How to Answer a Door

Francine Witte

Slowly—As if the other side of your life is on the other side of the door. Like the door is an “and” or a “but.” You were living a quiet life, AND you opened the door, and your ex was standing there, flowers in hand. This was miles before he was your ex. This was your first date and you saw his ocean eyes and you knew you could drown in them BUT you couldn’t help it.

Quickly—As if you have better things to do. Which you do. Or don’t. Who can keep up with you anymore? Your ex left you with three squalling – no, adorable kids and no way to feed them. At first, your ex showed up for circus weekends and clown weekends. You took Calgon baths—the bubbles, the phone left ringing in the other room. But then, the ex remarried. The ex became ex-er. New family, et cet. So when the doorbell rings, it’s a kid selling hospital candy or Sam from next door who wants to borrow the leaf blower. You answer the door quick between Kid One’s Lego tantrum and Kid Two’s cereal mess. You worry that if you don’t answer, the knocking will never stop.

Asking—Like your mother told you. Always ask, who’s there? Who’s there? And then? You said. Well, you open the door, she said. No, no you meant, what if it’s a bad person? Like a man who says he will love you and doesn’t? You should be glad a man will want you in the first place, you mother means but doesn’t say. Instead, she says you worry too much about everything and it’s going to give you wrinkles.

Not asking—You don’t really have to. You will know if it’s an emergency. There will be sirens, there will be pounding. If it’s only important, but not emergency it will continue. It will be like a man who tells you he loves you, let’s get married and he’s not asking again. He will tell you to remember the time he took you to the ocean and you said that the water was too salty, too fishy and that he had to convince to stick in a toe and how you finally liked it. He will tell you should listen to your mother and stop worrying about everything. He will tell you to forget that the ocean can drown you. It doesn’t do that every time.

Waiting—This is the best way to answer the door. Wait until the knocking stops. It could take years, but it will. Wait until it all dies down—the tapping, the rapping, the scraping, the swishing, the cooing, the ocean eyes, the words of love, the fear that no one will even knock again. Sit on your life-couch, nice and pillowed and you haven’t ordered a pizza so there’s nothing you need to look out for, and the kids are nice and tucked in bed, and the neighbor still has your leaf blower, and your mother only calls once a week now, and you haven’t been to the beach in years, and you can sit and wait till the knocking stops, till you hear the soft pad of footsteps giving up and finally walking away.


Francine Witte stories are forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2022, and Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton.) Her recent books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (ELJ Editions,) and Just Outside the Tunnel of Love (Blue Light Press.)  She is flash fiction editor for Flash Boulevard and The South Florida Poetry Journal. She lives in NYC