Door County Writes: ‘Three Seconds’

Story by Eden Novak

In three seconds, her children’s lives passed across her eyes, through her shuddering body, down to her now paralyzed feet, unable to navigate the stairway down to the front door.

Who rings the doorbell at midnight? Not the mailman, nor the UPS delivery or Orkin man, not the neighbor looking for a cup of sugar. The only guests knocking at midnight are those in blue uniforms with steady, reluctant voices and a desire to be anywhere but here. 

In three seconds, she ran to the landing and froze, unable to will one foot in front of the other to maneuver the stairs that have now multiplied in number, making that trip down an endless, agonizing descent into hell, or worse, the dismal abyss of unbearable loss. She can’t go down those infinite steps to a door that keeps moving farther away, intensifying the three seconds into an eternity that it will take for what’s beyond the door to tell her that her life is over, that everything that went before has reached its untimely end, that she will never hear laughter again, except in those precious photos and grainy videos of piano recitals and pumpkin patches, graduations, locks of hair and never letting her beloved out of her reach.

In three seconds the past is erased, the present is frozen, the future is uninhabitable. She was hobbled in that moment. She prayed to everyone and no one for those seconds back, for her breath to return, her heart to reboot. She asked the universe to forgive every unworthy deed she had committed in her now useless life, making deals, selling her soul in return for those lost in three seconds.

As she steeled herself for what lay beyond the door, she heard her husband below.

“Doorbell’s working, hon!”

Knees buckling, she sat on the top stair, covered her mouth.

Eden Novak is a musician, actress, monologist, spoken-word performer and vocational rehabilitation counselor. She has studied writing at The Clearing Folk School and Northeastern Illinois University. She splits her time between Sturgeon Bay and the Chicago metro area.