Every night, she took the same path home from work: a block to the subway, then out and past the all-night deli (sometimes she stopped in for a sandwich), then three more blocks to her home. She often worked late. A woman walking alone at night learns to pay attention. Not that it was a bad city, but you never know. Still, she was familiar with every brick and every alley, every shop, open or closed. And that was why it was so startling to her, this new door. She had passed this particular alley a hundred times. Certainly more. Never had she seen it, not in the watery light of a warm summer evening, nor when the radiance of the streetlamps glittered off winter's slush and snow.

It was below street level. Stairs led down to a sheltered entryway sealed with an old wooden door. It wasn't cheap wood, either, but something dark and glossy, carved in places with a pattern of scrollwork and what might have been vines.

No, she was certain she would have seen that before. You didn't see doors like that anymore. Everything was metal or something pretending to be wood, always bland and anonymous, as if encouraging the eye to glide past, the mind to ignore the invitation inherent in any door.

But this door - where did it lead? And what was it for? The building on that side of the alley was commercial -- a warehouse, maybe, or an old storefront. She had never seen it open, and the windows on the bottom two levels had been bricked in long ago. That's all it was -- an old, crumbling relic of bygone industry, as ubiquitous and unsightly as a dumpster.

And now this door. A faint light shone over the entryway, making it possible to see the stairs leading down, but failing to completely dispell the cloying shadows. The light didn't perfectly illumine the scroll-work either, and she had only an imperfect impression of it from where she stood. The door itself was perhaps ten feet down the narrow alley, past papers and cans and trash. Far enough that the headlamps of the cabs that jockeyed endlessly on the street beside her did not quite reach it, close enough to know that it had not been there yesterday, nor the day before.

Just as suddenly as noticing the door, she became aware of a restlessness in her life, scrabbling against the tedium of her endless routine. As surely as the door existed, there existed in her a yearning for something more.

She hesitated only briefly. Then she ducked down the alley and swiftly descended the stairs. Gripping the handle in one trembling hand, she opened the door.

-- M. Belanger