Thursday, December 14, 2006

Martha And The Alchemy Of Doors

There used to be a Sheraton hotel
two blocks north of the Chicago River
on Michigan Avenue at the edge
of the Magnificent Mile. Every year
science fiction convention WindyCon
was held there, running Friday through Sunday.

Now, at this particular WindyCon
the Sheraton management ended up
asking organizers not to come back
after the events of Saturday night.

But for me the events of Friday night
made a much more lasting impression than
the fun we had moving the lobby plants
into the elevators Saturday.
We moved the plants and their soil . . . no planters.

But, anyway, at two a.m., Friday
the conference hall where they were showing films
was getting ready to show a movie
called, “Moon Zero Two,” an awful movie
that’s great to watch late at night if there’s beer.

I was there with a girl named Donna, and
my friend Derrick had brought his friend Martha.
Derrick and I were staying in one room,
Donna and Martha had the room next door.

That Friday night, Donna, Derrick and I
met downstairs to go watch “Moon Zero Two.”
Donna said Martha was going to stay
in their room to watch “Forbidden Planet”
on television. Then Donna looked down
and cursed. She said she’d grabbed the wrong sweater.
The sweater with her name badge was upstairs
in their room. I volunteered to go up
and return Martha’s sweater to Martha
and bring down Donna’s sweater to Donna.

We loved our name badges that WindyCon
because we had gotten Phil Folio
to cartoon our faces next to our names.

So I grabbed Martha’s sweater from Donna
and took an elevator back upstairs.

I knocked on the door of the girls’ shared room.
From inside Martha asked, “What do you want?”

I said, “Hey, Martha, it’s me. Donna took
your sweater by mistake. I brought it back.”

“Just leave it outside the door,” Martha said.

Why won’t she open the door? I wondered.

It can’t be there’s a guy in there because
she was Derrick’s girl. Anyway, Donna
had just walked out. Martha hadn’t had time
to sneak in anybody. Maybe she’s
afraid of me? I wondered. I thought, Hell,
Derrick and I are best friends. That morning
I’d picked up Martha in Evanston and
drove her down into the city because
Derrick’s car had gotten three flats at once.

Martha and I had gotten along fine.
I thought. We stopped for lunch. Laughed at the same
Firesign Theater references. And now
she was treating me like Jack the Ripper.

“I can’t just leave it,” I said. “Donna needs
her sweater. Her sweater’s got her name badge.”

“Just a minute,” Martha said. I heard locks
clicking on the door and the chain jangled.
The door opened an inch with the chain on.
Martha stood way behind the door and leaned
just half her face part way around the door.

“Here,” Martha said. “Squeeze in my sweater and
I’ll squeeze out Donna’s. They should fit okay.”

I wondered, What the hell, is Martha nude?
How long would it have taken to pull on
a pair of jeans and put on a tee shirt?

I pushed Martha’s sweater into the room.
I accidentally—on purpose—pushed it
through the door too low. It fell on the floor.

Martha leaned down to grab it and I saw
she was still wearing the same clothes she wore
earlier when we drove from Evanston.

Martha had folded Donna’s sweater flat.
She held the sweater in the narrow space.
As soon as I took the sweater from her
she slammed the door shut. Two or three locks clicked.

“See you later,” I said. She said nothing.

I took Donna her sweater. I explained
the door business and asked her what was up.
She said she hadn’t a clue. That whole con
I meant to talk to Martha but never
got a chance, what with getting the con banned
and all because of our Saturday fun.

But just a few months after WindyCon,
when Donna and I had broken up and
Derrick and Martha had broken up, too,
I took Martha to a midnight movie
up at Northwestern University.

I think it was “Heart of Glass,” by Herzog.

As we waited in line I reminded
Martha about that night at WindyCon.
I asked her what the heck she’d been doing.

Martha just laughed. She looked all eyes and smile.

She said, “You can’t expect someone to try
to open a door till they know it’s closed.”


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