In the consequential yet inconsequential city of Ottawa, Canada, on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street, in a coffee shop (in fact, standing directly on the precipice of that coffee shop), there is a door. It is a large glass door with a metal frame and a rectangular piece of metal jutting out on one of its sides in the rough shape of a handle. Plastered over the majority of the door’s otherwise transparent glass, there is typically an advertisement of some sort. The door was installed on the precipice of this building long ago, before there was even a coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street. No one can say with certainty for how long the door has been there, and no one seems to care. After all, it’s just a door.
For many years – decades, even – thousands of people opened and closed this door, walked through this door, touched the handle of this door, and glanced momentarily at this door before carrying on with their lives; carrying on with things that actually mattered. A small handful of individuals have paid slightly more attention than others to this door: they are the employees of the coffee shop who found themselves cleaning the door every now and then. Some of these privileged individuals took the time to notice the scratches which began to form upon the door’s metal frame, the specific ways in which the plastered-on advertisements would peel off leaving small flakes of different vibrant colours behind, and the dirt that stuck to the black bristles which protected the door from the ground.
This door, like most other doors, has endured a lifetime of meaninglessness and neglect by those who most frequently come into contact with it. Meaninglessness and neglect, though, certainly do not describe those who come into contact with it; they live exciting and fulfilling lives, and surely have had no cause to lend their momentary attention to that glass, metal-framed door.
One cool autumn day, early in the morning but not too early – around 9:15 – a jaunty-looking young man stepped through that door on the precipice of that coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street. He held in his hand a large cup of coffee and, pinched between his pinky and his ring finger, a paper bag containing a muffin. He stepped out into the shivering autumn air and saw his breath escape from his mouth in a cloud of smoke.
The young man, as he was in the process of exiting that doorway, saw a girl approaching – she was walking quickly and hugging her shoulders to keep warm. The man stopped and held the door open for her with his free hand – the metal door handle was icy cold against his bare fingers. The girl rushed to the door and thanked the man for holding it open. She normally wouldn’t have looked twice at whomever it was holding a door for her, but she thought he was handsome and so she smiled warmly at him.
“No problem,” he answered when she thanked him, and let the door swing shut once she’d entered the coffee shop. The girl had been having a rough week – she struggled to keep up with her studies in the midst of family troubles – but her mood brightened if only for a moment that morning due to the brief exchange she’d had with that handsome young man who’d held the door open for her. Cassidy was her name.
Forty-seven days later, that handsome young man raped Cassidy’s younger sister in an alleyway in downtown Toronto. He escaped prosecution. The girl’s family was devastated. The younger sister fell into a long battle with depression, eventually committing suicide. Cassidy dropped out of school due to grief and a sense of duty to be with her family – she moved back home and began working a part-time job. Cassidy never returned to university, but she would always remember the image of that handsome young man who held the door open for her at that coffee shop, associating his face with the good old days before everything went so wrong.
What the hell was that?! Are you serious? That’s how you decided to open the story?!
Yeah, what’s the problem?
You couldn’t have picked something more light-hearted? Or at least included a warning before you talked about a poor young girl being brutally raped in the opening chapter of this story?
Why should I warn people? In life you don’t get warnings!
But this isn’t life, this is a piece of literature – at least it was supposed to be…
I just don’t think we should sugar-coat things. We’re telling real stories that’ve happened in connection with this door. Isn’t the whole point of this to show people what everyday life is like?
Yes. It is. See, I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about things like rape, but just not in the introduction to the entire story! You should’ve started with something slightly less terrible and then eased into the darker stuff.
Fine. What would you have started with?
Well… maybe, for example, that windy day when a young boy was struggling to open the door and an old man put his daily stroll on hold to open it for him before continuing on his way down the street.
Are you serious? Why the fuck would anyone want to hear about that?! It’s boring. Those kinds of things happen all the time. People need to hear the hard truths about everyday life – things that they don’t want to hear about – to remind them of how shitty life is.
Excuse me, I meant to say: how shitty human beings are.
People don’t want an onslaught of depression!
Okay, how about this: one frigid winter morning, a young boy and his father approached the coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street. The father opened the door for his son, and they just happened to see their local pastor walk out the door at that very moment. The father shook the pastor’s hand and said “nice to see you” or something like that, then the pastor gave the man’s son a pat on the head. Little did the father know that the pastor had been sexually abusing his son for the better part of the past two years.
How is that any better?!
Okay, hot shot, let’s see you pick something better. And nothing dumb and generic.
I knew I should’ve done this by myself…
Stop whining and contribute to the story. I’ve been telling it all by myself so far.
Fine. Let’s just get on with this.
On a warm day in August, a man in his early-twenties walked across the street toward the coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street.
Which street did he cross? Bank or Gloucester?
Does it matter?
I think we should be true to what happened.
Fine, whatever. It was Gloucester Street. He arrived at the crosswalk with seven seconds remaining on the pedestrian crossing signal, so he quickened his pace (but didn’t jog) to cross to the other side of Gloucester Street in time.
Don’t get so bogged down in the details.
Oh for the love of… I’m just going to ignore you.
This young man in his early-twenties arrived at the door around which this story is focused and swung it open, entering the coffee shop. He was completely oblivious to the fact that, just two minutes prior to his arrival, a young woman in her early-twenties had just exited through that same door, sipping on an iced coffee.
The two of them never met each other and indeed had never even seen one another by chance in their entire lives. This barely-missed opportunity for an encounter was the closest they ever came to potentially meeting, but they didn’t.
They each carried on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened between them, because nothing ever had. They each went on to fall in love, get married, have children, and live long happy lives filled with few regrets. However, if either of these two random individuals could see the potential life they could have shared together had they happened to meet that day at the front door of that coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street, they would each view the respective lives they went on to live as grotesquely unsatisfactory and wholly empty. In fact, they would each likely have preferred not to have lived at all than to live the full and happy lives they each went on to experience, if they merely knew the type of life they could potentially have shared together.
Well, that’s just depressing. How is that any different from what I’ve said so far?
Because it isn’t just fucking horrible for the sake of being horrible! Before we even established the idea of this story, you decided to throw rape out there! This is much more symbolic – it stirs other emotions in people beyond anger and disgust. What good is it if we just make people angry and disgusted without making them think about deeper questions?
You never told me you wanted to make people think about deep questions! I thought we were trying to show people what life’s really like.
So… what? You were just going to depress people and that’s it? What’s the point in that?
The point is that people will think deeply about it because they don’t expect meaningless everyday encounters to have meaning. Sure, it’s sad that Cassidy’s younger sister was raped, but the real symbolic tragedy of the situation is the encounter that Cassidy had with the rapist at the door of that damned coffee shop!
All I’m saying is it wasn’t the best thing to start with.
Whatever. Are we going to get on with this, or are you just going to make this a story about you criticizing my narrative choices?
I wish I didn’t have to criticize you, but you’ve made it unavoidable.
Fine, I’ll take the initiative here.
No, no you won’t. You’ve taken far too much initiative already.
What does that even mean?
It doesn’t matter. I’m going to continue this story properly.
One day, an elderly woman approached the coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street and struggled to wrench open the door. She’d been through a lot in her long life, but not quite so much as she would lead you to believe. Her children and grandchildren loved her, but at the expense of tolerating her multitude of out-dated views regarding her fellow human beings.
As she exited the coffee shop that day, a young man held the door open for her before intending to enter the coffee shop himself. The woman peered up at the man from beneath her head scarf and saw that he was bearded and wearing a large turban. She did not smile at the man, instead she simply nodded her head in approval as she stepped through the door.
“Thank you, young man,” she uttered as she looked at him, before continuing on her way.
When she met her fellow elderly Caucasian lady friends later that afternoon, she described to them what had happened: “a brown fellow – he must’ve been a Muslim – held the door open for me today.”
This revelation was greeted with gasps and whispered responses from her associates.
“Really?” one of them asked, astounded. “Did you smile at him?”
“No,” the woman replied promptly, “I thanked him and left quickly, but I did not smile,” she said with a most proper sense of pride.
All the women then went on to discuss their various untoward encounters with non-Caucasian strangers, but the old woman who’d visited the coffee shop that day had been nurturing certain thoughts since the morning: ‘What if,’ she wondered, ‘not all brown people are mongrels?’
It wasn’t the most progressive thought in the world, that much is clear, but it was a step in the right direction. It was only a brief thought, of course, and she carried on vocally castigating such “barbaric” peoples with her acquaintances for the rest of the afternoon.
As for the young Sikh man who’d held the door open for that woman on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street – yes, he was Sikh, not Muslim – he’d been having quite the lousy time over the past year of his life, punctuated by the death of his father to cancer. After that chance encounter, though, things began to change in his life. He took on a more positive attitude, focused more on his education, and did his best to ignore all the racist jokes with which his high school friends unceasingly showered him. He also focused his grief for the death of his father toward making a constructive and positive difference in the world: by donating blood on a monthly basis.
More than a year later, that old woman was the victim of a car accident. The crash had left her losing blood quickly and she was rushed to the hospital. She remained conscious enough to curse “the immigrants” for her accident the entire ride in the ambulance. Unbeknownst to her, the man who’d crashed into her car on the highway was a white Catholic man, and the blood she received at the hospital that day, which saved her life, was donated by the young Sikh man who’d held the door open for her over a year prior. No one realized that the blood which saved her life was from a member of that over-generalized group of people she continuously cursed. I suppose it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it sure is ironic.
Oh, so irony is the point of this story?
That makes sense – life is filled with ironies.
Well, yeah, but irony is more of a by-product of what we’re trying to highlight about life.
And what is it that we’re trying to highlight?
The fact that most people don’t pay attention to the little things in life that connect all of us in unexpected ways. I thought we’d been over this!
With every anecdote that we’ve given so far about this damn door, we could’ve simply inserted “Ironically…” and deliver exactly the same message from it.
Not all of them… like my anecdote about the old man who helped that child open the door on a windy day.
But that was completely pointless. Seriously, what the hell was anyone going to take from that? It had no meaning whatsoever! Some regular old hobo on the street could’ve noticed that old man opening the fucking door for some kid.
I think we need to wrap this up early…
This is just stupid, you should’ve picked a more interesting door. Like the one in that McDonald’s on Rideau Street downtown where all the crackheads hang out.
The whole point was to use a door that doesn’t appear interesting on the surface, because then people won’t expect all the crazy insights we can gain from it!
Fine, whatever. Tell me about all the other crazy insights you’ve gathered from the door to this coffee shop.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do, but I’ve been repeatedly interrupted!
Okay, it was a late Wednesday afternoon in early September. The #7 bus was packed with university students on their way home from classes. A young man, who still considered himself a boy due to all the things he didn’t know, gazed out the window as the bus rolled along Bank Street.
The bus came to a stop next to the coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street, and the boy found himself staring at the front door of that coffee shop. It was a glass door with a metal frame and a large advertisement interrupting its transparency. The boy focused on the metal handle to this door and thought about all the people that had touched it that day, over the past week, the past month, and the past year. As the bus pulled away from the coffee shop, he continued to think about that door.
The boy resolved to write a short narrative piece about the door’s life story. It would be about all the things that had happened to that door – things which people never take the time to think about. It would also be about all the different kinds of people that are connected solely by their common contact with that one door, and all the people that don’t know how connected they are to the world around them through mundane objects such as that door.
Eventually, after mulling the idea over in his head for about a month, the boy put his idea to paper. When he had finally finished his short tale about that door, he felt it was woefully inadequate compared with what it could have been had it been written by someone with a greater talent for writing. Coincidentally, he was right. Nearly every day of every week for several years, a man in his thirties – a struggling aspiring writer – had been wracking his brain for a story idea that would bring him fame and fortune. Every single day he touched the handle of that door and walked through that same doorway to that coffee shop on the corner of Bank Street and Gloucester Street, and every single day he failed to see the opportunity right in front of him; the opportunity which was recognized by a boy on the #7 bus that Wednesday in early September.
If only that middle-aged aspiring writer could’ve realized what that boy had realized, and if only he had found the inspiration to embark on that project, the product would have been far greater than the one which that boy could ever have achieved in his lifetime.
The man in his thirties didn’t see what was in front of him, though. Instead, it was the boy who found himself drawn to that door from his seat on the #7 bus, and it was him who found enough motivation to put his idea to paper. In the end, it seems that was the only thing that really mattered; not skill, nor talent, but a random thought and the courage to transform that thought into something real.
I feel like you’re leaving out a pretty important part of that anecdote. You know: the part where that aspiring writer eventually did become a wildly successful author… so he didn’t need that one particular idea in the end.
You don’t think I’m well aware of that? That author could’ve written better versions of thousands of stories that were written by other people. The boy’s idea about the door, though, which happens to be the subject of the story I’m so desperately trying to tell right now, was simply relevant to this one example of the boy on the bus.
Alright, alright. I just didn’t want you to leave anything out, that’s all.
You know what, let’s just end this thing. There’s no way we’ll be able to get through the entire life story of this damn door without killing each other.
That sounds good to me.
Do you remember how I said we would end this story?
Of course I do!
Okay. You start.
For every older sister of a rape victim, and their coincidentally handsome rapist…
For every determined young boy and an acknowledging old man…
For every pedophile disguised as a pastor and a child whom he continues to violate…
For every young aspiring writer and an idea imagined by a random boy on a bus…
For every elderly woman stuck in her traditional beliefs and every selfless Sikh man who strives to improve the world, finding inspiration from his past hardships…
And for every pair of soulmates who will never meet… there is a door.
Wait, what do you mean by that?
P.S. Berg is a student of history and political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He has a passion for creative fiction, and he writes often in an attempt to make sense of the world around him. He aspires to be able to share his transcribed thoughts with others who might enjoy them.
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