The Curmudgeon


Friday, June 15, 2007

Wrong Key, Wrong Door

A Tale

Were it not for the quarrel with his wife, Holman would never have found the key. Certainly it was not his habit to stare at the pavement while walking; but after the long and wearying argument, which had continued at intervals over the entire weekend and was still unresolved when he left on Monday morning, Holman's normally upright carriage was more than a little wilted.

If asked why he was staring at the pavement, he would have said that he was thinking hard. How anyone could become so emotional over so trivial a matter - a purely domestic question of interior design, barely worth a moment's thought - was beyond his comprehension. As to how anyone could perpetuate so futile a disagreement over a period of forty-eight hours - that, he supposed, was something a psychiatrist might possibly be able to fathom.

His wife was still asleep when he left, so he had no chance to discuss it further with her; and although he thought hard about the problem as he drove to the office, understanding still refused to come. That was why, as he walked the hundred yards from the car park to the building, his brow was still furrowed and his head slightly lowered; and that was how he saw the key.

It was a perfectly ordinary door-key, fairly new and shiny; which may be why it caught Holman's eye, and why he so far sacrificed his accustomed dignity as to stoop and pick it up. Unlike Holman's own door-key, it was not attached to a ring and did not have a plastic sheath over its top; nevertheless, as Holman straightened he found one hand moving to his trouser pocket, checking almost furtively that his own keys were still there.

Upright once more, and ignoring the twinge in his back, he held the key in his open palm and glanced around at the people on the street. Almost all were his own kind: uniformed in dark suits, armed with briefcases or laptops, marching cadres of corporate dynamism. None looked as though they had lost anything; still less did any of them seem the type to be careless with their property, let alone to have holes in their pockets. As it seemed a waste simply to throw the key in a litter bin, and as he could hardly just leave it where he had found it, Holman closed his fist and then, after a moment's consideration, dropped the key into his pocket with those he already owned.

Fortunately, Holman was not the kind of man to let a spoiled weekend interfere with his concentration at work, and the day proceeded according to his usual businesslike routine. If he thought of his find at all, it was merely to fill an empty moment - of which, as on most Mondays, there were few. His wife did not telephone, even to interrupt. Perhaps, Holman ruminated over lunch, the key had been discarded by someone who had somewhere better to go at the end of the day.

When work was finished, he left the building and walked to the car park. Although he was tired, his mood had improved, and he kept his attention away from the ground and firmly on the way ahead. He got into his car, drove out of the car park and onto the main road, and made the journey to his own street in about the usual time. The street was just the same as always; one of the neighbours even looked up at Holman's car as he drove past. Holman had parked just outside the front gate, locked the car and walked halfway up the drive before he realised that the front door was not his own.

The keys on his key-ring had no effect, of course. Holman methodically tried them all, one after the other and some more than once; he refused to demean himself by knocking. At last, on a sort of irritable whim, he took out the key he had picked up that morning and discovered, not greatly to his surprise, that it fitted the lock and turned quite smoothly. Putting the key carefully back in his pocket, Holman pushed open the door.

His shoes clumped on bare boards, and he seemed to be breathing dust. As the door clicked shut behind his back, something not his wife arose from a dark corner and hastened, gaping, to greet him.


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