“Thanks for coming,” Andrea says as she steps aside to hold the door for Laura to come in.
Her friend shrugs out of a powder blue fleece jacket and drops it over one of the kitchen chairs. Andrea passes her a Wonder Woman mug of Volcanica Free Range Kopi Luwak, the best coffee she has.
“So,” Laura says after an appreciative sip. “What’s up?”
She explains as best she can as they head down to the partially finished basement. Laura follows, sipping her Luwak and listening until they stand side-by-side in front of Andrea’s front-loading dryer. The door is open, its dim interior light glowing. Andrea’s gray tabby cat–Richard Dreyfus–has followed them down and is weaving figure eights between their legs, working hard to get some attention.
“And he just vanished?” Laura says.
“It sounds ridiculous, I know.”
“You saw this?”
“Yes!” Andrea exclaims. “I was down here bagging up old clothes to take to the donation center. Skyler’s decided she needs to start doing her own laundry, and I’m not going to fight her on that. Do your own laundry, please and thank you, but she keeps leaving the dryer door open. I’ve told her a thousand times she’s going to accidentally cook the cat.
Anyway, I’m down here bagging up all of Bob’s ‘goal’ pants that he left behind when he moved out, and the dryer door is open, per yoozh, so of course, Richard Dreyfus hops up into it because cats, right?
So I go over to shoo him out, but when I crouch down and look inside, he’s gone. And then I hear him yowling upstairs, so I follow the sound and find him in the fridge trying to murder a head of Foxy lettuce.”
Even to Andrea, it sounds stupid.
“Could he have climbed out when you weren’t looking?” Laura asks.
“Even if he did, how would he have gotten into the fridge? The door was closed.”
“So… what? He went into the dryer and got magically transported into your fridge?”
“I don’t know, that’s why I texted you guys. I’m freaking out.” She bends down and scoops up Richard Dreyfus, who’s stopped rubbing cat hair all over her leggings and is eyeing the dryer with renewed curiosity. She takes a few steps back from the dryer, just to be safe.
Laura squats down and peers into the offending appliance. “I don’t get it. How come the clothes don’t tumble into the fridge?”
“You’re the sci-fi person, not me,” Andrea says as she struggles with Richard Dreyfus, who is wriggling around in her arms, trying to get free. “Maybe only living stuff can go through?”
Laura rubs her lower lip as she considers that. “Like how a terminator has to be wrapped in living tissue before it’s sent back in time.” She eyes the cat wrestling for freedom in Andrea’s arms. “Was Richard Dreyfus wearing that collar when he went through?”
Andrea looks down at the cat’s pink, rhinestone-studded collar. “Uh, yeah.”
“So, non-living stuff can go through.” Laura takes a sip of her coffee and stands back up. “What if it only works when the dryer door is open? Once you’ve tossed in the clothes and shut the door, maybe the portal closes.”
“I guess?” Andrea gives up fighting Richard Dreyfus and lets him hop down onto the floor. “But why wouldn’t he just come back out through the dryer if the door was open? Why shred my lettuce in the fridge?”
“Maybe it’s like a one-way street or something.” Laura pauses and eyes Andrea suspiciously. “You’re not just fucking with me, right? This actually happened?”
Andrea crosses her heart and gives a mangled version of the Girl Scout salute. “I swear on the soul of my ex-husband, I’m not.”
Laura drains the last of her coffee and nods. “Show me.”
Richard Dreyfus was happy enough to jump back into the dryer, but now he’s just curled up in the bottom of the drum, staring back at Andrea and Laura like he knows what they want him to do, but he’s not going to do it just to be a shit. Because cats.
“Go on, buddy,” Andrea says and flaps her arms at him from a safe distance away. “Do your magic transport thingy.”
“The portal could be in the back of the dryer,” Laura suggests. “In the wall or something.”
She reaches into the dryer and gives Richard Dreyfus a shove, but the cat flattens out like a furry pancake and hisses at her.
“Wait a second,” says Andrea. “I have an idea.”
She runs upstairs and returns, grinning triumphantly as she waves a cucumber in front of her like a billy club.
“Richie!” she shouts.
Richard Dreyfus pokes his head up above the lip of the dryer, catches sight of the cucumber, and, as every meme on the internet has suggested he would, he completely freaks out and bolts for the back of the dryer. There’s a sound like a spark of static electricity, and–poof–no more Richard Dreyfus! At almost the same instant, though, she hears muted banging and meowing coming from upstairs. Laura looks at Andrea with an astonished expression before racing up the basement steps to the fridge, Andrea hot on her heels.
Inside, Richard Dreyfus is wedged in amongst the leftovers, looking rightfully pissed.
“Holy shit,” Laura breathes. “There’s a portal inside your dryer.”
They’re sitting in front of the dryer on chairs they brought down from the kitchen when Andrea hears the front door open, and a voice call out, “Sorry it took me so long. I would have gotten here earlier, but I had to drop Oliver off at daycare.”
“We’re in the basement,” Andrea hollers up to her.
Ellen, the founding member of Andrea’s writing group, joins them. “So, what’s the big emergency?”
Laura and Andrea take turns bringing her up to speed with the whole dryer/portal situation. As only the mother of a toddler can, Ellen takes the unlikely news in stride. She grabs Andrea’s mostly abandoned but still inflated yoga ball from under the basement steps and sits down with them in front of the dryer/cat transporter, takes a long drink from her Hydro Flask, and asks, “Any idea where it came from? I mean, why would a portal just randomly appear in the back of your dryer?”
Andrea shrugs. “Who knows why half the weird shit happens in this world? Remember back in 2009, when those three dudes in England claimed they discovered a time portal in the guys’ bathroom of some random pub?”
“I think I watched a documentary about that,” Laura says.
Ellen’s phone buzzes. She checks the incoming text. “It’s Dana. She’s running late. Had to drop Sarah off at the airport.”
“I feel bad for her. Dana, I mean,” says Laura. “Her wife travels so much; she’s basically a work widow.”
Ellen shrugs. “I don’t think she minds.”
“Tell her about the portal,” Andrea says.
Ellen types the message into her phone, then waits. A minute later, Dana responds.
“She says not to do anything until she gets here.”
Andrea frowns. “How long will that be?”
“She’s coming from Logan. This time of morning, traffic’s a nightmare. My guess is an hour?”
The three women look at each other.
“Fuck that,” Laura says. “Let’s try sending something other than the cat through.”
Two tennis balls, several shoes, an eggplant, and an unopened tub of cottage cheese later, they’ve made several important discoveries. As Laura suggested, the portal seems to be embedded into the back wall of the dryer. It’s an odd experience watching something get chucked in and seeing it blip out of existence instead of bouncing back at them. Although, the first time Laura chucked a tennis ball in–Andrea let her do all the throwing–Ellen was upstairs with the refrigerator door open, watching. That’s how they discovered that the fridge door had to be closed for the portal to work. Luckily, Laura didn’t whip the tennis ball too hard when she threw it, so it didn’t do much damage when it hit her in the face a second later.
They also discovered that the portal transports things more or less instantly and apparently unchanged. Although, they couldn’t tell if the tub of cottage cheese ruptured in transit or on impact after it came through the portal and struck the inside of the fridge door.
They’re all back in the basement sitting around the dryer, sipping their way through a second pot of Andrea’s finest brew, when Ellen asks, “How long do you think it’s been there?”
“No idea,” Andrea says.
“Your very own portal,” Laura says, sounding almost wistful. “Maybe it goes to Narnia.”
Andrea rolls her eyes and makes a gagging noise. “God, I hope not. I always hated those books, and Skyler’s obsessed with the movies. If I have to listen to Liam Neeson as Aslan one more time…”
“The books were awful, but Liam Neeson’s kind of hot,” Laura says.
Ellen snorts. “Liam Neeson? Seriously?”
Laura shrugs. “To each their own.”
“I’d be okay with having a portal to Narnia in my basement if it led to Brad Pitt, but not Liam Neeson,” Andrea says.
“If it’s a portal to another world,” Ellen muses, “wouldn’t Richard Dreyfus age go through? Time worked differently in Narnia, didn’t it?”
Laura claps her hands excitedly. “I know! Why don’t we pull a Doc Brown?”
Ellen quirks an eyebrow. “What?”
Laura jumps to her feet, eyes alight with nerdy excitement. “You know, send the cat through with a timepiece around its neck, like a watch or something. Then, when he reappears in the fridge, we can see if the time on the watch still matches the time on our phones. Back to the Future, my babes. Good stuff.”
Andrea’s phone rings. It’s Dana. She’s pulling into the driveway.
“Okay! I’ve got him,” Ellen calls down from the kitchen.
“And? What does the watch say?” Laura shouts back up to her.
“12:14 pm,” Ellen says at normal volume as she comes down the basement steps with Richard Dreyfus in her arms.
In unison, Dana, Laura, and Andrea all check their phones.
“It’s still the same,” Andrea says, relieved. “Sorry, Laura. No Liam Neeson for you.”
Dana’s brows pinch together in concentration. “So, no temporal distortion. It’s probably not a portal to another world, then. It’s got to be a trans-dimensional thing.”
“Like a wormhole,” suggests Laura.
“A wormhole from my dryer to my fridge?” Andrea isn’t sure about that. Not that she knows anything about space physics. She’s a middle school English teacher, not Einstein.
“Quantum physics says anything’s possible,” Laura says as she straps her watch back around her wrist. ”Remember the news story about the guy who ended up floating behind his own bookshelf because he fell through a black hole, but nobody could hear him calling for help.”
“Didn’t he almost starve to death?” Ellen says while nuzzling noses with Richard Dreyfus. She’s always had a way with cats, Andrea thinks.
“I don’t really know. I mostly just read the headlines,” Laura says.
“What if we send a phone through while it’s recording a video?” suggests Dana
“Oh, please, not mine,” says Ellen. “I can’t afford to rack up any roaming charges.”
For a minute, no one says anything. They stand in the slanting sunbeams shining in through the basement’s tiny rectangular windows, trying to decide what to do next.
“Wait a second,” Andrea says. “I’ve still got a bunch of Bob’s stuff packed in boxes, and I think…”
She goes over and starts digging through a small mountain of crap piled up in a shadowy, cobweb-festooned corner. The others trail behind her.
“He hasn’t come by to get this stuff yet?” Dana asks. “Jesus, it’s been two years.”
“Yeah, well,” Andrea says over her shoulder. “He treated me like garbage the whole time we were married. Why not treat my house like his own personal dump, too? Ah ha! I knew it was here.”
She stands up and spins around to face them, holding up a chunky camouflaged piece of plastic.
Laura’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Is that a trail cam?”
“Yep,” Andrea says. “From when Bob went through his hunting phase.”
“Can you really call something a phase if it lasts less than three weeks?” Dana asks.
“I don’t think he used it even once, the idiot,” Andrea says, “but I’m pretty sure it’s got a video setting. Let me check.” She presses the power button. “Yes! And the battery’s still charged.”
Dana heads upstairs while the rest of them squat in front of the open dryer. Andrea turns on the trail cam, switches it into video mode, holds it in her hands.
“Ready?” she says, feeling nervous but also a little excited. Who knows what they’ll see if this works.
“Wait,” Ellen says. “Does it have a night vision setting? Maybe you should switch it to that first.”
“Good idea.” Andrea toggles the trail cam over to night-vision mode, then hesitates.
“Me!” Laura grabs the trail cam out of her hands. She’s grinning like a kid on Christmas morning. “What if it comes through, and there’s eighteen hours of static recorded on it? How cool would that be?”
But when she hucks the trail cam through the portal in the back of the dryer, there are only a few seconds of footage—the basement, the dryer, and then the fridge.
“Well,” Laura says with a disappointed sigh as they all crowd around the trail cam in the kitchen. “I guess it’s just a regular old portal.”
“Is anyone else getting hungry?” Ellen asks. “I’m used to feeding Oliver at noon, and it’s almost one o’clock now. I’m starting to feel a little low-blood-sugary.”
“I can make sandwiches,” Andrea says.
They’re most of the way through their turkey-on-ryes, drinking cokes and diet ginger ales, when Andrea says, “Maybe one of us should try going through.”
Dana coughs in surprise, but Laura’s the first to actually answer. “There isn’t enough room in the fridge to fit a person.”
“You’d get instantly squished,” Ellen adds, sounding genuinely alarmed. “I’m amazed that Richard Dreyfus fit.”
Andrea looks down at the cat, who’s taken up his standard begging position beside her chair. “He’s getting fat, for sure, but we could take the shelving and all the stuff out first.” She stands up and goes to the refrigerator, opens the door, and starts pulling out cartons of milk, condiment jars, shrink-wrapped packages of meat, tupperware full of questionable-looking leftovers.
The others watch, sharing intermittent glances of concern, but Andrea ignores them. This whole situation suddenly feels important somehow. She can’t just sit around waiting for the rest of them to figure this out for her. She has to do something. When the fridge is empty, Laura gets up to help her take the shelves out and get them safely stowed out of the way where they won’t get knocked over and potentially shatter.
“Andrea, I’m not sure this is a good idea,” she says. “I mean, what if it’s an evil portal?”
Andrea pauses her rearranging of the egg cartons on the countertop. “What?”
“An evil portal,” Laura says again. “Like in that movie with the ship that used a black hole to space jump through dimensions, but the dimension it jumped through was evil, so when the ship jumped through, it turned evil, too?”
At the table, Dana snaps her fingers. “I know that movie. God, what was it called?”
“The Black Hole?” Ellen suggests.
“No,” Laura says. “That’s that wicked old movie with the evil robot, but the robot was just evil. It didn’t turn evil by going through a portal.”
“Who made that movie? Disney?” Dana asks.
“I think so,” Ellen says.
“Guys!” Andrea almost but not quite shouts. “We’re getting off-topic. It’s not an evil portal. Richard Dreyfus went through, and he’s fine.”
“Is he, though?” Dana says, adjusting her glasses. “What if normal Richard Dreyfus went in, but evil Richard Dreyfus came out?”
“Oh no!” Ellen exclaims. “We sent him through a bunch of times. Does he get eviler every time?”
Everyone pauses and looks at Richard Dreyfus, who is lying in a sun patch on the kitchen floor, one leg sticking straight up in the air, licking himself.
“I don’t think it’s an evil portal,” Andrea says.
“I still think we should run some more tests first,” says Laura as she rinses her plate and puts it into Andrea’s dishwasher, hesitating for only a couple of seconds as if contemplating whether there might be a portal in the dishwasher, too.
“I agree,” Dana says.
“What if we stick something halfway through and then open the fridge to see what happens? Will half of it be in the fridge upstairs while the other half is still in the dryer downstairs? I saw an episode of Star Trek, Next Generation once where–”
“How will that help us figure out whether the portal is evil or not?” Andrea asks. She’s getting irritated.
“It won’t,” Laura admits. “I just think it’d be cool to try.”
“Fine,” Andrea agrees, but only because Bob’s clubs are still down in the basement from when he went through his golfing phase. Dana still doesn’t think three weeks is long enough to merit calling something a phase, but they all agree to try poking a driver through anyway.
“Is it in?” Laura shouts from upstairs in the kitchen.
“It’s in!” Dana shouts back.
“What does it look like?” Laura shouts.
“Weird,” Ellen shouts. “Like there’s half of a golf club sticking out of the dryer wall.”
“Who’s holding it?” Laura shouts.
“I am,” Andrea yells.
“Does it feel weird?”
“What do you mean, ‘Does it feel weird?’ It feels like a golf club. Open the fridge!”
There’s a second’s long pause, then the static snapping sound, and then Andrea’s holding onto half a golf club. She pulls it out of the dryer and stares at it. The middle’s been bitten off clean.
“Damn,” Ellen and Dana both say.
“Holy shit!” Laura shouts from upstairs. “Babes, come look at this!”
They run up to the kitchen and cluster around Laura, who’s staring down at the rest of the chopped-off driver lying on the floor at their feet. Richard Dreyfus emerges from under the kitchen table to investigate, but maybe also to make himself the center of their attention.
“Good thing we didn’t try that with somebody’s arm,” Ellen says.
“Well, if you make sure to keep the fridge door closed, that wouldn’t happen,” Dana says while they’re all still staring down at Richard Dreyfus sniffing the ruined club. “In theory, I think it’s possible for one of us to put an arm through, feel around, then pull it back out.”
Looks are exchanged, and then there’s a hurried dash back down to the basement. Everyone crowds around the dryer. There’s a strange feeling building inside Andrea. She can’t quite articulate what it is, a sort of pressure. Not excitement, not fear…
To Dana, Laura says, “Put your hand in.”
“I’m not putting my hand in.” Dana sounds insulted. “You put your hand in.”
“No way. If it’s an evil portal and I put my hand in, then my hand will be evil.”
“Then why did you tell me to put my hand in? I don’t want some Bruce Campbell Evil Dead hand!”
“Come on. That probably won’t happen.”
Andrea interrupts them. “I’m going through.”
Determined. That’s the word for how she’s feeling. And confused, and angry and fed up. But mostly she’s determined.
“Andrea,” Ellen begins. “I don’t think–”
“It’s my house, my dryer, my portal. I’m going through it. If Richard Dreyfus can do it, then so can I.”
Before anyone can object further, Andrea gets down onto her knees, cursing every arthritic joint in her stupid body, and starts crawling into the dryer. Enough, she thinks, is enough.
“Crap,” Dana exclaims when she realizes what Andrea’s doing.
Laura and Ellen start babbling, throwing out reasons why this is a bad idea. Dana, however, has always been the pragmatic one in the group. She thinks of cottage cheese hitting the inside of the fridge door. Of the golf club, sheared in half in an instant when the door opened. If Andrea jumps or slips and falls through hard enough…
Dana bolts for the basement stairs and gets to the kitchen just in time to hear a heavy thump inside the fridge. She flings herself against the door so that it can’t accidentally get knocked open from the inside.
Behind her comes the sound of Laura and Ellen running up the stairs, with Ellen yelling, “Is she through? Did she get through?”
Dana presses her ear against the fridge door, listening. Laura and Ellen burst into the kitchen, panting in distress more than from exertion. No one speaks.
Then, muffled through the door of the refrigerator, “It’s fucking cold in here. Let me out.”
Dana steps back and pulls the door open. Inside, Andrea is sitting, looking uncomfortable but otherwise fine. She twists herself and steps out. The others reach out their arms to offer assistance.
“Thank God,” Dana says. “Are you okay?”
“What was it like?” Ellen asks.
“Do you feel evil?” asks Laura.
Andrea grins. “I can’t believe I did that!”
“You are one bad-ass, portal-jumping bitch,” Laura claps her on the back. “I would never have had the balls to do that.”
Dana eyes Andrea carefully, looking for anything out of the ordinary. She can’t put her finger on it, but something seems different.
Andrea’s grinning like an idiot, adrenaline making her skin tingle. It’s a little like when she’s having a panic attack, but without the hyperventilating and the dizziness and the feeling like she might die. She did it. She really did it.
She went through a fucking portal, and she’s okay.
“Thank you guys for coming over here,” she says. “I couldn’t have done that by myself. ”
“Of course!” Ellen says. “Always. I’m just glad this wasn’t like the time you got that napkin stuck in your garbage disposal.”
“Remember the mouse in her bathroom?” Dana says.
They’re laughing now, all of them.
“That was a rat,” Andrea finally manages to counter when her own laughter subsides.
“But you’re sure you’re okay? You’re not feeling unusually evil?” Laura asks, smirking as she rubs her hands together like a cartoon villain.
“No more than I was before.”
“Excellent,” says Laura. “So, who goes through next?”
Just then, Ellen’s phone buzzes. She checks the text.
“Damn, it’s Oliver’s daycare. He’s sick. They need me to come and get him. Kids and their germs, am I right?”
Laura groans. “When Dee was little, he was always picking up something from daycare. He basically had a runny nose for two years straight.”
Dana checks her phone, too. “I should get home and let the dog out before she has an accident and ruins the hardwood floors again. Sarah was ready to put her down after the last time.”
She and Ellen each give Andrea a hug and make her promise not to do anything crazy or stupid with the portal. She promises, and they head off to their respective families.
“Well,” Laura says. “I guess I should be going, too. There’s a fat stack of ungraded lab reports waiting for me back home. Are you going to be okay?”
“I am,” Andrea says, and for the first time in a long time, she means it. “Thanks for coming over.”
“No problem. This’ll make a great story, you know.”
“You should totally write it!”
“Uh, I’m not the one who crawled through a portal in the back of my dryer. It’s your story, babe.”
“Fair enough.” She gives Laura a tight hug, and then it’s just her and Richard Dreyfus.
Andrea’s sitting on the couch in the living room with the TV on, thinking about everything that’s happened today, when the sound of the front door opening and closing catches her attention. “Is that you, Sky?”
“Yep,” her daughter says from the hallway.
Andrea looks just in time to see Skyler pass by the living room doorway, heading for her bedroom.
“How was school?”
A thump that Andrea recognizes as Skyler’s backpack hitting the floor. “Fine.”
“I could eat.” Footsteps heading back down the hallway toward the kitchen.
“There’s leftover pizza in the–”
“Jesus, Mom. What happened in here?”
Oops. She forgot to put the fridge back.
“Something was stinking in the fridge,” she lies, “so I took everything out to clean it.”
After everyone left, she and Richard Dreyfus went back down into the basement and sat together, contemplating the dryer until Andrea finally got up and closed the door. Then she came back upstairs, plopped down on the couch, and got lost in thought.
“Well, I’m not picking all this up,” Skyler says.
“No, no. Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it in a little while,” Andrea says.
Skyler’s footsteps are disappearing back down the hallway toward her bedroom when Andrea calls out to her. “Hey, Sky! If you’re going to do your own laundry, you’ve got to remember to shut the dryer door. Richard Dreyfus keeps crawling into it. I don’t know what’ll happen if he’s in there when you close the door and turn it on.” They didn’t test that scenario.
Andrea looks at Richard Dreyfus stretched out on the top of his carpet-covered cat tower in the corner. She grabs her phone and fires off a text to the gals.
What r u all up to tomorrow?