Previously published at Ariel Chart, July 9, 2020.
The door was locked.
Meghan let go of the door handle and was instantly drifting up and away in the gentle current. She knew the door constituted a significant find, but she couldn’t make out much detail in the murky darkness.
“It’s locked,” she reported.
“What’s locked?” Dr Revio asked, frustration creeping into his tone. “You need to narrate your journey more as you go. You won’t remember important details when you’re back, and I can’t see what you see.”
Meghan rolled her eyes. “There’s a door. But it’s locked.”
“A door? Oh. That’s probably significant.” He sounded pleased. “I thought you’d found a cashbox or memory box or something. A door’s quite good, actually.”
“But it’s locked,” Meghan said again.
“That’s okay. We’ll deal with that. First things first: which side are you facing?”
“What? What does that even mean?”
“Sorry. When you look at the door, how do you feel about it?”
“Feel?” Dr Revio was always asking how she felt. Like I’m wasting my time. Like this whole thing is ridiculous. But Meghan had committed to the process, so she forced herself to take the question seriously, to examine what she was feeling in relationship to the door.
“Frustrated that it’s locked?” Meghan suggested.
Meghan could hear Revio’s sigh. “What I meant was, which side of the door do you feel yourself to be on? Does it feel like you’re locked out of somewhere; or do you feel locked in?”
“Oh!” That was a better question.
Meghan considered it seriously. She hated being immersed, so she was definitely feeling the claustrophobia of being locked in… but that didn’t seem related to the door she’d found at all. It wasn’t a doorway out of here. Although… being locked out of somewhere didn’t resonate either.
“I don’t think it’s a door to anywhere,” she said aloud. That sounded stupid, so she tried to explain what she was seeing. “The door is set in this heavy-wood frame, which forms this elaborately carved arch. Like from an old sailing ship, maybe. The ship has rotted away and all that’s left is this arch, lying on the side of this little hillock. The doorway is intact, but it doesn’t open into anywhere. I don’t think there’s a secret room, some underwater Hobbit’s cave, behind the door. If I could open it, there’d just be rock and mud on the other side. Does that make sense?”
Meghan could picture Revio sitting up above, his lips pursed as he considered what he was hearing.
“Don’t worry about it making sense,” he said after a moment. “That’s my job. It is what it is. There are no wrong answers. Perhaps the door is just an artefact.”
“But why is it bugging me so much that it’s locked, then?” Meghan asked. “It’s like I know I have to go through the door, even though there’s nothing on the other side.”
“Hmmm. That’s quite revealing, actually.”
“First: let’s see if you can find the key.”
“I’m not going to find a key!” Meghan said. God, Revio could be annoying. “What are the chances the key just happened to sink down right next to the door? It could be anywhere down here.”
“Can’t hurt to look around. You might be surprised.”
Argh! Meghan recognized the Dr-Revio-knows-best condescension that leaked out whenever he thought she didn’t want to face something. He clearly didn’t understand what he was asking.
“It’s dark. Every time I move, I stir up the stupid mud, so it’s too murky to see more than a couple of feet. At most. The light doesn’t help because it just reflects off all the particles floating between me and whatever I’m trying to shine it on. I can barely detect that there’s a door, let alone find a key.”
Dr Revio snorted. “Vivid imagery. But listen to what you’re saying. It’s dark and even when you shine a light on something, it remains murky. There are too many little particles for you to be able to see the big picture. That’s all great stuff!”
“I’m glad you find my predicament amusing,” Meghan grumped.
Dr Revio ignored her. “You forget that I’m here to help guide you. Step one: if you examine your lantern thingy, there’s a setting to increase the brightness, or tighten the beam, or whatever, that will allow you to see the door area clearly through the murk.”
“Is there, though?” Meghan complained.
“Stop fighting me. You want this. Forget all the jetsam and focus in on what’s important, which at the moment is the locked door.”
Meghan ran her fingers over the diver’s light, found the switches more by feel than vision, fiddled with the settings until she found the combination that worked to reveal the door. The light was almost too bright. She had to squint a bit. But he’d been right about seeing past all the floating particles.
“What good is a door that doesn’t open?” Meghan asked, staring at it.
Dr Revio urged her on. “Use your hands. Feel along the top of the arch until you come to the key.”
“Oh, come on!” Meghan objected. “It’s not going to be that easy.”
“Could be,” Dr Revio said with a sigh. “Fine, I concede it’s unlikely to be on top of the arch. It would likely slide down to one side or the other. But it’s a place to start, and you can’t stay in there all day. And you never know. Has to be somewhere. Whenever there’s a locked door, there’s a key, somewhere.”
Meghan rolled her eyes again but forced herself forward and down so the light shone directly on the top of the arch.
“Oh for…” She stopped herself from swearing. The key was there, balanced on the exact middle of the doorframe’s arch. She hadn’t seen it at first because it was sitting across rather than along the arch. Damn it! She hated when Revio was right.
“Okay, what I meant was, what’s the point of a door that isn’t to anywhere?”
Dr Revio chuckled. “I take it you’ve found the key, then?”
Meghan could picture Revio’s self-satisfied smirk. “Yes.”
“Then let’s open the door and see what’s under it.”
Key in one hand, the other grabbing for the door handle to pull herself down through the water, she struggled to find a position from which she could reach the lock. Okay. There likely won’t be a room or a tunnel or anything behind the door. No portal to another realm or time or some great treasure. But maybe the door fell on top of something. Captain’s hat, a plate from the ship’s dining room, or…? A compass would be good. She wrestled the key into the lock, managed to turn it in spite of the water resistance around and even within the ancient mechanism. She felt, rather than heard, the click.
She pulled on the loop of the wrought-iron handle with both hands as best she could, until the heavy wooden door moved with the weird slow-motion of the underwater environment. Then it fell open under its own weight, stirring up a cloud of mud as it banged against the ornate frame. Meghan tried to fan away the obscuring mud as she peered at the open doorway. How about an old manila envelope, or one torn corner of a treasure map? Just something to make the afternoon’s dive worthwhile.
There was nothing, of course. She ran her hand along the patch of stony hillock framed by the doorway, in case there was something buried in the inch-deep mud, but there was nothing. Only bits of fossilized coral, crushed years ago by the falling door.
“Tell me what you’re seeing,” Dr Revio reminded her.
“There’s nothing,” Meghan told him. “I mean, I’ve got the door open, and I’m feeling around on the ground underneath, but there’s nothing there. There was nothing to find. Sorry.”
“Oh, don’t say ‘sorry’,” Dr Revio told her. “That’s not a problem. In fact, that’s really good! Good to know.”
“I don’t know anything,” Meghan protested.
Dr Revio chuckled again. “I think that’s enough for today. Come on out.”
“Damn it…I was really hoping for something good,” Meghan said. She visualised herself heading back up to the surface. “Something worth all this.”
“And we got that,” Dr Revio assured her. He offered her his hand as the tech locked the hatch into the open position. “I admit it’s not what I expected, but it’s a breakthrough nonetheless.”
As she climbed out of the deprivation tank and undid her face mask, Meghan tried to work out how finding nothing could be construed as a breakthrough. She was not in the mood for Revio to patronize her.
Dr Revio took one look at her expression and stepped back, raising his hands to fend off the accusation.
“You think that was a waste of time?” he asked. “It was great.”
“How’d you figure?”
He dropped his hands, shook his head. “You never listen to what you say.”
“What I said was, I went through a door and didn’t find anything.”
“Exactly! You went through and there was nothing. Couldn’t be clearer!”
Meghan stopped towelling and stood still, facing him. “I’m going to punch you in a second.”
Dr Revio actually laughed at that. “The door was a great metaphor. That and the impenetrable murk. Your subconscious is telling you it’s about the journey, not the destination. You have to work through the process, but there’s nothing big hidden behind the door.”
“What?” Meghan stared at Revio. “You’re saying I’ve been wasting my time?” And money.
“Nope. I confess I thought there must be some big trauma I could dig out. We had to check for that, because, well, you can’t not check. But turns out, for you, it’s not about repressed memories or PTSD or whatever.”
“You’re saying I have no problems?”
“Oh, I think there are a few things we could work on.” His tone said, a lot of things. “But there’s no one thing, nothing big at the root of it all. It’s all just… little stuff.”
Meghan tilted her head, drew back her shoulders, drew in a breath, ready to blow up at the smug asshole.
He held up his hands again in a slow-down, warding gesture. “The murk,” he clarified. “That was the other major image.”
She stared at him blankly. “The murk?”
“All the little annoying particles floating between you and what you were trying to see. Obscuring your vision. That was an image too. A powerful one, for you.”
“I thought… that was just static while I tried to think of something to visualise.”
“Nope. First image that comes to mind matters. And for you, that was an impenetrable ocean. Which resolved itself when you shone your diver’s light on it as tiny droplets of mud.”
“The little annoyances that are too trivial to complain about, to call people on, but cumulatively are wearing you down. Your bosses’ microaggressions. Your subordinates mansplaining to you all the time. That your brother isn’t doing any of your dad’s elder care. Your son’s freeloading. All the irritations you vent about each session. Those really are the biggest problems you have. But there’s so many of them, so much distraction, you’re losing sight of your own goals. Losing yourself.”
“Like I’m drowning,” Meghan conceded.
She handed him the towel. “See you next Thursday?”
“Back at my regular office, though. I don’t think we’ll be needing the tank again.”
About The Author
Robert Runté is Senior Editor with EssentialEdits.ca and was formerly Senior Editor for Five Rivers Publishing, a small Canadian press, for which he acquired and edited 30 books. A former professor, he has won three Aurora Awards for his literary criticism. His own fiction has been published in over forty venues, and four of his short stories have been reprinted in “best of” collections, most recently Canadian Shorts II and Potato Soup Journal’s Best of 2020.
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