The Satisfying Weight of an Old Key

A maroon suitcase stuffed with old documents is stored in the hollow headboard of our bed. My husband dug it out last week to photocopy something in a hurry, and he happened to leave the suitcase agape on the bedroom floor. As I squatted beside it, picking through the old certificates and deeds (the smell of aged paper was irresistible), I stumbled into a reward for being nosy.

Tucked into the suitcase’s smallest pocket were four fat brass keys.

The keys belonged to my husband’s family, he told me later, but he’s uncertain what they once opened.

Each one had a satisfying weight. They felt good in my palm. The leaden weight of something so ornate, the solidness of something so delicate, was gratifying.

These four keys seem begging to be written.

A young boy races up a flight of bare wooden stairs with one clutched in his fist, the knob of the front door rattling behind him. Something is working out how to get inside.

A mother in a quiet lake house has another; she’s hidden hers in plain sight, tied it up into a homemade wind chime her children gave her several years ago. It tinkles and clinks in the breeze, hung out on the porch where she can watch it through the window above her kitchen sink.

I think the third hangs on a gaudy gold chain, around the hairy neck of a squat, potbellied South American man. He’s bought out all the rooms in a small boutique hotel in Aguas Calientes, a charming village in the mountains. The staff only see him once a day, on his way back and forth to the hot springs, dressed in nothing but flip flops and a royal blue bath robe.

The fourth key, for certain, dangles on the belt of a young priest. It’s carefully strung onto the braided maroon cord tied around his waist. As he locks his chapel down for the night, the cord’s tassels bounce against his black robes.

Keys have such a singular and simple purpose: the locking and unlocking of doors.

Our four keys, the keys that belong to my husband and I, have gone back into the suitcase, back into the hollow headboard. It’s tantalizing, though, knowing that only a bit of wood and a zipper separates them from my head as I sleep. They seem to be resting there comfortably, hidden among the yellowing papers, waiting to become stories.

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