This story was written for the Reedsy contest "Close to Home".
More specifically in the context of the prompt: "Write a story about someone who finds a magical portal in their home."
Something strange is happening to my house.
When I plan to go to the attic, I suddenly find myself in the cellar. When I go to the kitchen, I end up in the bathroom. When I leave one room, there is no way of knowing which other room I’ll enter next. Nothing makes sense anymore. It’s as if every door is a portal that prevents me reaching the places where I want to go to. I’m exhausted from running from one room to the other in the hope that I finally end up in the place I want to be.
Sometimes I walk into a strange woman on my quests. She pretends that I know her, but I don’t recognize her. She always looks sad when I tell her that. She tells me that she’s my wife and that I’m her husband. When I say I don’t believe her, she takes me straight to the living room. She must be able to master the portals because we never arrive in the garage or another of those absurd places that cross my path whenever I move around in the house.
In the living room, the woman who claims to be my wife shows me our wedding photo. I recognize a younger version of her, all dressed up in a stunning wedding gown, and me in a tuxedo. I’d suspect it’s all a very elaborate and convincing prank if it weren’t for those damn portals. I can’t explain what happens to me, but I’m probably stuck in some parallel universe in which I am married, and where doors behave differently than in my own world.
“What’s my name?” I ask the woman in the alternate reality.
“Your name is Frank,” she answers. That’s a correct answer.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“I’m Sarah,” she says. That name rings a bell, but I’m not sure why.
“What’s my favorite food?”
“You have a very traditional taste,” she answers. “I can always make you happy with steak and fries, and a good glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.”
That’s certainly true. My alter ego in this reality seems to have the same taste as I have. Now that I think of it … Where is the other me? Did we switch? If I am here with his wife, is he all alone in my original reality? All of this is very confusing.
“What’s wrong, dear? Aren’t you hungry?” the woman asks.
Much to my surprise I’m sitting at the table in the living room, with steak and fries in front of me. I wonder where that food came from all of a sudden.
“I think I'm fine,” I say, “but I'm starving! Steak and fries! What a treat! What was your name again? I forgot.”
“My name is Sarah,” she says.
“Sarah, yes, now I remember,” I say. “Aren’t you surprised I forgot your name after… How long did you say we were married?”
“Thirty-two years,” Sarah says. “We’ve been married for thirty-two years.”
“Are you sure I’m the man you married? Maybe I’m a look-alike who got lost in your house by accident. Do you think it’s normal that your husband doesn’t remember your name?”
“Nothing is normal anymore, Frank,” she says, and she disappears into the kitchen.
Nothing is normal anymore… That’s the understatement of the year. I work my way to the bathroom, finding it right in time to do my business. Then I try to find the way back to the living room to watch some television. I forget all about Sarah until she appears next to me and tells me it’s time to go to bed. I propose to sleep on the couch, but she won’t have it. She accompanies me upstairs to a room that looks exactly like mine. She tucks me in and gives me a goodnight kiss. I hope her real husband doesn’t mind.
I wake up feeling clearheaded for the first time since what feels like forever. I recognize the woman next to me; it’s my wife Sarah. She looks more beautiful than ever. We have two grown-up children together, Luke and Anna. They have left the house years ago.
Somehow I know it's a miracle that I remember them. I have vague memories of my condition. I realize that my house isn’t haunted; it's my brain playing tricks with me.
“Your condition will gradually get worse,” the doctor said. “The process is irreversible, but there will be moments of lucidity.”
This is such a moment. I have to cherish it.
“How much time do I have before everything is gone?” I asked. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell. “Sarah,” I whisper. “What day are we today?”
“It’s Saturday, Frank,” she answers.
“Today is a good day,” I say. “Let’s call the kids.”
Sarah smiles at me: “Let’s do that.”
Anna and her husband John are the first to arrive. I’m so happy to see the grandchildren.
“Who wants a cupcake?” Sarah asks. “I’ve made them especially for you.”
“Me! Me! Me!” they shout. It’s unbelievable how fast these toddlers grow.
Luke arrives five minutes later. He’s divorced without children.
“Luke was here a couple of days ago,” Sarah tells me. “Do you remember?”
I honestly don’t. Large parts of my recent past are shrouded in fog.
We wait until the grandchildren are playing in the garden and then we gather around the table.
“This may be one of the last days I have control over my mind,” I say. “I think it’s time for me to end this.”
“Are you sure,” Sarah asks. She fights against the tears. So do Luke and Anna.
“We all knew this was coming,” I comfort them. “We’ve made all the arrangements so that we could take the decision when the time was there.”
“Still,” Luke says, “it’s a brutal decision to make.”
“We talked about this before, and I was lucky enough to put everything down in writing while I was still mentally sound. All the papers are signed. I’m OK with it.”
“I’m not sure if we are,” Anna says. “But we accept your decision.”
“When do you plan to …” Luke doesn’t know how to finish his sentence.
“We’ll call the doctor on Monday,” Sarah answers.
We’re having a good family day despite the decision we made.
Soon I’ll take the final portal to the other world.
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