Tobias Unhinged

1900 Saratoga Drive was a remarkable house in that it had no doors. The bedrooms had no doors. The bathrooms had no doors. The kitchen cabinets had no doors. In fact, the only door to be seen in the whole of 1900 Saratoga Drive was the imposing front door, and perhaps the doors of the refrigerator and the microwave oven, which Madeline West had left in "for health reasons." Madeline West had had the house designed according to a very special plan. Madeline West did not believe in doors.

"I don't believe in doors," she was often overheard remarking in public places. "If you don't want people to see you doing something, then odds are you shouldn't be doing it at all," was how she felt about the whole situation.

It was for this reason that overnight guests at 1900 Saratoga Drive very seldom changed clothes, or showered, or used the bathroom. It was not simply that the house had no doors, inconvenient and bizarre though that might seem. Madeline West had, naturally, designed the house so that every room was visible from virtually every other room. Full-length walls were infrequent, clever mirrored surfaces covered nearly everything, and when these measures failed, she had had interior plate glass windows installed between rooms. The very calculated result was that any person foolish enough to strip at 1900 Saratoga Drive was seen by somebody, and that somebody was usually Tobias West, Madeline's only son.

Madeline would often send Tobias "to check up on" the houseguests at key intervals throughout the day. Tobias was forced to wonder, at an early age, why the common reaction to his appearance was terrified shrieking and attempts at flight. Tobias was mostly scarred.

Madeline was very proud of her house. 1900 Saratoga Drive was absolutely immaculate, and she liked to keep it that way. "I can see every square inch of every surface of the house," she liked to boast to houseguests who were, at the time, holding in a great deal of fluid. "I always know when anything gets dirty, and I can clean it immediately." Not even the slightest molecule of dirt could escape the total power of Madeline West in her home. Needless to say, her houseguests were always very impressed, and then they left.

It is possible to say that Madeline was something of a perfectionist, if you are a fan of staggering understatements. She had been excessively bossy as a young girl, and she was not about to let something as happenstance as maturity interfere with her desire to be queen over everything she surveyed.

Tobias, on the other hand, was good-natured, obedient, and generally content. This was a very good thing, because any other child would have, at his age, already tried to swallow abrasive cleansing powders from underneath the sink in an attempt to end the suffering. But Tobias was not the sort of child to ingest Comet. Tobias usually did as he was told, and seldom questioned anything.

He probably inherited this from his father, Sam, who has not, as a result of excessive introversion and spinelessness, figured too heavily in the story up to this point. This may have some bearing on his not figuring too heavily in the rest of the story either.

Tobias might have been a model child for any parent except for Madeline West, whose idea of a model child was something more akin to a diminutive mannequin that did not attract dust. But Tobias took it all in stride, assuming, in his rather innocent and easygoing manner, that if he tried harder next time he would be sure to win his mother's approval. Tobias was very naïve.

Madeline did not like the idea of giving Tobias too much freedom to roam around the neighborhood with the other children. Sooner or later, she figured, he was bound to be invited into one of their homes, where he might be exposed to all sorts of malevolent influences - screen doors, Dutch doors, glass doors, fences, drawers, pantries and wardrobes. She might have kept him indoors altogether, except that she had read an article once about the necessity of sunlight for the production of vitamin D, and also when Tobias was gone the house felt relatively cleaner, even though upon his return he invariably tracked in all kinds of putrid glass clippings and dirt crumbs on the cuffs of his pants.

It was for this reason that she established certain rules. Tobias followed them unquestioningly, because that's just the way he was. Her first and most important rule was "Tobias, you are not allowed to visit anyone else's home. You may play in your friends' yards, but you may not go in. Am I understood?"

"Yes, ma'am," Tobias would say, not sensing anything strange in the slightest about this rule, and then go off to play with his friends.

A long time passed without event, until one day one of his friends invited him in for cookies. Tobias politely declined the invitation. "No, thank you," were his words.

This seemed odd to his friend. "Don't you like cookies?" he asked.

"I like cookies," said Tobias.

"Then why don't you want cookies?"

"I do want cookies."

By this point his friend (whose name was Jamey, by the way) was somewhat confused. "Then let's go in and get some cookies."

"No, thank you," said Tobias.

Jamey began to sense something was amiss. "Why?" he finally asked.

"I'm not allowed to."

"Not allowed to eat cookies?"

"Not allowed to go into your house. Maybe you could bring the cookies outside to the yard."

At this admission, Jamey was no longer concerned about the question of eating cookies, and was more concerned about the grave insult to his house. "What's wrong with my house?" he asked, in a voice suggesting he was willing to come to blows unless Tobias answered appropriately.

"Nothing," Tobias said.

"Then why don't you come in?"

"Because I'm not allowed to."

Jamey resolved to drop the issue at this point, but not without planting one final seed of doubt in Tobias's mind. "That's stupid," he pronounced definitively, before they resumed their game, which was chasing the neighborhood fluffy white cat into sewer vents.

That evening, after he had been bathed and decontaminated upon his return, he ventured a careful question to his mother. "Mama?" he said.

"Yes, Tobias?"

"Why can't I go into Jamey's house?"

She seemed flummoxed for a moment. "Because I'm your mother and I said so," she decided after a moment or so.

"Oh," said Tobias. "Okay." He said this even though he did not entirely follow her line of reasoning on this point.

The doubts did not stop, however. One evening at the dinner table, over a meal of perfect beef stroganoff, Tobias asked another careful question. "Mama?"

"Yes, Tobias?"

"Why don't we have a television?"

"It's a waste of time and money."

"Oh." He thought about this for a moment. "Mama?"

"What, Tobias?"

"Why don't we have a computer with Internet on it?"

"Because we don't need it."

"Oh." He thought about this, too. "Mama?"

"What?"

"How come our house doesn't have any doors in it?"

Madeline nearly spewed her perfect beef stroganoff onto her perfect white doily. She paused to collect herself. She didn't want to say anything she would regret later. She had studied all the manuals, and she was certain that honesty was the best way to go, but she had to make sure to phrase it just right.

"Well, Tobias," she said, very properly, Tobias looking up at her with big, eager eyes. "Our house doesn't have any doors because, in this family, we don't believe in doors. Doors separate one person from another. We can't always see each other all the time with doors in the house. That's why we don't believe in doors in this family."

"Oh," said Tobias. "How come Jamey's house has doors?"

"Because Jamey's family has different beliefs than ours. But Jamey's family is wrong. Doors are harmful and bad, and we shouldn't have them."

"Oh," said Tobias. This seemed to clear up his doubts. "Okay."

This satisfied him for a short while, but it wasn't long before Tobias began to understand that there was something a little. well, not normal about 1900 Saratoga Drive. It wasn't just Jamey's house that had doors. It was also Lindsey's and Savannah's and Emma's and Thomas's and Jacob's and also the old lady's with blue hair who lived on the end of the street and sometimes threw things at Tobias. They all had doors. Tobias's house was the only one he knew without doors. He didn't know why, but this gave him pause.

Tobias did not go to elementary school because his mother feared he would be harmed from exposure to cubbies, desks, and worst of all (she thought with a shudder), lockers. So she had him home schooled. Tobias didn't mind. Tobias was not the minding type.

Tobias didn't mind when his old friends that he used to play with came home to their houses with doors every day and played ugly music on their stereos in their messy bedrooms and then closed the door with a satisfying slam. He didn't mind when his friends would stay up past their bedtimes with a lamp on and their own personal doors closed. He didn't even mind when his friends made fun of him continually for his bizarre circumstances, over which he had no real control. The boy whose home had no doors felt more separated from people than anybody he ever knew. But he didn't mind.

Not a bit.

Not even a tiny bit.

Okay, maybe a little bit.

Maybe, in fact, Tobias minded a little bit more than just a little bit. Tobias pushed the thoughts aside. He was not the minding type. He didn't like minding. Minding was something ungrateful, whining, and resentful children did, not him. Minding was rude and it often resulted in conflict, which had to be avoided at all costs, lest unpleasantness ensue. And unpleasantness was something Tobias allowed himself to mind a whole lot.

But as time went on, and he thought about it more, the minding only got worse.

One day, when his mother was to be out, he managed to borrow a CD of exceptionally ugly music from Jamey. The band was named something like "Explosive Diarrhea." He had heard it before somewhere, and liked it a lot. He took the CD player from the living room that his mother used to play Mozart while she was vacuuming, and brought it into his bedroom. He put the CD in, and pressed the play button. All of this he did without asking, not that he thought his mother would say "no" necessarily, but he would rather not take the risk.

He laid down on his bed, rumpling it, and soaking in the sublime hideousness of the music. He enjoyed it a little long, though, because his mother came in and heard it. She unceremoniously whacked the power button on the CD player, causing Tobias to wake suddenly from his trance-like happiness.

"Where did you get this?" she demanded to know, gripping the CD in all the wrong places.

"Jamey gave it to me."

"Well, if you won't tell me who gave it to you, then I suppose I'll just have to keep you from seeing ANY of your friends at all! I don't think anyone would think me unreasonable if--"

"Jamey gave it to me."

"What?"

"I asked him to. I like it."

Madeline didn't quite seem to know what to make of this. Finally, after several agonizing minutes of creasing her brow at Tobias, she went into action. "Get up! Get off the bed!" she said.

Tobias did so while Madeline straightened the bed clothes. "This is my decision. You are going to return this to Jamey right now, and you are going to come straight back here, and you are not ever going to borrow anything from him again, and if I hear anything like that coming out of this room again I will see to it that you never leave this house, am I understood?"

"Yes," Tobias lied.

"Good."

Tobias left the room with the CD to give back to his friend. He was almost crying. He really wanted to slam a door.

That night, Tobias had trouble sleeping. He was full of minding. He thought about running away to somewhere, but he wasn't entirely sure how to go about doing it. There were things to think about, and plans to be made, and he wasn't entirely accustomed to doing those kinds of things on his own. He sniffed a bit against his pillow, and then worried that his mother would notice the tear stains. He didn't know how she would notice, but he was pretty sure she would.

Suddenly, he stopped minding.

He had had an idea. He wasn't used to having ideas, but it had come to him just the same. He hadn't even been really thinking about anything except how very sorry his situation was, and how miserable he was, when all of a sudden he had started thinking about a plan. The solution occurred to him all of a sudden, like a door slamming open in a thunderstorm, like a Biblical revelation, telling him that he had power to do something, that he wasn't the only one around who had to make allowances for the wishes of others, that a mother's anger had limits, and sometimes the punishment is all together worth the reward. There was no longer a need to cry. In fact, the solution to his problems could not have been more obvious. The answer was duct tape.

The next morning, he re-borrowed the CD from Jamey. And he also borrowed some posters of the band. And he also borrowed some duct tape.

He put the CD in and pressed Play. And then he duct taped over the power button. And then he put the posters on the wall. He even put them up crooked, with some tacks, leaving two holes in the wall. He threw his jacket on the floor, left the closet door open, unmade his bed, left one of the drawers open, and then leapt onto his bed to just wallow in it. And he smiled.

He didn't mind when his mother came in and started yelling. He didn't mind when she started trying to physically remove him from his bed. He didn't mind when she tried to unplug the CD player from the wall where he had duct-taped it with many layers. He didn't mind when her face got really red and she almost ran out of breath from screaming at him because as far as he was concerned, she wasn't even there. The music kept playing, and the bed went unmade, and eventually, after time, his mother left. And that was it.

The next morning, Tobias awoke to discover, freshly installed over the entrance to his bedroom, a handsome, sturdy, perfect wooden door.