Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Key (My First Short Story)

This is my little sister. :)
She doesn't match the description of the
girl in the story but - Oh well. ;)
    While I was cleaning I had the thought of a man trying to buy something and a young woman refusing because she said it was her heart. This short story is a result of that random thought.

(I'd like to say thank you to Elizabeth and Jonathan for giving me helpful advice while I was editing.)

The Key



   Nathan leaned back and ran a hand through his hair. Now what was he supposed to do?

   The lights were still on so he peered through the glass. Maybe someone was still there. He pulled the door handle and to his relief it swung open easily. A small bell tinkled above him and he shut the door behind him. The shop seemed empty though an old record player in the corner rattled out Christmas carols and the whole place smelled like cookies.
   How quaint.
   As he stomped the snow from his boots, his gaze wandered over the odd assortment of antiques that filled the room in an organized chaos. Surely he'd be able to find the perfect gift here.

   Sarah liked antiques and said they all had a story - him, he just saw the price tag on someone's old junk. Still, he knew she'd give him that look if he presented her with some fancy necklace or new dress.
   'Christmas is time to share gifts from the heart, Nathan.' He could almost hear her saying that. This was their first Christmas together; he had to get it right.


   He stepped from the doorway and began to look around. A vase caught his eye and he strode over to it. Its smooth surface was a pale blue with flecks of darker blue scattered over it. A small brown bird was on one side with its beak wide open as if singing. This was perfect!

   He sighed with relief. This wouldn't be as hard as he had thought. Lifting it carefully with one hand, he examined it closer. Oh great, it had a chip on the lip. With an irritated sigh he put it back down and started looking around for something else. If he was going to get her some odd piece it shouldn't be broken; he had to draw the line somewhere.

   Nathan made his way around an old bookcase, stopping briefly to pick up anything that caught his attention. Still nothing looked right.

   Then he saw it.

   Sitting on a small table on a large piece of white flannel was a glass manger scene. He touched a fragile lamb with one finger and smiled. They didn't have a manger scene at home; Sarah would be delighted. He picked up the tiny baby Jesus, no longer than the first digit of his thumb, and laid it in his palm.

   His eyes strayed to Joseph who stood almost protectively by Mary's side. Just like him with Sarah. Nathan smiled. Their son was going to be born in a few months; he would make a good father.

   A sudden movement by his feet made him jump backwards. He looked down and saw a small girl peeking up at him from under the table with a doll under her arm.

   He stopped, his eyes drawn to the key hanging around her neck on a delicate chain. He'd seen that key before. It looked just like his mother's key. When he was younger she always wore it around her neck; he had almost forgotten about it. It was so simple. So pretty. That would be a gift from his heart.

   He put the baby Jesus back and crouched down to look into the girl's dark eyes. She sat up on her knees and held out a plate that held two cookies, one of which had a bite out of it. “Do you want one? My mommy made them!” She grinned, revealing one of her front teeth missing.

   He gave her an awkward smile and shook his head. “No thank you.”

   She settled back and took a large bite of the previously whole cookie. Crumbs tumbled down her striped sweater and she said around the mouthful, “My name is Jessa, I'm six. What's your name?”

   “Umm, I'm Nathan.”

   “Hello Mr. Nathan.” She swiped a curly blond strand of hair from her eyes.

   He shifted, already getting uncomfortable in this position. How did one go about buying from a child?

   “Jessa, uh, may I see your necklace?”

   “Okay.” Her small hands reached up behind her neck and she fumbled with the clasp. A moment later she handed it to him.

   There it was. His mother's key. He felt a wave of nostalgia and he blinked back the wet film that suddenly threatened his eyes. No need to scare the child.

   “I would like to buy this from you.” He held up the key, letting it dangle and turn. “Maybe you could get a nice little present for your mommy.”

   “Oh no, Mr. Nathan, it's not for sale.” She crawled out from under the table and stood. With a slight wince he did too. Pointing out a display case that held some jewelry, she continued. “Those ones are nice. Gran'ma says I can't play with them.”

   She reached out and pulled on the chain. He let go reluctantly, leery of making her upset. She fastened it back on.

   “But I'd like this necklace. How about forty dollars?” More than it was probably worth, but now that he had found the perfect gift he didn't want to lose it.

   She shook her head. “It's not mine. It belongs to my father.”

   Ah, so this had been a gift. No wonder she didn't want to sell it.

   A sudden thought came to him.“What if I get one of those necklaces in the case and trade with you?”

  Her eyes lit up. Yes, he had figured it out! She was too young to appreciate money, but a trade she could understand.

   To his disappointment she pursed her lips and shook her head. “You can't buy this key. Nobody can.”

   He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. What now?

   “So the key belongs to your father?”


   Nathan looked around, wondering again where the shopkeeper was. “Where is he?”

   She raised a hand and pointed an index finger upward, then turned back to crawl under the table to retrieve her doll.

   Nathan soon found the stairs and climbed them. He would speak to the man. Surely they could come up with a reasonable price.

   The hallway at the top of the stairs was dark but light shone out from under the first door.

   He knocked and stepped back, preparing what to say.

   A petite elderly woman opened the door. She blinked at him but didn't seem startled to see a stranger standing there. “Yes?”

   “I, uh, is Jessa's father here?”

   The woman turned and waved him into the room. “He isn't back from work yet. If you'd like, you may sit here and wait.”

   The cozy room was pretty bare. A warm fire glowed in a fireplace and two chairs were drawn up beside it. Near the window was a table covered with crayons and sheets of paper and three straight backed chairs surrounded it.

   Nathan frowned. The girl had said her father was up here. She must have just been mistaken, but he didn't have time to wait around.

   Sitting down in the chair she offered him, he decided to go straight to the point. “I'd like to buy that key your granddaughter wears.”

   She lowered herself into the rocking chair opposite him. “I'm sorry. It's not for sale.”

   “I'm willing to pay forty dollars for it.” He said quickly.

   “Young man, that key belongs to Jessa and it won't be sold for any price.”

   He sighed. Maybe it was a family heirloom? Maybe he should give up and buy the manger scene instead. Sarah would still like it and it would make a nice gift. But before he did he had a question.

   “What makes the key so special?” he asked.

   She smiled at him and began to rock. “Why don't you ask her?

   He turned his head and saw Jessa standing in the doorway. It wouldn't hurt to ask one more time. “Why won't you sell me that key?”

   “Because it's the key to my heart.” The little girl, half a cookie in hand, walked over and crawled into her grandmother's lap.”

   “The key to your heart?” He furrowed his eyebrows. What was that supposed to mean?

   Jessa nodded, then said in a sing-song voice,

   “This is the key to my heart,
   My Father holds it for me.
   Someday when the right man comes
   He'll ask to marry me.

   This is the key to my heart.
   It can not be stolen or bought.
   For my heart is held up in Heaven,
   And I'll keep it safe as I ought.”

   She finished the rhyme and grinned as if pleased with herself. “ Gran'ma says my key sym- symb -” She furrowed her brow and looked at her grandmother.

   “What was that word again?”

   “Symbolizes.” The lady began to rock the chair again.

   Jessa grinned. “Yeah, my key simblizes that Father God can help me keep my heart safe until I get married.” She cocked her head at him. “Are you married Mr. Nathan?”

   He swallowed. “Umm, no.”

   “Then who did you want my necklace for?”

   Nathan winced. The naïve child, a stray strand of blond hair falling over her eyes, caught him in her curious gaze. How was he supposed to answer that? “For- for Sarah.”

   “Who's Sarah?”

   The lady gently lifted Jessa from her lap, saving him from answering. “Run downstairs and get Mr. Nathan a cookie would you?”

   “But he said he didn't want one.”

   The lady laughed. “Then I'll eat it for him. Now run along, and bring up the tea kettle too, would you?”

   As the child disappeared out the door, Nathan stiffened, expecting the woman to start asking questions but she only picked up needles and a skein of yarn sitting beside her chair and started knitting.

   His thoughts began to wander. Sarah had given him her heart. He'd never loved someone as much as he did her. He'd only known her a year but it seemed forever.

   A line from child's rhyme flitted through his memory.

   'Someday when the right man comes
   He'll ask to marry me.'

   He meant to marry Sarah, he really did – soon. After they settled in a bit more. Her parents didn't approve and his, well his were both gone. What mattered was that they were happy, right?

   He leaned back in the chair and let out a low sigh. God wouldn't approve. He'd always said he would be different from his dad. He didn't curse except on occasion, he went to church, he provided for Sarah. Their child was due in the spring and he knew he would not leave like his father had. But there was one thing he had done just like his father.

   He stood and paced to the small window and looked out over the snow covered buildings. Colored lights blinked and it had begun to snow harder. His stomach clenched and he leaned his forehead against the pane.

   God? I'm sorry for all this. . . I didn't mean- I shouldn't have. He closed his eyes. Please help me make this right.

   Ask her.

   The voice made a shiver run down his spine. A gentle peace made him relax.

   Yes, Lord.

   He turned back to the the old woman and found her watching him with a slight smile on her face, almost as if she knew.

   He took a deep breath and let it out. He knew the perfect gift to give to Sarah. It would be from his heart.

   “I've changed my mind. . . I'd like to buy a ring. Two of them.”

Copyright © 2012 Ophelia M. Flowers

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