Her cat was looking at the picture again.
Rhonda had found the picture in a market downtown. She had been inside the store a few times. It was more like a junk shop and every time she went inside, Rhonda felt like an explorer looking for buried treasure. She had found quite a few trinkets here: a pair of diamond ear rings that had been part of an estate sale, a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes that had come in their box and a small Tiffany lamp, the stained glass still in perfect condition.
When she had seen the photo, caught it out of the corner of her eye and stopped to turn and look at it, holding a set of Bakelite bracelets from the 1950’s, their colour almost garish. When Rhonda looked at the photo head on, she felt her breath leave her in an almost silent “Oh!”
The photo was done in black and white and framed with a crisp white matte and a black frame. A gorgeous white house stood with its front door open, almost inviting the viewer inside. Overhead, latticework was covered in the leaves of a nearby tree. The front entryway stood out because, while the house and latticework were painted white, the entryway was in darkness. All she could make out was the front door, slightly ajar.
She wasn’t sure how long she had stood looking at the photo, but she finally moved closer to it. Rhonda reached out a hand to touch the glass when a voice spoke out behind her. “It’s quite something, isn’t it?”
Turning, Rhonda saw Mr. Ankah, the shop owner. He was looking at her with a smile. “Yes, it is special. It came in with a shipment of a lot of other things, lots of books and other assorted rubbish. This was really the only special piece of the lot, unless you like first edition comics, perhaps?”
Shaking her head gently, she said “No, I was never big into comics.”
Mr. Ankah nodded in approval. “I thought so! You are always going places, doing something. You are too busy living life to look at drawings.”
Rhonda motioned at the picture. “Isn’t staring at a photo kind of the same thing?”
“No sweet lady because this place exists.” He tapped his head. “It’s alive in here. Would you like it?”
Rhonda bit back her retort about books and comic books being the same thing, that they had the power to transport you anywhere you wanted, and you didn’t have to leave your home. Instead, she just nodded. “Yes I would, and these too, please.”
“Good taste,” Mr. Ankah said. “These came in only yesterday, genuine Bakelite, worth a fortune but I am giving them to you for a song.” He took them from her and took the picture off of the display easel and walked towards the cash. “I’m not surprised that you spotted them, you have a good eye for something special.”
He put the bracelets into some tissue paper and then put them into a small cream coloured paper bag with black handles. He pulled out a larger paper bag in a honey colour with red handles. “This bag is nice and strong, you should have no trouble getting it home.” He tallied up her purchases. “That’s thirty dollars.”
Rhonda smiled at the old man. “That’s the price for the Bakelite bracelets. How much is the picture?”
“The picture has no price and is a gift for you since you are so called to it.”
“I have to pay you for it.” Rhonda said, taking out her wallet.
“No, you do not. Please accept it as a gift.” He handed her the bags
“Thank you!” She said brightly.
“No, thank you. I am glad it is going home with you.” He said.
Mr. Ankah gave her a smile and something about it seemed strained for a moment, but then it was genuine and full of light. Rhonda wondered if she had imagined it and put it out of her mind. That had been a week ago and she wondered if Mr. Ankah had known more than he was willing to say.
Her cat was looking at the picture again. Blue was a pure white cat with gorgeous blue eyes that gave him his name. For the past week, he had eaten, slept and looked at the photograph. No, Rhonda thought, her cat was staring at the photo.
“What’s the matter, Blue baby?” She said. He turned to look at her and blinked, his way of telling her that he loved her and turned back to the photograph. She had hung it in her office where she wrote every day. The way the sun shone on the picture made it look as if the tree in the photograph was real.
A breeze began to fill the room and Rhonda automatically turned to her window but when Blue meowed, she turned towards him. Blue was meowing at the picture. As she watched him, a leaf was blown from the photograph into her office. Blue caught the leaf in his paws and meowed with joy.
Rhonda stared at the photograph with growing wonder. Did she just see what she thought she saw? As if in answer to her question, another breeze came from the photograph of the and she watched as the door opened further, as if wanting to welcome her inside. Blue let the leaf fall to the ground and meowed at the door. He put a paw out to touch the photograph. When his paw sunk into the picture, Rhonda’s breath caught in her throat.
“Blue honey, don’t do that.” She didn’t want him near the photograph, unsure of what it could do and suddenly afraid of it.
Blue ignored her completely and began to paw at the vines that ran up one of the white columns of the house. The breeze came again and she watched as more leaves swirled around in the photo. Then one of them flew out of the photo and landed in front of Blue.
“What the fuck?” Rhonda said.
Blue started to play with the leave and was soon eating it. He looked to be having a lot of fun, but Rhonda was frightened. How had the leaf come out of the photo? Was that even possible? She didn’t think so and yet there was Blue playing with a leaf that had not been there a moment before.
“Blue honey, leave that alone.” She said. Rhonda was surprised to hear how thin her voice sounded. That leaf frightened her.
However, her cat was far from frightened. After shredding the leaf to powder, Blue looked back up at the photograph. Rhonda could hear soft music being carried by the breeze that came from inside the house. She thought she recognized the tune but couldn’t place it.
Blue began to paw at the vines in the photograph again and she stood, going to him. Picking him up, she tried to hold onto him, but he was having none of it. With a meow, Blue leapt from her grasp and when he hit the floor he didn’t hesitate. Blue went into the photograph. She watched him as he played with the vines and then, his attention caught by something, he went up the stairs and into the house.
Rhonda felt as if her breath had left her completely. “Blue?” Rhonda said, her voice timid. “Blue honey?”
Staring at the photograph, she had a thought: If Blue could enter the picture, there had to be a way for her to do so. She kept looking at it and, as she did so, the music coming from the house grew louder. It was something classical? Jazz maybe? She could almost place it.
Deciding that she had nothing left to lose, she stood closer to the picture. She put her hand out, expecting it to hit the glass event though she knew that the leaf had come out of it. Even so, when her hand went through the glass, Rhonda let out a soft noise that would have been a scream if she had had the air left in her lungs to put behind it.
How am I going to get in? She thought. It’s too small a doorway for me. There’s no way I can fit.
As if the house in the photo had heard her thoughts, the picture started to grow. Watching the photo grow large enough to fill her whole living room, Rhonda felt what was left of her fear fill her lungs. There was no air left. The house now filled her entire living room and was larger than the space that her apartment had been. Standing in front of the house that shouldn’t be here, that had no right to be here, she could only take in swallows of air and wonder when she had forgotten how to breathe. She tried to swallow her fear along with the air that she was taking in and put a foot on the first step of the white house that was impossibly and completely real.
With a breath shuddering through her, Rhonda put her hand on the column that rose to the left of the doorway and stepped up the second step and then the third. The last step brought her on the threshold of the house and the open door.
The jazz music was louder here and it called to her, wrapped its notes around her body and pulled her towards the open door. She caught the scent of baking bread and despite her fear, Rhonda felt her mouth water. Trying to calm herself, she took one step closer. She could see herself in the glass panes of the front door and what she saw brought her a moment of pause. Instead of her short spikey hair, it was now long and down near her shoulders. Rhonda hadn’t had hair this long since her childhood. Her eyes were wide with fright but looking closer at herself, she saw no scars or blemishes. What the fuck was this place? She thought.
Her fear was shrinking in the face of her growing curiosity. She had to find Blue and she also had to admit that she wanted to explore further. I could turn back, she thought, knowing that she had no intention of doing so. Taking another deep breath, she stepped over the threshold and entered her dream world.
Rhonda found herself in a charming and quite quaint country home. There was a fire going in a large stone fireplace. The light the fire threw off was warm and bright and she could see walls filled with bookshelves and the bookshelves were filled to the brim with books. In fact, there were so many books, they lay on the tables and the carpet, in little piles on the bar in the corner of the room instead of bottles. She took these in with wonder and desire. She always loved losing herself into a good story.
Turning, she spots a black baby grand piano and sitting upon it is blue. He is flicking his tail in tune to the music coming from the piano that is being played by the most marvellous man that she has ever seen. He had long red hair streaked with white and pulled back from his face so that it hung to his shoulders. He played the piano like a man possessed and kept his eyes closed, preferring to play from memory rather than sight. As Rhonda watched him, she couldn’t help but think that he was dancing rather than merely playing music.
When the song was done, the man opened her eyes, Rhonda saw that they were a bright and brilliant green. It almost looked as if his eyes were made from bright pieces of jade. When he saw Rhonda standing there, a hand pressed to her chest, he stood and bowed to her. “Why my dear! I’m sorry for making you worry over your furry friend, but I hope you know that no harm has befallen him while I watched over him.”
Rhonda smiled at his curious use of language. “I can see that.” At the moment, Blue was rubbing himself against the man’s hands and the man was petting him idly. “You seem to have made a friend.”
The man came towards her and Rhonda thought of the way he had played piano. He didn’t merely walk towards her, he looked as if he were dancing and she almost moved with him. Instead she stayed where she was and, when he came towards her and gave her another deeper bow, she blushed.
Taking her hand in his he kissed its surface and then looked up at her and asked in a melodic voice “My dear girl, can you tell me, why is a raven like a writing desk?”
Rhonda shook her head. “I’m afraid I don’t know. Maybe you’ll find an answer in one of your many books.”
“Perhaps but I’ve already read them all. You know what happens with books though, don’t you?” He smiled at her and picked up two books that had been lying on the coffee table in the centre of the room.
“They tell you great tales and take you places you’ve never been to before?” She said helpfully.
“Oh, that they do fair lady, but they also hide things within them. Have you ever read a book a second or third time and read thing that you had never read before, even though you had read it once already? And yet on the third time you travelled within it, you learned something more?”
“I have. It’s one of the things I love about books.” Rhonda said.
“I don’t suggest you read a book a fourth time, though. Books tend to hide so much!” He held one book like a kettle and the other as if it were a mug. As Rhonda watched, he poured tea from one book into the pages of another then handed it to her. “Tea?” He asked. Holding the book out to her, he said “Well open it up dear girl. You won’t want to let your tea get cold.”
Rhonda did so and was surprised to find that there was a mug of tea sitting on the page of the book and the pages were perfectly unharmed. She took a sip and tasted a Earl Grey tea with a hint of lemon.
The man motioned for her to sit down and the man randomly opened books that were lying on the coffee table. When they were opened, Rhonda saw a platter of cookies, one filled with chocolate and vanilla cakes and what looked like tiny cucumber sandwiches. Her stomach growled when she saw the food.
“Go ahead dear girl, go ahead. This food won’t eat itself you know…well, unless you ask it very nicely that is. I once trained a pair of lollipops to do cartwheels but they couldn’t do anything else and door mouse’s were getting hungry watching them twirl.”
Helping herself to a little caked, she looked down at its surface and saw letters inscribed there. “There are words on my cake.” She said.
“Yes, you’ll often find that happens. When cakes come out of books, sometimes the words fall off, you see.”
Rhonda looked at this man with the gentle voice and the long red hair and the wild green eyes and realized that she didn’t feel afraid. She felt at home. “I’m sorry, but I don’t even know your name.” She said.
He thought about it for a moment. “I don’t believe that I have one. Isn’t that mad?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. What would you like to be called?”
“I’ve never thought about it. I don’t think I’ve ever needed a name before.”
“But everyone needs a name.” Rhonda said, biting into her little cake. It tasted of dreams and raspberries. “How else will they know what to call you?”
He let out a merry laugh. “Why no one has ever had to call me anything before. Why should I start now?”
Rhonda tried a different tactic. “Well, my cats name is Blue, because of his eyes, see?” She walked over to Blue and picked him up so that the cat could snuggle into her arms. “If you had to choose any name in the world, what would yours be?”
“Well, what’s your name?”
“Then that’s what I will call myself, I will call myself Rhonda!”
She let out a small laugh. “It will be confusing if we are both named the same thing.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” He walked around the room and ran his fingers over the spines of the many books that were housed there. “I know that there is a good name for me here somewhere. I just have to find it.”
He moved around the library like he was dancing and every time his finger touched a book spine, the piano would play a note. Every note played continued to ring even though he was no longer touching the book that had produced that particular note. Soon, the room was filled with a music that went beyond words and yet, Rhonda could hear the story that it wanted to tell.
Finally, he chose a book from the shelf in front of him and the music stopped by growing soft and then finally growing silent. He thrust the book out to her and said “There! There is my name!” He held out an old copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and when he tapped the book cover, it let out music that sounded like bells.
“Um,” Rhonda said. “What would be your name?” She was unsure if he meant Lady or Chatterley or Lover. She figured it was best to be clear about these things.
“Why Lawrence, of course!” He said. “A perfectly respectable name, don’t you think? Do you think if people looked at me they would say ‘Why hello Lawrence! You are looking perfectly respectable today!’”
A smile spread across Rhonda’s face. “I think they might.”
“Good, that’s good!” Lawrence said. “Now we must decide where to go when you visit next time.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, we can’t sit in my parlour looking at books all the time. No, Rhonda! We must read them and find the life within them that calls to us! Tell me your favourite book, the story that touched you the most and has stayed with you all this time.”
She didn’t have to think about it. “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
“Oh, an excellent choice!” Lawrence danced around the room and found a copy. Pulling it from the shelf, he handed it to Rhonda. It was an old copy, possibly first edition. “You can take that with you!”
Rhonda rubbed her hand over the cover and every word, every poem and every illustration of Shel Silverstein. “I couldn’t do that!”
“Of course you can! You must re-read the words again so that they are fresh in your mind. Watch…”
Opening the book, she watched as the world around her became a black and white wonder, filled with trees that were made of letters and leaves that were made from words. In front of her, there a sidewalk slid out of the darkness. Rhonda felt as if she had found her childhood all over again, as if she were made of light.
When he closed the book, the black and white illustrations, the trees made from words and letters, faded. She stared at the book open mouthed and took it gently from him. “I didn’t know that books could do such a thing.” She said.
“Why of course they can,” Lawrence said. “What is a book if not a doorway?”
She plucked Blue from the floor and held him in one hand and the book in the other. “How will I know when it’s time to come back?” She asked.
“Oh, don’t you worry! Blue will let you know. And you are always welcome here.” He said
Before she went to the door, Rhonda leaned in and kissed Lawrence’s cheek. “Thank you.”
“Whatever for, dear? We are going to travel to such amazing places. Just you wait and see.”
Rhonda let Blue go out of the picture before her and she followed him. Standing in her own house again, holding a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, she wondered if she had dreamed everything.
However, turning to look at the photograph again, she could see a light shining through the open door and a plume of smoke floating into the air. Smiling to herself, Rhonda sat down to open a doorway and lose herself in another world.