John’s Keys – A Short Story
As Published in The Listening Eye
Copyright October 29, 2019
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I threw John’s keys down in the parking lot and walked away. They landed in the space next to his car, right where he could find them. It was ten minutes before he would leave for work. I’d been scoping out his place for the last two weeks. He was a man with a routine. I leaned against the side of his condo, half hidden by the dumpster, and waited.
The last time I saw John was 1978. We’d both been through college and started working by then. One night I’d stopped at that bar out on South Avenue, meeting up with some friends for a drink. When I walked through the door, I saw him in a pool of light created by a neon beer sign. He turned on his bar stool, as if I’d tapped him on the shoulder from across the room, and looked right at me. That’s how it had always been with John. He was the one person I’d had an instant connection to.
Back then he’d driven an old VW bug. We had a lot of fun in that car. One time we’d gone parking with two other couples on some dirt back road. Our lust and intensity had tuned into frustration then into laughter. You just can’t do parking any justice in a VW Bug.
The next seven months were intense and dense, full of life to the point of bursting. It was unsustainable. It burned through us, leaving us gasping. Who can live like that? It was inevitable that we would turn to ashes and be blown in opposite directions.
But I’d forgotten I had his extra set of keys.
And now, I was giving them back.
I wondered what he would think of my dropping into his life again. Can you ever recapture what was lost? His reaction, when he discovered those keys would tell all. I’m a great believer in kismet, serendipity and body language. I waited, one shoulder braced against cool aluminum siding, breathing in the faint humors of garbage. The cool damp of the morning worked its way through my jacket. By nine it would be warm enough for shirt sleeves.
I’d gotten back into town a month ago, asked around a little and discovered that John was a widower, three years gone. Long enough to grieve and time enough to move on. I’d kept track of him through the first years after we went our separate ways. When he’d married Sherri from our high school days, I was dumbstruck. He wasn’t the kind of guy that went for the cheerleader types. He had been head of the chess squad for Christ’s sake. And I’d been a math and science major with seriously frizzy hair and big feet. I figured his marrying Sherri was a one-eighty ricochet from dating me.
I now had the hair under control and had grown into my feet but no one would accuse me of ever being a homecoming queen. I’d ended up an engineer with a Master’s degree. And yet here I was, lurking behind a dumpster; probably technically a stalker.
I’d been waiting over ten minutes but no John. I began to second-guess myself, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I decided to give it another five minutes. Then I saw him come out of his condo, dressed for business. He was preoccupied, hurrying across the pavement, a cell phone at his ear. He stepped around the side of his car. The cast off keys lay less than an inch from his shoe. He slipped his phone into his inside coat pocket, unlocked the car with his fob and reached for the door.
The keys! How can he miss the keys? He was going to get behind the wheel, drive away and never see the keys.
Something made him stop. Maybe it was the sound of my wildly beating heart or maybe the morning sun glinting off the discarded keys.
Either way, John reached down, picked them up and turned them over in his hand. I stepped into view and held my breath.
He did a slow one-eighty and saw me. He knew it was me. I saw it on his face. It was just like the time, in that dim, shadowy bar, so many years ago. He took a step toward me and then another.