'The Key'

by Jayne Scadden

It wasn't anything to do with the knowledge that this flat on a rough council estate was classed as a hard let. No, that to me was a massive leap up the property ladder. My racing heart wasn't anything to do with potentially rough neighbours, they came gratefully accepted. It was this tiny key. Funny, eh? how something so small could feel as heavy as one of the bricks it gained access to. Weird even, that in the freezing January wind that lashed me, this inert object yielded so much power greater than a magicians wand. This key looked like millions of others, but Seonaidh and I both knew what it meant to me, a dream so long desired, a hope I'd left behind long ago. The closure of a decade. The birth of a new life, my life.

The key worked its' magic at my first attempt although my hand was shaking with disbelief that I held this enchanted object. To me there was no other like it. The door opened as a hand, mine I think, pushed it open. I was in the hallway, key held tightly. I tentatively moved from room to room, my Para boots sounding louder and heavier than usual, more like rubber hammers than my old trusted footwear, 3 sizes too big, which now felt like they'd grown another two sizes.

I stood in the kitchen. It was lovely, the peeling wallpaper was great - lovely colour. I knew I was smiling, I couldn't help it. My massive boots took me to the bathroom, I felt like shouting for joy. Here it was - a toilet, a bath and a bonus, a sink. I felt well and truly blessed. I flushed the toilet and turned taps. I found so much magic in that one small room. The key had given me power over hot water, as and when I needed it. I sat on the edge of the bath and like a child at Christmas opening a gift, I played with the taps, hot, cold, sink, bath, sink. I listened to the cistern refill. I don't know how long I sat there feeling like a queen, but now I had a throne all of my own.

I was in the bedroom now, wondering at yet more wallpaper, and the fab view. A garden, overgrown, full of rubbish. How beautiful to me that urban jungle was. I felt guilty as I called my dog to me. She came flying out of the bathroom. The throne was also a source that quenched her thirst with the freshest of water to her taste buds. I sat on the comfy solid floor, she sat on my crossed knees, tail wagging as it always did for me. I wondered if she was as excited - no elated, as I felt. I showed her the key, she ignored it. She didn't understand its power.

Into the living room. I lit a cig up and read the graffiti on the wall. I read every word, declarations of love, names I didn't know, faces I've never seen, but the graffiti in its' wording was the same old thing, 'such n' such is a bastards bastard'. I liked that one. The vandalism was welcome coz it made me feel safe and less tense. Funny, I'd never been a graffiti artist, but I'd read so much, more in fact than books.

I'd found a Z bed and a quilt in a cupboard in the hallway plus a convector heater. I decided that we'd doss in the living room, there was a net curtain. We'd be snug and safe. I found a note from Seonaidh, the woman who believed in me, so much so, her trust in me had made all this happen. My restorer of life. The key wasn't in my hand because anyone had heard me, but because Seonaidh had heard and listened. Above all she'd seen past me, the dirty smelly drunken dosser, who was so used to doorways I'd become an expert in cardboard carpets. She'd come to assess my housing needs and our meeting had taken place in my dark world among my people in an inner-city day centre. I'd liked her for her honesty and her plain speaking, showing no distaste at all to what I had become.

I lit another cig and found myself back in the kitchen. I decided I loved the lime green paper with it's peeling yellow border. The discoloured underside of the paper added to its homeliness. Seonaidh had told me she'd get the place re-decorated, but I made a mental note, the kitchen stayed as it was.

It'd started to get dark. No worries, the streetlights could still be depended on to cast me some spare light. I called my dog. She'd chosen the bedroom to curl up in. I knew why, not as much light from outside in there. Sox knew about streetlights, and what could happen in their deceitfully warm comforting glow.

I opened the door. It felt so light as though it would come away from its fittings, I thought of the squats I'd broken into. I stepped outside and nearly went flying. I'd forgotten the outer step. I let out a squeal. Sox growled. The bricks saved me as I grabbed hold. I put the key in the lock and hey presto it clicked in obedience. The jungle at the back needed careful footwork but I trusted my boots. I thought about my time in Dover living in a bender on the cliffs and having to climb up to it.

I stood smoking as Sox disappeared into the unknown. I looked up and around me. Windows lit up, curtains closed, life winding down. I knew then I'd done it. I was scared, not of this dark garden, overgrown and uncared for. No, my fear was failure.


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