By Rose Vanden Eynden
For Day One of the Writer's Digest Flash Fiction Challenge
Word Count: 1063
By Rose Vanden Eynden
Ballet class has just ended when Tony, my teacher, calls me over.
“Heard it was your birthday,” he says, wiping sweat from his forehead. “Got something special for you.”
I watch all the girls from class file out through the door, headed for bars or jobs or whatever it is they do when they aren’t dancing. “You give all your students gifts?” I ask, knowing the answer already.
“Only the ones that stand out. Like you.”
I shift uncomfortably. Is he flirting with me? I’m terrible at this. I do think he’s cute, but he’s at least a decade older than me, so…. He unzips his gym bag, rummages, then pulls out a small object. “Here you go,” he says, placing it in the palm of my hand.
A key. Maybe 3 inches long, copper, old. It looks like something used to unlock a garden gate.
I blink. “A key?”
“What’s it unlock?”
He moves a step closer to me and leans in next to my ear. I can smell his sweat and cologne mingling together to make a heady, intoxicating fragrance. It makes it hard to concentrate. “Here’s the cool thing. It unlocks anything you want it to unlock.”
I chuff out a laugh. “What?”
“You heard me. Anything you want. It unlocks it.”
“You’re putting me on.”
“Nope. C’mere.” Tony leads me to the studio door, glancing around to make sure everyone else from class is gone. “Check this out.” He pushes me over the threshold and closes the door between us. I hear the snick of the lock as he turns it in the knob. “Now unlock it,” he says through the glass. “The door. Use the key and unlock it.”
I look down at the doorknob. There’s no way this key will fit in that slot. I shake my head. “Do you think I’m an idiot? This won’t fit.”
“Trust me.” His voice is muffled, but his face is sincere. “I’m not messing with you. Try the key.”
I shrug, shift the key in my hand, and point it toward the keyhole in the studio door. Almost immediately, a pulling sensation yanks the key forward. The slot in the door swallows the head of the key. I turn it. The lock snicks again. The door opens.
Tony lets it swing wide. “Voila,” he says, a big grin on his face. “Told ya.”
I shake my head in disbelief, staring at the key in my hand. “What…what the hell…?”
He slaps me on the shoulder. “Take it home with you. Try it on some stuff. It’ll open anything, I promise.” He thrusts my gym bag into my arms and shuffles back into the room. “See you in class tomorrow.” The door shuts behind him, and I’m left alone in the hallway.
I walk to the subway with the key in my hand. Was it a magic trick? Some way to try to impress me? I try to rationalize it all the way home, but I keep coming back to the same reality: the key opened the door when it clearly wasn’t meant to.
Was Tony right? Could it open anything?
For the next hour, I try the key on every lock I can: my buddy Charlie’s Nissan Sentra parked in front of our building. The mailbox in our lobby. My front door on the 5th floor. The tiny safe where my dad keeps his important papers. The gun cabinet holding Dad’s Smith and Wesson. By the time I open the liquor cabinet that contains the 25-year-old bottle of scotch my Uncle Frank gave to him when I was born, I need a drink.
This key opens everything.
I’m sitting on the couch contemplating this when Dad comes home. He opens the front door and promptly trips over my abandoned gym bag. “Goddamnit, Gerald!” he yells. He spies me, and I instantly regret not retreating immediately to my bedroom. “Get this goddamn bag outta my way. You and your fairy dance classes are enough. I don’t wanna kill myself tripping over your damn equipment.”
“Sorry, Dad.” I grab my bag and slink off to my bedroom. I don’t want to hear any more crap about what a lousy SOB I am.
All evening, I think about the key and listen to my father move about our small apartment. He heats up a frozen dinner for himself. He turns on Wheel of Fortune and cracks open a Bud Light. He calls out letters to Pat Sajak as he eats, and then he moves on to yelling at the Knicks playing on TV. Not once does he check on me to ask if I’m hungry, if I had a good day. To wish me happy birthday. He goes to bed at 10 p.m. after ignoring me all night, like he always does. I hear his snores begin as I continue staring at the key. My eyes fill with tears.
I wait for almost an hour. Then I take the key and creep into Dad’s bedroom. There’s enough light to see he’s on his right side, his mouth open, his eyes twitching under their lids. I wipe my wet cheeks and, without thinking too much about it, I put the key into his exposed ear. He doesn’t stir, so I turn it, just as I turned it in all the other locks. There’s no snick like in the door at the studio, but I feel something give. Something moves, changes. I can’t describe it, but I know it. I pull the key from his ear and go back to my room. I fall asleep with a wish in my mind.
When I wake, the sun is bright in my bedroom. I eye the key on my nightstand and remember what happened with Tony. And with Dad. I take a deep breath and shuffle out to the kitchen.
He’s already gone to work, but there’s a white envelope sitting at my place at the table. A bouquet of rainbow-colored balloons are tied to my chair. I look at them for a long time and then reach for the envelope with a shaking hand. Inside is a birthday card covered with unicorns and rainbows. My father has signed it:
Happy birthday to my awesome son. I love you more than anything. Make this your best year yet. XO, Dad