a story by Richard Hartwell

She seems to have traveled so lightly:  keys, only three; a woman’s wristwatch, gold-plated, with an expansion band; a purple ballpoint pen, cheap; a pencil, wood, yellow.  On the key chain:  three keys, two chrome, worn; a car alarm buzzer; a plastic fob that reads “Keys I Haven’t Lost Yet” in day-glo orange.   It makes me wonder about her.

With only three keys, what did she have before that she lost or misplaced or placed back?  Judging by the alarm chip on the key chain, the large plastic-enclosed key is for her car. One of the other two is presumably for her house or apartment.  What’s the third key for?  Her office?  Garage?  Back gate?  Storage?  Boyfriend’s apartment?

Her life’s too streamlined, too thin of details and attachments.  What am I to make of her life from just these?

Perhaps the pen and pencil indicate a teacher, or a secretary, or just an organizationally anal personality who’s always been prepared.  No, not always.  There’s no notepad.

The watch is keeping the correct time.  The crystal’s not been broken by blunt force nor the band twisted grotesquely in a final struggle.  The pencil is sharpened, not broken.  The plastic pen is not shattered and isn’t leaking.

With only these remains, how am I to reconstruct a life?  I’ve been waiting three hours now, resting on the seawall of the jetty next to these items, waiting for her to return.  She hasn’t.  They weren’t laid out in a pattern, neatly organized with thought.  They weren’t scattered, abandoned hastily or in panic.  They were merely deposited in a loose pile, tokens of a thin life left behind.  Momentarily, I had hoped.

It’s three-and-a-half hours now, and the tide’s almost fully in.

© 2011, Richard Hartwell