The Key

Dear New York Times,

Hey there, my name is Paige and for a long time I believed I was just another ordinary woman that nothing interesting ever happened to. I lived a normal life up until my mother died when I was just starting college. We weren’t very close after my father left us so it wasn’t as traumatizing as it should have been. I am a psychology-major-turned-RN and I take care of this elderly woman named Mary. She lives in this huge creaky house by herself since her husband died in his favorite rocking chair upstairs. She refuses to leave the house and go to an elderly home because apparently she “feels him there” or something like that. I’m still working on my sign language. Oh yeah, Mary is deaf and mute but can read lips perfectly. Thank goodness. I took up sign language just for this job but all I can really do right now is somewhat read sign language and carry around a dry erase board. It’s okay though because we don’t really need to communicate much. We understand each other pretty well for strangers. Maybe our personalities are just similar?

So this is my job: I make the bed, do laundry, prepare meals, run a bath, and dole out medication as needed. Not in that order. There are some fun things we do, like pick flowers or watch something in black and white or bake sweets. But mostly I am just a house nurse. And because we don’t talk, the house is always quiet. Well… not exactly.

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Okay so this house is terrifying. The husband’s office upstairs makes endless noises throughout the day and Mary doesn’t own a cat. It goes from creaking to stomping to it almost sounds like… a rocking?

Now I’m a woman of science so to me these noises are just an old house settling. But the house settling almost sounds… unsettling. It doesn’t matter anyways, I NEED this job. So, out of curiosity, one day I decide to take a peek into the office while Mary is downstairs watching her shows. I swear my heart was pounding so loud I thought she could feel it through the floorboards! As soon as I touch the knob, any and all sounds go completely silent. Like the knob is some off switch. I scurry away because I find that the door is locked and there isn’t much I can do. As soon as I reach the end of the hallway the noises continue. I book it downstairs.

The very next day the craziest thing happens! I had to rub my eyes to make sure I saw it correctly. I was preparing breakfast for Mary and a freaking key slides right up to me! Right there! At the table!

I reach out to grab this phantom key and feel a shock go up my arm. It’s freezing. The key must have been from inside a freezer or something because it didn’t have an ounce of warmth to it. Looking at this key I knew exactly which lock it belongs to. So I wait until Mary is in the living room eating her toast and eggs and then I creep up the long winding staircase. With every step my heart beats faster and faster and my blood runs cold. By the top of the stairs the amount of sweat on me must have seemed like I ran a marathon. I reach the office and the room goes quiet.

I walk in cautiously, glancing around so much my eyes blur. Straight ahead of me is a wall covered end to end with missing person flyers and baby photos. I am so confused because they all pretty much look the same. I walk up to the wall slowly and hit my foot on the rocking chair. The impact gives me goosebumps and I freeze. The creaking it makes sounds just like the creaking I hear downstairs! I look back up to stand face to face with the biggest non-ordinary shock of my entire life. My eyes go wide and mouth goes dry as I read:

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This baby… is me. How do I know this, when most babies look like hairless aliens? The birthmark. It had to be the same exact birthmark between my eyes. Had to be. The amount of thoughts racing through my head were absolutely countless. Is it me? Why is this here? I knew I always looked different than my mom but… could I have been… stolen?

I rip the flyer off the wall and run downstairs to Mary. With tears in my eyes I hold up the flyer right next to my face. She looks extremely confused at first and slowly her face changes to joy. The older lady’s eyes water as she starts to silently cry. “You are beautiful,” she signs. A tear slips down my cheek as I reach to embrace my mother.

Upstairs my father’s old rocking chair rocks to a stop. His signs have been understood for the office never made another noise again.

-Paige Penelope Peters