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  • Writer's pictureSylvia Schwartz

Door Number 709

A knock came at night in a single rap. Ida, age eighty-nine, who’d sensed her husband’s death before receiving the call, felt a premonition prick the soles of her feet to run or to hide. She did not answer the door.

The next night, the knock rattled her front door’s worn metal hinges. Ida clutched her bedsheet as her ears strained to hear more, but her rapid breath, in and out, was all she could ascertain.

Her fear of death lessened when the knock did not return the following night. Maybe he’d visited her by mistake, gone somewhere else, or forgotten her name.

Soon after, while on her porch watching July’s fiery sun make its nightly deposit, she noticed the Virginia Creeper covered her address. Hence, only the number 70, instead of 709, was visible. Ida never liked the vine. Its tentacle markings stuck to her clapboard house every time she removed the overgrowth. But her green-thumbed husband, Alpert, had planted the ivy beside their leaky outdoor faucet and the plant flourished, making her man proud. He’d said clinging greenery was nature’s embrace. She found it was a clinging nuance but picked only the leaves necessary for mail delivery.

That same night, when Ida inched over to Alpert’s side of the bed, recalling the warmth of his body, the wind screeched like a male bird protecting its nest. Then the air howled, thrashing branches against windows as if on a mission.

By morning, the neighborhood was littered with wet fallen leaves and twigs. As Ida swept the storm’s debris away from her paint-peeling porch and off the cement pavers that led to the street, she spied Ellen, eighty-two, across the road sweeping as well.

“Quite a storm,” Ida called out.

“At least that spirited rain cooled the air,” Ellen replied.

Ida noticed Ellen’s address number 9 dangled to look like a 6.

“Ellen, you need to—”

But before Ida could finish, Ellen’s cough became hacking, and her screen door slapped close as she went inside. Ida trudged up to her steps to discover that nuisance of a vine sagging over her address. She was determined to whack it back. But that would have to wait until the next day because she was exhausted from sweeping.

That night, she woke to ambulance sirens and flashing red lights. She quickly grabbed her cotton robe, flung open the front door, and stood in bare feet gawking at Ellen’s open door, lit by her porch light. Despite the humid air, Ida shivered. Ellen’s vertical address, 706, clearly read 70 9, which was Ida’s address, still hidden by her drooping ivy. The next day, she learned Ellen had died.

While Ida knew there wasn’t much she could do when her time came, she also remembered Alpert saying even the devil himself can’t find you in a storm. Alpert’s beloved vine now felt like his everlasting embrace.

Originally published by BOMBFIRE literary magazine

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