Fun . . . Magical . . . Adventurous . . .
A regular nobody, Denby thought as he stood before a mirror fixed to the wall of his ordinary bathroom in his average one-bedroom apartment on the third floor of a run-of-the-mill Brooklyn walk-up.
He leaned forward and studied the eyes that looked back.
The thought repeated.
A regular nobody.
He was being rather harsh with the nobody bit. Sure, he wasn’t a senator or an astronaut or a starting shortstop—but not many are, are they? No, he was an average ordinary man. An ordinary man with an ordinary job in an ordinary office. Entirely ordinary.
There was even an ordinary reason for his bout of reflective self-disparagement. An unreasonably reasonable explanation, but still ordinary by all accounts. It was due to a co-worker. A female co-worker by the name of Hazel Bailey who he happened to think was the most wonderful woman he would ever meet.
“A regular nobody,” he said aloud while he brushed ginger curls away from his forehead. He wiped toothpaste from the corners of his mouth and stretched his shoulders. His morning mirror session needed to end. He had a train to catch. A commute to his ordinary office—the home of his ordinary cubicle, which sat within eyesight of the extraordinary Hazel.
He knotted an inoffensive sky-blue tie, threw on a plain grey suit, stepped into a pair of simple black dress shoes and slipped out the door.
It never took him long to walk to his train. A handful of minutes. Always the same handful of minutes every morning. Step out the door. Walk down the stairs. March down the crowded sidewalk. Everything always the same. A carbon-copy commute internally narrated by carbon-copy thoughts. Thoughts of Hazel. She took up residency in his mind, owned a nice little cottage in among his grey matter.
What would be the first thing he would say to her? Would it be the standard, "How was your weekend?" or "Crazy weather we're havin', huh?" or maybe "How's your dog? Rudy, right? Did his surgery go well?"
He was at the corner of Forty-Fourth and Fourth attempting to arrange perfect words in which to greet Hazel. Perfect words that would elicit a response along the lines of “Why, Denby Evers, you are not just a regular nobody after all" or maybe even "That is the funniest, most interesting thing I have ever heard in my entire life. Let's run to a courthouse so we can sign the appropriate papers and start our amazing new life together."
In truth, he would settle for a "That’s nice, Denby. Do you have the report on so-and-so?"
While he stood on the corner of Forty-Fourth and Fourth, piecing together the perfect Hazel-wooing words, a short-haired earless black rabbit hopped up to his simple dress shoes. It stopped, raised its head, and looked Denby directly in the eyes.
Short-haired earless black rabbits stopping to say hello was certainly not a part of Denby’s normal carbon-copy commute.
I wonder if Hazel likes rabbits was the first thing that crossed Denby’s mind, followed by Where did this rabbit come from? and Where are its ears?
Before he was able to ask himself any more answerless questions, the short-haired earless black rabbit bounded into the busy intersection of Forty-Fourth and Fourth.
The survival rate of anything lounging about in the middle of a busy Brooklyn intersection was low. Doubly low for earless rabbits. Witnessing the squashing of helpless adorable creatures was not high on Denby’s to-do list. Neither was running out into the middle of Forty-Fourth and Fourth to save helpless adorable creatures, but that was exactly what he was going to have to do, wasn’t it? Bolt into the street, stretch out his arms, hold up his palms to divert the onslaught of traffic, swoop up the short-haired earless black rabbit and dart back to safety.
Hazel would be impressed.
Denby the rabbit savior.
In the middle of his Hazel-impressing, rabbit-saving contemplation, he caught something out of the corner of his eye. A something that was also out of the ordinary for a normal carbon-copy commute. A man. A tall, tough-looking, dark-haired man who was in full sprint and appeared to be wearing nothing but a white terrycloth bathrobe.
The bathrobe-wearing man raced deftly through masses of commuters, successfully avoiding all contact whatsoever with every soul in his path.
He dashed directly into the intersection.
He did not pause.
He did not hold out his palms.
He made no attempt to slow the oncoming traffic.
Not an ounce of fear was shown.
He swooped up the black rabbit and stood in the middle of Forty-Fourth and Fourth without a care in the world.
Traffic streamed by as he gently patted the creature on its adorable earless head.
"You're gonna get yourself killed!" Denby yelled.
The concerned scream startled the man in the bathrobe. His eyes grew wide with surprise as he took two steps toward Denby and shouted back, "My good gods, man! You can–"
Denby watched in horror as a speeding silver town car violently ran down the man in the bathrobe.
The man's body somersaulted through the air.
His bathrobe flapped in the wind.
The bathrobe-wearing man crashed hard to the pavement and lay motionless in the middle of Forty-Fourth and Forth.
The earless black rabbit blinked and yawned as it sat safely cradled between the man's long fingers.
The speeding town car never stopped.
No one stopped.
Not a soul.
Not for a second.
"Someone call nine-one-one!" Denby shrieked as he nervously ran into the street—arms stretched, palms out, as if that would magically stop him from becoming equally as smooshed as the man and rabbit.
Horns blared and cars slowed as Denby reached the middle of the intersection.
"Get outta the road!" a passerby barked.
Denby stood over the bathrobe-wearing man, who amazingly, from Denby's quick non-qualified judgement, still had his limbs and pieces in all the right places. The earless black rabbit seemed unharmed as it sat securely wrapped in the man's grasp.
Denby dropped to his knees and checked for a pulse. The bathrobe-wearing man's skin was leathery. Tough, hard and leathery. He wore no shoes nor a stitch of clothing underneath the white terry cloth. He had a pulse. A loud, thumping pulse.
A passing car narrowly missed Denby as he yelled again at the top of his lungs, "Please! Someone call nine-one-one!"
The bathrobe-wearing man's eyes popped open. They fluttered left, then right, then down. He focused on the earless rabbit still in his clutches. He patted its head, then drew his attention to the screaming Denby who looked rather odd from the bathrobe-wearing man's perspective. Nostrils flared. A bit of spittle flung from his screeching mouth.
The man in the bathrobe seemed uncertain on how to immediately respond to his current predicament, but apparently thought it wise to no longer lie in the middle of Forty-Fourth and Fourth. He hopped quickly to his feet with the earless rabbit and, in the process, inadvertently knocked Denby backward to the asphalt.
The bathrobe-wearing man towered over Denby, carefully but firmly held the earless black rabbit tucked toward his armpit and raised a single finger, "You . . . "
“Oh, my God. Sir, please sit down. You could have a broken neck. Or. . . or . . . something,” Denby pleaded from the pavement.
“I should . . . go,” the bathrobe-wearing man rushed back onto the crowded sidewalk and artfully skimmed around all pedestrians.
Denby, out of what can only be described as an unordinary gut reaction, chased after the man and rabbit. He was not nearly as skilled at avoiding the flow of pedestrians. The bathrobe-wearing man was well ahead and galloped like a gazelle through Brooklyn.
Denby was not a Brooklyn gazelle. He would never be able to catch them. But the lack of fleetiness in Denby's feet did not matter, for he could still see the man and rabbit as they slipped into a building.
The building in question was an old dilapidated red-brick building that looked as if it had long ago been condemned. And Denby was quite certain that he had seen the man and rabbit dart through a green metal door that hung on its side. As run down as the building was, the door looked new. It looked new, green, metallic, and had a strange shimmer in the light.
It was not an unordinary gut reaction that made Denby approach the crumbly old building. It was pure curiosity. Pure curiosity coupled with the fact that he had already missed his train and would be late to work regardless. Fifteen more minutes was worth knocking on the green door.
Bumpf. Bumpf. Bumpf.
There was no answer.
Bumpf. Bumpf. Bumpf.
“I saw you go in here. I really think you need to get to a hospital. You might be in shock . . . or . . . or something,” Denby put his ear to the door.
There was no answer.
What am I doing?
Hidden underneath Denby’s question of his own curiosity percolated that old saying about cats. Not that he knew any curious cats personally, but it was an old and credible saying. He did not want to add to its validity.
He walked away from the green door with his curiosity unquenched.
He pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the time.
A quarter past.
If he hurried, he could catch the next train into the city. And on that train he could piece together the proper words that retold the morning of the man and rabbit.
I think she'd like to hear that story.
It is . . . unordinary.
Denby sat in his unexceptional cubicle and mindlessly shuffled papers. He sat up straight and peaked his head over the beige fabric half-wall. He could see her. Hazel.
He had managed to assemble the right Hazel-impressing words. Something interesting. Something entertaining. He almost saved a man and an earless rabbit. As it were, they did not need any savior services offered up by Denby, but that did not diminish his near heroic tale. So he thought.
I should go tell her.
Hands pressed down on his shoulders as he tried to rise up from his chair. He did not need to turn around to know whose hands they were. They belonged to a duo of tailor-suited junior sales executives.
"Those customer files ready, Denby?" asked Kevin number one.
"Umm . . . yeah. They're here . . . somewhere."
"Late this morning," Kevin number two pointed out.
"Yeah, there was an accident. Missed my normal train."
"Awful," Kevin number one said.
"Just, awful," Kevin number two echoed.
The Kevins’ reaction was not that of genuine concern, far from it. Denby knew this but began to describe the incident at Forty-Fourth and Forth regardless. The rabbit. The man in the bathrobe. The vicious collision and somersault through the air.
"Golly," Kevin number two said.
"Just horrible," Kevin number one added. "Tragic seeing a life cut short."
Once again, the Kevins were not genuinely concerned for the welfare of a stranger and a rabbit. They were genuinely concerned with how quickly they could be handed the customer files. Denby continued and explained that the man and rabbit were somehow unharmed. He was about to describe the short foot-chase and condemned building with the strange green door when Kevin number one snapped, "Yeah, incredible. Those files?"
Denby was not naïve; he was well aware that the Kevins could not care less. But that did not matter, this was a trial run. A rehearsal before he told the story to his real audience. He turned to pick up the mindlessly shuffled papers and there she was. His real audience—leaning against his unexceptional cubicle.
Hazel had heard everything.
"What happened next?" she asked.
"Umm . . . well," Denby stammered.
"Customer files?" Kevin number one asked again.
Denby handed over the files to the Kevins and looked back at Hazel, who said, "Why don’t you tell me the rest at lunch."
Denby and Hazel sat across from one another in the employee breakroom under fluorescent lights at a wobbly off-white table decorated with permanently stained coffee rings. Between bites of BLT and salad they exchanged words as politely as possible with half-full mouths on a half-hour timer.
"He just got up and ran? Like nothing happened?" Hazel asked.
"He just ran off with his rabbit?"
"Yup," Denby chewed. "He was fast. Track-star fast."
"Maybe he wasn't hit that hard?"
"I dunno, the car was really speeding. Smashed him pretty good. Went all spindly in the air. Never dropped the rabbit."
"The rabbit with no ears?"
"Like, torn off?"
"Nah, don’t think it had them to begin with."
"And you chased him? You chased him and his rabbit?"
"Yeah, I dunno why, really. Saw him go into this old building."
"Old and pretty run-down. It had this . . . this . . . weird green door."
"Weird green door?"
"It . . . it is hard to explain . . . it just . . . it just looked like it kinda didn't belong."
Denby rode the train back to Brooklyn, pleased with himself. He had lunch with Hazel. No, it wasn't dinner and drinks and dancing or anything of the sort, but it was something. The beginning of something, he thought.
He leaned back in his seat and imagined a possibility.
Years from now . . .
. . . probably on our anniversary . . .
. . . we will be sitting across from one another in the nicest of restaurants. We will be having the best of times, and she will say, "Remember that one time in the breakroom? The day with the man and the rabbit? Our first date?”
I’ll try and play it cool . . . pretend I don't remember, "Man and rabbit?"
He was rather satisfied with this far-flung future. He and Hazel together. Then another reality occurred to him and he shook off the brief fantasy. His smile faded, his head began to hang and his mind spat.
What about tomorrow?
What would I possibly have to say to her tomorrow?
I never have anything interesting to say . . .
. . . except for today . . .
. . . and today was a total fluke.
Nothing exciting ever happens to me.
What are the odds there will be another chance to run into traffic and save a half-naked man and an earless rabbit?
Slim. Those odds are slim.
I gotta keep this story going.
That was the obvious solution in Denby’s Hazel-addled brain. He needed to keep the story going and there was only one way for that to happen. He would return to the green door.
Foot traffic flowed around Denby as he stood in front of the decaying red-brick building with its strange green door. A strange green door that somehow continued to shimmer even after the sun dipped behind the Brooklyn skyline.
Denby's Hazel-fueled investigation seemed like a good idea on the train, but now, as he stood on the busy sidewalk, and was a moment away from doing something entirely un-Denby-like, he wasn't so sure.
Regardless, he knocked.
Bumpf. Bumpf. Bumpf.
Muffled sounds of objects falling to the ground echoed from the other side.
"Hey, I was there this morning. Are you . . . okay?" Denby asked through the closed door.
There was no answer.
He knocked again.
Bumpf. Bumpf. Bumpf.
"I am here to help," Denby explained as he noticed a businesswoman walking by giving him a look. It was a look he knew well. He had inadvertently given it to others. It was an instinctual glance that said, "I hope this lunatic doesn't come near me." Her passing judgement did not stop his curiosity or his knocking, which had turned into a constant pounding with the base of his fist.
BUMPF. BUMPF. BUMPF.
“Just open the door.”
BUMPF. BUMPF. BUMPF.
BUMPF. BUMPF. BUMPF.
“I can hear you. I know you are in there!”
Passing pedestrians began to share the businesswoman’s look, but Denby was too preoccupied to notice or care.
A grandmotherly woman stopped behind him and placed her hand on his back, “Do you need help, son?”
“I'm fine," Denby explained. "The man behind this door . . . he is . . . he is the one that may need help.”
“Sweetie,” the grandmotherly woman said with care, “what door?”
Huh? Denby’s head tilted toward the woman, toward the door, and back again. "Whaddya mean?" He pointed, "This . . . this door . . . this green door . . . right here."
"Honey, ain't no door. Green or otherwise. Just a ratty old building that needs tore down."
“Come on,” Denby slapped the door. “Right here.”
The grandmotherly woman shook her head as Denby swiveled back and forth.
"Sweetie, you need an aspirin or sumpthin’?" She asked as she began to dig through her purse.
Denby rubbed the top of his head, "No . . . no aspirin."
"Suite yourself," the grandmotherly said and walked away.
. . . it's here.
Denby continued to rub his head.
Lady must be confused or blind or . . .
His dumbfoundedness was not unfounded. He could see the metallic green door in front of him, plain as day. Shimmering.
He grabbed the attention of a young couple walking by and asked, "You see this door, right?"
The couple refused eye contact and hurried past.
Denby grabbed the arm of a teenager strolling by with her friends, "You see this green door, right? Right here?"
"Get off me, whack job," the teenager brushed Denby's hand away.
Denby stared at the door.
He could see it.
It was there.
Questions were commonplace in an average hour of Denby's day. They were commonplace and ranged wildly in their triviality.
He questioned how sick he might become after drinking milk two days past its expiration.
He questioned whether the person he argued with online was indeed a graduate of the Yale law program.
He questioned whether anyone would notice if his socks matched.
He questioned the proper spelling of the word "Caribbean."
He questioned many things but never once in a single hour of a single day in his entire life did he question his own sanity. He was just a regular sane nobody. Maybe a little neurotic if the topic of thought troubled him, but he certainly was not a whack job.
A tingly sensation shot down Denby’s spine.
The green door creaked opened.
The man in the bathrobe stood in its frame.
He looked Denby up and down and asked, “Coming in?”