The Littlest Key
©2011 D. Paul Angel
She was following the path past her relationships. Each garden was in its own little field, separated by fences of various heights. Some were all colorful, some merely green. Some were flourishing, and some, she knew, she'd have to either tend or let perish. In the middle of it all was the spot where a cluster of roses were bursting forth. Vibrant and alive, they had steadily pushed other plots aside. Some, like the forest of her family, refused to move and the roses instead traced an area close to it. Others had simply been overrun. Not that she minded most of those...
As she studied it she could see the tension between Tim's blooming roses, and the fragrant wildflowers of Caitlin's area. Neither grew within a foot of the fence separating them, and she knew that would mean trouble eventually. But at least for now her boyfriend and best friend simply kept their distance.
As she contemplated what might happen between them the sunny day gave way to a brooding overcast of clouds. Their muted, pensive gray cast a doubting pall across the entire garden. She didn't like how the weather could shift so suddenly. She could feel it irritate her deep down as she heard the low rumblings of thunder just off in the distance. She tensed, as always, trying to will the Sun back, but only managed to deepen the gloom.
"You OK, sweetie?" Tim asked, putting his arm around her. Deep within she could feel some of the clouds lift as she snuggled next to him.
"I'm fine. I just have a lot on my mind."
"I know. I do, too... You ever think about the future?"
Rain started to fall, and she was scared to be caught out in the open by the unexpected downpour. She was heading down the path, trying to get away from the garden, but the path was no longer straight. It was twisting with organic fluidity, sometimes even upon itself, but always seemed to be trying to draw her back towards the roses.
She took Tim's arm and lifted it over her head, giving it back to him and sitting up, facing him. "I don't know that I'm ready to talk about the future. Why isn't just today ever enough?" She noticed his sudden hesitancy, his hand in his pocket, and herself leaning back, too.
The rain continued to fall, fluctuating in its intensity depending on how far she was from the roses. Finally she saw her escape and headed towards a large, marble building. It was somewhere between a mausoleum and a bank, with stark white walls and Doric columns about its edifice. She ran through the rain, racing the darkening sky, and pulled an expansive ring of keys out of her pocket. The largest, a heavy cast-iron antique, opened the door and let her safely inside.
The tall walls had numerous doors of varying sides covering them. Most were locked, some stood open, some were obviously empty. The open ones were filled with the little things here and there. These were the thoughts shared by anyone and needed no protection; the names of various Housewives from E!, the chorus from Lady Gaga's Born This Way, and the difference between a Merlot and Syrah. Even the final score from last years Pac-10 Championship game sat in a room with only a half hung shutter for a door.
She rushed past these deeper into the vaults. The doors were almost all locked now. Some had simple keyholes that even a paper clip could open. Some, hidden in the shadows, had multiple locks and bars across them. She wished they would go away, but she knew they never would. Then, deeper still into the very center of it she came to a wall with a single door. There was a small keyhole near the center, and a glow coming from under it.
"I know this makes you uncomfortable," Tim was telling her, "I know how you try and run into yourself and avoid the future. I know you don't want to be hurt again. But, Jo, that's part of life, isn't it?"
The door was growing steadily larger as she watched. She could see it try and enclose all the radiance within it. The light around the edges filled the hall, warming her and even driving some of the dark away from the scarier doors. But even as it grew, the tiny keyhole stayed resolutely locked. She pulled the keys up and looked at the littlest one. It had a single, thin tang at the end, and a simple hoop to hold.
Tim took her hand and moved off the couch. He took one knee, placed his hand in his pocket and pulled out a ring. "Josephine," he said nervously, "Will you share your life with me?"
She stood before the door holding the tiny key in her hand. The light shining through was almost blinding, and yet still she hesitated. Opening the door would flood her world; changing everything forever. If she didn't open it, she knew the light would fade and eventually extinguish itself. Another garden might grow someday, the room itself would shrink back; but she wouldn't be hurt. There'd be no more new rooms in the far, dark corners needing bars and chains. She was thrilled. And scared. She could her the rain pour suddenly outside and then just as quickly stop. She rubbed the key, feeling the smooth metal with her fingers.
"Will you trust me?"