3rd Place – Jan. 2018

The Key

by Rebecca Young, 1476 words


She turned the key in the lock and opened the door.  To her horror an empty room mocked her. The vast parlor to her grandmother’s farm house looked like a hollow shell.  Four empty walls, old dark wooden floors, and a large window with a lone blue velvet drape.

An acrid smell of dusty aged furniture and books that once adorned every square inch of the glorious now lingered in the heavy air.  Grandmother’s illness caused the old house to be abandoned while family cared for her in a nursing home.

The contents of this one room had been promised to Lauren for as long as she could remember.  Lauren dreamt of the day she could take treasures that belonged to her grandmother to capture the memories from long ago.  She never dreamed the day would come that she would retrieve her final memories of the beloved woman.  Now, shock replaced her grieving heart.

The missing treasures were not about monetary value.  Each piece within that room had stories.  Lauren cherished the time she spent with her grandmother, listening to those stories. While they chatted over long hours, they were always busy.  Grandmother time never seemed boring or trivial.  Lauren’s invested time with the woman she admired meant more to her than anything.  The mementos she arrived to claim were merely something to touch and look at for the years to come, with her grandmother no longer alive.

The hardwood floors now displayed a murderous scene of dusty outlines of missing rugs, tables, chairs and furniture of sorts.  Each time Lauren took a step, the sighs and squeals of the aged floor echoed throughout the space.

Where are Grandmother’s things?  To her right, a hand carved buffet once flanked the flowery papered walls.  Grandmother demanded Grandpa to ship the amazing piece back to the United States from Japan after his Air Force service during World War II.  The ornately carved figures decorated each drawer which/that contained Grandmother’s English Royal Doulton china, Italian silverware, French linens, and candles from around the world.

The faint blue velvet couch no longer sat in the middle of the room.  Where they read stories of fairies and princesses in mysterious lands. The velvet had pricked Lauren’s legs when she wore shorts. Some afternoons they sat for hours while working on crochet projects, sitting side-by-side. A table with the tall lamp adorned in the crystals and a cream colored shade, sat between the couch and the rocking chair, once stood where the dust outlines remained.

Grandmother showed me how to embroider white cotton pillow cases we had sewed. Lauren’s mind raced with memories of embroidery floss by the dozens, all neatly contained in a green plastic sewing box perched on the coffee table in front of the couch.

The small wooden table and two chairs by the window where we had tea had vanished, too.  Not even a teapot to caress and play with its lid.  The memories danced around the room like ghosts from the past recreating the scenes that/which played out like a film in Lauren’s mind.

Lauren ran her fingers along the wallpaper.  Sun-bleached shadows were all that remained of the missing picture frames.  Memories of bygone parties, guests, and families once commingled in a grand photo collage along each of the walls.  Grandmother had a way of hanging assorted sizes and shapes of picture frames that made the room come alive.  Each frame unique like the picture it displayed.  Some were made of wood, some protected the photo with glass.  Lauren longed to see the smiles and laughter the women and men and children held while frozen in time on Grandmother’s walls.

Grandmother danced with young Lauren to the tunes that flowed from the record player hidden within the wooden case that had red velvet clad speakers on each side of the now missing piece.  The middle of the case opened to reveal a record player along with a radio tuner.  If records were not played, the local country station would be tuned in for Grandmother to twirl her granddaughter whose legs now stiffened, with no desire to dance again.

A warm puff of air caught her dirty blonde hair and swept it off her shoulder.

Lauren squinted her eyes against the light that/which flooded through the large window opposite the entry in which she stood.  Lauren walked over to the window, careful to walk the path she had as a child, avoiding the imaginary couch table and end tables.  She leaned down towards the slither of light which/that outlined the bottom corner of the window frame.  Age had pulled the window from its original setting.  Still squatted, she could not help but touch the heavy blue velvet drapes which hung in a forgotten droop.  The drape’s gold rope tie-back hung on the hook as though it had been purposely removed from duty.

Her aunt!  Her aunt had displayed extreme displeasure to learn a niece would have full choice to the contents of the room. Anything Lauren wanted, the will had entrusted the lawyer to convey.  Her aunt’s eyes flamed like a scorned witch.  “How dare my niece take what is rightfully mine!”  The door slammed to the large conference room at the lawyer’s office.

A few items to touch, a picture, a set of drawers may bring comfort to the long days of sorrow, but her heavy heart knew the contents of the room would not bring back her loving companion and teacher.

Tears streamed long Lauren’s cheekbones then to her lips.  Warm drips cascaded to Lauren’s right hand which she held at her neck.  The one item to had hoped to hold only now a hologram in her hands.  Great-grandmother’s broach.  The mother of pearl oval fit within a golden frame.  It drew Lauren in whenever she visited.  Grandmother wore it on special occasions, but respectfully displayed it in a small glass display, perched on the upright piano.

Grandmother told stories of her mother wearing the broach while crossing the plains of the United States.  It had belonged to her mother in England.

“It stands for perseverance my child,” Grandmother admonished Lauren while the stories would flow.  “We women must persevere in light of darkness that may surround us.  My mother knew her mother’s trials and tribulations to arrive in this great country.  No matter what my mother confronted, the broach reminded to her to push forward and it shall do the same for you.”

Lauren envisioned a woman wearing a long skirt and thick petticoats, along with a white cotton blouse clad with the broach.   She would wonder if the woman ever tired because Grandmother made her sound like a superhero.  The broach stood as her emblem of strength.

A glimmer in the window sill caught Lauren’s eye.  A key.  A key to what?

A thud jolted Lauren back to the reality and forced her to look up.  The movers upstairs dismantled the remainder of the house’s contents to be sold or given away. A knock at the door to the drawing room, she assumed a mover must have a question.  Rather, the lawyer stood before her with papers in hand.  “I presume all to be in good order?”  He scribbled away without looking up.

“I suppose,” her heavy heart pulled her grief inward.  “My aunt beat me to my childhood treasures.”

He looked up with a quizzical look, then stepped into the room.  His portfolio in hand, dropped to his side. He took a few more steps forward and looked around the room.

“I’m afraid you left before I had a chance to further read on.”  His professional tone continued.  “I see a key in your hand.  Where did you find that?”

“On the window sill.”

“Ah! Perfect.”  He cleared his voice.  Then, referred to his papers.  “Your grandmother seemed to know the reaction her daughter might choose upon learning of her mother’s wishes. To ensure your aunt would refrain from stealing your treasures, as you call them, your grandmother employed the movers to collect specific items of this room.  That key would be to your storage unit.”  He reached into his pocket.  “This key is to your safety deposit box…”  He read from his list, “…which looks to contain a certain jewelry item.  Pearl something.”

A hard swallow, followed by a sob filled the silent space. Lauren realized while she watched the man walk away, that the horror she experienced upon entering the room no longer lingered.  The relief to know even one special item had been saved, brought the comfort she longed for in the stolen material items. She knew material possessions would not bring back her grandmother. But, she also knew no one could not steal memories from within her heart. Lauren closed her eyes and took in the musty old smell one last time.  She, too, would persevere.


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