November 8th

Hey, we've been going for a week now, and the response has been brilliant. Thanks to everyone who's taken part so far, and welcome, if you're joining us for the first time. As usual, click on Comments at the end of this message to post your own 300 words.


Front door key, back door key, car key, garage key, suitcase keys, all the keys you have, you lay them all out. The key to the photocopier room at work, your neighbour’s key, a tiny chrome key for a diary you threw out years ago, the key to your Granny’s clock, the winder key for the oak kitchen table, chrome and bronze keys, Yale keys, Chubb keys, the key to your mother’s house even though you left ten years ago. You don’t know what some keys are for. You’re all keyed up. There aren’t enough keys to the puzzles around you. If you found stiff locks you’d oil them so their keys turned smoothly. If you had the keys to the city you’d keep it open twenty-four seven. You don’t want to look through keyholes and you’ll never use the key to the door at the end of the long dark corridor. You won’t. You promised. Maybe there’s a keyword you’re missing, or a key on the keypad, the keyboard that you’re not striking. You should know by now that things only work properly if you key in the right number. You don’t know what key you sing in. You want to go to the Florida Keys. Did he leave his key? He left his key. It’s a blue key. You try it in the lock – it slips in, turns easily, and opens the door. You close the door and do it again. It works every time. You hold it tightly until it feels hot in your palm. You want to lock up your heart and throw away the key, let it rust at the bottom of a drain, turn green in a lake. But you’ll make a duplicate. It’ll be a good thing to have more than one key.


  1. He rips out her spine to use as a walking stick, then goes on a stroll looking for sea glass and sand dollars. She slumps forward on her piano bench. Her nose pecks a key that unlocks an entire island.

    The sour note sinks, a top-heavy tsunami surges,
    belly-flops on the man who made her play “Chopsticks” before sunrise, give head to the tick
    of a metronome then lick the sap below his hips.

    Seamen suck saltwater taffy as the tsunami sucks their ships. A pod of dolphins rescues no one. Trade winds ram in and out of tropical pockets. Palm trees are whiplashed. Clouds fill with lead as a whirlpool swirls. Tidal waves sprint toward land.

    She drags her baby grand out of the bungalow, down the jetty and dumps it into the ocean.
    Hammerheads shred the meat and spit out the ivories. They patter ashore.

    She side-winds along the coast and collects the beached keys in a basket. She stacks them, one by one, up the length of her back until her head is moon-high and she can catch a comet between her teeth.

    She morphs into a skeleton key. She clicks two clams like castanets and the ocean recedes. Her old backbone rests perpendicular to a hunk of driftwood. The black spirit of the spine-snatcher is locked inside a conch. She holds it to her ear.

    "I couldn't walk alone, but I couldn't walk away."
    She crushes the shell between her palms.

    Back at the bungalow, she can open anything. She unlocks a fold-away attic, a cupboard, a trapdoor. She opens a hope chest, a golden locket, her mind. Standing where her piano once was, she hums a melody, runs the scales, and frees every single note she knows.

    Bill Trüb

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  3. Learning a new language means that you can redefine yourself, an opportunity that rarely occurs away from the hairdresser. It is a reminder that identity is not set in stone at birth, it is accumulated throughout your life. New words, new you: stripping away the gathered layers of habit and prejudice can be invigorating.

    But after seven years of French I felt that my layers of habit and prejudice were still very much intact and by the time I left school I had virtually given up on foreign tongues. It was not that I wanted to get to grips with the latest street slang, but on the other hand it did not seem likely that chatting up French girls was going to be easy with only the benefit of chunks of Flaubert and the ability to explain in great detail precisely what my parents did for a living.

    My first realisation that there was more to learning another language came a couple of years after school when I spent a summer in Morocco during which I learnt more useful Arabic phrases than in all my endless hours of muffled French. Of course my Arabic was shamefully restricted – I could not direct you to the train station in Arabic to save my life – but the results were immediate (not least that a few well chosen words amused the ‘guides’ so much that they left me alone in search of other, less amusing, prey).

    Part of the reason was simply that I was starting to realise that while learning a language is not much fun, using it certainly is. I felt freer and more confident with my key 50 words of Arabic than I had ever been with my extensive knowledge of irregular French verbs. I smiled when I spoke. I relaxed.

    alex johnson

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  5. Resemblance to any character, whether real or fictional, is purely coincidental. That I know you, that after twelve years of marriage and two children and an exemplary record, you had an affair with a married man, had an ectopic pregnancy and your marriage ended, purely coincidental. That the man you had an affair with lived just around the corner, was a policeman, that he lied his way out of the job into a fat pension with a fake nervous breakdown that you knew about is purely coincidental. That he said that we would always find you no matter where you were, that you called the police, purely coincidental. That your ex-husband had an affair with a woman whose ex-husband had been murdered and that his new wife was the suspect. That you went on to another dead end relationship with a complete loser with a dope habit, attitude problem and a penchant for crashing into trees is purely coincidental. That he smashed up your car, the TV, the fridge and the food mixer. That you nursed him, his broken legs, his nose, his ribs and his ego when he got beaten up outside the kebab shop. That he nearly destroyed you, left you trembling on your knees in the corner of the living room and that you let him is purely coincidental. That eventually, he let you down so badly.

    Purely coincidental that you happened to meet up with a friend who had moved abroad, that he moved back to be with you, that you’ve had two more beautiful children and that the six of you are living happily together. I wouldn’t be so brave as to try and retell your story. I wouldn’t expose you like that and I don’t think that anyone would believe me anyway.

  6. 1, 2, 3 – 3, 2, 1. Dusty bin that key? Let it rot? No. Go find that key. Turn the lock. Open the door again. Find what you want in that attic. Hope thrives there. Cobwebs too. You go to that spot and squat down. Dust clouds your vision. But you don’t care. In that corner was your bottle. In it, coins from ‘yours sincerely’ stacked up in copper colours, stubbed by a note to you. You took it out of its bottle-green mouth. Unfolded it, flattened out its creases and read, ‘My sweet S_____, Miss you so much. Can’t wait to see you this weekend. Love, M____’. The key works. You drop the duplicate. Dust disperses. You wipe a tear from your face. Your eyes sting. The dust cakes your tears, now unsurmountable. Now worsening. Your vision clouds. Your memory grows strong. The duplicate works. The door opens wide. Your face is moist. Your heart weakens. The duplicate chubb stays on the floor covered in dust, separated from its bunch. With it you picked up a ring. You rub it against your tracksuit bottom. Fresh tears splutter your imprints. Your fingers tighten around the object in your hand and loosen its grip on the bunch of keys in the other. The memory isn’t duplicated. It’s special. That night by the fountain, on New Year’s Eve, you stood there. Your outline was sharp against the backdrop of the monumental statue. Your hands, frozen from the spray of droplets. You quivered, flexed your hands and feet. There beside you, M___ folded you into his arms and slid that ring onto your index finger. You heard the words, ‘From me to you’. Nothing else was said. From the tv below Lloyd Grossman says, ‘Take a look through the keyhole’. You gain consciousness.


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  8. Chubby didn’t want to go to Yale. In fact, he didn’t want to go to any university, even though his parents had been putting money aside against tertiary dreams as long as he could remember. Chubby wanted to get a job, get money, and he wanted it now.
    “You’ll get a better job if you study. Education is the key, Chubby,” his mother said.
    “You’re so fifties, Mom. And quit calling me Chubby.”
    “But you are, dear.”

    He heard those words every time he jumped on the scales and craned over his belly to see his weight. Right. He would quit eating. He would go on a hunger strike until they gave in and then they’d have to call him something else. Chubb sounded cool. When he was Chubb he’d go and look for a job.

    “I’m going to become a locksmith,” he said when he was 20 pounds lighter.
    “It’s good money, and I can moonlight.”
    “That’s against the law.”
    “Gotta catch me first, Mum. Nobody’ll see me in the dark.”

    “What are we going to do about him?” his mother said to his father.
    “Let him fall on his face. There’s no money in making keys. They’re a dime a dozen at the hardware store. He’ll come round.”

    Chubb got a job at the hardware store. Nights he’d go out with his tools and pick locks. He’d never steal anything, but his boss marvelled at the run on padlocks. Everyone in town wanted one. He gave Chubb a raise, and in a few weeks another. Soon Chubb was rolling in it.

    One day Chubb came home and said: “I’ve quit.”
    “Why?” said his mother.
    “I’m going to Yale. Gonna get myself an MBA.”
    His father laughed. “Told you he’d come round.”
    “How about a triple hamburger, Mum?”

  9. So this is it: the keynote address. The moment you’ve been waiting for. Your name in big letters near the top of the programme. The title you spent so long getting just right so it would seem like the elegant, dashed-off-in-a-moment product of a slick and well-oiled mind. A mind just waiting to have its full potential unlocked before an admiring audience.

    You came in on the late flight last night and you haven’t slept much, but that’s the way it is on the conference circuit. Here one day, there the next: changing cities, changing gear, changing key. They don’t know your daughter had tonsillitis, that it wasn’t a call from the Royal Academy that kept you. They don’t need to know what you juggle. You’re here now. That’s the key thing.

    What do you call a collection of conference delegates? A congregation? A conspiracy? A confusion? From up here they look like a swarm, an eager anonymous blur, but you can make out some faces, the big guns near the front. The key people in the field.

    There are others you recognise too. Can you credit it: your old physics teacher, the one who said you’d never make a scientist with your casual approach to work. Well, boo to you, Mr Greenway. Here I am. Nice of you to come along, though. I’d like to say you played a key role in my education, but frankly…

    You didn’t expect to see your husband, either, but you suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s always been there. He’s your keystone, your corner stone, your lodestone.

    And is that your mother? So what about all that nagging and niggling? Think of the cost, the children, your quality of life, darling. What do you reckon now? What IS the key to happiness?

  10. Do you want to store this password in your keychain?
    Do I? I don’t know. I suppose so.
    I click the glowing yes button, and move on.
    I’ve seen that word many times, but I don’t really know what it means. Curiosity overcomes me, and I go looking in the system’s help routine. I learn that I have a login keychain, created the very first time I logged in. I can also create new keychains for things like online shopping, or for work. I can take my keychains with me to use on other computers.
    Unwanted, an image of people wondering about with great trailing chains of keys pops into my head.
    Open Keychain Access
    Wow! All the passwords I have ever used for all the accounts I’ve ever had. There are webmail accounts, my Skype account, my iTunes account. There’s my sister’s home network. I had forgotten about that. That must have been from when I took the laptop so I could show her all those photos. How we laughed over those photos. And several glasses of wine. Those were good times.
    Before the argument.
    It’s been a long time since I looked at those photos. I open the pictures folder and start browsing.
    I stare at the screen, lapping up the memories of trips to the pub, visits to our parents’ house, picnics with the kids. Our parents are dead now, and the kids have all left home. Her husband ran off with someone else, and mine? Well, he was never really there in the first place.
    We only have each other.
    Only we don’t.
    I pick up the phone, and dial her number.
    She answers.
    ‘I was thinking about you,’ I say. ‘Can we meet up?’
    I decide not to bother explaining about the keychains.


  11. The obvious thing is to dig it out – but then I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Once you’ve got it, once it’s actually in your hand, where do you put it? And then? Like so many things, this seems easier to manage in theory than in practice. However, like the song says – or is it the book, the rhyme – can’t go under it, can’t go over it, can’t go around it. Got to go through it.

    So, it’ll drip. For a short while, anyway. I’m prepared for this. Only real worry is a pale carpet in the sitting room, so I’d aim to get to the kitchen as fast as possible. Screw the tiles.

    After that, I’m anticipating that the edges of it will seem to pull back, as if to hold whatever’s inside, like mitochondria through a microscope seem to flinch when encountering a dust mote. This is normal.

    Soon, and for the first time ever, it will take on the aspect of rest. Does anyone know when one moment yields to the next – the exact moment, the nature of the yielding? Thought not. I will watch whatever happens happen, the frail weight of it still in my hand, the shift to once-having-been. Perhaps like deep-water sea grass, its filaments will settle into transparency. Though in the end I expect they will whiten, bleach out like anything does in hot sun. I expect they will harden up for good.

    Standing here looking out the window, you in the next room, there’s no way I can return it. Too late for any of that. Once a piece of you is out, we all know there’s no getting it back in. I guess I’ll put it in my pocket. What happens next all depends.

    (Patricia Debney)

  12. They dared each other to see who would be first to penetrate the defences of the castle. It stood at the edge of the village, away from any through roads and houses. There was no reason for anyone to be around there unless they had business in the castle, particularly not two thirteen year old twin boys and their eleven year old sister.
    At this time of year it was dark not long after they came back from school and this week there was a half moon to help them see where they were going without showing them up.
    They had been in during an open day in the summer and noticed the Great Hall standing alone in the grounds. They hadn’t been allowed to go inside and as time passed their speculations about what was in there grew wilder and more imaginative. There was no other answer. They had to get in and find out.
    The owner was a lady who lived alone. She had a big dark brown and black Rottweiler. They had seen it on the open day, but it wasn’t allowed to mix with the visitors. Her gardener and housekeeper lived in the lodge cottage outside the gates.
    They kept in the shadows and tiptoed past the lodge in the faint moonlight. There wasn’t a breath of wind. It was very, very silent. They walked on the grass by the side of the drive to avoid crunching the gravel and then they stood under the great stone arch looking at the heavy black studded gates and wondering how to get in.
    Tom, the bravest twin, climbed through the gap at the top to let them in. They heard a scratching noise.
    ‘This key won’t turn.’ He whispered.
    Then from inside they heard the dog running, snarling.

  13. For Sian it was all about acceptance; knowing that whatever life threw at her she could stay as true as possible to what she believed in, adjusting to events and circumstance just as much as was necessary to accommodate the outside world. So when she found a scary narrow lane in the country down which she was afraid to drive, rather than grip the steering wheel 'til the blood no longer reached her fingers, she simply found the nearest car park and walked.

    For John Henry, being on the side of Right, meant marching against the war and taking a stand when his next door neighbour declined to sweep up his lingustrum ovalifolium aureum trimmings from their shared access pathway. It mattered not to him that he had rarely ventured beyond the sight of the smoke from his own chimney.

    Rather than have his old job back, William took the money when the tribunal ruled he was unlawfully dismissed. Three years after setting up his own business in competition with his former employer, he had twenty seven people working for him and was considering an offer of an undisclosed sum for a buy out by a multinational corporation.

    Lydia felt her heart beat faster and a breathless catch at the back of her throat as her Beckham-style bendy free kick smacked into the back of the net from outside the penalty area. But that was nothing compared to the elation she felt as Georgie's warm hand clapped her on the shoulder and brushed against her cheek.

    When they found themselves all together in the waiting room, they had no need to speak to recognise that though they may have arrived by different routes, whatever the key to each of them being there, they would all leave by the same door.


  14. I'm terrified of keys. A phobia so rare it doesn't even have a name. But it dominates my life. I'll never be able to drive. I can't even walk through a car park in case I see someone with a key. A single key I could just about cope with, from a distance, but a whole bunch sends me into a shivering, sweating, bowels-to-water heap of terror. It's the way they jingle, and their horrible little teeth.

    So no supermarkets or megastores for me. Or any shops, in fact, because all tills have keys. And the market's no good either, because it's always surrounded by vans. Usually with the keys still in the locks. I don't know how people can live like that.

    Luckily Angie does the shopping for both of us. And I do the cooking. Seems like a fair deal to me. We have most of life divided up like that. She cleans up after meals. I keep the place tidy. She takes our washing to the launderette. I do the hoovering. And I take spiders carefully outside, because they frighten Angie.

    Of course we don't live in a house. In fact I haven't been inside a building since 1993. It's the locks on the doors, you see. If a door with a lock is unlocked, there must be someone inside with a key. And I wouldn't know who, or where. Keys hide in pockets, waiting to poke into things. So we live in a bender, in Avalon Field, with no keys, just a bunch of other people in benders who choose not to live in ordinary houses.

    Although I don't choose, not really. I'd like a house, and a husband, and children, and a car. But I never will. It's the keys. I can't have the keys.

  15. It was amazing what one could find in the sand. Graham wasn't a professional beachcomber by any means, but he considered himself lucky. Over the years, he, his metal detector and spade had unsanded coins, rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and watches, as well as the usual junk like fishing weights, rusty nails, cans and ring-pulls.

    Coins and gold jewellery were always good, of course, but, secretly, Graham enjoyed finding keys the best. They were rare and special. He loved blowing the sand off them slowly, revealing their shape. He relished the sleekness of the metal, the uniqueness and mystery of their form; knowing each one fitted perfectly into a lock somewhere.

    In his head, they opened Bentley motor cars, safes full of jewels, palaces, treasure chests. But in reality, he knew the keys were useless without the doors they opened. Where would he keep them anyway? Someone had suggested putting them on a string round his neck, like talismans. But, after imprinting their shapes and feel in his memory, he simply threw them away, or back down onto the sand for someone else to find.

    There was just one Yale key which he had kept, threaded on a long piece of sweat-stained string round his neck so that it hung close to his heart, where he would finger it lovingly. In his head, Graham jokingly thought of it as his 'skeleton key' or, more affectionately, 'her', remembering in detail the scratches on his face and how he had pulled it from the blonde's clenched hand just before burying her body.

    The trouble was, he realised later, that the metal rested so quietly next to his skin on its own, with nothing to clink against. He imagined the key was lonely; he didn't like to think of her lay there alone...

    Sarah James

  16. .
    Shhhhhhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhhhhh,
    Listen now. Listen now to me,
    Shhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhh, listen,
    For ‘tis I who have the secret,
    For ‘tis I who have the key.

    Forget your anguish, hear my voice,
    Put all your trust in me.
    Simply chose to let it go.
    Seek, desire to be free.

    Come, come with me.
    I’ll show you wondrous things.
    And all the joy that ever was,
    Is what my secret brings.

    We must go fast.
    We must make haste.
    The moments right.
    No time to waste.

    Please concentrate, don’t hesitate.
    Trust me now and close your eyes.
    Squeeze them tight, now see the void,
    Its majesty, its size.

    I have the secret, I have the key,
    And its imperative you chose.
    Trust me intensely, give immensely,
    There’s nothing you can lose.

    All your worries, all your fears,
    will duly dissipate.
    You’ll know emancipation,
    Out- wit time and fate.

    I’ll immerse all your senses,
    The sweetest joys I’ll share,
    A feather floats on a sun kissed breeze.
    Your soul will skip on air.

    You’ll swallow all your pride.
    I’ll fill you full of mirth,
    But as darkness wanes you’ll be compelled to
    question me, my worth.

    But do not doubt, my ability
    to free you of your load,
    to wobble with you on a moon beams edge,
    tumble time, have self implode.

    I’ll unlock the doors of time for you,
    Infinite mysteries will be revealed.
    You’ll feel no fear, no trembling,
    Just trust, just be, just yield.

    Ride the breath of the cosmos.
    See shadows disappear.
    Surf the tides of the dark abyss.
    Know the power of your fear.

    All hate and pain, before eternity will crumble.
    You will know the immense totality of bliss.
    I promise you now. I swear dear.
    I promise all of this.

    I have the key.

  17. You walk away from the table, keys strewn every which way and put the kettle on to boil. A nice cup of tea will help. Turn the TV on and start to flip through the 126 stations. Go into the office, and turn on the computer. Sign in to AIM just to see if he’s on then sign off so he won’t know you were on if he signs in. You begin to surf the net and 40 minutes later you go into the kitchen to put more water in the kettle as there is none left. You raze on every edible thing you can find - two carrots, a hard boiled egg, some chips, three snack size bags of M & M’s, a hand full of cereal.
    Not looking at the table you walk back into the study and surf the net again. For the next 50 minutes you read bloglink from bloglink until you wonder to yourself how you ended up reading about some 14 year old girl in Pakistan who’s mad at her sister for taking her colored pencils. You walk in the kitchen. Turn off the stove. You find yourself listening to the television and realize you’re listening to the post game report of some college basketball team.
    Maybe some shopping or a Starbucks. Your cell phone rings but you decide not to answer it. On the fourth ring you think what if it’s him and go running to find where you left the damn phone and when you finally find it its too late but it wasn’t him anyway.
    Shoes, looking for shoes. Sigh, ok got the purse and out to the car. Keys …. Where the hell are the damn keys? You walk back inside, and sit down holding his key in your hand.

  18. 'Look, its a good book, a great book, you just don't need the bloody gimmick. It can stand on its own two feet.'

    Monty peered across his desk, at yet another deadbeat author, dreaming of his comfy chair back at his club.

    That chair had been in his family for eight generations. The old man had sat there for forty years, his old man forty years before that and he himself had already enjoyed the quality of the tooling for eighteen. He sighed.

    'Look, I can see the attraction of calling your book "JK Rowling" so that it appears on the cover...'

    Okie interrupted,

    ' big gold and red letters, like they have it on...'

    Monty rolled his eyes, and then retrieving them from the desk, put them into his snuff pocket.

    '...but, we just can't do it. God knows I'd love too, and your point about not being able to copyright a title is valid, but its the rest of it; I just can't see us getting away with it.'

    Okie jumps to his feet, gesticulating like only an author who is seeing his masterplan disappear can gesticulate.

    '...but Mr Monty...'.

    Monty stood too, jerking his shoulders so that the tweed of his jacket leveled along the nap.

    'But it isn't just that, is it? I don't think we can get away with calling your book JKR, but I am absolutely positive that changing your name will definitely not be enough to allow you to evade censure over the rest of it.'

    'But its my name, I used deed poll to change it and everything...'

    Monty shook his head.

    'Listen to me. We AREN'T publishing a book called


    and you WON'T have your name printed underneath as



  19. She hung the yellow key on a piece of red wool round my neck. If I did up all the buttons on my blue school cardigan no one would know. You’re a latchkey child, she said and laughed at me, trying to open the Yale lock for the first time. I got to like that key, the way it swung me into a familiar world at the end the day. I’d sit in the living room and watch TV in the dark, not daring to light the gas fire.

    The next key was silver, hanging between a tiny heart and a ballet shoe on my new charm bracelet. There was no lock for it to open.

    A set of keys came next: some large and friendly, others small and treacherous. I had to slip each key in just right, before the door was firmly shut. So I dropped the shop keys down the drain and went to college. I found that books were keys too. I wanted to unlock the universe.

    Keys came thick and fast after that. My landlady gave me three, for the front door, the bed sit and the bathroom. You can never be too careful, she said. Always lock the door behind you when you go to the lav. I still can’t go without holding a key in my hand.

    I’ve graduated now. A degree is the key to your future, they said. I spent a couple of years working my way round Europe, lifting every door mat, flower pot and boot scraper. Running my hand behind window boxes brimming with pink geraniums. None of them were right.

    Now he’s had a spare cut specially for me; but I still hesitate outside the door, my hand out stretched, wondering if I’ll ever find my own key.
    Hilary Jenkins

  20. The three letter word ‘key’ plays a predominant role in our day today lives. We live in a world
    Of lock and key system for the purpose of safety and security. Right from main door down to
    The department or the office ‘,you take special care to take the key to conduct examination on a special holiday’, you take a separate key.veshicles and machines all function with a lock an d key
    System. In our day to day lives we , to address either importance or to pull down a person ,we
    Say she is a key person. We had to lock up our house e when we were out of station for awhile
    All the keys put together would weigh nearly one kg, my son jocularly said. Some time back when
    On the roadside somebody was struggling from convulsion, there was a loud noise ‘give him the
    Bunch of keys’’ for keys with the iron content have a theruapti c value. we dare not look through a key hole though we look through a person’s heart. Without the key board now I won’t
    Be typing this to the Even in some criminal cases, to unravel the mystery they ask for
    A clue or a key word, or key figure involved in this matter etc. Recently we visited our ancestral
    Home in our village locked up for nearly fifteen years that we found the huge lock was rusted
    And so were the keys that we had to break open the house. Sometimes the keys are as smooth
    As your life, love life or the loved ones that you tend to turn on and off. A smooth key is
    As good as a correct password, which is the key word. Somebody in your heart locked up,
    a duplicate will.

  21. Promise?
    No,yes, yes - I promise, I do.

    Most days the key hangs from a chain around my neck. Cold against my skin, I can’t reach to touch it. Sometimes it is in the pocket of my dressing gown, thumping softly against my thigh as I walk from the kitchen sink to the bathroom sink, to the utility sink. A few times I have found it stuffed at the end of my slipper where it seems to try and turn in the tender place between nail and toe. Gritting my teeth, I shove it with my big toe into the far corner between leather and lining. Once – and I’m sorry for being crude and you probably won’t believe me - it was lodged up in my vagina, a heavy dragging where I’d known only death.

    I woke suddenly last night, a dream caught like sand in my hair, permeating my brain. A door had opened and I saw clearly the template of my soul-body imprinted on a vast desert. I was naked, stretching my arms up, my fingertips poking through the sky. I am sighing now, the taste of hot air still in my mouth. As my breathing slows, I remember my body that is lying in the bed. As my arm becomes my own, I notice the key that digs into the palm of my hand.

    His breathing is heavy and he doesn’t hear as I creep from the room. My bare feet move quickly along the corridor towards the heavy place of no-going, no-go, forbidden-to-go - yet where I’m going. Closer. Crossing creaking boards and wooden marks I’ve never touched before, I’m no longer walking but being pulled. My chest comes to rest against the door, my cheek scratching the grain - and it opens ever so slightly.

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  23. He left his key. The blue one that opens the front door. There it slides easily. Open. Closed. He left all his keys. In the top drawer of the desk. The one that opens with the tiny doll’s house looking key. A bunch of keys. Jailors keys. You know which one it is. The red one. You said you wouldn’t venture down that corridor. You said you would never open that door. You won’t. Will you? You work the red key loose from the bunch, snagging a finger nail on the metal ring that holds them. It sits in your palm. You won’t use it. You promised. But perhaps… You feel the weight of the red key in your palm. Heavy like a dead fish, its eye rusting in the centre. Perhaps he locked up his heart in that room. Perhaps you could set it free and then he would love you. Then you wouldn’t ache to lock away your own heart. The red key gets heavier in your palm. You feel your sweat mix with its metal and rust. There’s a red smear running into your life line. Perhaps you should open the door. Perhaps it’s what he wanted, telling you not to go there but knowing that you would. You walk down the corridor. It’s dark and there’s a smell of damp and something else, something metallic, like rust. The key in your hand is heavier with every step. The smear of red on your palm thickens, a damp stain that smells like the corridor – the tang of iron and salt. You hesitate. You promised. You won’t. Will you? You slide the key into the lock. It drips fat globules of red that stain the door, run down your arm. You turn it slowly and open the door…

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  26. Beside the front door is one of those little wooden racks with hooks on. Barbara had bought it for his birthday one year because he was always losing his keys. He drove her mad looking for his car and house keys almost every day. He would drop them down when he got home. There was no rhyme or reason as to where, he would just put them down somewhere as soon he became distracted by Barbara or the kids.

    Peter considers himself to be a meticulous and organised person most of the time. His office life as a bookkeeper is dominated by monotonous routines. He and Barbara don’t really have much of a social life so he stays at home building intricate model train layouts in the attic after he has helped put the kids to bed. He doesn’t really understand why he is so disorganised with keys, but the key rack is helping. Barbara doesn’t need to use it, of course, because she has a handbag.

    There is a hook for his car key, another for his house keys. A third holds a key ring filled with all those odd keys you collect in life. Suitcase and briefcase keys, the security key for the little safe upstairs, keys for internal doors which are never locked. So many keys that he can’t even remember what most of them are. Finally there is a hook for the office keys. He often has to lock up in the evening and he is an emergency key holder. He feels proud to that his boss George has trusted him with that responsibility. This key ring holds a number of keys…keys for shutters, doors and burglar alarm. Amongst them rattles another shiny silver key.

    The key to George’s flat. The key to Peter’s other life.

  27. Two hundred and seventy six months. Eight thousand, three hundred and ninety five days. Three hundred and forty nine thousand, seven hundred and ninety two hours. Ripped to shreds in the blink of an eye.

    Twenty three years of tightly balled, carefully hidden memories -experiences of outright misery and suffering - unlocked as automatically as drawing breath. A chance reunion in the most unlikely of locations; instantly casting heavy, burdonsome shadows upon Andy's newly shredded psyche.

    A brief, telling flicker inside opposing eyes betrayed an equally instant recognition, reciprocating avalanching images of a past both would rather leave forgotten. The tormentor was free once more, bringing forth as sequel the raw, point blank emotions of which Andy would openly admit to constituting the singularly, most destructive element of his adolesence. Gary shifted uncomfortably in the chair, an equally unwilling participant within the forced cirmcumstances co joining their regrettable past.

    "This is my husband..." Helen's words faded, departing Andy's conscious line of thought like swirling water surrenders, vaccumed through a hungry plughole. Even through the shock, he recognised within himself crimson, outright surprise. After all, the unravelling of a compartmentalised mind should never happen inside the sanctuary of the afflicted party's home.

    "Pleased to meet you..." Gary stood, soberly offering his hand. Andy begrudgingly clasped it, fighting his urge to convulse at the merest brush of his skin. "I bet you are..." His teeth clenched through taut cheeks; he was falling, overcome by the symphony of destruction representing his solid base of rational stability.

    "Gary is here from the kitchen design company; remember? We spoke about it a couple of weeks ago..." Helen's discomfited words of hesitant brokerage failed to cut through the edible tension.

    "He's a fucking bully..." Andy muttered instinctively, and the world began to swim. "He's a fucking bully..."

  28. We played with them. Ash keys, tiny winged fruit that floated to the ground in Autumn, fairy aeroplanes, made to fly by flicking them. We gathered them, spent hours with them, nothing to pay. We made bows with the pliant ash stems the wind severed for us; played Robin Hood.

    Only as I tug at the ash saplings seeding at random in the borders, the lawn, do I think momentarily of their keys; consider that I am cutting their youth short, while I am left to mature into old age.

    No time to play now, only to worry about losing my door key, locking myself out. Should I hide a spare one? Where? But supposing someone finds it, ransacks my home? So I leave one with a neighbour, but just when I need it she is away. I think desperately of breaking a window, when at the eleventh hour, a final rummage in a handbag and the key reveals itself.

    Such keys are a menace. There is bound to be an occasion when I lock the car, neatly parked by the side of the curb, and the key slips from my hand into a drain.

    I find some solace from such wild imaginings, through song. Although I have never been able to sing in key. Listening to me happily singing my favourite song, my mother’s musical ear could stand no more. ‘You’re singing out of key, it’s dreadful, can’t you hear it?’ Of course I can’t, I don’t really know what she means. I’m not so bad if someone plays a note on the piano, but without that guidance, my voice sets off again mindlessly winding its way through a range of keys, whatever they are. I can hardly attach myself permanently to a piano and a pianist, can I?

  29. I can feel its cold zigzags in my pocket, tiny teeth biting into my fingers. I need to be sure about this. Handing a front door key over has so many implications, you know how significant keys are.

    I mean, if Rapunzel had the key to her tower, there would have been no need for the prince to rescue her. No need for him to slither up her silky tresses and into her heaving bosom. And I often wonder, if she’d been a twenty-first century girl, what then? What if her hair was layered with auburn streaks and hairspray, poker straightened with GHDs? How would the prince have rescued her then? She would have been trapped in that tower, all because she had a great haircut but no key.

    And if the Three Bears had remembered to lock their door. Would Goldilocks have wandered off with her rumbly tummy, leaving chairs, porridge and beds intact? Or would she have been prepared, pulled out a bunch of keys and tried them in the lock? One too big, one too small, this one just right.

    And what if Snow White had followed the dwarves advice, had locked the door and not opened it to strangers, where would the fairytale have gone then? Would the wicked step-mother have climbed down the chimney or ambushed Snow White on her way to the washing line? Or would she have found a different mirror and lived happily ever after?

    And my own fairytale? The one where I searched for my prince? Well the first was too selfish, the second too unfaithful. And you, the third, will you be just right? Will you be the magic number three and restore my faith in fairytales, or will you ride off into the sunset with the witch next door?

  30. I’d say I’m a serious person, you would too. A cold-heart unlikely to laugh at things usually labelled as humour. But that old one makes me giggle. The one where the nosey put his eye to the door and comes away with a black keyhole shape inked to his face. Somewhere between a practical joke and a forensic tracking device.

    It gets me thinking of leaving ink in other places. Of wanting to leave black guilt marks on other faces. I picture myself creeping through the night, perhaps tonight, with a brush and a jam jar daubing darkness here, there and everywhere.

    Think of it - the thrill of knowing the secrets of the people you meet. You’d look at their faces and you’d know. Where they had been, what they had looked at, what they had seen.

    Like the boy who looked down as he sat on a bench on a glass bottom boat, hoping for fishes but left with an infinity sign, a scary sideways eight looped round both eyes. Frames without lenses see further in the dark.

    Like the girl at the lip of the volcano - the place where daring meets dormant. Take your pick as to which is which. From lips over nose between eyes, still she smiles as she wears an ever upwards arrow that ruffles her hair when the wind blows.

    The old man who looked into the future through the telescope from the attic. Home alone, with a broken mirror, not knowing why the postman jumps at the skull and crossbones patched over one eye.

    And then there’s you, with that question mark tattoo, the tiny one in the corner of your eye, the one we only notice when we blink. The one you never had until you looked into my eyes.


  31. I turn the key in the lock. It makes a satisfying ker-lunk as the bolt is shot. Lift, turn, ker-lunk – locked. Check it’s locked. Wiggle the handle up and down.

    Is it locked, is it locked, is it locked?

    Yes, you know you locked it. You checked it. It’s locked.

    One, two, three, four, five, six, seven …

    Did I turn the light off? Did I check the gas? I don’t know. Come on, come on! You have to leave now or you’ll be late.

    Yes – but did I turn the gas off. Yes, you did – what’s the worst thing that could happen? Well, the house could blow up! But if I go back in to check – then I’ll have to check all the locks again – and the windows. What’s the worst thing that could happen? The house could be burgled.

    Is it locked? Even if it is locked – a really determined burglar could get in. Yes, but there’s no point making it easy for them.

    Look, you’re just being silly now. It’s locked – and you’ve checked it. Just go. Try and make it to the car.

    I’ve made it to the car. Just put my bags in, take my coat off … I can always go back and check the door one more time. Yes, I think I will. Double-checking is no bad thing. You can’t be too careful.

    OK. I’ll just open it and then lock it again. Shall I? But then I’ll remember opening it and I’ll think I left it open …

    Right this is me locking it. This is me checking it. It’s locked, it’s locked, it’s locked …

    One – two – three – four – five – six – seven – eight …

    Damn it – I have to go now, now, now or I’ll be late! It is locked …

  32. I shuffle to the front of the hall, conscious of a shortness of breath, palpitations, fear almost blinding me. A reject from the norm, ridiculed, often shunned.

    ‘Hi,’ I mutter in a quivering voice. I sound as though I am about to lose control, maybe burst into tears, even worse pee my pants.

    ‘I’m Maybeline,’ I stutter. ‘And I’m a Key Lime Pie-aholic.’ There that feels better. ‘This is my Bible,’ I say holding out a well-thumbed copy of ‘Key Lime Heaven Cookbook.’ You may look but not touch.’

    The response is terrific. The moon-faced guzzlers gazing at me through piggy eyes, their thighs flapping over the sides of their seats, their potbellies wobbling with the effort, clap as though I’ve won a Bafta. I feel I’ve come home, I’m with my own kind, I’m elated.

    ‘Welcome to the gang,’ they cheer. ‘We love you, Maybeline.’ And at this moment I love them too. I love them very much.

    I join them as they begin to mingle and soon we are sharing our passions as we munch the complimentary pie. Sally is wild over the tanginess of Key limes preferring them to the more common Persian ones, the feel of the juice stinging her tongue, the creaminess of the condensed milk. Billy drools over the idea of drizzling melted chocolate over the mixture buried in the pastry case, the sensation of it sliding down his throat like honey, the smell of childhood treats. Mary-Lou plumps for a crusty meringue topping which she can crunch into oblivion, reminding her of the desire she had to chew coal when pregnant.

    But we’re all Key Lime Pie-aholics I remark digging into a second pie? What’s to be done? Surely we need to take some positive action?

    ‘Nothing,’ they say. ‘We love each other.’

  33. He gained the keys to the city, a free man at the age of eighty-three. There wasn’t much he didn’t know about the architecture of old buildings and he often told us stories of how the city looked before the war. The old sepia photographs he collected over the years appeared occasionally in the Gazette under the local history section. He’d take pleasure in showing them to us, then he’d suddenly launch into some heated diatribe about the ill-conceived plans of corrupt men. Men who had used the bombing as an excuse to flatten whole rows of old housing on the pretext of providing for the needs of a post-war generation. I’ve seen him cry as explained that the war damage wasn’t as bad as they made out and how so much history had been lost for ever.

    I saw too, how, with fire in his belly, in the early days, he fought his own private war with the city council, his only concern being to ensure the preservation of those buildings left standing. He gained a few enemies but as attitudes changed he also gained a deep respect for his detailed knowledge and exacting standard of work.

    He had a special interest in ancient churches although he wasn’t a particularly religious man himself. In casual conversation he would drop in whole history lessons about them, far more fascinating than anything you might have heard in a classroom. I tried to persuade him to write it all down so his knowledge wouldn’t be lost, but he preferred not to for some reason.

    His legacy is all around in the city streets but gradually, ill-proportioned, over-sized shopping centres are also beginning to appear. I’m not sure he’d want the keys to the city any more were he alive to see it.

  34. I still have the key to my parent’s house. I’ve never used it – there’s no need to lock the flimsy, steel front door when the back door is nothing more than a filthy old corn sack slung across a pole. The key I have is probably the only one there is. My father gave it to me in an awkward moment right before I left for my new life at the age of sixteen. I held it warily, wondering what to say, but he had already turned away to resume his place on the dusty old car seat in front of the house.

    I came across the key lying in the bottom of a Japanese vase today, together with the usual fluff and souvenirs that gather over time – a packet of Rizzlas, an old membership card to a night club that closed down three years ago, some loose change, half an ecstasy tablet, a fluorescent pink Save-the-Dolphin wrist band, a bank card I thought I’d lost on a business trip to New York. I wonder what my father would make of me now.

    Of course he sees a carefully edited version whenever I travel home for a wedding or funeral. I wear my most faded jeans and oldest shirts but even then everybody clusters around exclaiming how I look like a prince. I give them details of my life, leaving out Roberto, the Maltese poodles and the Mercedes coupe. They worry that I do not have a wife, but they are proud of me. I smile and play the down-to-earth, dutiful son. In truth I cannot wait to escape the rough, concrete floors and smoky-tasting porridge and get back home.

    I still have the key to my parent’s house even though I left it many years ago.

  35. I locked up this heart to protect it and I patted myself on the back because a heart needs to be protected. Because a heart is vulnerable to heartache. Because a heart is necessary to live. Because the pain is unbearable.

    I congratulate myself because it doesn’t ache like it used to. In fact, it hardly feels anything at all.

    I learned to breathe slowly and deeply to control the pounding of my heart and I patted myself on the back because a heart needs to be controlled. Because a heart needs to slow down. Because a heart needs to beat more regularly. Because you aren’t controlled by a heart if a heart is controlled.

    I congratulate myself because it doesn’t pound like it used to. In fact, it hardly beats at all.

    I built walls around my heart and I patted myself on the back because these walls keep you out. Because my heart is made of glass and you have clumsy hands. Because everyone has clumsy hands. Because I throw things around.

    I congratulate myself because the glass is still intact. In fact, I think it’s turned to stone.

    I learned to pretend to love and I patted myself on the back because you are fooled, probably too easily. Because you forgot to lock up your heart. Because you are more easily manipulated this way. Because you tend to drop things with those clumsy hands of yours and I can catch your heart and be your hero because I don’t have a heart to worry about dropping. Because it hardly feels anything. Because it hardly beats at all. Because it’s made of stone.

    I congratulate myself because I am strong and I will always come out on top. In fact, I stand here proudly, alone at the top.

  36. Key. Key.


    Kiki and Herb.

    I once paid over $300 dollars to see them not die at Carnegie Hall. And then I had to come to London (back when I had a job that *made* me commute between the Big Apple and Smoke) and miss the show.

    Now, hang on, just you wait a minute. Nobody that’s reading this has any idea what that means …

    Erm, excuse me! I love …. el oh you vee … love Kiki and Herb. And what are you on about? Thinking you’re so avant garde, above-the-rest, high-fallutin’ (that’s not even a word, is it?) post-modern drag-queen-adjacent-hyper-hyphenating whatever it is you think you are?


    And so you should be. Trying to write about anti-pop-culture like your the Aunt of pop culture, not to mention including a three-person dialogue (try-a-logue?!?) in the process.

    I totally didn’t mean to go here. What would Kiki do?

    She’d have a shot of whiskey, that’s what she’d do.

    And Herb?

    No thanks, I haven’t touched the stuff in years.

    But like my mama says, “Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em.”

    Are you sure?

    Well, just the one … for old time’s sake.

    Me too. To unlock the memories.

    You had to get “lock” in there, didn’t you?

    What do you mean?

    Oh you’re so transparent … getting “lock” into the mix because of all the “key” imagery you’re supposed to be thinking about.

    At least I didn’t go with the “once upon a time there was a lovely maiden named Thekita, and she married the Prince of Happiness” story.

    And then what happened?

    Oh please, she had an overprotected baby and he grew up thinking his mom was Thekita Happiness.

    And you spent how long working up to that?

  37. After all that fiction real life intrudes. It’s stuck, blocked, jammed. The doors we were banging our heads against turned out to be brick walls after all, and the chain an impediment, not a security.

    And the promises. Turn it this way, that, be patient, these things take time, it will give eventually.

    So everybody applied a little pressure, not too much, we didn’t want it to break down completely, and it seemed to be easing, giving way a little.

    There was movement, just enough to keep us hoping and of course, waiting. As if it was all part of the plan. Trap them, lock them in, give them nowhere to go and no way out, but always the prospect of future disentanglement. It just needs oil and that will be here tomorrow.

    Always these stories. It needs a little adjustment. It needs to be taken apart and put back together. Two or three days, that’s all. Only a fortnight, a slight delay, nothing. We need to send away for a new part but it will arrive on Friday, by courier, no Monday. Sorry it’s being posted, somewhere abroad, and we’re not sure where it is but it will come back, sometime. That’s all we’re waiting for.

    And then the silences, when no one told us anything. Not even the professionals who were supposed to be helping us.

    Those days we survived, sometimes active and purposeful, sometimes despairing and despondent, but always with an ember of hope.

    Finally we were told it had arrived, this missing link that would allow the levers to lift and thus release the catch. We thought we’d endured and were now within a few hours of achieving separation.

    But of course, it didn’t unlock anything. Someone’s gone on holiday and it’s sitting on his desk.

  38. Some people collect stamps. I collect keys. I came across my collection the other day, in the bottom drawer of my desk. Each key holds a memory; each key opens the door to a room in my past. Here it is --the White Cliffs Hotel, where we honeymooned. I remember the bridal bouquet, looking so bright and yet oddly fragile as we placed it on the shingle of Dover Beach, round smooth stones against pale yellow roses, strength and beauty, symbol of our love and commitment. We took a quick dip--the water was bracing.

    At some point the hotel morphed into the Churchill, and here is the key, when we took our children there and stayed in the very same room--a bit cramped now, with the five of us, and the laundry hanging on the balcony railings, where once I’d sat in my wedding finery. We went down to the beach and braved the cold water, feeling the undertow suck at our legs.

    Now there's the best key of the collection, very old and a little rusty, wrapped in blue velvet. This one needs a confession of sorts. It's the key to the church in which we were married, a little village church, with a Saxon door, sturdy flint walls and Roman ruins in the crypt. On a visit there, years later, we’d called in at the village post office to borrow the key because the church was shut up tight when there wasn't a service. It was such a lovely key and it unlocked a whole host of memories when we opened the door, as if they were all waiting there for us, waiting to celebrate all over again. So here’s a toast to keys, to the doors they open and to the possibilities they hold.

  39. “What does it do?”

    You take the key and hold it in your hands. It’s old. There is rust on the curve at the top and you can see flakes of red at the sharp teeth.

    “It’s magic.” Karen says. “It opens doors. Grandmother said she found it in the attic.” She shrugs. “You can keep it. I don’t have any use for it.”

    You thank her, clutching your key in your hands as you leave. The key’s made from a thick metal and feels heavy in your hands.

    Crossing the street to your car, you see an alley way you never noticed before. You stare at it and the buildings to either side wondering if you are seeing things.

    You leave your car and walk towards the alley. There is ivy growing up the walls, the leaves clutching to the brick; you duck under the ivy and go further down the alley but you are not afraid.

    Coming to the end of the alley, you find yourself standing in front of an old door. It looks as if it’s made from the same metal as the key and open your hand so that you can stare at the key in your palm.

    The key is emitting a soft glow, a subtle pulse that comes from inside the metal of the door. Stretching your hand forward, it looks as if someone else’s hand is reaching towards the door.

    The key fits soundly into the lock and turns itself with a click. A gasp escapes your lips as you watch. The door opens and you can hear music; it sounds like flutes or maybe a harp. There is a mist in front of you, white and smelling of lavender.

    You think about it for a moment before stepping into the mist.

    Jamieson Wolf

  40. Damn it Sponge Bob where are you?. Why every time I am in a rush do you
    hide?. Is it a twisted game?. Do you relish my shrieks of move it we’re
    late and then laugh in your cold plastic heart. I can see you in my mind’s
    eye that little four-sided yellow figure with bulging beady eyes, legs bent
    and arms braced in a sprint from some salty foe I have never heard of. I
    see you clutching my lifeline, holding the keys to my house, my car, my
    future. A hundred curses flash through my mind, imagined smells of twisted
    melted plastic, retribution for an imagined transgression. Keep me late
    again little man and I’ll teach you.

    It began innocently enough, Christmas with friends. A table reflecting the
    best that season can offer. A verdant table cloth, crimson platters,
    shimmering candles and for the sake of whimsy, comical crackers, to amuse
    and charm. What harm could it do?. What naïve fools we were. The
    crackers were pulled with seasonal abandon and unwitnessed by those at the
    table a prize fell to the floor unnoticed and unwanted, where it lay
    gathering the dust and I have come to realise plotting revenge.

    What seemed like a serendipitous moment was I have come to realise, a step
    in the machinations of my plastic foe. On the day that I had a new key, a
    glimpse of silver caught my eye, a sliver of silver under a dresser. How
    perfect a new key ring for my key. How you must have laughed at the
    months of furniture tossing and heated discussion on who had Sponge Bob
    last. I…..

    Wait I see you!. I don’t believe it, there in the bottom of my bag. You
    have won this round tomorrow we play again.

  41. A bendy pink keyring shaped like a number one. And the words inscribed in gold that shot to her heart like little stars each time she read them: ‘You’re Number One With Us’. It was a present for her tenth birthday. “It’s from me and Daddy.” She could tell when her Mum was lying, her eyelids would drop down like half-shut blinds trying to block out the light. She doubted her Dad even remembered it was her birthday. Either that or his card had got lost in the post again.

    She had started collecting keyrings when she was seven. She spent most of her pocket money on them. The last time she counted she had over three hundred. Each one a different shape: a boot, a tennis racket, a hamburger, a clown, a kangaroo. She loved spreading them all out over her bedroom carpet. A miniature universe attached to tiny metal rings. Over three hundred keyrings but only one key. She had found the key on the pavement on her way home from school one day. When she got home she attached the key to the bendy pink keyring, which she kept under her pillow separate from the rest of the collection.

    Each night before she went to sleep she would take out the keyring and cradle it in her palms like a newborn chick. “Your Number One With Us.” She whispered the words over and over like a mantra, feeling their vibration throughout her body. Then trancelike she would trace the key’s cold metallic contours with her finger, etching its outline onto her soul. She knew that one day she would discover what the key was for. But for now she was content in the knowledge that somewhere out there was something she alone had the power to unlock.

    Sarah C

  42. It has been said that a man’s (and therefore a woman’s) life is exemplified by the number of keys they own. The fewer the number of keys, the simpler and less complicated the life.

    As far as I can tell, this is true. The fewer keys I own, the less responsibility I have. Once I had keys to the office, keys to my house and garage, my car, my motorbike. I had keys to the scout hut where I taught dancing, the key to my neighbour’s house to feed her cats when she was away and the spare key to my partner’s car in case he locked his in the boot.

    I left my job. I got divorced. I sold the motorbike. The car blew up. I sold the house and downsized. I got evicted. With the divorce came the expulsion from the dance troupe, the move precluded feeding the neighbour’s cats and your ex took his car key back.

    No keys.

    No keys at all leaves you at the bottom of society. The homeless, the beggars, the pure in heart. No-one wants to be amongst those, not by choice, anyway. I bided my time and moved in with another partner. One key, I was granted; the one for the back door. It was enough. Life became more complex for a while as I gained another car, but a few years down the line and that too is gone. We moved house and expanded but on the hook next to the front door is a key ring with a soft-toy zebra hanging off it. Attached to the zebra is a single Yale key to the door of the house (front door this time) and a kubotan stick. Did I mention I study martial arts? It’s wonderful for de-complicating your life.


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