The house was empty, waiting for just the right person to return with the key to the front door. It had stood that way for 25 years. On the corner of the block, crafted of cedar and brick, untouched by all those things that ravage other houses, it was very young for it’s age. Dust collected on books and in the kitchen sink. Mice had eventually found their way in but after all those years all the house provided for them was a place out of the rain. There were no food crumbs in corners to eat. Compared to all it’s neighbors, it was not the best place for them to live. So they did not stay.
Furniture in the living room was covered with a scratchy aqua fabric and the clock on the wall was sharp and modern. They had been purchased by a visiting child all those years ago But the rest of the house remained old and comfortable. The child had lost interest.
The day she passed away was raw and cold. The last season had surrounded the house. Winter hung there, long and dark in a way that invited death to the door. The children she watched in the summer months remained indoors as the Arctic wind blew. Friends feared falls and did not like the telephone much. They even stayed home from the church she loved to visit. The hours from dawn to dusk stretched out before her. A small radio on the kitchen counter played and the people that talked from it speakers became more real for her than those she saw from her window. A light shone in every room. She had always hated the dark.
She walked to the corner grocery that day. A clerk watched as she made her way up the street. Stooped but proud she walked with an elegant cane and the hat on her head was decorated with a feather. Her coat was red and her pull on plastic boots covered a pair of black patent leather shoes. The clerk could see the glint of a gold button on her black leather gloves when she reached for the door. The bell that hung over the doorway rang in a way that echoed the old woman’s cheerful hello.
How is Emma? she asked. I hope she has gotten over that awful cough. I used to hate it when my Dora was sick in the winter. She patted the clerks arm and gathered a can of soup, sweet crackers and a box of tea.
The clerk knew that Dora had not called for a what seemed a very long time. She had quit asking if the old woman had heard from her. The phone in the old woman home stood silent save for a call from the minister. He called once a month…the sweet crackers and tea were for him. That was how the clerk knew it was the day for him to come and tend to this one in his flock.
Snow had begun to fall and the cat that shared her life was sitting at the front door when she returned. As she entered the living room she looked at the clock and sofa. She always shook her head. She knew that they wanted her to live their life, modern, social, gay. In some small way she wanted that too. But time had run out for her. No thank you, she had said politely. I would like to do that but I really don’t want to. A smile crossed her lips and she sat in the old chair she had kept in the kitchen.
The minister found her in her chair, the key to the front door in her hand and the groceries on the table.
The house was locked and only the food had been removed. The key was sent to her daughter along with her coffin. A hook in that kitchen far away had been home to the key until her granddaughter locked her mother’s house and came to reclaim the old house. The key fit perfectly in her purse as did the picture of her beautiful Grandmother Etta.
The house on the corner came back to life when the key was placed in the lock and every light in the house was turned on. The granddaughter had always hated the dark. The scratchy furniture was replaced with what the old woman would have loved and the young woman started her day with a walk to the grocery for tea, crackers and soup. The minister would come to call very soon.