Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.

Jim Meirose

The Keys

I Lock My Door Upon Myself by Ferdinand Khnopff

THE BLACK BUS pulls to the stop at 30th Street splashing the water from the gutter and stops before you in an oily haze. The door opens and you step across and up the well-worn steps. The driver’s there on his perch in a white shirt and tie and black pants, and he glares down at you as though thinking—how dare you be here. You ignore his stare and your hand goes down in your pocket and there’s no change there, but no keys again either—and you try the other pocket and it’s empty too and you panic— you just had your keys but they’re gone again, where could they have gone to, you try the pockets again but nothing’s there.

You’ve lost the keys again. Your house key. Your car keys. You just had them again but you’ve lost them again—

Get off my bus, snaps the bus driver. Get off now. And the bus driver’s eyes push you back down the steps as you’re thinking the driver doesn’t have to be so rude why was he so rude—and you step back onto the curb and the bus door slides shut and the roar rises from the engine deep inside and the bus slides past gone in its dark exhaust cloud. You’re on the curb in front of the old wooden church that doesn’t fit this neighborhood of tall glass and steel buildings. You think where’ve I been, where could I have left my keys, I was at Gustav’s and Macy’s and on the sidewalks in between. A man behind you speaks.

I saw you go up the bus steps and come back down again—I saw you patting down your pockets you’ve lost something important, haven’t you?

You turn. The man’s tall with a heavy five o’clock shadow and his thick-lipped mouth is going.

My name is Matthew. I could help you find—say what’d you lose anyway?

My keys.

Right. Keys. I could help you find your keys.

He’s breathing heavy, looking past you through your eyes.

That’s okay, I can find the keys myself, thanks, you say.

You watch his eyes for acceptance of the fact he won’t be helping you, but it’s not there. His hand goes up.

Oh, but it’s no problem. Come on. Let’s go. Let’s find them.

You turn and go up the street. He follows. Men in dark coats, and a woman in a red scarf, and more people are coming the other way, all looking out toward where they’re going. None of them look at you, as you make your way past them; the wavy glass storefronts go by, and the cars go up, and down. Matthew’s walking just behind you, talking.

We need to go back to where you’ve been. That’ll be the way to find them. To go back to where you’ve been.

You nod. He’s right, you probably left the keys at Gustav’s. Why you’d have taken the keys from your pocket you can’t understand, but you might have—or it could’ve been at Macy’s. Matthew goes on, his words riding your eyes going back and forth scanning the sidewalk.

You’ve just left your keys someplace—but don’t get me wrong, no— I’m not saying you’re just another stupid clod who’d leave his keys someplace. Nope. I’m not.

A long glass window slides by and another bus splashes past between stops and more people push past as he goes on.

I mean—please don’t think I’m calling you a clod, I’m not, that’s not what I meant. I meant you’re no clod.

After you cross 29th Street, a man in a green shirt comes out from a tall doorway, puts his hand onto Matthew’s shoulder, and starts following. Matthew turns his head.

John, says Matthew—it’s good to see you.

And it’s good to see you, says John. John wears high topped boots with no laces.

Where you going? he asks Matthew.

Oh, I’m helping this gent look for his keys.

The concrete beneath your feet is cracked and uneven.

Oh really—well sir—good to meet you.

You turn your head, and nod and smile slightly, then go back to scanning the sidewalk going past. You might have dropped your keys on the sidewalk—yes, need to concentrate, need to look everywhere. You pass by a large picture of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman framed in gold in an art dealer’s window. The two following behind throw out words.

So, John, what’s new?

Nothing. Just got done playing a couple of games of pool. Hey—I’m in the market for a cooler.

A cooler? What kind of cooler?

A long limo with black windows splashes by in the street clogged with cars. Horns blare. People passing step back from the splashing.

A cooler to keep beers in, he says. I need it for up my place I got too many beers to keep in my little fridge.

Beers? said Matthew. You still drinking beers like a fish? You ought not to. That stuff’s no good for you.

A group of tall priests come past with one nun, all talking and waving their hands and smiling.

Well, said John. Better than that poppy-based stuff you use.

Poppy-based stuff?

Right. You’re still on that stuff, I’ll betcha.


Matthew wipes his sleeve across his nose.

Poppy-based stuff, you think. An odd way to describe—well, God knows what drug. Just past 28th Street, you come up to Gustav’s leather shop. Across the avenue is a sign in a window of a religious items store, saying, THE WAY OF THE CROSS—THE ONLY WAY. You go in Gustav’s and the door creaks shut behind you, but the two don’t follow, they wait outside. The walls of the long narrow shop are hung with leather strapping of all lengths, widths, and thicknesses. You go up to the counter and scan it, as the short dark mustached man with the scar across his chin behind the counter speaks.

You were in here before—I told you to leave then.

No, you say. I thought I might have left my keys here.

The man’s hand pushes out.

I don’t want to hear it. Go on, come on, get out!

No need to be rude.

Get out.


You turn toward the door. The sign above the door says LEATHER GOODS. You wonder why the sign’s hung on the inside, and not the outside, as the walls of leather straps lead you to the door, and you’re out on the sidewalk. You wonder like always why the man had been rude. Matthew and John are standing there, with a third man who’s wide and squinty, and holds a white hat. His arms wave as he speaks, flopping the hat around.

So, they said radios, he says. They said they needed radios for the cars the repo men brought back. I asked them what’s wrong with the radios in the cars and they couldn’t answer.

Hey—here you are, says Matthew, as you come down the single step of Gustav’s store. Say here—David—David, come up, meet our friend. He’s lost his keys.

David steps over and waves the white hat, as he pushes out his other hand for you to shake.

Good to meet you, he said, putting on his hat.

John stepped up.

David’s a rum man.

David turned, wide-eyed.

Rum man? What do you mean, I’m a rum man?

Just what he said, says Matthew, waving a hand. His heavy lips move slowly. You like your rum like John likes his beer.

John swipes his arm downward.

Now there you go again, harping on my beer.

Never mind that, says Matthew. Hey, he says, looking at you. Any luck? Were your keys in there?

No, you say, shaking your head. You keep wondering why the man had been so rude. You were in his shop before; you could have left your keys there. People in the city are just rude, you think. Always rude.

David’s going to come along and help us, Matthew tells you. Mind if he comes along?

No. I don’t think I mind, you say, and then you immediately ask yourself why you said you didn’t mind. These are perfect strangers, total strangers. Why do you say you don’t mind, when you do? Why do you let people be so rude to you? Why, why, why, when you’ve such a big problem? Dammit, you’ve lost your keys. Turning from the others, you move down the sidewalk, and though they’re following, they don’t talk, until you come up in front of the wide stone basilica just past 27th Street.

Boy! Look at this place, says David. Big.

Wide, adds John. And long.

Real long, says Matthew. But I never get tired of looking at the basilica. Do you?



Me either.


You move on past the basilica steps toward the crumbling curb. Just past the basilica a man in a hunting jacket comes up to Matthew, John, and David.

Simon! says Matthew. How you doing?

Right—hey look, John, says David. It’s Simon.

Simon, says John.

Simon comes up with his hands in his pockets. His stubbly face glows red.

Hey, I didn’t tell you guys, says Simon. The doctor told me there aren’t going to be any scars after the operation. Isn’t that great?

Yes, that’s great, said Matthew.

Hey, you still play that twangy guitar? asks John.

Nah. No money in it, said Simon.

So; where you off to now? asks David.

Simon pulls a hand from his pocket, and runs it back through his thick black hair.

I’m going for a haircut, he says. I could use one don’t you think?

Oh, I don’t know.

Looks like you could go a little longer to me.

Yes, sure, hey there, say what do you think?

Matthew gestures to you.

Do you think Simon needs a haircut?

Simon’s hair’s a thick black mop on his head. He lowers his head for you to see.

I don’t know, you say. Maybe just a trim.

Simon looks up with colorless eyes. An honest man, says Simon. What’s your name?

You say your name.

Good to meet you.

We’re helping find his keys.

Right; he’s lost his keys. We’re helping find them.

You want to help, Simon?

Oh, sure. Why not?

There’s a great stain on the front of Simon’s hunting jacket. You look away, and walk off past the basilica. They’re all following behind as you scan the sidewalk from storefronts to curb. Snatches of their conversation pepper you all up and down your back.

—chicken for dinner—

—raid. That gets the damned bugs—

—clod. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean you’re a clod—

—pool. Long and deep. A lot of work in the summer—

—cooler with the central air all balanced like it is—

—poppy-based drugs—

—scars. There’ll be no scars—

—twanging guitar. I told you there’s no money in playing a twangy guitar—

—hair. Got to look neat. Haircut—

You cross 26th Street, after waiting for a great green semi to make a wide turn that stops all the traffic, and starts all the horns blowing. Macy’s comes up tall, on the left. Its front is grimy. It’s been here a long time. You go in the golden revolving doors. Again, the others wait outside and you wonder; this store takes up the whole block. How about if you go out the store on the next avenue over, you’ll have lost them. They won’t be following you anymore, but, no. The street they’re on is the street you need to follow, because you lost your keys someplace along there. You blink, wipe your eyes. Your head spins. It’s bright in the store, with reds and golds and chromes, and deep sharp blacks. You come up to the counter you were at before. The straw-thin clerk speaks sharply.

You again. Didn’t I tell you to get out before?

Your mind goes blank.

But I lost my keys, you say.

You said that before. There’s no keys here. I told you that before. Now leave before I call security.

Her hair is gold, and she wears purple. You turn and go back through the store. It’s like being inside the basilica—all tall columns, green and black things, and everything around looking so, so, expensive. All the golden holy things in church are always so expensive. But people aren’t so rude inside the basilica. They wouldn’t say leave or I’ll call security. You go out the store through the revolving doors. Matthew, John, David and Simon are there. A fifth man is with them, in a long grey coat. He flexes his hands. His fingernails are severely overgrown.

Well—any luck? says Matthew.

Keys in there? asks John.

Find ’em? asks David.

Let’s see—let’s see the keys, says Simon.

They weren’t there, you say.

Say, says Matthew, placing his hand on the fifth man’s shoulder. Here. Meet Peter. Peter, this is the fellow who we were telling you about, who lost his keys.

Hello, says Peter, pushing out his hand. I’m sorry you lost your keys. Any idea where they could be?

No, you say, looking in his grey face. You shake his hand. His nails dig into your fingers. You turn from him and start back down the sidewalk. Your hands are in your pockets, and you hear them talking behind and the sound of their shoes and boots scuffing along.

—now God damn that Liberace, says Peter. He could play a damned mean trill and how about those lashes? And those spangles? There was a showman he knew how to be a showman—

—damned right.

The famous miraculous statue comes past on the left, behind a black wrought iron fence.

Damned right. He was a hell of a showman.

You pass the statue and cross 25th Street. They all follow. The bridge across the river comes up, with the falls of Montmorecy to the left, the water plunging between her tall green bluffs. The roar of the falls takes you over the bridge. On the other side, a sixth man comes up, with huge deformed hands and feet. You try not to stare.

James, they say. It’s been a while.

Hey, guys, says James. I saw buster the other day too, what a coincidence. He had bundles of books, and he’s got a problem hear about his problem?

No what’s his problem?

It hurts when he swallows. But you ought to see, he’s living in a palace. What a hep cat.

Hep cat? Who says hep cat?

Say want to help us find this fellow’s keys?


Right, keys.

What keys? These keys?

He shakes a bunch of keys in the air. They glitter and jingle and glow in the sun—they’re yours! The keys to your new Pontiac in your Garage; the keys to your split level on your acre in the suburbs where your wife kids and dog are and your beautiful in ground pool—

—they’re yours!

Yes! you say brightly.

—your split level with your smooth paved driveway winding under your trees to your stained-glass front door—

Those are my keys!

—through which is the warmth of your marble floored foyer with your golden crystal chandelier and your stairway leading to your kitchen dining room family room and your favorite chair before your TV and your slippers—

Where’d you find them?

—and your family there, waiting with fresh faces bright smiles—all saying they want you—

Over there, he says.

—all saying they love you.

He points to the gutter. Funny the keys should have been there you’ve never been there you weren’t in that gutter—but no matter. Now you can go home. You thank the six men—they nod, and dissipate out in all directions. You’re ecstatic, you’re happy, you decide to walk back to the 30th Street stop for the bus. It’s your favorite stop. It’s always been. On the way you go in and out of the usual stores again—Macy’s, Gustav’s, this time a few others—but you don’t buy. You just look. They keep telling you to leave. It normally bothers you when they do that, but you’re in a daze. You’ve got your keys. The keys to your real life. Finally, you’re back at the bus stop. The bus pulls up splashing water from the gutter, and stops before you in an oily haze. The door opens and you step across and up the well-worn steps. The driver’s there on his perch in a white shirt and tie and black pants, and glares down at you as though thinking, How dare you be here. You ignore his stare and your hand goes down in your pocket and there’s no change there, but no keys again either—and you panic, and try the other pocket; and it’s empty too and you panic more strongly—you just had your keys again, but they’re gone again, where could they have gone to, you try the pockets again but nothing’s there. You’ve lost your keys again. Your house key. Your car keys. You just had them again but you’ve lost them again.

Where’s your life gone? you think this time. Where’s your life?

Get off my bus, snaps the bus driver. Get off now.

The bus driver’s eyes push you back down the steps, as you’re thinking the driver doesn’t have to be so rude why was he so rude—you step back onto the curb and the bus door slides shut and the roar rises from the engine deep inside and the bus slides past gone in its stinking black cloud. And instead of starting to look for the keys right away like last time, and all the other times before that, you gently sink down to sitting on the curb, in front of the old church, and you put your head in your hands and cry. You sit there crying like you do once in a while, and the people going by pity you there, sitting there like you are, a tall man with thick lips and thick black hair, needing a shave in a green shirt and boots with no laces, holding a wide white hat in your hand, wearing a stained hunting jacket over a long grey coat, with huge deformed hands and feet and unnaturally long fingernails, on the curb, feet in the gutter, cars and buses splashing by laying down layer upon layer of fumes.


About the writer:
Jim Meirose‘s work has appeared in numerous venues. His novels include Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer(Optional Books), Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF), Le Overgivers au Club de la Résurrection (Mannequin Haus), and No and Maybe – Maybe and No (Pski’s Porch). New work Dans l’odeur de la sainteté (In the Odour of Sanctity) is forthcoming from Optional Books.

Image: I Lock My Door Upon Myself by Ferdinand Khnopff (1858-1921). Oil on canvas. 28.6 x 55.5 inches. 1891. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporationsupporting writers and artists worldwide.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.