Naked, Jane had two breasts as one might expect, but she also had a wooden door nestled between them, the rounded door frame fused to her skin. The little door opened, of course. The hinges moved smoothly no matter how many times they got wet in the bath. Opening not to a view of the ribs and heart but to a small cubby. X-rays had been taken, the pediatrician confirming that she had a healthy, beating heart just like all her peers.
Her parents taught her modesty at an early age. There were no baby-in-the-bath pictures. And by high school, she had learned how to change for gym class, cautiously, making sure that the top being put on or taken off covered the door, never changing from a lacy balconette to a sports bra like other girls. She avoided activities where her doorway might be discovered—that ruled out sunbathing and all sports in which a public shower might be expected. Instead, she would become captain of the chess club. As far as she could tell, only her parents and doctors knew of her abnormality.
Jane developed a habit of stashing curiosities within: half of a robin's egg, maple whirligigs, a rusty skeleton key, the red-tipped semiplume of a cardinal, cloudy sea glass. Whenever she went to retrieve the items later, the chamber was empty. Once, on the school bus, she even tucked a piece of watermelon Bubblicious behind the door, discreetly leaning down as though she were disposing of it on the underside of the seat like most kids instead of reaching under her clothing. She thought that the gum's stickiness would hold it in place until she could finish chewing the flavor out of it after school. But the gum, too, vanished. Jane did not know where the things went, nor did she tell anyone of this useless ability. It puzzled her rather than disturbed her for this is how it had always been.
Jane tucked in pet rocks, cicada husks, and beaded safety pins from her friends. She tucked in the first note passed to her by a boy: "Meet me at the baseball dugout after school." Too shy, she wrote nothing back, a no show. She heard boys at their lockers whisper "lezzie" as she held books to her chest, guarding the door to her heart. In went the copious journal entries written in anger-sadness-confusion-loneliness. Re-absorbed. When her grandmother died her junior year of college, Jane rummaged in the old woman's sewing box for the brass thimble with the Greek key at the base. The tears kept falling, but she felt a tiny kind of comfort as soon as she shut the door on it.
One day, the grad student who worked at the neighboring fume hood asked her to coffee. Unfamiliar with this gambit, she hesitated then accepted. Over latte, Alex gazed at her so intently through smudged tortoiseshell glasses it made her blush. Three nights later at her apartment, Jane took his glasses off, cleaned them and placed them back on his face. He leaned in to kiss her. A honeyed rush filled Jane's body, reaching to the edges of her cubby. They fumbled toward each other, hungry, all hands and lips, until he cupped her breast. She pulled back, startled, unsure of the endgame. His face scrunched into a question mark.
"I'm not like other girls," Jane said.
"I know," Alex said. Waiting.
It was her move. Jane slipped off her shirt, her bra, skin erect in gooseflesh, revealing the wooden door to him.
"Open it and find out."
The cranny was empty, as always, but a slight golden glow emanated from it. They sat, together, still, taking in this discovery.
Alex broke the silence, "Do you have a pen?"
Jane pointed to the table by the phone. Alex scribbled some words down on a corner of paper, tore it off and placed it in the nook in her chest. Then he shut the door.
"Yes," Jane said, surprised that she knew he'd written, "Can you read this?"
"Good," he said before writing another sentence and placing the scrap inside. This one said, "I can see the future in you."
Jane shivered from the explosion of everything she had ever put in her heart, almost too much to hold.
Six weeks later, tangled in the sheets, Alex slipped her another note and laid his hand on the door. "Yes," she said. "I'll marry you."
The tumor was discovered just as Jane and Alex were finishing their postdocs in separate cities. Dirty lenses couldn't explain the sudden deterioration in Alex's vision, the blinding headaches. A spate of doctor's visits precluded searching for a house, starting a family. Alex wrote her notes through treatment. "Thank you." "I'm scared." "I love you." His writing turned to scribbles, but Jane always read his meaning. Then she cleaned Alex's glasses for the last time and stowed them inside. Checkmate.
Jane moved to a new city, bought a fixer-upper. In her spare time, she gutted rooms and rebuilt, adding miniature doors at the back of closets, inside cabinets, in the base of the oak tree out back, leaving notes for Alex. When she repaired the cracked basement floor with Portland cement, Jane packed her cubby full, sealing it off like the crypt that it was. When she checked, hopeful, the next morning, the cavern was empty as ever. She vowed never again to open the door to her heart.
On what would have been Jane and Alex's eighteenth anniversary, Jane knelt at the oak to leave a note. She closed the door as something hard hit her head. She massaged out the pain and looked up. Sunlight shimmered through the layers of leaves. Next to her knee an acorn, still green. Jane rolled it in her palm, noting its heft. Even the tiniest potential had weight to it. She blew a kiss to the sky and lifted her shirt.
Elizabeth Fletcher writes and teaches yoga in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Confrontation, Schuylkill Valley Journal Online, Leaping Clear, The Nonconformist
and more. She can be found on Twitter