• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 12
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A key with no use

When my grandmother was still alive, she had a tiny key on her balcony. Suspended on wire, it hung over her plant pots: sage, rosemary, parsley and a key. I never asked her what it was for. Some things become so familiar that we forget to ask why: But what’s it for, grandma? Why, grandma? To me as a child, the key on the wire was another illogical logic of her flat. Along with the stack of tiny tables, each one smaller than the one sheltering it, and the broken clock above her arm chair (forever seven o’clock). The key is there because it’s there. It’s hanging because it’s hanging. Doesn’t everyone’s grandma have a key on a wire over their plant pots?

I often visited her on my way home from school. She’d make us cocoa and we’d sit in the lounge looking out at the key: her in her chair, me on the sofa. The cocoa was always extra sweet: ‘Two sugars for us, my dear.’ And winked as she handed it to me. When the wind blew, the key quivered. When it rained, it shuddered. Its uncertain movements became a piece of our routine, just like the digestive biscuits we had with our cocoa.

On the day she passed away, the sun was shining. But the key did not glint in the light. It was too rusty for that.

In the weeks following, when sorting through her belongings, I left the key till last. A lifetime’s worth of possessions: first her books, then her clothes, and finally her bed clothes. Each item was reduced to a binary decision. And each decision stung like betrayal. When the flat was empty, a shell of a life, I went out onto the balcony. I held the key in my palm and thought of the question no-one had ever asked: But what’s it for, grandma? I tried it in every lock I found in the flat: the box under her bed, the safe in her wardrobe, the windows, the front door. Each time: no fit, no fit.


A key with no use

Finally, I put the key in my bag and drove home. Thinking: the last time I might make this journey. Down the dual carriageway, round the roundabout. Second exit. Left at the lights. Once home, I opened the windows and attached the wire the key hung on to the window frame. I made a cocoa, extra sweet: ‘Two sugars for us, my dear.’ And sat on the sofa to watch the key. A breeze blew in from outside and the key swayed, sweeping the air in its new placement. I watched the key late into the night, swaying with it until I fell asleep.