The Key
November 23 2008

    She had been looking for it for quite some time now.

    She was on her hands and knees, head sideways on the floor, hand searching beneath the couch. Five of her husband's empty beer cans rolled out, dented and stained and still carrying the wry rotting smell of booze. There was nothing much else under there but several years worth of dust, clinging to her hand.

    She stood, careful not to strain her leg. Reaching onto the couch, she brushed off the flakes of beer-matches and potato chips that had long gone soft and moldy, and pulled up the cushions. Minute strands of rainbow dust swirled around her in the fading afternoon light. Nothing. Her key was not there.

    She did not panic. Not yet. Panic would be for later, when the last room was searched and she turned up with nothing.

    For some moments she stood there, struggling to place it in her mind. Vague pictures slid in and out of her head, but not one was a definite yes. Best to keep looking, she thought, and sighed. Maybe upstairs.

    She left the living room and limped towards the stairs. She skipped the first step, where the blood was. It had already clotted since last night, a dark, two-inch wide stain on the murky brown carpet. Th bruise on her jaw ached as she stepped over it.

    Turning left at the top of the staircase, she entered a doorway into the bedroom. The air was stale and dead, and for a moment she considered opening the window, just to let a minute's worth of fresh air sweep the room, and bring in the shy scent of wildflowers from the garden. It was that same scent that greeted her the first time she walked into this room, seven years ago, when she was young and the house and lot were newly bought. It was that scent that she missed, here and now.

    She thought about the window, but decided against it.

    She opened a drawer beside the bed and rummaged through the articles inside. She found her husband's police ID, old gum wrappers, four badly twisted cigarette stubs, his extra pair of handcuffs, and nothing more. Her key was not there. As she pushed the drawer back, her eyes fell upon the bedposts. The scrapes and nicks stood stark clear upon the brown wood. She turned away, quickly.

    She flung the closet door open. Hanging haphazardly was a disarray of shirts and towels and long sleeved polos. Two sets of her husband's stiffly starched, dark blue uniform bookended these articles. The floor was littered with snarls of ties and leather belts, some of which were worn and curled, like cat tails, at the end. A black nightstick, chipped and pocked in many places, leaned by itself on the corner. She shuddered when she saw it. One of the gashes on its body was long and curved, like a wicked, toothless grin. She gave it a kick and it clattered to the floor.

    Her mother's coat was by itself, on the peg of the left door. It was sad thing, drab and frayed at the seams. Mama left it during her visit last Easter. She had not come back for it though. She had, in fact, not visited since.

    She stood there quietly, thinking about her mother. She unhooked the coat and put it on. There was, yes, an unmistakable jingle in one of the pockets. Hope shot into her breast, painful, real. Her hand reached in, and grasped it. The key.

    She took it out of the pocket and looked at it for many moments, till she could only see a blur through moistened eyes. She wanted her relief, wanted to soak in it and take her time. Now she could go through with it. She would go through with it. In her hand was the beginning of the end.

    Her eyes turned to the clock on the far wall. Quarter to four. He won't be back till five.

    She limped past the bed, through the doorway, down the stairs. On the mantle in the living room, she picked up several documents, cunningly hidden beneath a decorative mat. She took a final hurried glance at the room around her, then she went to the front door and opened it. Out she went, into the cold. The door closed behind her.

    Before she left, she fitted the key into the keyhole. The echo of the bolt sliding home seemed to carry throughout the empty house.

    There was a sparkle of undeniable excitement in her eyes, and for the first time in five long months, she lips curled up into a weary smile. Then she turned and walked away.
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