ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 2015
THE GIRL IN THE DOORWAY
From bitter, frigid streets to blazing hot passion; from the darkest desperation to the deepest desire, The Girl in the Doorway is one of the most thought-provoking erotic novels of the year.
One woman’s vivid memoir of life and sex among the homeless, it is the story of how easy it is to fall… and how hard it can be to get back up again, even when help seems to be at hand. Of learning to love but, more importantly, learning to trust.
All set against a backdrop of the most vibrantly detailed sex that the streets have seen in years.
The girl in the doorway. He couldn’t remember the first time he saw her, just that she was there so often as he walked towards his office that he missed her, and even worried a little, when she wasn’t.
Occasionally, if he had the cash handy, he would stoop and hand her a few bucks, rarely less than two, never more than five, then pass on wondering whether he’d bought her a meal, or was just feeding a drug habit.
Either way, it wasn’t his concern. He’d never been one to succumb to panhandlers, but something about her tugged at whatever heartstring it was that was vulnerable to a heap of rags parked in the entranceway next door to Starbucks, and if he was really honest with himself, you could almost say he felt protective towards her.
Occasionally they spoke, a “here you go,” or “take care,” from him; a “thank you” from her. Nothing to build more than an acquaintanceship around, and he wondered whether she even realized that he was giving her something every day. She never gave any sign of recognition as he approached, never seemed to be watching for him to come down the street.
And once he looked back and saw her apparently in conversation with somebody else, and he wondered whether the whole thing was just a scam; whether she was one of those “professional beggars” you occasionally read about, commuting in from the suburbs to prey on the largesse of the gullible. The following morning, he detoured down a parallel street and avoided seeing her altogether – then found himself regretting it so much that at lunchtime, he wandered down there and thrust $10 into her hand.
He was rewarded with such a broad smile that he never cared about his suspicions again.
Forty-two, not quite divorced, a father of two, upper management at a brokerage firm. That was Rob Moffat in a nutshell. He wasn’t lonely; he had buddies he’d hung with since high school, a bar where (as the song goes) everyone knew his name; and there were a couple of women who he suspected might be interested if and when he got back on the dating train.
But his work kept him occupied, sports kept him happy and the kids, when they visited every other weekend, gave him family. Maybe that was why the girl in the doorway interested him so much. She was a constant in his life that demanded nothing more than he wanted to give; and if, late at night, his thoughts occasionally drifted in her direction, and wondered what lay behind that smile, or beneath those rags, even his fantasies kept her at arm’s length. He’d jerk off, but he wouldn’t be thinking about her specifically. It was the mystery that aroused him, not the person.
It was a Wednesday in late January and the snow had been relentless all night. The state governor was on the verge of closing the roads to all but essential personnel, and Rob suspected that the commuter express he rode into town might well be the last one to travel all day. He just hoped that conditions might have improved by nightfall, else he’d be booking into one of the hotels around the office tonight. Which wouldn’t be the first time, and he stuck his toothbrush into his briefcase, just in case.
The journey took forever, but his call into the office reassured him that only a couple of other people had even tried to get in, so when he did finally reach his destination, he had no qualms about heading straight for Starbucks, to warm up with a coffee. And that was when he thought about the girl. Surely she wouldn’t be out there today?
His order was still being prepared; he had a few moments. Rebuttoning his coat, he stepped outside, turned to the left, and there she was, huddled in her doorway, her hands thrust deep into pockets, all skin bar her eyes wrapped in layer upon layer. He didn’t know what he was going to say, but he caught her eye, smiled, and blurted, “you must be frozen. Come and have a coffee.”
She shook her head and a muffled murmur, “no, I’m fine.”
“You’re frozen. Just next door.” He gestured with his head. “My treat.” He smiled, and it felt as though his lips were freezing. She still looked uncertain, suspicious, even. But slowly she stirred and, as she stood and he saw how the snow had banked up around her, it crossed his mind that she might have been there all night.
She moved slowly, and he could only admire the ingenious manner in which the layers of… you wouldn’t call them clothes, but they were at least a step up from rags… “garments” she wore were wrapped and rewrapped into an almost seamless whole. A talent, he imagined, that she had learned the hard way.
She attracted a few askance glances as they walked into the coffee store, and Rob felt a shiver of loathing towards those who flashed them. But nobody said anything, and her order of a tall hot chocolate was delivered without a word. He suggested she eat, too, and she chose the carrot cake. Then they sat, and he did his best not to watch as she devoured it in three bites before she’d even started unwrapping the layers around her hands. Wasn’t certain what to say, either, so he sat in silence while she painstakingly undid the knots, folding everything into the old rucksack that he had not even realized she was carrying, and then finally lowering the hood of the parka that lurked beneath,
Cute. She was definitely cute, Rob thought, although the lank hair and dirty face defied his every attempt to guess her age. Late thirties, maybe. Very early forties. He wondered how long she had been living on the street, and why, but they were not questions he felt entitled to ask.
She spoke. “I’ve never had the chance to thank you.” A pause. “For the money. You don’t have to, you know.”
He didn’t have a clue how to respond, so he just blurted something out. “I guess it’s habit,” he said, then regretted using that word, although she didn’t seem to make the same connection that his pang of guilt had formulated. “Well, it’s a nice one. Than you.”
They lapsed back into silence. There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but they all seemed so brusque, so impertinent. Instead, she broke the ice, asking his name and offering hers; Flora. Chatting at first about the weather, telling how she was surprised to see anyone downtown today, nodding when he explained how he had only come in because it was better than staying at home on his own, and then he was telling her about the kids, how they lived with his ex-… he halted himself before he turned into one of those dreadful drones whose only topic of conversation is the nuts-and-bolts of a failed marriage, and hoped she’d maybe tell him something about her. But instead they carried on chit-chatting, while he wrestled with a sudden thought that had come to mind.
He ought to go in, now that he was here. But what would he do with Flora? He could not stand to see her wrap herself back into her layers, then resume her spot in her doorway. Which would, in any case, be two inches deep in snow by now, if the view out of the coffee store window was anything to go by.
He made a decision, but prefaced it by practically begging her not to take it the wrong way. “Listen, I need to get into the office, at least for a couple of hours. But I was going to check into a hotel tonight, rather than try and get home in this weather. How about if I check in now, and you use the room until I’m finished?”
She shook her head, but Rob had made up his mind. “You can’t go out again in this. You can sleep, you can order up room service, you can watch TV, you can take a bath… Please? I’ll be paying for the room anyway, you might as well use it.”
Back and forth they went until finally she agreed, so he called the hotel across the road, where his firm had the expense account for visiting out-of-towners and, indeed, its own stranded executives; arranged a small suite, two bedrooms and a tub… twenty minutes later, while Flora stood still mummified in the middle of the room, he had arranged for hot food to be delivered, and for the maid service to collect her… he still couldn’t call it clothing… for laundering. And then he was away to the office, half-convinced by the time he got there that, by the time he returned to the hotel, she’d have vanished with half of the furniture, and he’d be left with some very awkward explaining to do.
She didn’t talk about her past because she’d erased it. Her parents, her siblings, her hometown, all wiped from her mind so effectively that even if she tried to, she could conjure up no more than the occasional fleeting impression. Not because anything particularly awful had happened, but because of all the things that you need to survive on the street, nostalgia and regrets are not among them.
She didn’t even remember how she got there, or why, and she had no sense of how long ago it was, either. Time means little when you have no need to measure it, past and future simply blend into one long constant present, interspersed with a series of regular occurrences that she instinctively anticipated without any need for a clock. Like a cat that knows when its owner will be home each day, and is already by the front door minutes before the car is within earshot.
Rob’s daily visits were one of those, and she was pleased, if not exactly surprised that he had proved so kindly today. There were three or four people a day whose own routine had expanded to acknowledge her, including the guy who owned the building in whose doorway she sheltered, and a couple of cops who always checked in with her when they stopped to get coffee.
Occasionally they’d buy her one, though she was sure it was against regulations, and the one time she’d had any trouble, with another homeless guy who was eyeing up her doorway, one of her cops… and that’s how she thought of them, as her personal police force… had just happened to be passing on the other side of the road. The guy never hassled her again. Had not even shown his face on the street.
She kept herself to herself. A few nights, the cold had forced her into one of the so-called shelters that one of several charities operated, but Flora valued her personal space too much to stay longer than it took to warm up, consume some watery soup, and catnap in an armchair set as far from the others as it could be.
Her silence annoyed people. The volunteers who ran the shelters had her pegged, she knew, as non-communicative, and probably mentally ill; the other homeless thought of her as a snob and probably dangerous. Particularly once word went around (and she couldn’t imagine where it started) that she carried a gun and wasn’t afraid to use it. Even her cops had heard that one, and one night they asked her about it. They seemed satisfied with her answer, though, and she had a suspicion that maybe they had contributed to her reputation. She had never thanked them for doing so, though, and she knew they would not have wanted her to.
But that was how she survived. She lived off the money that people gave her, and she could never have been said to offer them anything in return for it – that smile she offered Rob when he handed her $10 that time was so rare that she vividly remembered offering it, and that in itself was a rarity. She had made it her business to remember very little.
She did remember how to use the phone, though. Calling down to reception to ask how to operate the television. How to get cold water into the scalding tub. To order up another pot of coffee. And then, balled up in a hotel dressing gown that was twice the size that she was, she climbed into one of the beds, dialed up the weather channel, and was asleep before the first mention of “snowmageddon” had passed the anchorman’s lips.