Dark Doorways #14
Swanson’s door absorbed any knocking, forcing me to bloody my knuckles any time I had to pound on his door. This day was no different, as one hand thumped and the other held the delicate little photograph. At least Ellen Hall was lit up, illuminated by the spring sunshine flooding into any available window.
Even the shimmering sunlight on Swanson’s door seemed to be apotropaic, like nothing harmful could possibly happen here. Perhaps that explained Gabi’s fixation with the light over her front door, or Mom’s obsession with never entering dark doorways. Maybe a luminous door could ward off evil in their little worlds.
Swanson nodded me in, as he always did, inarticulately. I watched his nod more closely, wondered if it was always part of his personality or if he grew into it like a pair of hand-me-down jeans.
I handed over the transcriptions while I stared. Were his eyes always that green? Did he remember Russia, or just his Russian mother? These and a thousand other thoughts swam through my consciousness as Swanson glanced through my work. A solitary thumb stroked the picture in my lap, the fragile snapshot that could disintegrate at any moment.
The framed picture of Gabi sitting on his desk captivated me as we sat in silence. She had his same green eyes, his same round cheeks. But what really captured my gaze was the light, always the light. Other women would have remarked on her sweet smile, her innocent youth, her gorgeous hair. But all I could think of was the lack of shadow. Shouldn’t a picture have at least some darkness, some contrast? How was I making out her features but still seeing no shadow?
“You used the new program?” The nodding genius spoke.
“And it transcribed well?”
“Yeah, I checked it afterward. I think I had to make a couple small corrections, but it was pretty accurate. I highlighted the corrections.”
“Good work, Sarah.” Another nod.
I knew he wanted to create a program to transcribe indigenous languages. I knew he received his own Ph.D. from M.I.T., where I had originally planned to attend. I knew he gave dry lectures. But what I really wanted to know was how he spent his evenings, what family vacations he went on, what his favorite movie was.
“You’ve spoken with Michael?”
“What? Michael?” I was caught off guard, realizing that MIchael still existed when I had tried so hard to pretend he didn’t.
“He took some time off. I thought you knew. You two were close, no?”
“Uh–” Close. It was a sad word to contemplate, a sad realization that we were indeed close at one time. We had suffered through all our coursework together. We had shared coffee nearly every morning since my mom died. Yes, perhaps we had been close. I was in denial, unwilling to mourn the loss of my friend and love.
“Well, maybe you’ll see him. He should be around today.” Swanson’s mouth was smaller than I remembered, when I stopped to notice.
Any other time, with any other person, it would have been awkward to sit and stare. But it was Swanson, Vadim Swanson. He nodded while others absorbed his brilliance. So I sat there gaping, wondering what foods he preferred and what sports he watched, all while his small mouth creased into itself.
“Great! We’ll need to get started on the next step. How is that conference proposal going?”
He looked up at me for perhaps the first time since I entered his office. Air gushed out of the room like a deflating balloon, as if space and time both had to stop for a second while his eyes focused on me, locked on mine in confusion. Yes, it must have been confusing to have a female grad student staring at you, speechless.
“What is it Sarah?”
“I brought you something.” The picture emerged from my lap, landing on his desk. There, on top of publications, invitations and grant proposals, sat my little photo.
“It’s a picture of me. When I was little. My mom took me to the beach. She gave me this right before she died. She said it was her favorite picture of me, that I was so happy playing in the sand that day.”
“I think I was three. About Gabi’s age.”
His tiny mouth attempted a smile as he reached over to hand it back.
“I thought you could keep it.”
“Oh?” The confused eyebrows were not picking up on the hint.
“Dr. Swanson, Vadim, I know you were a sperm donor twenty-four years ago.”
- to be continued…