Mary wanders home and dreams of television. She has all her favourite shows recorded, ready and waiting to be watched. She passes a sign for fried chicken. It flickers overhead, metal shutters pulled up, open for business. At home, Mary knows, there are jacket potatoes in the oven and a beer in the fridge.
The street is soaked in the orange-brown night of the city. Above her, gridlocked clouds choke the sky. Over the sound of her own footsteps, she can hear another set behind her. Mary glances behind her shoulder and can see another woman. She lets out a sigh of relief; Mary’s always hearing how dangerous the city is. Steve wants her to stop working nights and Mary says she will, if that’s what he wants, though they both know they need the money.
It’s not far from the pharmacy where she works to her house and it’s a route she knows well. To her left is a red door, which she walks past without noticing. Thirty nine is painted in white on the front and the doorbell hangs limply off the wall. Ahead of her, Mary spots another fluttering sign and feels hungry.
The chill wind begins to seep through her coat, so she pulls it in snugly around her, tucking her hands under her arms. In her head, she is planning what to watch first but the harsh sound of heel upon pavement drags her back to the walk and the cold and the dark.
Again, Mary turns round to look at the woman. She’s closer now, Mary can make out the high heels and the puffy coat and wonders whether it isn’t awfully dangerous for a woman to be walking around here at night. Something about her feels strange, makes Mary feel strange, but she can’t put her finger on it. Looking at the woman sends a flutter of cascading shivers down her spine. Mary walks a little faster.
Another red door, another painted thirty nine.
Mary takes out her phone and rings Steve. She holds it to her ear until it goes to voicemail, the slips it back into her pocket. A glance over her shoulder tells Mary the woman is closer, and moving faster. There’s nothing strange about that, she tells herself, nothing strange about wanting to get home, get out of the cold, get wherever.
Steve’s phone goes to voicemail again. The footsteps following Mary sound closer than ever, louder than her own. She forces her breathing to stay slow, but her heart, pounding away, calls her bluff.
She passes another red door.
Mary skips a few steps, hobbling, moving uncomfortably in her heels, somewhere between a frantic walk and an ungainly jog. The other woman, still wrapped in her coat, makes no attempt to keep up. Mary, panting slightly, comes to a stop in a doorway. She looks back the way she came, peering into the murky night, the road illuminated by the false warmth of the street lights. There’s no sign of the other woman.
‘Get a grip, Mary,’ she says to herself.
Mary tries Steve again, he doesn’t pick up. She waits to catch her breath before leaning out from her somewhat sheltered doorway. The street is still empty. A sign she passed flickers. Mary lets out a little laugh, blushes gently at the thought of her frantic run down the street.
‘Poor thing must’ve thought I was mad.’
She takes back to the pavement and leaves the doorway behind, knocking the broken doorbell as she goes. Mary imagines putting her feet up, slipping out her shoes and into the socks with the fluffy lining. In her mind, she’s already cracking open a beer, the antidote to a long day. She thinks briefly about that woman, with her puffy coat and high heels, how odd she seemed, but Mary’s mind soon drifts away.
When she walks past a sign for fried chicken, her stomach grumbles. Not long now, she tells herself, not long to go at all. She switches off and lets her tired legs do the rest of the work.
Mary’s house is unassuming, but it feels like home and gives her that warm, fuzzy sense of safety. It’s far from perfect, the doorbell needs replacing and the number repainting, but at least the red door has started to grow on her. She opens it with a click, to be greeted with the smell of cooked dinner and canned laughter.
Mary’s home, she doesn’t need to dream anymore.
Header photograph: By dying_grotesque from Richards Bay, South Africa (Red Door Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons