At 4:45am. Every day. Even Sundays. She smelled like cherries. Sourced from somewhere. Her hair. Her skin. Her moving silhouette near a window, a small lamp reflecting on a sheer, white nightgown. I can see from the doorway. I can feel her spirit.
Not real cherries. Well, they were from nature. Once. Before the sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride polluted them. Transformed them into a syrupy, cherry-like Frankenstein concoction called Maraschino. That was the scent I detected. It hung heavy in the hall. In the mornings. Every morning. Seventh floor of a majestic, tall apartment complex.Ocean Parkway. Brooklyn. 1975.
I exited the elevator below her. Always. Floor 6. Nerves. Excitement. Fright. Anticipation – Mrs. Antolini’s donut breakfast. Strategically tucked. In a corner. Where the welcome mat joined the bottom of the front door. A brown paper bag. Inside a glazed beauty – carefully (lovingly) wrapped in wax paper. Precious Mrs. Antolini. A widow. Apartment 6F. She always thought of me, especially throughout the tough New York winters.
In the morning, pre-morning (because morning should really begin at 7), metropolis was quiet. And sometimes, as I rode my three-speed, dragging a wagon pile of Daily News, I felt as if I owned the early. It was mine. It was me. And 100 newspapers for delivery.
My cool Radio Shack bright-orange AM radio cutting through dark silence (waiting for the “Rambling with Gambling” show to begin – WOR Radio) attached to handlebars. Listening to a broadcast from Nashville that occupied miles of open airwaves. From WSM-AM. Until New York radio programming began and drowned out country crooners.
And there were the doors. So many doors.
That building was special. Because of Mrs. Antolini. Because of her. The girl. Dancing in the shadows. Just for me.
She flooded my nostrils. One floor above. As I slowly worked up a flight of high-rise stairs, the blend of aromas which lingered from dinners past, died away, absorbed into walls. Strong ethnic origins. Around food. Now fading. Cherry was coming. Redder by the moment. A faint scent at first, now stronger with each step. Sweeter with each footfall. Up a flight. 25 steps. Straight ahead. Door to the left.
She knew my schedule. For floor seven. Between 4:45-4:50am. My duties as newspaper delivery boy for NY’s Picture Newspaper – The Daily News. Her front door was always open. Thin sliver but just enough. Just enough for me to see. And smell. To watch. Not too long. Just enough. Not to be late with my deliveries. She helped me make it through. From an image. Her moves. Through a door. Open slight. Wide to me.
I’ve seen her many times before this. Around the neighborhood. She was older. That I knew. More mature. Lived with her elderly Jewish parents. I collected my meager newspaper subscription money weekly from them. She was never there on late Friday afternoons. Door closed. I needed to ring the bell. That felt odd. Every Friday, Mrs A would have a special pasta dish for me.
Thank god for her. And her: The girl.
I recall her deep blue eyes. Striking long brown hair, curled up at the bottom. When she smiled at me. She never spoke. Just watched me. Danced for me. Always there. Never speaking but encouraging me to show up. Tomorrow. The day after tomorrow.
“Mrs. Antolini, do you know the girl who lives in 7G?” I asked on a Friday. Sort of in passing. Matter-of-factly. I always cut Mrs. A a deal on the newspaper. Actually, most of the time I gave her freebies. It was in trade for the food she was thoughtful enough to leave. The comfort she provided.
She looked at me. Puzzled. Like nobody else existed in the building.
In a heavy Italian accent she said: “The Rosenbergs. Norman & Rachel.”
“Well, I know them. I deliver the paper to them. I’m talking about the girl.”
“Their daughter Julie.”
Julie = Cherry.
I could see it now. She looked like a Julie. Julie Rosenberg.
“Did she open the door?” Mrs. A said. Concerned.
“She’s been told to never open the door. Never.”
1). Sometimes you’ll open the wrong door. Just accept it. Know when to close it. You’ll pursue a person, a vocation, a hobby, and realize you should have never opened the door. In hindsight it would have been best to leave the door closed. Sealed. We all understand. Opening the wrong door is part of life. The courage is knowing when to close the door, or realize when the door closes on you, permanently. And it will hurt. You wanted so badly for that door to remain open. For Julie to dance forever. To keep you going. But it closed. You failed. Is there a lesson in the failure? Learn to understand it. The longer the door stays closed the more you’ll admit to yourself that it was a good thing. For you. And Julie. Other doors, better ones are down the hallway. Don’t push. Don’t keep opening the wrong door.
2). The right door means everything. No matter how much you fuck up, the door stays open.Or opens wider. Friends, brothers, loved ones, those who stand by you through times of turmoil. You step back and thank god you opened those doors. Never forget those who are open to the good and bad of you. Find your Antolinis. Get to know them better. Appreciate them more.
3). Most doors in life will remain closed. There must have been 500 doors in that building. Faceless, nameless. Never opened to me. During cold mornings I was jealous of the warmth behind those doors. It felt distant. In the quiet of those deep halls. Warmth, friendship, love, felt years away. I wanted to knock. Ask. Seek. I never did.
4). Understand what permanently closes, locks the financial door. And kills a friendship, a relationship. Lending money, co-signing on loans, borrowing money from those with open doors ostensibly can lead to trouble.
Julie opened the door in 1974. She was raped and beaten. She lost the hearing in her left ear. She was instructed to never open the door. Again.
She did. For me. I never entered. Just admired. To this day I can see her face.
In July 1976, I attended a funeral. For the Rosenbergs. For my dancing girl. For Julie. Found dead in a wide alley between buildings.
She was gone. At 15.
All because she opened the door. To the wrong person.
Mrs. Antolini hugged me. Hard.
Kissed my head as I cried.
The right door can save your life.