this (keyed) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - CONTENTS - Ali­son O’Hara

EV­ERY house­holder has a bunch of keys, im­por­tantly ar­ranged on a sturdy key ring or a se­ries of smaller key rings strung to­gether. The bunch may con­tain house keys, car keys or of­fice keys and a key fob of some sort.

My bunch of keys has changed much in the past 12 months.

There used to be two car keys — one for my car and one for my hus­band’s. When he died un­ex­pect­edly last year, I gave his car to my daugh­ter be­cause she and her grow­ing fam­ily needed it more than I did.

Soon af­ter the fu­neral, I took off my old key fob — a heart-shaped trin­ket that pro­moted a brand of liquor my hus­band was es­pe­cially fond of — be­cause I did not want to be re­minded of the self-in­dul­gences that has­ten death.

I tried a new key fob for a while — a lovely an­gel made of pewter. But, like me, she was too soft and in dan­ger of break­ing.

I re­placed her with a small stain­less steel cylin­der I found on­line for the pur­pose.

This gleam­ing hol­low pen­dant now con­tains a few grams of my hus­band’s ashes and is care­fully at­tached to my key ring with a braided steel wire and swivel. I made this ar­range­ment in the hope that the steel and the spirit of it would give me strength to face the fu­ture.

I have a new front door key now. Not be­cause I’ve changed houses but be­cause grief does strange things to people.

Sev­eral months af­ter his fa­ther died, my son re­leased an out­burst of anger and un­hap­pi­ness. The ex­pe­ri­ence was cathar­tic for him, but dam­ag­ing to my front door, which then re­quired a new lock.

My sense of safety had shat­tered. I or­dered se­cu­rity screens and doors for the whole house. Now, when­ever I leave or ar­rive home I have to wres­tle with two locked doors.

Al­though my son has since apol­o­gised, I some­times feel that the walls have closed in on me. The ex­tra key, still stiff and new, is a grap­pling re­minder.

Yet all is not lost. I now have an additional set of keys, tagged with a green Ir­ish clover, at­tached to my main key ring. They fit the front door at my new friend’s house. He gave them to me less than two weeks af­ter I met him — a supreme vote of con­fi­dence in our new, un­ex­pected and un­fold­ing friend­ship. I don’t need those keys yet. Ev­ery time I go to his house, his door is open.

Soon I will re­lin­quish the keys to my house as I have agreed to move into my friend’s home in a few months. Then I will hand my house keys to my real es­tate agent for the new ten­ants to hus­band care­fully, as they be­gin to make their own sto­ries, un­lock their own truths, in my well-loved home.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

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