IN THE LAND OF KEYS
By Larry O. Grand
WEARILY, she shut the door and slid the bolt to the right. Laura tossed the keys onto the small and cluttered table next to the door. She attempted to fling the small stack of envelopes that had been in her mailbox onto the table, but was unsuccessful and the mail gently fluttered to the floor, generic white envelopes with plastic windows tumbling on top of a square pink envelope. Sighing, she stepped to switch on the lamp next to the sofa. She grimaced as the dim bulb provided some illumination to her otherwise squalid and lately unswept apartment. "Mitochondria! I'm home!" she called out into the darkness, as she stepped around the coffee table and flopped onto the worn-out green sofa, a gift from the dumpster two blocks down. She picked between the cushions for the remote, found it, and clicked on the t.v. As the box of cathodes began generating heat, she tossed the remote back onto the sofa, somewhere, and began to slip off her snowboots. The urgently blinking message light on her answering machine caught her eye. She reached over to the telephone, buried underneath a sofa cushion, and jabbed the large grey button. She silently prayed that one of the messages wasn't the supervisor, telling her to come at a later hour tomorrow in order to make up for the extra hours from this week, as the holiday season had brought an increase in activity at the bank; Kristi's drawer coming up $200 over tonight didn't hurt either, since everyone had to stay and re-count their drawers to find the difference. The tape rewound itself as her left foot escaped the confining prison of her black boot. There was a definite click as the tape reached the beginning and the answering machine speaker came to life. "Hey Laura, this is Donna .... just found out that my Tuesday appointment decided to make it a four-day weekend, so I'm free for lunch if you are. Gimme a call back, okay? Bye." There were two seconds of blank tape before the stiff, robotic voice of the creature that lived in the answering machine recited "Thursday, two-fifteen p.m." BEEP The next message was approximately five seconds of dead space, then a young male voice exclaimed "Ooop!" before hanging up. "Thursday, three forty-five p.m." droned the machine. BEEP. "Hello .... Laura? This is Beverly .... are you there? Uhm, I guess you're not .... uhm, just wanted to let you know that we're gonna be in town tonight at the Infinity Cafe, it's a last minute gig, so if you want to come down, that'd be great .... I'll leave your name at the door .... sorry if this is short notice but we'd really like to see you again .... well, hope to see you there .... bye." "Thursday, four fifty-nine p.m." BEEP. Click. "End of messages." The answering machine message light had resumed blinking, but Laura didn't have the energy or the intestinal fortitude to reach over and hit the "erase" button. " ... who worked at the rendering plant, had only recently been released from prison. We'll have more on this story as it develops. We'll be right back." belched through the dusty television speaker, five seconds before a picture flickered onto the screen. "Tonight, on the Bob Blanding Show, local serial killers and the women they love!" Laura groaned. She wasn't in the mood for the 7 o'clock news at the moment. "Damn, damn, damn." she grumbled as she groped around in the labyrinth depths of the sofa cushions, searching for the remote control that she had displaced only seconds before. Giving up, she proceeded to simply ignore the television. She pulled off her other boot and flung it to the floor, hoping that she would be able to find it the following morning and knowing that she wouldn't. "Mitochondria! C'mere, girl!" she called out, once again, into the darkness. Her request was answered with a plaintive murmur and a rustling from somewhere in the kitchen. Laura waited four more seconds before calling out again, "Mitochondria! Where are you, ya little shit?!" The rustling sound again, then a dim yellow-eyed fuzzy striped cat crept out of the kitchen and onto the sofa, stepping over the crumpled bits of paper and dirty underwear to Laura's inviting lap, claws digging into her green skirt. "Hey, watch it girl, these are my work clothes!" Laura said, gently picking up the feline and holding her above her head, "Maybe it's time I had you clipped, eh?" The cat purred loudly, which struck Laura as odd, since Mitochondria hated being held up in the air. "What's with you, cat?" Laura mumbled, recalling how ever since Mitochondria was a kitten, since that first day when she stumbled onto Laura's porch, less than six weeks old, she detested being held in the air. She enjoyed being cuddled, and held in Laura's arms, but really disliked being suspended high in the air. It was a playful game between the two, since Laura would always hold Mitochondria in the air whenever the cat clawed at her. Laura frowned as she brought the cat down to her knees, readjusting her grip on the cat's armpits, and then lifted her up again. Paws dangling in the air, head looking down, eyes staring straight into Laura's, a loud, contented hum coming from that beautiful little face. No, that was definitely a purr. Laura frowned again as she placed the cat back on her lap. The cat curled up in a ball, continuing to purr as Laura stroked its head. "The Van Der Poole family is back in the news tonight, this time making an appearance at the Biological and Medical Reserve Center. Mr. Van Der Poole, shown with his three daughters..." came blasting from the television, briefly jerking Laura's attention to the now-bright screen and renewing her resolve to locate the remote. "I really don't want to hear about Mister Van Der Poole right NOW." Laura muttered. Being careful not to jostle the cat on her lap, she groped around the sofa for the small, elusive controller. "A-HA!" she exclaimed, finally uncovering the remote, which had somehow slipped underneath the pizza box from two nights ago. The pizza box rattled with something solid skidding inside; she wasn't exactly sure what it could be. She jabbed the POWER button with her forefinger, and the eighteen-inch box fell silent. She sighed. "Sorry, Mitochondria, but I need to take a shower." she said to the cat, gently lifting her off her lap and placing it onto the hideous pink power suit that had once laid in a neat, folded pile on the sofa, where her mother had placed it during her visit two weeks ago; a little something Mrs. Regent had presented to her daughter as "... something more dynamic for your job." "Mom, I'm sorry, but this outfit .... is horrendous!! No one actually WEARS anything like this." "Oh, come on, dear, this is what all of the successful businesswomen are wearing, I saw it on that t.v. show, and BESIDES, Laura, you really need to wear something more dressier than what you normally do. Maybe then you'll be NOTICED by one of the higher executives and you'll be promoted to something .... BETTER .... than a ..... LOW-LEVEL .... bank teller." "Mom, first of all, I am not going to dress up just to get something, and second, I LIKE being a teller ... I could've taken that position last year, but I chose NOT to, okay?" "Well, if you say so, but I'm just going to leave it right here, just in case ..... " The cat purred as it settled into the soft folds of the linen outfit, ready to take another nap. Laura stood up, kicking off her right boot, and approached the kitchen, to the right of the t.v. She snapped on the light to reveal a small kitchen, featuring a stove with two gas burners, a single sink filled with rapidly decomposing dishes and new strains of microorganisms, a tall green refrigerator, and an all-too-small countertop barely supporting a microwave oven. Her left foot stepped into something moist and warm; she didn't bother to look down. She crossed the kitchen in the span of five steps and entered the dark bathroom on the far side. She pulled the chain that dangled from the ceiling to switch on the light, which promptly vanished with a bright flash and a gentle POOF sound as the filament burst. "Shit!" Laura mumbled, stepping up to the sink and the mirror above it. She looked at herself, using the reflected illumination from the kitchen. She reached behind her head to unclasp the barrette that held her dark brown hair in place. She shook her head, then reached for her brush, sitting faithfully by the edge of the sink. "Ah, who needs the light anyway?" she mumbled to herself as she combed out the curly strands. As she slipped out of her clothes she reached over to switch on the small cassette/radio that sat on the shelf next to the bathroom door, whose deck contained Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad" album that had been in permanent residence since its release in November, 1995. Halfway through the second side, the strains of an acoustic guitar and violin crackled out of the small speaker. Laura flipped on the hot water tap -- it would take about two minutes to warm up to a comfortable temperature-- and stepped into the shower. "For what are we ... without hope in our hearts?" Seven minutes later, Laura stepped out of the shower, steam barely rising from her shoulders. She resolved to mention the problem with the shower, how it took too long to warm up in the winter but was always too hot in the summer, to Mr. Reynolds, that chain-smoking bastard, even though she knew she probably never would. She grabbed the fluffy orange towel that hung lazily next to the shower and wrapped it around her body. She took a second towel that was lying on the floor to dry her hair. She quickly moved from the dark bathroom to stand in the doorway to the kitchen, where at least it was light. Mitochondria had apparently decided not to nap on the sofa and had trotted into the kitchen, where she was currently shredding the roll of paper towels that hung over the sink. Sensing Laura's entrance, she leapt to the floor and ran back into the living room. Laura sighed; that cat wasn't going to listen to her anyway, so there was almost no point in making a fuss about it. She stepped across the kitchen, once again stepping into something moist but now lukewarm, and made her way back into the living room. The message light of the answering machine was blinking wildly, but she couldn't remember if she had erased the messages or if it was a new message. Deciding not to take a chance either way, she walked past the sofa and the front closet to the bedroom that lay on the other side of the apartment. She flipped on the light switch and stepped over two random piles of soiled clothing to the bed. The bedroom was slightly wider than the kitchen, with some extra space in the back where she kept her dressers, the only furniture that she had brought from home. With a grunt, she heaved herself onto the bed and lay flat on her stomach, staring into the corner of the bedroom, at the dusty acoustic guitar case that leaned against the dresser. She glanced up at the top of the dresser, and it was still there, where she had left it, the picture in the gray frame. Then Laura did the same thing she had done every night for the past three years. She cried.
All contents copyright (c) 1997 Larry O. Grand
Please do not repost or reprint without permission from Larry O. Grand, except for review purposes.