Thursday, May 19, 2016

Keys: Short Pieces on a Theme




I am not a sentimental person. When something is lost from my life I try to let go and accept it without holding on to relics from the past. My husband is the opposite. Being half French, he has spent many years of his life in France. He has a whole dresser drawer full of mementos. Half the drawer is filled with old keys. The key to his beloved grandfather's house outside of Paris. "Grandpere" has been dead for 60 years and the house has been torn down, only the cherry tree from his childhood remains. The key to his aunt's chateau in Bordeaux, long since gone from the family, along with the last bottle of wine, which we recently drank to celebrate our anniversary. The key to his late cousin's 300-year-old manor house by the sea in Normandy. Summers spent there from the age of 5 with large family dinners under an umbrella in the garden. All long gone now, but how wonderful to just open a drawer and have the sweet scent of long ago envelop you with love.
    - Annie Wexler



"You're grounded," Mom yelled. "Don't think I don't know about you sneaking out Monday night and I don't like those kids you're running around with." I wondered how she knew everything I did, every thought I had, but chalked it up to things mothers know about their 13-year-old and maybe, just maybe, I'd been saddled with a mother who was psychic. Oh, great. I stomped up the stairs to my room, pulled the diary from under the mattress, retrieved the key from behind my favorite stuffed animal and began to write. "Dear Diary — I don't know how she knew I snuck out but she did. Now I'm grounded. Well, I'll show her. There's a party at Glenda's next Friday night, I'll tell her I'm spending the night at Sue's (she won't tell, she's too afraid of losing a 'friend') then I'll go to Glenda's. By that time I won't be grounded and she'll never know." Closing the diary, I locked it, put it under the mattress and hid the key behind my little blue bear. "Nope, she'll never know."
    - Barbara Tate



The only key to the house is on a ring identified with a miniature light green plastic scuba diver flipper. It resides behind a flat rock under the hose mount. A damp spot. Reaching for it once I grabbed a toad. I'm sure we both shrieked. Little red newts have been seen to scatter from behind the shale. And one dark night something much larger moved. Black, with white spots, holy crap, a giant lizard. My brave friend picked it up and said "Dragon Newt." It's the green flipper. It beckons to the webbed and reptilian like a neon sign. Always open. They go there to get a couple drinks before going home. We actually never lock our door.
    - Camilla S.



I have owned a great many different sorts of key over the years. One that still fascinates me is what I knew as a bubble key. Traditionally, most keys have notches cut into them, such that the profile of the key is changed. My bubble key was made by taking a series of tiny scoops from each surface of the blank. The scoops looked like lunar craters on a very small scale. My key was a high security key which gave me access through special perimeter gates. I used to think of the scoops on the key's surface as bubbles of a strange gas which could pass through it. Curiously, that idea of permeability of metal was echoed in the way the key allowed me access through the campus perimeter. I found that link very satisfying. Some years later I discovered that my key was more properly called a dimple key. But that name works too . . . it made me smile.
    - David J. Kelly



I never leave my keys at home. So why that night? The one I assumed you'd have no part of until I looked up from dancing and there you were, whiskey in your hand, laughing. That night you asked me to dance salsa. Everyone watched. I was drunk and fucking up the steps, but damn . . . you did that thing where you slid your hand behind my neck and pulled my face towards yours and everyone hooted and hollered. We tore it up, all hips and hair. At 1 a.m. I realize I don't have my keys, and my roommate sleeps like the dead. You tell me I can sleep at your place. More drinking, more dancing, and the way your hands hold my hips, I don't know if it's the alcohol or you that I'm drunk on. But the night ends, and something shifts in you. I smell regret. We walk to your apartment arm-in-arm; there's a war in your mind but you're not looking for an ally to make peace there. You offer me your bed, saying you'll sleep on your chair in the living room. I fall asleep crying, painfully aware of the impossibility of unlocking you.
    - DeanalĂ­s Resto



Mark is about to run a five-mile race, his first in several years. At 60, coming back from a blocked coronary artery and severe ankle injury, finishing the distance will be a challenge and a triumph. Just before the race starts, I realize that I've locked both of our keys and wallets in the car, but I don't tell Mark. He doesn't need distractions. I see him off at the start of the race without a word. Knowing that Mark will be exhausted at the end of five miles, I have to get the car unlocked before he finishes. But how? We let our AAA membership lapse two weeks ago. Our insurance company provides roadside assistance, but their emergency number is locked in the car with our keys. I borrow someone's cell phone and AAA card, dial the emergency phone number. When the dispatcher notices our expired membership, I ask her to look at their records. "We've been members forever. Of course we've renewed," I lie. "You just haven't received the payment yet." Somehow this works. The locksmith arrives in record time and opens the car. Keys in hand, I am at the finish line to take Mark's picture, as I do after every race.
    - Deirdre Silverman



I have a dear friend in Pennsylvania who loves musicals just as much as I, and who is almost as critical of them as I. Well, she heard this song,  "Ring of Keys,"  on the Tony Awards last year, and she just knew right then and there that she just had to see "Fun Home" (the show the song is from). So she plays it for me, and I say . . . "meh." And when I ask her what the show's about, she says it's narrated by a lesbian looking back on her childhood with her closeted gay father, who ends up killing himself. Well, then I'm really thinking . . . "Forget about it." So then — and here's the kicker — my conservative, straight-laced, very narrow friend accuses me of being anti-gay! Me, the one who's been so close to gay men that it sometimes turned carnal (yes, that's just how much I loved them). And me, who has surrounded herself with lesbian couples all over the country, at whose tables I often sup (yes, I'm close enough to actually break bread with them). And, as for my friend — well, she in her suburban home, with her computer husband and 2 little girls — she thought that the song was about the little lesbian girl being excited by her father's ring of keys. Oh, no, no, no, I had to explain to her . . . not so much at all. Anyway, now, anytime my friend calls, she asks — at least once in the conversation — "and have you finally changed your stance on gay rights?"
    - Gabrielle Vehar



Keys were not part of my world growing up. Doors in our neighborhood were left open and I was always welcome anyplace. Of course I knocked before entering. I came and went from school and home, never losing keys or searching for them. Cars were unlocked and ready for a trip at a moment's notice. My world was safe from intruders then.
    - Grace Celeste



My father's key ring was loud and large as a custodian's. It bulged out of the pockets of his slacks, and where he walked the sound of jangling preceded him. If he asked you to hold his keys, it almost took both hands. Maybe those keys anchored him to a purpose, a bunch of purposes. Maybe those keys meant he knew the way in somewhere, or the way out, or just gave him gatekeeper's authority. When he got older there were just a few keys on his ring, resting motionless on the top of the tallboy. I guess he'd stopped bothering to announce his presence.
    - H. Fraser



My sister taught me to skate on the sidewalk, in front of our house. They were the old skates requiring the use of a key. It all seemed pretty complicated to a five-year-old, but I finally got the hang of it. It was great fun rolling down the sidewalk, although you had to watch out for holes and cracks or else you could go flying through the air, which was exhilarating, but also terrifying, because you always knew a crash landing would follow. One time, I must have hit a crack just right, because I fell straight onto both knees, and scooted along a bit before coming to a stop. Scraped knees, really bad. Time to go in. I was the last in line for a bath, so by the time I got there the water was cold. I couldn't understand how my mother could be so cruel as to have me bathe those sore knees in cold water. I let her know it, too, as I howled the entire time.
    - Janie Nusser



It was one week before Thanksgiving. I was a single parent with three small children, and I had decided we'd have an adventure by taking the bus for our grocery shopping. My secret motive was saving gas for later in the day when we'd feed the ducks at the nearby lake. Later, at home, the children helped in their way, shelving cans or putting things in the fridge as I lifted the turkey to the freezer. After naps, I went to get the house keys from my purse.They weren't there. I dumped the contents on the counter — wallet, tissue, extra pacifier, comb, the usual — but no ring containing house, car, mailbox keys. With children screaming and crying, I called the grocery store — no lost keys. There was no choice but to call their dad. Though he was most unhappy, he had duplicates made and brought them over later that night. Then three days before the big event, I lifted the turkey onto the counter from the brown paper shopping bag — something clunked on the counter   the frozen keys, and now I vaguely remembered trying to unlock the door, carrying the turkey, the three kids all over me, and throwing the keys in the bag I carried. We laughed and laughed at how I froze the keys, and to this day, someone always says, Remember when . . . .
    - Jo Balistreri



I lived in a very lovely apartment in Brooklyn with parquet floors, high molded ceilings, and a small chandelier in the hallway. My next door neighbor was from Canada and she found it difficult to remember that we had an automatic lock on the door. If you closed the door incorrectly, it locked. Ironically, the only local grocery store was called Key Food. She would say to me KEY Food, emphasized in her beautiful accent. Don't know how or why I never forgot my keys there but I certainly was sympathetic to her anxiety.
    - Joan McNerney



The first key is Largo. I drive by the shell sand overgrown with pine, palms and mangrove. Ankle deep coral sits barely offshore; a rainbow of fish perform for tourists wearing the masks of exploration. The next keys run together: Plantation, Windley, Upper Matecumbe, Tea Table, Indian, Lignumvitae, each raised above the sea a few lonely feet. Lower Matecumbe Key, my destination reached, I am half-way home. In my camp near the Long Key Bridge salt-heavy air presses bones weary of travel. I fall asleep to the lullaby of cicada and waves of water and mosquitoes. A week of hikes, swims, and snorkel trips and even I am jaded by gorgeous sunsets and sated by beauty. I return to the calm of ordinary, relax in the hectic chores holding a string of keys in a pocket of memory.
    - Joann Grisetti



Graduation Day and I was to bring our son, the Graduate, in the truck, up to the highway, meet Husband there. We would go with him in his car. Husband told me the keys were in the truck. But I couldn't find them: not in the ignition, on the dashboard, in the glove compartment, or on the floor. I sent Graduate to check the keyboard in the house: not there either. I was frantic, and so was Graduate. Searched the truck again. Husband arrived home. I yelled out the truck window, "We can't find the keys." Husband had left them on the driver's seat: I was sitting on them.
     - Joanna M. Weston



The key to understanding the map is to understand that it isn't about the specific destination but rather it is about the journey itself. On the map, you'll find a legend that indicates mountains, rivers, lakes, and many other sights of wonder and natural areas. As you traverse this map, the schema of your life, take the time necessary to enjoy the beauty, the rugged terrain, the hills and valleys. As you journey, know that you have within you all that you need. You are enough. You are the expression of the underlying reality of all that is. That is the key to the map of life.
    - Katherine May



I don't remember his exact words, but I can still remember the rising pitch of my husband's voice on that Wednesday evening in February, the last one before we became parents, as he spoke into the phone and said something like, "Yes. Her water's broken, she's having contractions, and I've accidentally locked everything . . . her luggage, the car keys, the house keys, everything she needs, in our bedroom. Can you come?"  When the locksmith arrived, he didn't look at me. He ducked his head as he hurriedly followed my husband down the long hall to our bedroom. He worked quickly, and had the door open in minutes. Though we tried to insist, he refused payment. He said, "Have a great baby!" as he raced out the front door, leaving us to retrieve our carefully packed bags and head off to the birthing center. The baby didn't show up for six more hours, but we weren't to know we had so much time. We didn't know anything, really, when it came to that next phase of our lives.
    - Laura Gates-Lupton



Twice since I have lived at my house, I have had Ace Security come out and change the locks on all my doors because I gave a key to my sweetheart, who lives just up the road from me . . . and then we had a falling out and I did not want him coming in any time he pleased. Most recently, just within the last nine months, was the last time I had the locks changed and got all new keys. Then my sweetheart and I reconciled, as we often do, and yes, you guessed it, I gave him a new key. What was I thinking? But now, on this roller coaster relationship, we are once again estranged, and he has a key. I wish he did not, but I don't want to have the locks changed again and I don't want to get yet another set of keys. Ace Security will certainly think I am crazy. Perhaps I am.
    - Leslie Howe



Keys are a symbol of anxiety and worry. Everything must always be locked up tight. The front door, the back door, the shed, the bike. What if, what if, what if? Well, what if someone walks in? What would they take? Would it be replaceable? I mean no one's going to take our family photo albums, or the paintings off our walls. We can buy another iPad, another TV, another bike. Let's throw away all the keys — be open and inviting. Let the world in.
    - Linda Keeler



My father had a key ring with lots of keys, which puzzled me because I never saw him use any of them, except for the car key. The key ring was a simple round piece of metal. He always put it in his pants pocket when he left the house, but he seldom locked the door. We lived in a small town and in those days we often left the doors unlocked. When he wrecked our '57 Chevy, by driving through a yellow light and hitting a utility truck, his keys sat on the shelf for a few weeks, next to the spot usually occupied by his lunch pail.
    - Liz Burns



A hostile little rusty thing, stern and forbidding. Not you. Not in there. Find myself getting furious. The key to everything? Who would write such a sentence, the arrogance! Keys everywhere even invisible. Pianos for sisters and mothers, woodwinds for fathers. Strings for brothers. What key are you in? Who the hell knows, you can't see it. And silent unmusical you, you had a pencil. Weeks after Helen died, a key fell from the ceiling of the tack room landing at my feet. Helen's, on a keychain with a skull. Why now? How did it get in the ceiling? The horse she rode had died a week after she died. His name was Wave, and Helen's name was Hell-on-Wheels. Her key came to me after they both had died. And. Once I found the key to the junked DeLodge that my father had towed home from Detroit. I found it (I never found anything he sent me after) in the gathered blue leather side pocket of the rear seat, along with some francs. We had a car that came from France, barely alive, but still! And I found the key to it. How a word can lead you back to yourself.
    - Lou Robinson



Oh, which one is it? Which one is it? The keys were looped together with a thin strip of leather. They were old keys, not ones from BEST or Yale. Holy shoot, I jammed one in the key hole, turned, and heard the tumbler screech and then give up its "treasure." We were in the boathouse. I inhaled the familiar smells of gasoline, mustiness, and rotting wood. And there was Carmen's skiff — still broken, still sad. We stroked the hull, said a quick Hail Mary for Carmen, and ran out — using the key to lock the door and Carmen's memory.
    - Louise Vignaux


O.K. I'll confess. I googled a list of Nancy Drew books, assuring myself that there had to be several with the word "key" in the title. To my surprise, I could only find one: "The Mystery of the Black Keys."  And to my further surprise, I couldn't remember reading it. Oh, no matter — the real beauty of the Nancy Drew stories for me was not in the specific title or the plot. It was a given that among the characters there would be the dashing, widowed lawyer/father; the fretting housekeeper, Hannah; Nancy's faithful followers — the gentle Beth and the boy-like George; and of course a few nefarious characters who were usually thieves or pretenders of some sort. All the tales were, thankfully, free of real violence. As Nancy swam, hiked, or drove her sedan down perilous cliff roads, I thrilled to each adventure. And they were instructive. After all, how often do we come across the wonderful words "sleuth" or "sinister" today? No, it was never the specific plot that captured my imagination. It was, for this shy, socially inept eleven-year-old girl, an entry into a vivid, romantic, and mysterious world, in which a strong young girl seemed capable of anything. It wasn't even the fact that Nancy was female, although I had more in common with her than with Joe or Frank Hardy. It was that she was young, independent, and so very brave. I needed some bravery then, as much as I do today. In fact, I think I'll wander over to the library and look for "The Mystery of the Black Keys." Don't try to call or text me. I will be busy.
    - Margaret Dennis


I like to keep my keys hanging right by the door. One day when I was in NYC, browsing through the MOMA gift shop, I came upon a white plaster sculpture of a human hand. It is life sized, with outstretched, cupped fingers, and it is designed to hang palm up against the wall. My various keychains each slide down one of the fingers and dangle artfully against each other. Some people might find this ghoulish. I find it hilarious that my keys are actually handed to me each time I go to the door on my way out of the house. It has been a long time since I've lost my keys and can't remember where I left them. They seem to be happy to rest there and I'm happy to have this common, but modernly artful, place to hang them.
    - Marty Blue Waters



The large bronze key that hangs by the mantle in my kitchen has made a very long journey. Its original lock is in the door of the wall around an ancient city in Algeria. The city is now in ruins and the key found its way into a basket of assorted keys in an old man's shop in an oasis in the Sahara. My husband, who is drawn to antiques, discovered it and knew he had to own it, so he bargained diligently and effectively and brought it back to our home in Oran. Our little daughter thought it was wonderful and used it to lock up all her treasures. She called it Goldy. Then it made its way to our home in Ovid, New York, and has taken up residence beside our mantle since 1983.
    - Mary Louise Church



When I was five years old my favorite band was "The Heartbeats," a local group out of Trumansburg, New York. Four women vocalists, playing fiddle, guitar, and bass on the Big Stage at the GrassRoots Festival. Tara Nevins, June, Rose, and someone whose name I can't remember now. They had a song that went: "Whole lot of keys, whole lot of keys in this town. Not enough keys, not enough keys to go around." I loved that band so much and I remember going up to Rose with my parents, after a show, and telling her what a big fan I was.
    - Mary Roberts



On my way to work, heading for Owego, I stopped at a gas station, having run low on gas. For some reason I locked the door as I left the car to fill the tank. Suddenly I realized that I had left my car keys in the ignition. Panic. I worried that I would be late for work. I called AAA and moments later they arrived. It wasn't a disaster after all.
    - Mike Schaff



The most important key when I was in elementary school was my roller skate key. If you were smart you wore it on a string around your neck. But if you also used it for playing hopscotch then you just had to keep it in your pocket and hope that it didn't fall out in the grass. Who remembers these keys, used to tighten the clamps of metal skates onto your shoes, almost to the point of discomfort? They were held in place by stiff leather ankle straps and metal clamps around the toes of your shoes. And long after you took them off you could still feel the sidewalk vibrations that had run through your feet when you skated and could still, unmistakably, feel the pressure of the clamps on your toes, tightened as tight as possible by your skate key.
    - Nancy Osborn



Feats of will or obstinacy occurred in the weeks before my aunt came to live with me, when her husband left her for his lover. Dividing their things, packing up the house, putting down the ancient dog, finding the lost car keys, and driving 600 miles to my town, an hour from the house where he would die of cancer weeks later. My aunt's strength went with him to his lover's house, folded up inside his sweaters, slipped inside LP jackets, snapped shut between the pages of books, a fine dust on the lenses of his eyeglasses. Her ability to pilot life safely was boxed with things to be looted by his lover, who took possession of his body, decided which letters to burn, which to concede to his cast-off wife, who refused to divide his ashes. We are all frail in rejection, depression, grief, but sometimes strong, persistent, and fearless before death, humiliation, desertion. Maybe it's a kind of denial — not knowing what terrible shape we are in lets us find the keys and stolen reserves, drive the distance and insist we be given the ashes — or, in the end, decide that ashes are not worth having.
    - Patti Witten



I have so many keys on my key ring and really only use three. As I looked through all of them I realized that I don't know what the others are for. All unlabeled, basically the same. Where did they come from and where do they go? I'm afraid to throw them out — what if I need them to unlock something; something important? So, I took them off the ring and put them away in an envelope. There if I need them.
    - Paula Culver



My first apartment was on sidewalk level in an old green shuttered building on St. Phillip Street, the French Quarter, New Orleans. 1966. The rent was $60 a month. A green double door guarded the entryway to the courtyard. A key was required. Once, in the early morning hours, I was coming home — altered in a wildly inebriated state — and discovered that I did not have my keys. I panicked. How would I get inside? Along came a young man dressed in jeans and leather jacket and I asked if he could help me. He responded and in some way, I don't remember how, he opened both the entry door and my apartment. He came inside and I freaked out. Suddenly frightened that a stranger was in my apartment, I rushed to the kitchen, got a knife, returned to where he stood with his back to me, and I stabbed him in the back. I heard the leather of his jacket tear. He ran for his life.   
    - Priscilla Walker



My relationship with keys changed eighteen months ago when I moved from Ithaca, New York to Cape Town, South Africa. For many years, the tidiness, safety, and orderliness of my life were reflected in the quantity and quality of the keys I carried. For more than two decades, my key ring contained 5 keys of uniform size and shape, except for the slightly larger car key. Front and back door keys to my home and office. Tidy. In South Africa, everything is locked and, therefore, everything has a key. Burglar bars, security gates, and padlocks exist on every door and window. Even the inside French and sliding glass doors that open onto lovely indoor courtyards in many houses are louvered and locked. Most keys are the big, old-fashioned variety, commonly found in Europe, not the smaller type found in the U.S. South African key rings are heavy and dangle with dozens of keys of varying sizes and shapes. These key rings don't slide easily into pockets and even overpower many purses. It didn't take long for my new, increased key ring to tear a hole in the pocket of my favorite sweatshirt. My life in South Africa is not nearly as tidy, safe, or orderly as I'm used to and this is reflected in the quality and quantity of the keys I now carry.
    - Rukmini Miller



The key to my heart is kindness. And humor. And chocolate, dogs, gardens, and spring breezes. I think I'm easy, so many ways to open my heart.
    - Sara Robbins



I bought a new used car two weeks ago and the same thing happened that always happens. When I changed the keys out, I discovered at least two that no longer belong anywhere. Or anywhere I can currently remember. This is the recurrent problem of random key accumulation. I imagine that keys will go the way of the typewriter sometime in the near future. So, fifty years from now, assuming we're still here, some people will no doubt enjoy the hobby of antique key collecting.
    - Sue Crowley



Last summer, on a warm and sunny day, Mike was off to volunteer for the Cancer Resource Center and needed his car, which was parked in front of mine in our narrow driveway. I was working on the computer, but needed a break, so I grabbed my car keys and backed my car out of the driveway and waved as he drove down the street. I reached for the front door knob to discover I was locked out! No house keys, no cell phone, wearing my slippers and no book to keep me occupied for the two hours he was supposed to be gone. I did have my car keys and knew the general direction he was headed so I got in my car and tried to find him, to no avail. Returning home, I told my neighbors my plight. Just as we were planning a break in —  much to the delight of a ten-year-old — Mike returned home early. Whew!
    - Sue Perlgut



Your key broke in the lock. That key with the imprinted photo of penguins in Antarctica, in the lock that doesn’t lock very well, in the door the police had to break down. One of the doors the police had to break down. The broken part of the key you were able to pry out, the door you were able to sand and reset and bring back into working order. The second door shows cracks and missing veneer and the handle rattles a little. The third door, they could’ve just turned the handle, but by then, I suppose, they were amped up, ready to tackle you and break some furniture. Now you have a new key. Another new key. It’s shiny and silver and hasn’t got stuck anywhere. It turns smoothly in the lock, provides entrance to our home, jingles in your pockets, and gets lost in your mess. It’s not broken, the doors aren’t broken, and I don’t care about the furniture. The key bites into my hand as I warm it, at home, waiting to let you in.
    - Susanna Drbal



As I prepare to go out, I gather up my keys, keys to lock the house, car doors, mailboxes, to keep things safe, closed off, away from prying eyes. The keys of my childhood opened things. I loved playing with a big pewter key that I imagined opened doors in the woods where fairies frolicked among toadstools and fireflies, or unlatched pirates' treasure chests, like the ones printed on the bottom of our backyard pool. My mother opened her jewelry box with an ornate key to give me beads from broken necklaces that I'd restring for dress-up. I remember one day my grandmother took me by the hand, then used a rusty key to open the door to a corner room that had once been my father's, overlooking the din of Manhattan. In first grade, a boy who walked home with me each day gave me a necklace and bracelet set; it had "key-to-my-heart" charms — a tiny pink heart hung next to a gold key. I still have the necklace, but that pewter key got lost somehow as I moved from place to place.
    - Theresa A. Cancro



These were the status symbols for girls in my sixth grade class, 1961: black patent leather Mary Jane shoes with sling-back straps; nylon stockings; a training bra; a pink Princess phone of your very own. I had none of these things. These were the status symbols for the boys: a huge collection of baseball cards to trade; a real leather wallet that could be crammed into the back pocket of a pair of pants; the ability to curse without blushing. I had none of these, either. But what I did have was a small silver key that opened the front door of our apartment at 2004 Vyse Avenue. My mother presented it to me with a flourish, then immediately took it back and zipped it into a small compartment in my pocketbook. "You are mature enough to have this," she said "but I want you to know you will never have to use it. Grandma or I will always be here when you get home from school. You will never have to use the key. But you should have it, in case of an emergency, which there will never be. But still. It's good to be prepared. Don't worry. And don't tell anyone about this." I never used the key. I never told anyone. I was always very worried.
    - Zee Zahava

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