The Satisfying Weight of an Old Key

A maroon suitcase stuffed with old documents lives in the hollow headboard of our bed. My husband dug it out last week to photocopy something, and he left it open on the bedroom floor. As I picked 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. Finding that something so ornate and delicate was in fact solid and heavy was gratifying.

These four keys seem begging to be written.

A young boy races up a flight of wooden stairs, the first key clutched in his fist. The knob of the door behind him rattles.

A mother in a quiet lake house has the second; she’s hidden hers in plain sight, tied it up into a homemade wind chime. It tinkles and clinks in the breeze, hung where she can watch it through her kitchen window.

I think the third key hangs on a fat gold chain. It’s around the hairy neck of a squat, potbellied South American man. He’s bought out all the rooms in a 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 blue bath robe.

The fourth key, for certain, dangles on the belt of a young priest. It’s strung onto the braided maroon cord around his waist. As he locks his chapel 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, hidden among the yellowing papers, waiting to become stories.

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