This was the Daily Post’s Odd Trio writing challenge: “write a post about any topic you want, in whatever form or genre, but make sure it features a slice of cake, a pair of flip-flops, and someone old and wise.” http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/odd-trio-redux/
Challenge accepted. Here is my story, entitled “The Golden Leopard Keychain.” Enjoy.
The Golden Leopard Keychain
By Knife Ink
There wasn’t much to my house. Really, there wasn’t. It was the kind of house you drive by on sweltering summer days and suddenly realize that you’ve never seen it before when in fact you have, maybe a hundred times, maybe a thousand, you don’t know. And before you can spend the portion of a second it takes to entertain the thought that maybe, just maybe, somebody interesting lives in that house, you’ve already driven past it. It was that kind of house.
My parents were never around in the summer, they had to work. So I spent most of my summers cleaning. I didn’t like cleaning the house, but I felt I had to, and I had nothing else to do. I scrubbed and scrubbed the floors, I washed and rewashed the dishes, I straightened and vaccuumed and put away things that needed to be put away. My favorite part was putting away all the cleaning supplies because that meant I was done.
One summer, the summer I turned twelve, I peeked under the couch while I was cleaning and saw my cat, Josie, who was a little kitten at the time, stretch her paw out and try to reach something that she couldn’t manage to pull out of the couch because well, she was a kitten, what do you expect? I went to the other side of the couch where she was and pulled it out for her, and then stared, because the object I held in my hand I had never seen before. It was a keychain, and on the end of the keychain was a little golden leopard that appeared to be running. I knew it was a leopard and not a cheetah because it had no tear marks, and its legs weren’t long enough.
I took the keychain to the sink and cleaned it off, because it was quite dusty, then dialed my mom’s number into the home phone.
“What is it, sweetie?” she said. I could hear a bustle of activity behind her, a tiny speaker releasing a world of voices louder than the silence that surrounded me.
“I found a keychain with a golden leopard on it,” I answered. “I mean, Josie found it, it was under the couch, but I pulled it out. Does it belong to you?”
“You found a what?”
“A keychain,” I repeated, “with a golden leopard on it.”
“Melanie, sweetie, I’m at work. You called me to ask about a keychain?”
“I’m sorry. Is it yours?”
“I don’t recall ever owning a keychain like that,” said mom, and then continued, “Melanie, don’t call unless there’s a problem. It makes me nervous whenever you call while I’m at work.”
“Because I think there’s a problem,” she said, exasperated, and that made no sense to me because I could not think of a single instance when I had called my mother and there had been a problem.
“Well, bye,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Bye. Eat some lunch.” I hung up.
I then called my dad. When he answered, I heard the airy hum of a moving car.
“Melanie, what is it?”
“I found a golden leopard keychain,” I said. “Is it yours?”
“No,” said my dad.
“Okay,” I said.
A silence ensued, and then I said, “Bye,” and hung up.
I ate some lunch, and had dessert – a fantastic slice of lemon cake, which my dad had made the night before – and then decided to go for a walk. I took the golden leopard keychain with me.
My walk was terrible. It wasn’t so much a walk as it was a stumble, because my flip-flops, which I had owned for a year at least, were broken – they were the cheap foamy kind, and the plastic strap kept popping through the hole and I kept tripping. Finally I got so frustrated that I took them both off and threw them, hard, in a random direction. They hit someone’s black trashcan and knocked it over, and I ran over to stand it back upright. Then I picked up my stupid shoes and was about to dump them into the trash can when my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller. It was my grandfather, who was one of those rare old people who are actually good at using modern technology. My grandfather was a little forgetful and he called me at least once a day. Sometimes he couldn’t remember our previous conversations but I never cared. It was different talking to my grandfather than it was my parents. There was always silence behind the phone.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hello, Melanie. What are you up to, dear?”
“I’m taking a walk.” My feet burned on the hot concrete.
“Where are you going?”
“Just around the neighborhood,” I answered. “But I think I’m going to go back to my house now, because the straps on my flip-flops broke.”
“Oh! The straps on your flop-flips broke? Want me to buy you some new ones?”
“You don’t have to do that, it’s okay,” I said. “I found a golden leopard keychain under the couch. Well, Josie found it.”
“Sorry, dear? Josie found what?”
“A golden keychain. With a leopard on it. I’ve never seen it before, and neither have mom or dad. At least they said they hadn’t, on the phone.”
“Well, that’s very odd. That’s very odd indeed. Is it a pretty keychain? Where do you think it came from?”
“I have no idea.” I was at my house by now. I opened the door and went inside, dumping my stupid flip-flops in the trash can as I went to my room. I sat down on the bed and stared at the golden leopard keychain. My grandfather was right: it was odd. I cleaned underneath the couch every single day, and I definitely would have seen the keychain if it had been there yesterday.
“It must have been Mom or Dad,” I replied. “They probably just don’t remember.”
“What would your mom or dad want with a keychain like that, dear?” My grandfather loved puzzles and riddles and mysteries; this was the best one he’d come across in a while.
“It could have been a gift from someone. Maybe it was given to my mom at work. Or my dad.”
“If that’s true, and it wasn’t there yesterday, then that means either your mom or dad was holding the keychain and dropped it. They probably would have remembered it.”
“I guess so,” I said. “But sometimes they forget things on purpose.”
“That is what adults do,” he said. I could hear him nodding. “But they are fools to think children don’t notice.”
“I guess I’ll never really know,” I said.
“Know what, dear?”
“About the keychain.”
“Don’t say that, my dear! There is always an answer. You just have to care to look for it.” I didn’t respond, because for some reason I was feeling very sad, and then I said, “I had lemon cake for lunch.”
“Some of your dad’s cake?”
I was surprised he had remembered. “Yes. It’s so good. I think I’m going to have some more.” I did.
While I was eating my second slice of lemon cake, I said, “Do you really think the keychain belongs to mom or dad?”
“Why, dear? Do you want it?”
“Yes,” I said, but I didn’t, not really.
“I doubt your parents would mind if you kept it. They certainly don’t seem too invested in it. And what good is a keychain if it isn’t used, my dear? To look pretty? Plenty of things look pretty but they aren’t worth anything, they’re meaningless. A good keychain lets you know what’s yours. You see that golden leopard and you think, ‘That’s mine, that belongs to me.’ And you’ll never mistaken your keys for someone else’s ever again. If you’ve lost your keys and are looking for them, you’ll see a glint of gold and find them much more easily than you would if that golden leopard wasn’t there. There are so many good uses for a keychain.”
He did this often. He knew so much about little things, and could speak for so long about it. Some people are experts in certain fields like geology or math or politics. My grandfather was an expert on everything else, things you barely noticed, like golden keychains and broken flip flops and lemon cake and ordinary houses with ordinary twelve-year-old girls in them.
I sat up quickly. “Grandfather, I know whose golden keychain this is.”
“You do? Who’s is it?”
“I got to go,” I said, and hung up the phone.
I pulled an envelope from the cabinet above the family computer, placed the golden keychain inside, and wrote my grandfather’s address on the front. Before sealing the envelope, I took a piece of paper and wrote a letter to my grandfather. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I like to think it went something like this:
I don’t know how the golden keychain got under the couch or why Josie wanted to grab it. I could have missed it while I was cleaning yesterday, but I don’t think so. I don’t know how it got there, but I do know where it came from. It came to me as I was eating lemon cake. I remember when I was six years old and we were at Grandmother’s funeral. And you were saying how much you loved her and missed her and how much you knew she loved me. And I wasn’t listening too much because I was too sad, and I didn’t like that there were people around me crying, and I didn’t like the way being sad felt. Mom and dad were telling me to stop fidgeting but I couldn’t because I saw something on the floor. It was a golden leopard keychain that someone had dropped there, and I knew that I had to have it because it was helping me forget the sadness and the tears and my parents. So after the funeral was over I reached underneath the pew and I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I had completely forgotten about it until today.
Anyway, I realized that the golden keychain should really be yours. You know what a keychain is for and what it can do. You know so many things, Grandfather. And anyway, I don’t really need it – I’ve got lemon cake and a pair of flop-flips at home that I think I can fix, and there are so many things I want to see and know because there are so many things you see and know. So, here is the golden leopard keychain.