A Single Key


A twisted fable.

My great grandmother, Big Grandma Noe, was a tiny woman.
They say she had a heart of gold.
And she was a trusting soul.
She did not hide her spare key under the mat. She preferred to put it on top of the outside trim and tape a note to the door. Like the one she hung out there once upon a time for her son, my grandpa.
“Art, the key is above the door.”
She believed that if your name was not Art, you would not continue to read. And if you were a stranger who accidentally happened to run into her note and you accidentally did read it, you, a possible would-be perpetrator, would do your best to erase it from your mind, as the information had not been intended for you.

More than twenty-five years ago, my sweet Sven was building our house.
“Why so many keys?” I said, staring at all the shiny objects splayed out in both his palms.
"It's cheaper this way,” he said.
“Yeah. It’s more expensive to have all your doors keyed alike.”
“Well, that’s a lot of keys.”
Adrienne, our oldest, a teenager full of spunk and bullshit, preferred to use her bedroom window for easy access.
So, she didn't need one.

At the same time, her brothers, Marques and Rene, carried backpacks stuffed with hot wheels, transformers and homework.
They cared very little about keys.
So they didn't want one.
I myself had seen enough scary movies to know that if I was going to make a run for it in the middle of the night, I did not want to be fumbling around with a locked door all the while a dark figure was floating down the stairs toward me.
And honestly, teaching Sven how to hang a key on a hook would have been more of a challenge than getting Leonard, our yellow lab from hell, a diploma from his puppy kindergarten class.
All those keys ended up in the skinny drawer next to the oven.
Where they remained.
Until one day, long after the kids had all grown up and moved out. Well into the life of Dakota Jones, our mild mannered, freckle faced canine, who had replaced Leonard and his yellowed from age, diploma.
Trouble with a big T, came to Lodi.
This trouble was not a con man selling imaginary band equipment.
It was a kid.
He broke into our house.
And he stole Sven’s guitar.
Well, okay. He didn’t break into our house.
The door was unlocked.
You see, we hadn’t thought to stick a note out there explaining that the house was left open for family and friends only, the way Big Grandma Noe would have done.
So, the crook had every right to turn the knob and waltz on in when nobody was home except Dakota Jones, Mr. Congeniality. He took the dude around the place and pointed out objects that he might like to have. Like Sven’s guitar that was hanging on the wall.
And all my jewelry.
That same dog made his way over to the kitchen door a full five minutes after I’d been standing out on the front deck, learning from a nice police officer, that the perpetrator had been apprehended.
"Woof!" he said with his nose pressed against the screen.
“Is that your dog?” says the cop.
“Yes,” I said, opening the door.
Dakota Jones sauntered out, wagged his tail back and forth and laid down on the deck with a thud.
“You might want to lock your doors.”
The mistake the thief, who happened to be an old friend of Adrienne’s, had made, was that he’d taken a large, flat screen TV to a nearby pawn shop, just as a report was coming across the scanner from a neighbor a few miles down the road who was pissed as hell because he was staring at nothing but cobwebs hanging from the drywall above his fireplace.
So, Sven got his Hummingbird back.
And the cute wood racks that my dad had made for earrings and necklaces were returned. As well as a tangled mess of balls and chains that had once been wearable.
The only things that were permanently missing were a little bit of silver and a little bit of gold.
And my pride.
You see, Dakota Jones’s crooked friend had unapologetically dissed my coconut earrings.
The earrings that I bought in Mexico.
He left them sitting right there on the vanity. In plain sight. They were right where he'd been standing. They'd been right in front of his face.
But he left them there.
Crooks need to stop and think about their actions.
That hurt my feelings.
Why did he not like my coconut earrings?
Apparently they were not good enough for him.
Well, if you don’t want insults hurled at you unnecessarily, like the nice police officer had said, “You might want to lock your doors.”
So, we did.
It was no trouble locking them.
Getting back into the house was the issue.
But, we could usually just go to the side door and open it.
“Sven. You’re supposed to lock all the doors. Not just one,” I would scold.
“Well, aren’t you glad I didn’t?”
The situation sent me on a security crusade.
I hung a spare key outside on a nail, right next to the garden hose.
I made sure that all the doors were locked every morning before leaving.
And for two solid weeks, I came home to find the spare key stuck in the kitchen door knob. And the door hanging wide open.
“You’re supposed to hang that spare key back on that hook if you have to use it.”
I’d been right.
It was harder to teach Sven how to hang a key on a hook than it had been for Leonard to get that diploma.
“Leonard only got that diploma because he had perfect attendance,” Sven would say.
And then the weather started to change. Leaves began to fall. And I was beginning to lose interest in the whole security guard gig. And…
The locking of the Millie and Sven household era came to an end.
Just a couple of summers ago Sven ran into the rehabilitated drug addict, slash thief, slash old friend of Adrienne's, when he stopped to pick up some lunch.
“I’m really sorry about the burglary thing, Sven,” said the guy, handing my husband a Big Mac and a small order of fries through the little window.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Sven. "It's in the past."
“Did you ask him why he didn’t take my coconut earrings?” I said.
“What coconut earrings?”
“The coconut earrings that I am wearing!”

Trust thy neighbor and lock thy doors.

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