The Keys (Short Fiction)
By: Julie Hammond
I lean against my car for support, and look into the sky. I attempt to find a star, a plane, the moon-something that I can hold onto.
It’s the perfect setting to an imperfect night. The score has been set, and the actors have played their parts; but there was an unexpected plot twist. My cheek stings with wounded pride and the embarrassing remnants of what happened earlier. I wince trying to bury the memories, but they have begun to resurface again.
The porch light beckons me inside like a lighthouse searching for lost souls, but I cling to my car’s door handle. Going inside means I have to face reality, and her. I really don’t want to face her. I can’t decide if I’m being a coward or if I’m choosing to not be a masochist. I pad each of my jean pockets, frantically searching for my keys, until I look down at my blood-red Chucks. My keys have fallen into a puddle next to my left shoe. I like that puddle. It resembles the shape of Africa each time there’s a downpour. It’s a loyal reminder of past rainy days.
I hesitantly pick up my keys and hold them to my ear. I wait for them to make my decision for me, but they’re inanimate, of course. They don’t have any words of wisdom for me. I trudge towards my front door, stepping through Africa on my way. I stop at my porch. The harsh glow of the porch light taunts me. My hand teases the door handle, but I immediately pull back. I hear a dog howl in the distance, but all signs of suburban life are missing.
Why didn’t I stay at home where it’s safe? I have an unfinished six page paper that’s due in four hours, but I went out anyway. I went with him. He‘s a recent weakness that I have acquired. My feelings for him get in the way of simple logic and every day decisions. He did say I wasn’t logical. Who is logical though? Why can’t I be logical? As the thoughts roll through my head I realize where I am. Not just physically, but in life. Tonight definitely didn’t prepare me for where I wanted to go.
He did it again. I have been embarrassed many times in my short dating career, but he took the cake. The first guy I was myself with, made me feel like the biggest loser. As childish as it sounds, I thought he liked me. I thought that I meant something more to him.
I shake my head violently like a wet dog before I brace myself for the worst, and hope for the best. I unlock the door with a creak. My sneakers squish beneath my feet. I curse myself for not running from my car to the front door in the first place. I bend over to untie my sneakers and when I finish, I cradle them in one arm as I make the treacherously squeaky journey to my room.
I make it to the top stair, I’m home free. I hear the heavy breathing of my father down the hallway. I’m about to step in my room when my hand harshly knocks the doorknob. I cringe not because of the pain, but because I know what will happen next.
“Who’s that?” I hear a voice from my mother’s room. I speculate on whether to ignore her or not when she calls my name. I wonder if she pretended to be asleep this whole time.
“Hi, mom.” I say in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Where have you been? It’s an hour past curfew!” Her room is dark, but if I squint I can make out her shape in the covers. I creep into her room and stop at the foot of the bed.
“I know, I know. I lost track of time. I’m sorry.” I say. There are traces of remorse in my voice, but the incessant tones aren’t directed towards her. I place my Chucks on her comforter and lean awkwardly on the bed.
“Do you have any idea how worried I was? It’s pouring down rain out there!” She says, her voice reaching a higher pitch with each syllable.
“Yeah, I know. You only called me 7 times and left four voicemails!” I’m not exaggerating. It only seems like I am.
“Did you just put your dirty shoes on my comforter?” Before I can answer she kicks them off. I pick them up and hold them tightly to my chest until it hurts.
“Look, I’m sorry that I’m late but I’m going to bed now. Believe me. I won’t fall asleep anytime soon.” I mutter the last part.
“Who? Tell me who you were with that you couldn’t call me.” I want to lie, but I know that she won’t believe me and it’ll be easier to tell the truth and then walk away.
“You know I was with him.” I say, simply.
“What happened? Did your phone die? Did you have bad reception? Why didn’t you at least call to tell me where you were?” Out of context this might seem sympathetic, or worrying. She might have meant well, but every word is tactfully implied with malice and venom.
“You know what happened. You were right.” I say bitterly.
“I was right about what? Tell me.” There is a long pause before I even think of answering, but I knew it would quiet her. I knew that telling her the truth will make her leave me alone. She wants to hear that she has been right all along.
“He chose her.” I said. I choked back a sob. I didn’t hear what she said next, I didn’t give her a chance to gloat or pretend to sympathize. She was speaking, but it all became white noise. I wouldn’t let another word ruin my night, or ruin what good memories I still had with him.
I shut her door. She says my name multiple times, but I keep walking. I open my door and immediately fling myself into bed and snuggle underneath the covers. I don’t care that my bed will soon be sopping wet. I simply lie there. I wish for the ceiling to open up and the storm to clear so the stars could devour me whole. It doesn’t happen. Like my keys, and him, the stars disappoint me too.