The Broken Key

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Sunday morning –
The baby finally stopped crying and went to sleep. She felt bad for it, but she truly hated that sound. She couldn’t describe the feeling it gave her inside, the mix of anxiety and worry and anger. But when it stopped, a genuine feeling of peace immediately settled over her and she once again felt she could breathe.
She poured the last of the coffee from the percolator and sat at the table. He’d left the paper open to the half-finished crossword puzzle. She picked up the pen and filled in “bovine” for 18 down. Then she wrote “leverage” for 23 across.
Outside, the leaves were budding on the trees. She knew in a few more days, winter would seem like some foolish imagination of nature, a bare impossibility in the face of lush green foliage and life. She could feel it creeping around in her, though. A hard nugget of cold-wariness, a mild sensation of unease.
She drank her coffee.

Sunday afternoon –
The baby liked to be bounced gently while she walked. Few people were in the park at this time of year. The wind carried a mild frostiness with it that was pleasantly uncomfortable.
She could see her neighbour Barbara walk to her car. She stood a while at the door and then turned around and went back in the house.

Tuesday afternoon –
“I think he might have the beginning of a cold,” he said. He moved the auriscope to the baby’s other ear. “Has he been feeding normally?”
“If by normal, you mean all the time.”
“You should try a schedule. Babies are actually happiest in a routine.”
He sat behind the desk. “I don’t think he needs any medicine. Just keep him well-watered and watch for a fever.”
Like a plant. Keep it out of direct sunlight.

Friday morning –
2 down: ambiguous.
1 across: fatality.

Friday evening –
“I think we should go see grandma tomorrow,” he said to the baby. “We can make a trip out of it.”
“You mean just the two of you, right?”
“You don’t want to go?” He held the baby on his knee, hands around the ribs, and bounced him lightly up and down. The baby gurgled.
“He’s gonna spit up on your pants.”
“Oh no no,” he said as he stood and lifted the baby to his shoulder. “You’re gonna puke on Daddy’s shirt, right?” He laughed. The baby rubbed his face against his father’s shoulder and said, “Sheesh.”
“I could use a day to myself, actually.”
“Oh,” he said. She could see the uncertainty cross his face. She knew he was wondering if he could take care of the baby for a day. “I guess we could do that.”
“Here,” she said, “Let me take him.” She held out her arms.

Saturday early morning –
“You know,” she whispered to the eyes staring up at her, “You could sleep for more than two hours. I know you can because I can. And anything that’s good for me has to be good for you.”
The baby’s face wrinkled and his head turned away from the bottle. “Done, are you?”
She stood up and lifted the baby to her shoulder and rubbed his back lightly. She walked over to the window and looked out just as her neighbour’s porch light came on. The old woman came out of the house and walked down the steps to her car. She stood a moment by the car door and then said something and went back up the steps to her house. The light went off.
“Strange old bird.”
The baby burped.

Saturday morning –
3 across: madrigal
42 across: carp

Saturday noon –
She decided to eat her sandwich and drink coffee on the step. She’d spent the morning cleaning up the flower beds at the sides of the walkway from the drive to the porch. She liked small colourful plants more than the disorderly shrubs her neighbours seemed to like. Perhaps they don’t like them, she thought. Perhaps they don’t care.
The chill was lifting as the sun gained power. It felt good to be outside and in the air. The past seven months had started in a wet end to summer and a soggy autumn that dragged into the worst winter she’d ever experienced. Or that was how it felt at times. She knew everything was askew because of the baby. She was under the influence of a maleficent master. She knew she needed to take charge but she was so tired most of the time. When a break came, when the baby would sleep or be happy for a few minutes sitting in his own chair, she felt so very good for a moment. She felt almost as enslaved to the tiny respites as she was to her tiny tyrant.
Today, however, she felt useful and good on her own and not at all like a servant.
She heard the creak of screen-door springs from across the yard and looked to see her neighbour step out onto the porch. The old woman turned and pulled the door shut, then let the screen door swing closed as she walked down the steps. She walked to her car and stood at the driver’s side door motionless.
“Hi.” She waved from her own step. She put the last bite of her sandwich in her mouth and stood up. “Nice day, isn’t it?”
“Oh, it’s lovely,” said Barbara. Her voice sounded like ice-cream melting. “Say, can you come look at this?”
“What’s wrong?”
She walked around the car to where the old woman was standing. For a moment, she could smell tea and onion.
“I can’t get my key to open this darn door. I think it’s broken.”
She took the key and looked at it. “No,” she said, “It’s just bent.”
“Oh, is it, now?”
“I can probably straighten it. Give me a minute.”
“Oh, I’d love you forever.”
She took the key back to her own house and around to the garden shed. Amongst the garden tools was a rusty box her father-in-law had given them when they bought the house. “I know you two don’t have a clue how to do anything, but you’ll always need a few basic tools.” So far, they had not needed any of them. They had only needed a plumber when the toilet would not stop running, and a plumber didn’t fit in the box.
She took a hammer out. She put the key on a patio stone and tapped it a few times until it looked straight again. She brought it back to Barbara.
“Here, try it now.”
Barbara took the key from her outstretched hand. She could once again smell tea but no onion. The key went in and the door unlocked.
“Thank-you, dear. I was losing my mind about this. You saved my life.”

Saturday late night –
The baby’s crying woke her. She fought back against the feeling of despair that seemed to creep out of the centre of her body. She didn’t move.
“The baby’s awake,” he said. He rolled over and looked at her. “Are you gonna get him?”
She didn’t move. He started to get out of bed. “No,” she said quietly.
“What?”
“He’ll go back to sleep.”

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