Stuart turned his beat Cutlass off King St and onto the dirt driveway to his tiny, square tower house up on the hill. He parked and opened the car door slowly, ever hopeful that he could ease it noiselessly past the point where it creaks once, and loudly, like one nerve-jangling dog bark. It barked anyway and he cringed as always. He got out of the car as if reluctantly, then reached back in and pulled out his lunch box. He turned and paused, leaned back some to take in all three stories of his house, shook his head.
Just two years ago when he was building the house, he had been so enthused with it, had made it plain on purpose, not only because he had little money after his divorce, but because a tower should be plain. He’d used his employee discount at Ray’s Lumber and Supply for most of the building materials and he’d bought everything else at auctions. One particularly fruitful haul consisted of thirty-four used warehouse windows, narrow, rectangular ones, and he’d installed them uniformly on all sides. Now the place looked ridiculous to him, like a skinny bird house with gun slits.
He had once prided himself on his design for the interior of the house, on the openness, the open, zig-zagging stairs and the landings onto balconies with only folding fabric screens and rough, sturdy beams to create spaces instead of rooms. The only enclosed room was a bathroom barely big enough to fit within it a bathtub, toilet and sink. He’d thought the design the most innovative thing he’d ever done, and the property a boon, just far enough from town in a country setting where he could enjoy a measure of peace. Now he considered the whole project only another of his many follies.
Stuart shook his head again, shut the car door, and cringed when it barked. He walked slowly up the sad, overgrown path to his plain front door. He turned his key in the lock, stepped inside and set his lunch box against the wall, under the coat hooks. He let his jacket slide off his shoulders and hung it and his keys on their usual hooks. He paused again in thought, his empty eyes cast down. The morning’s court custody battle had culminated three years of war with a decree against him. His house, his actions, everything about him was deemed unfit. Sole custody of Ellie, now seven, had been awarded to his ex-wife. And his afternoon’s work at Ray’s had been as dreary and devoid of fulfillment as ever.
He looked around him as if befuddled, noticed his lunch box on the floor, and bent mechanically to pick it up. He shambled into the kitchen area, poured a can of split pea soup into a pot and let it heat while he dumped the empty wrappers from his lunch box and ran a dish rag around the inside of it to clean it up some. Then he poured the pea soup into a giant-sized mug, stuck a spoon in it, and climbed the stairs to his office area on the third floor. He sat down at his desk, sipped his soup and stared out one of the gun slits at a long stretch of road at the foot of his hill, Sterling Road it was, that cut through miles of fields of corn and soybeans and wheat and oats. A lone power-walker strutted purposefully along Sterling toward King, her arms pumping like a cartoon soldier, her shiny ponytail bouncing. Stuart’s eyes brightened as the light of an idea began to spread out into a plan.
He pulled open the bottom right desk drawer and took care in lifting out a painted tin box full of old keys he’d collected since he was a boy. Ellie had loved to play with them until she’d swallowed one when he wasn’t looking and he’d had to hide them away. There were larger keys to old closets and cabinets and desks belonging to an untold number of people, good and bad people, people who worked hard or not at all, and all of them now dead and gone. And there were smaller keys, keys that he fancied had once belonged to lovely women and pretty little girls to keep their precious jewels and innermost thoughts safe in boxes and diaries. Stuart imagined these sweet, secret keys worn on delicate gold chains around pale necks, close to bosoms where no decent man would dare venture uninvited.
He plunged both hands into the box of keys, felt their cool shapes slide between his fingers. Then, like scooping water, he lifted the keys up out of the box a little way and he watched, eyes aglow, as he let the keys cascade back in. He smiled barely, wistfully, as he listened to the keys clink and slide and tap into each other and against the sides of the tin box. He picked out one of the larger keys, set it on the ink blotter and returned the tin box to the bottom drawer.
He opened the next drawer up, pulled out a small cardboard box with “Ellie” scrawled on the top of it in awkward pencil marks, and he set it down in front of him. He opened the box and pushed one finger around inside it, through a shimmering mixture of rhinestones and plastic pearls and colored beads, until his eyes glazed over. Then, as if an alarm had gone off in his head, he blinked and plucked out six medium-sized rhinestones, two blue ones for him, two red ones for his future wife, and two gold ones for his future child. He set them aside, dug through another drawer, and pulled out a bottle of super glue and a pair of tweezers. He put three dots of glue around the bow of the key, and with the tweezers, he placed one set of blue, red, and gold gems on the dots like a jeweler working on the microscopic gears of a tiny, ladies’ watch. When he was sure the glue had set, he did the same on the other side of the key bow.
He sat back in his chair and grinned, genuinely pleased with his handiwork. Later, when he went on his run just before dark, he’d place the jeweled key on the shoulder of Sterling Road where the corn and wheat fields were divided by a tree line. The next day, he’d wake just before sunrise, don his running gear and sit at his desk in front of the gun slit, watching with his binoculars to see if anyone would pick up the jeweled key. If a woman noticed the key, stopped to pick it up, looked at it and tossed it back to the ground or just stuffed it in her pocket callously, or if a man picked it up, he’d pay no mind.
But if a woman stopped to pick up the key with an air of mystery and excitement and she examined it with wonder, turned it over in her fingers, and even though she could see the jewels were fake, she seemed still to covet the key, perhaps as a child’s lovely creation, then he would run out of the house in whatever direction it took to meet her head-on to effect a chance encounter. And he planned to do this every day for as long as it took to find a woman who would equally covet him and the child she’d bear for him so that she could never part with either of them.
On good recommendation from one sweet key, Paschal, here is Bryan Ferry doing Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” perfect for this piece. Full version of Ferry’s cover is here. CCR’s version is hot, too.
Missalister’s “If jewels could yearn,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#179 – Key” Click here for more on prompt #179 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.
Yass, yass. You are assuredly the Mistress of Thangness and the Duchess of Muchness, but you are also the Empress of Detail. Love the barking door (and the pre-wince prayer), and the lovely paragraph as Stuart crafts his dream keys. I know there are lots of ways to read Stu, but I’ll go with his “Princess Bride” world, let him breathe it: daughters have a way of opening those hearts.
There are undercurrents of a decidedly different flavor that I felt being sifted through by the writer and her own hoard of keys: I saw that tower going up in smoke; I saw the key-finders being Charles Whitman’d even. There are certainly ghosts floating around Stuart’s head, but I’m glad the sifting took us to the jeweled keys.
FYI, I read this jewel while listening (several times) to Bryan Ferry’s cover of “I Put a Spell on You.” A quite nifty collision of effects, no doubt adding to the evocations.
Peace, my sister.
Wow, you outdid my feeble attempt here. This takes you through so many emotions – and in the end, a sad hopefulness. Nicely spun.
I found myself going back and forth. Was Stuart just an odd creative guy that had some unfortunate things happen to him? Then it just seemed like he was a registering a little too high on the weirdometer and maybe there was a little more there. You know my twisty brain can send me down some strange roads but Stuart has be stumped and that was before I read Paschal’s comment LOL
The details and descriptions made such vivid pictures for me and then I love me some Escher :) Good stuff here.
wow, a unique love story indeed! it reminded me a bit of amelie
Dig that title, too, muchly.
Would Stuart be played by Johnny Depp or Chris Walken? That would speak tons…
Nobody does the slow accrual of detail better than you, and even though Paschal and Dee made me laugh with their comments, my take on Stuart –even after having read all your stories for the last several years — was that he was definitely more Johnny Depp than Christopher Walken. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve made a poor romantic/literary judgment, though.
Oh lord, now we’re harassing the poor girl with casting calls. Okay, I’m easy: David Straithairn, from his Molly Dodd days. Actually, Walken’s turn in Vonnegut’s “Who Am I This Time?” is fully Depp-worthy, but I’ll stay with DS.
David would do. He was awesome in Delores Claiborne…
And you are the Titan of Titles! I like the sound of all of them : ) I like the sound of all your words. And you went about this piece well. I’d like the reader to be able to choose whichever side of Stuart they prefer, or at least to flip him and see which side of him lands face up. The making of this was yin and yang alternating thicknesses. During the creation process there was a deep love for Stuart as just a strange bird, as a misunderstood man with ideas more anomalous than mainstreamers can abide. But during the writing process I found myself aiming for a subtle planting of an idea in the reader’s mind that Stuart is not quite right, that there was good reason for the court’s decision. And finally, and oddly for once, I’m pleased with the outcome. I don’t feel invested in either side of Stuart because I still don’t know. I’m still learning more from this story. Ms. Flan once wrote that that was a good thing. And by the way I feel, I have to agree. Or your peace wishes are working. I really don’t care which : )
Thank you, Thom, for the “nicely spun.” And I’ll say it again, only more subdued than I did last night, that no outdid-ing got done. You did classic ThomG—tough, edgy, and hot, with a neck-snapping twist of macabre—and I did my Miss A thang. Ain’t nothin’ changed for the worse, my man. It’s only getting better in both courts : )
Haha, you picked up on my bent during the writing process that I mentioned to Paschal! And now you know you can go any which way your sweet and clever and Escher-loving heart desires. I have to say here, ‘cause no one mentioned it, how pleased I am with this particular Escher drawing accompanying this mess. Its orientation is tall and thin like a tower, and you can imagine how much space Stuart’s stairs take up in his tiny tower, and the drawing might well be not a drawing but an X-ray of Stuart’s head!
Hey, girl, you equal sharer in Paschal’s Miss Thang title, you! And I wonder…do you take Thangness as being a good thing? I’ve got associations floating in my head that still render “thang” questionable… Anyway, Amelie, yes the overall strangeness…the active imagination, the eccentricity, the unusual search for meaning, purpose… Good thought, and reminder, too, for I would like to see that movie again.
Ooh, “the slow accrual of detail”! I love how you put things. And I take your choice of Johnny Depp to mean you side with Stuart’s benign strangeness, his misunderstood-ness, and I like it…which leads me to this fun discussion I’ve been dying to jump into and now have the opportunity to…
THE MOVIE BIZ
I’m with Anno and, between Depp and Walken, would choose Depp. He exudes some of what I picture in Stuart, the piteous vulnerability of being peculiar, awkward, and well-meaning, but the cards just aren’t stacked in his favor and he is miserably misunderstood and therefore wronged by others, and so goes the perpetuation of that hopeless, vicious circle. Although I think “menacing” when I think Walken, I also think he could make himself into a good Stuart. But I’d venture to say that neither of those guys could do Stuart—his looks and mannerisms as I picture them—like Strathairn! Paschal, I think you’ve hit it. And Dee is amenable, so let’s give him a call ;-)
I loved it all but mostly the key of hope.
there is so much detail in here, missA, and a happy sad ending. i loved this little story.
I think I met this guy recently at a coffee shop. Very sweet, but he wouldn’t stop talking. I’m glad I didn’t pick up any keys. Definitely David Strathairn. Excellent story.
Like Hope’s “Lighthouse” ; ) Glad you came by and enjoyed this : )
I think you’re visiting this site more than me these days! Well, I’m glad you did visit and enjoyed what you found. It’s always a joy to see your signature here on my guest book : )
LOL! A talker, eh? I like the sounds of silence, myself. Unless there’s good music. Now, if that talker was a decent guitar player and he wouldn’t stop playing, that’d be a whole ‘nother thing : )
Strathairn’s locked up, btw, can’t do our flick. Can you believe it? Well, his loss… ; )
A part of me probably bears striking resemblance to the tower-building, key-hoarding, people-losing Escher-drawn Stuart. Excellent write.
A part of me, too : )