I sat there for a minute. I didn’t have a minute. Six o’clock was coming, and so was Jojo. I looked out the window toward my neighbor who was never there. Someone was keeping the grass cut. I wondered if it was Gus. I sighed. I began the laborious process of unclenching my hands from the steering wheel. I could almost hear the suction pop as each finger came loose. Then I flexed my hands, checking that all the fingers were still present, functioning and in their usual places. Yup. Seemed to be. Although there were red marks where I’d been gripping the wheel. I opened the van door and stepped down.
And fell into a deep narrow hole, wrenching my ankle, since I’d managed to park next to a rut. At least my hand on the doorhandle had reverted to clenching, so I had a sore shoulder instead of a broken ankle. My respect for Hayley’s ability to negotiate local geography in four-inch heels soared, at the same time feeling that such a keen grasp of spatial/objective relationships could be put to better use. Inventing a toothpaste tube you could counter-squeeze superfluous toothpaste back into, perhaps. I wondered if Mr Demerara’s contractual upkeep as landlord might stretch to filling in the ruts in the driveway. Slowly I picked my way to and then up the path toward the front door. I turned around, not monarch of all I surveyed. There was a hedge in the way between the houses, but the far end of my never-there neighbor’s driveway was faultlessly smooth. I climbed the stairs to the porch, limping slightly and rubbing my shoulder, listening for rustling noises from deinonychus. I wondered if I could learn to differentiate between sleepy, satiated rustling noises and hungry, predatory rustling noises.
There was a new hole in the pocket-lining of my old leather jacket and underneath it, burrowing into the seam like a drill bit seeking a stud, was the ring of three enormous keys and a little one. I pulled them out, listening to the sound of elderly satin tearing. Front door, back door . . . I had no idea what the third big one or the little one was for. I didn’t remember there was a little one, when Hayley had handed me the keys . . . steady, MacFarquhar. Of course the key had been there. It was not a Melmoth plant and it would not suck my blood while I slept. And the deinonychus under the porch probably looked a lot like raccoons. I knew about raccoons: they used to play softball in the attic of my friend’s Adirondack cabin. I hadn’t noticed the little key, or paid attention to what the third big one was for because I’m a space case. Especially the last few months. (What did Mr Wolverine want now? I was supposed to be done with Mr Wolverine. I wanted to be done with Mr Wolverine. Like I was done with Gelasio.) This morning there’d been a lot going on to distract me. Dogs. Muffins. Hallucinations of guys in black.
I remembered that the biggest key was for the front door. I separated it from its fellows and stared at it for a moment. Even if I took it off the ring it wouldn’t fit in any mere jeans pocket. If I put it on a chain and hung it around my neck I’d get friction burns. How did one manage having a life with a house key one needed a pack animal to schlep around? Maybe you weren’t supposed to have a life if you lived this far out in the sticks. Maybe you were supposed to do that country thing I’d heard rumors about, and not lock your door. I shuddered. No. Way too rural for me. Where I came from locking your door came directly after breathing on the life-maintenance list, and well before brushing your teeth or remembering your mother’s birthday.
So. Back to the key problem. I looked at it, lying across my palm (and sticking out at either end. I had to hold on to the rest of the ring with my other hand). I didn’t really see teaching Sid to wear panniers. I’d have to put the complete works of Anthony Trollope in the other basket to balance the load and then she’d get friction burns. The key’s teeth were as long as a Ghastly’s and I didn’t know if it had had good bite-inhibition training when it was young. Not that bite-inhibition training had had any discernible effect on Chan Two.
I’d worry about basic key transport later. I’d worry about all of it later. I could almost hear Jojo’s iPod blasting out classic AC/DC from here. On headphones. I hoped the bus was empty enough that no one had to sit next to him. I put my huge old-fashioned key in the huge old-fashioned lock. Thunk. I turned it. CLUNK. I paused again. I reminded myself about six o’clock. I opened the door.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.