Dorothy mentally ran through the checklist. Chin up. Shoulders down. Gaze unchallenging. Brows neutral. An imagined book balanced on the head. This first impression was definitely going to count.
She unzipped her handbag and pulled out a compact mirror. She checked that her lipstick, “Coral Sunset”, hadn’t bled into the wrinkled creases of her upper lip. A quick check of the teeth just to make sure. Popping the compact back in her purse she retrieved a microfibre cloth to clean her glasses. Everything went blurry for a moment, but it seemed everything already had a blurry quality about it. She polished her glasses vigorously, pursing her lips. The bifocals were already as clean as a whistle but she wanted them to sparkle. This meeting was going to be important.
Dorothy replaced the glasses on her face and the cloth in her handbag, and placed the handbag on her lap. She checked her cashmere twinset for unauthorised fluff and smoothed her twill skirt. Dorothy was satisfied that she was as presentable as one could be for this occasion. In fact, it was a minor miracle (ha!) that she was not covered in blood and grease and dirt. But obviously that was just the way things worked.
A very competent-looking man rose and started towards the nearby door. It was odd – there hadn’t been an announcement or anything, he just got up, smiled, buttoned his jacket and set off towards the door. He was clean-shaven and well kept, the suit he was wearing looked expensive and his shoes were polished. He gave her a friendly nod on the way. He looked confident.
Dorothy was a little nettled that the man was going through the doorway ahead of her. Why was it taking so long for them to call her in? She tried to be patient – there were probably a lot more factors to take into account these days. Life was so complicated! Unfortunately there was no one here to ask about the process, just some chairs to sit on and a door to a room. There was no receptionist – she would suggest it if all went well – goodness, she might even do it herself if no one else was prepared to. There was no suggestions box, either. She liked a suggestions box. There just didn’t seem to be any system that she could see – even a ticket with a number on it might help. In the time she’d been here, already a dubious-looking dark-skinned man with a strange smell had gone into the room and not come out. Dorothy’s hands had gripped her handbag just a little tighter as he had gone past. A little while later a slightly dirty looking girl with one of those awful nose-rings had gone in, and again, not come out – not via this entrance, anyway. And then the man in the smart suit.
The door to the room re-opened, it was the man in the suit again. He was struggling, trying to brace himself against the doorway. His body was contorting and resisting; he was obviously being forced through the doorway, but for the life of her (ha!), Dorothy couldn’t see how. His face was red from exertion but there was no visible cause to his struggles. He stumbled back into their waiting room gesticulating wildly and opening his mouth as though shouting, but no noise was coming out. Dorothy pulled back and pursed her lips at the undignified display. The man in the suit continued to flail and throw himself around and then quite suddenly, a void opened beneath him and he was practically dragged through it, grasping wildly until there was no sign of him, or that anything had happened at all. All was still for a breath.
Dorothy took a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her upper lip in distaste. She did not enjoy these unseemly displays. Clearly the man in the suit had been found wanting. And he had looked so confident! Oh well, it was his own fault.
Something rumbled through Dorothy’s chest and filled her up.
DOROTHY JOYCE HAMILTON-SMYTHE
She felt her name being called, rather than heard it, and jumped to her feet in anticipation. There had been no sound but she knew it was her turn. An excited tremor ran through her but then – ah! She caught herself just in time. Chin up. Shoulders down. Gaze unchallenging. Brows neutral. An imagined book balanced on the head. Dorothy was not going to let this opportunity slip.
She calmly walked to the door, opened it, stepped through, and saw…nothing.
The door disappeared behind her. Energy, vibrations, voices – whatever you wanted to call them, began to emanate within and through her. Ideas and apparitions bubbled up from these – well, she supposed they were communications:
Dorothy. Female. Seventy-four. Car accident. Sudden death. Identifies as Christian. Regular church attendance. Some education. Clerical worker. Retired. Widowed. One daughter, estranged. Two grandchildren, estranged. Non-drinker. Non-smoker. Conservative voter.
Simultaneously images came at her, floated past her and were projected into her mind’s eye – the snapshots were familiar; like memories, but from someone else’s point of view: there she was at the church cake stall, raising money for the poor… and carefully placing a single hair on the icing of Betsy Harris’ generally popular passionfruit sponge…
And here: here she was at church passing the peace with fellow parishioners, and then turning to one of the new congregation members, an immigrant, Pakistani or Arab of some kind, and she was pausing before eventually shaking his hand, then wiping her hand on her skirt afterwards…
And here was another image, another time, when her daughter Celia was a young woman. Celia was telling her something, something about who she had fallen in love with, and Dorothy was telling her to leave the family home, and there was Celia, her only daughter, leaving forever…
Why was she seeing only this? Where were all her good works? Oh here was one – a homeless person, begging in the street. She had opened her purse, and dropped some coins – gold ones – for him to pick up, the coins bouncing and rolling along the pavement while the man crawled after them. There. Charity.
And here was another – her daughter again. In hospital with a newborn baby, a woman standing next to her, with an arm around Celia’s shoulder and a loving gaze directed at the child. Dorothy had brought a gift for the baby. Generosity! Another good deed. Her ability to tolerate that abominable scene at all showed enormous graciousness.
A feeling of vindication swelled within Dorothy. She was doing well, she knew it. The images were becoming more furiously juxtaposed on top of each other, event after event of her deeds great and small. The communications coming through her were boosting her sense of confidence, pride, self-satisfaction. This was going well. She felt she was close to some kind of determination.
DOROTHY JOYCE HAMILTON-SMYTHE
The communication vibrated through her again, and this time she answered eagerly, breathlessly.
“Yes, I hear you.”
I HAVE A PLACE FOR YOU
Dorothy’s heart danced. She nearly clapped her hands with righteous glee. All those years of devotion, of observing and practising what was right, and more importantly, condemning what was wrong, even if it meant severing ties with her own kin… Her knowledge that she had a certain quality, something to teach people who were dirtier, smellier, stupider, poorer, less moral or just not quite as good at baking cakes…all absolutely worth it.
A door opened before her and she lifted her chin, gaze eagerly searching for the paradise that was sure to be beyond. Instead, she saw the waiting area, where she had been before, and all the people sitting there looking at her, including a brutish-looking man covered in tattoos. She felt herself being pushed through the doorway and in an instant, what was happening actually dawned upon her.
Something had gone awry. There was a misunderstanding of some sort. She tried to brace herself against the doorway, to turn and remonstrate, to ask to speak to someone higher up. Was there someone higher up? Maybe that was the problem. She would suggest an appeals panel, once she got this straightened out. IF she could get this straightened out. She searched her memory for a different slideshow of her life which she could present on appeal, one which highlighted more of her good deeds and less of how they affected the people these good deeds were bestowed on, as her body contorted and resisted its forcible ejection through the doorway. Dorothy could feel the exertion was showing on her face but was unable to even reach for the handkerchief up her sleeve to dab at her upper lip. Things were slipping out of control. She was through the door and immediately a void was opening up beneath her. In front of all of these people.
Dorothy made a last attempt to grasp anything at all, even if it was the tattooed man closest to her, who was making an attempt to reach for her hand. She gesticulated wildly and tried to shout, but there was no sound.
The tattooed man watched as she was dragged through the void. Poor old duck, she looked a bit surprised, he thought.