Mother got sick. Not even a call.
“One opens the hope chest. I’ve saved all his letters. The other is how you send the letters and . . . let him in.” She grabs my hand with a firmness that startles. “You have to let him in. 7 a.m exactly. The same day as before. We’re in the seventh year.”
“We’ll see.” I’m not sure what she means.
“Read the letters. And this.” She coughs, then hands me a tattered diary. “You’ll forgive him.”
My curiosity swells, but not enough to drown my resentment. “I doubt it.”
“Stubborn. Just like him.”
Mother’s Diary Excerpt: August 25th, 1976
Still loving the new house. I know old homes have their quirks, but what I discovered this morning is a doozy.
The trapdoor in the living room? Where I was storing keepsakes?
Everything’s gone. It’s empty. Or was.
Now there’s a pack of baseball cards.
July 7th, 1984
I wake to Mother screaming happily. I rush downstairs. Tears streaking her face, she introduces me to my father. It’s been seven years since she’s seen him; I’ve only known him through letters. I’m six.
He has a kind smile and stirring blue eyes. A fairytale brought to flesh, he never tires of my questions. We eat cookies and build lego castles taller than I can reach. I teach him the names of all the Rainbow Brite characters. He calls me ‘Chipmunk.’ I never once think to share him with Mother.
He tucks me into bed.
By breakfast, he is gone.
Mother’s Diary Excerpt: September 29th, 1976
Trapdoor’s still functioning. Put something in, something new appears at 7 a.m. Only now with notes from a charming man named James. He signs with a big looping J. He thinks it’s teleportation. Wants to inspect my door as he’s done his.
Show me yours, I’ll show you mine, James.
July 7th, 1991
Mother is convinced father will visit again today.
But I no longer believe in him.
We still get letters, but my friends say there’s no such thing as a job that only lets you home every seven years and has no phone access. And even if there were, his letters couldn’t arrive so fast — and without stamps.
I’ve scrutinized his handwriting. I’m convinced she’s faking it.
Shortly after 7 a.m., my father arrives with the same smile and the same blue eyes. I ask how much she’s paying him.
He insists he’s my father and can’t help his job. He loves me.
I tell him he should quit.
“It’s not that simple.”
I have to admire his acting, though. Because it’s easier to accept my mother hired a phenomenal actor than it is to believe he’d choose some stupid job over us.
Letter Received September 30th, 1976
I found your house, but some old lady said you didn’t live there. She gave me lemonade. What’s going on?
June 11th, 1998
I’ve read most of my mother’s diary, some of the letters. I kneel near the trapdoor, face damp with tears. I haven’t slept.
At 7 a.m. a letter appears.
He wants to know how I’m doing.
Letter Received October 3rd, 1976
Do you realize what this means? It’s not an issue of dimensions, but times! Everything we’re theorized is wrong, at least in part. Time must fold over on itself somehow. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but if I’m right — I’m 70 years in your future. You’re in my past. I’ve included a copy of today’s newspaper. Can you send me one?
Mother’s Diary Excerpt: July 7th, 1977
Our theories on quantum mechanics and magic have morphed into love letters.
I was waiting, longing to trace my finger over the loops of his name, when the trapdoor began to glow.
I dipped my fingers into the light.
And he pulled me through.
We spent a heedless day together. . . I never would’ve left.
But the trapdoor sucked me back.
Letter Received: April 10th, 1978
I’d give anything to be there.
Does she really have my eyes?
July 7th, 1998
I didn’t write when mother died. He probably already knows.
I’ve read everything now. He stayed well informed on our lives, kept pictures and trinkets. He weighed in on all my gifts, health concerns, boyfriends and risky decisions.
The last set of letters was the hardest.
Mother isn’t the only one who got sick. In the future, there’s still no cure.
He fears the trapdoor’s the cause.
But medicine’s better in the future, and he’s lingering. Still, he may not show up.
The door glows.
My father appears, same blue eyes, same smile.
September 20th, 1998
It’s been over a month since I received a letter. He was certain it would be his last, but I waited anyway.
Following his instructions, I fill the space with cement, lock the trapdoor, throw away the key. I get carpet installed.
September 29th, 2046
In less than a year I’ll be 70. That’s the same number of years that separated my parents. A lifetime.
I live alone. My husband passed away from cancer years ago. I blame the trapdoor. I’m not sick, but I’ve got theories on that, too.
I’ve dedicated my life to making the world better. What else should I do with a life that never should have been? That doesn’t fully belong on either side of the door.
In the evening, someone knocks. A young man named James with stirring blue eyes and a kind smile.
He says my mother’s name, asks if she lives here.
I tell him no.
I offer him a cup of lemonade, hold his hand longer than I should. He’s confused, concerned. Before he goes, I wish him luck in finding her.
I know he will.
Meagan Noel Hart has been chasing words through worlds her whole life and is always happy when she can wrangle them into something new. She has three collections of short and flash fiction. Her work has appeared most recently in Dread Naught But Time and is upcoming in Daily Science Fiction. She lives in Baltimore where by day she teaches English at Stevenson University and by night mothers two rambunctious and lovable boys.