Key in the lock. Turn it once. Turn it tw- The door opens. One turn’s all it took. Maria forgot to double lock again. I’ll have to tell her ‘bout the lock again. She’ll say something ‘bout how it’s useless again. I’ll have to insist again. She’ll pretend to agree, but then she’ll ‘forget’ again. Well this is great. Out the door. Double lock. Double. Maybe now she’ll get the hint. Or not. Whatever. Down the stairs. Out the block.
Maria’s that kind of gal. The kind who doesn’t get it. Thinks she does, but she really doesn’t. I’ll get out of bed some mornings and she won’t be there. When she pulled that disappearing act the first time, I panicked. Left the room, found her on my balcony. 7 am and she’s on the damn balcony! ’Cause of the sun rise, she said. It’s kinda stupid if you ask me, but everybody’s got their own thing. Don’t know why you’d care ’bout sun rise. Much better when night falls. Nice light all over and you get to sleep. Still, blahblah, sugar spice, all things nice, life is beautiful and so are mornings. To each their own.
Sometimes though, I’ll get out of bed and see her on the balcony at 5, maybe 6 am. In her shirt and knickers, like it’s not freezing cold out there. I’ll ask her: ‘Now what the hell are you doing?’ And she’ll answer something smart-sounding poetic-sounding ‘bout how ‘The day shines better before light hits it.’ Her dumb words, not mine.
No, she doesn’t get it. It. Life. She doesn’t get double locks or staying inside when it’s pouring. Instead she plays Waldo with clouds and bloody rainbows. If it’s cold and wet, you don’t go outside. ’Specially not in your jammies. Bet she loves playing in the snow too. Rolling in it, like a careless dog. Not even building a snowman. ’Cause rolling in the dirt is so much better.
I tried talking to her once, about it, ’bout all of it. Her. About the double locks. ’Course, she didn’t get that either. She asked why it was so important to double lock. Didn’t change anything to her. She even added that locks ‘Should only be lockable once.’ Like that would make a heck of a lot more sense.
Didn’t have any answers for her. Don’t know why, I started thinking ’bout the grandma in the shop. The one who- And I remember Maria, looking into my eyes, hook and sink hers into the moment. She said: ‘Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s the answer. It’s what I want you to give me. Not some stupid lie about robberies and locks. What’s on your mind, right now?’
One in a thousand, that’s Maria. One in a million. She’d take it as a compliment, but it’s really not. You just gotta give her what she wants, sometimes. A bone to chew on, or she won’t let go.
So I told her, ’bout the old lady in the shop. The one who touched every fruit before choosing one. She never chose the perfect fruit. Her thumb rubbed a cantaloupe and if there was a spot in the right place, she would pick it. If not, then she’d take the next one in hand, test it the same way. Took her hours, sometimes. Cause if no cantaloupe had the right spot, she’d move on to the watermelons, to the honeydews, sometimes even to the biggest oranges. She’d always end up choosing one or another. No matter how much time it took. At least that woman took time to do things right. She probably takes the time to double lock her door, too.
I said that to Maria. Her eyes dazzled while I spoke about it, as if it’s all she had ever dreamt of hearing about. I swear, the small facts of life are wasted on all of us. Maria picks them up, one by one. Treats them all like special seeds in a garden of thoughts.
She got a weird story. An old lady, a couple of cantaloupes. It’s all she wanted. We stopped talking ’bout this, obviously. Next morning though, I get up, the door’s single locked again. So I asked her why and she said: ‘Because you need to move on.’ Move on, really? Move on? So I asked move on from what? She shrugged. Crazy, that Maria. Move on from what? I try not to get angry at her, ‘cause she’s like a house of straw. If I huff and I puff, she’ll crumble down in tears.
Just like that time she hid my slippers. Nothing stupider than a prank. What’s so funny ’bout that? I like knowing what I walk into. ’Specially at night. Nothing weird or funny ’bout that. Just something she should respect. Something she respects now. Just wish I didn’t have to yell. Cause then her eyes get all watered up. Making me feel bad. Bet she loves that. Going to all her friends, saying how bad I am. So I let go of it. My dad always understood that, though. Not a single explanation needed. You never know what you can walk into, in the dead of night. He never made fun of me for it. But I guess that’s the difference between someone who cares and someone who’s bored and wants to dig into you. My dad never asked questions. He got it. It. He always double locked after… After.
Walked all the way to work, then. Calms me down to walk, sometimes. Gives me time to think, ’bout what happened. Like that stupid single lock. Can’t focus on nothing when I take the car. I try to think, but there’s always some dumb drivers ‘long the way, then bam! I’m at work already. Walking’s slower and people don’t get in my way. So I can do some thinkin’.
Should I leave Maria? Course not. Where’d she even go? Not that it’s my fault, but the gal doesn’t have a job or anythin’. And she got nice eyes, I’ll give her that. First thing I noticed ’bout her. She has those eyes that look as if I’d always known them. Could spend years staring at her. There’s always the question, digging into my brain. Where’d I see them before? But they calm me down. Nice grey eyes. Could get lost in them. Makes me think of questions without answer. Keeps the mind busy, ’specially when it has nothing to think about. I like thinking ’bout that in the empty moments. If I don’t, then my mind goes to bad places. But that’s what she does to me, takes the worry away. Sounds nice, right?
There’s something else ’bout her. Maria gets along with my old man. Not surprising for most people, I know. But my old man never liked the gals I brought home before. Barely spoke to them. Maria though, he got ’long with her straight away. Right when he looked her in the eyes. It just clicked, I guess. Maybe it’s ’cause he wasn’t ready to see me leave before. Or he likes that she’s so damn different. Special or not, doesn’t stop her from being incapable of closing doors properly.
People can still come in, when you only lock it once. Robbers still come in. When a place is double locked, not much they can do. Single lock though… Single lock and the house is theirs. I mean the flat. Single lock and the flat is theirs.
And what does she imagine then, Maria? That they’ll wanna play Waldo with rainbows too? That they’ll sit on the balcony for hours? No, they’ll shoot her head bloody open. Right between the eyes. That’s what’ll happen. No more pixie girl then. No more one in a million girl. Just another dead body on the floor. Lifeless, like m-… Like so many others.
When I come back from work, it’s usually dark out. So what, I’d find her body when I switch the light on? What if I don’t? What, I’ll stumble onto it? Does she even know what it’s like to find a body by feeling them on the floor, as you walk bare foot in the blood? Bet she doesn’t.
What if you did, Maria? What if you knew what it felt like? Of course I’d walk into it, because you hide my slippers, sometimes. You’d never guess how sticky it is. I mean how it would be. You’d never guess how sticky it would be. Like walking into a puddle of melted sugar, but still oddly warm. Like walking into caramel, that’s just been done and that someone poured from the saucepan right onto the floor. And then you crouch down to taste, but before you do, you smother your little fingers in it. Feels so much more liquid than caramel. And then you smell it and smells nothing like caramel. Smells of metal. It would smell of death, but I didn’t- I mean you don’t know what death smells like yet, do you? Idiot. Then you mindlessly try finding, in the darkness, the saucepan. And there’s something. Not a saucepan. Something cracked opened, that’s where the caramel-like substance is coming from. Like thousands of thin strings, made sticky by the caramel. It’s more than just the smell of metal, now. Her shampoo. Then your heart starts pounding and that’s when you really wake up. You switch on a light and see it. The face that you loved so much, its eyes wide opened, but not looking anywhere. Try dreaming of caramel, sugar and rainbows after that.
That evening, I came back. Single lock. Again. Enough’s enough. So I went to the living room. I was about to yell, when I noticed Maria’s smug smile. But her eyes are staring straight through me.
‘Oh what? What’s it now? Do we have a family o’ mice livin’ in our walls? Do they make you feel like cinderella?’
She was still smiling, silent. Mouth shut, for a change. I continued: ‘Nah, let me guess, their fur’s got some special shade of whatever and you fed them.’
Maria shook her head: ‘Not in a fairytale mood today, sorry.’
‘Then what? D’you see a kid holding his mom’s hand in the street and now you’re thinking ’bout starting a family? Cause if we need to have a talk ’bout babies again-’
‘I spoke to the old woman in the shop.’ I sat. She went there. Dared to go there.
She continued: ‘The one with the fruit and the thumb and-’
‘No, I know which one you mean. Why the hell would you do that?’
‘Cause I was right.’
‘Seriously? Have you seen her?’
I slammed the table: ‘About what?’
She didn’t flinch: ‘You know that she’s not alright, don’t you? There’s something very wrong with her. That’s why you feel a connection.’
‘So you’re saying there’s something wrong with me, now? After everything you’ve done, I’m the crazy one, is that it?’
‘Do you know why she touches the fruit the way she does? Because I do. She told me about the child she had. Held him in her arms, just once and then… Well she never held him again, let’s leave it at that.’
‘So the fruit reminds her of the child’s head. Those fruits are not just fruits and that lock is so much more than just a lock. Admit it.’
‘Why the heck would you bother that poor old lady, then? Hasn’t she been through enough?’
‘She needed to talk to someone. She really did. So do you.’
‘Will you knock it off? There ain’t nothing to talk about, mom!’
Damn it. I said… Why did I say that? I looked back into her eyes. Her grey eyes. Like mom’s grey eyes. How did I forget? She looked at me, speechless. ‘I meant Maria. I said Maria.’
‘That’s not true. You’re hurting and-’
‘And how would you know? Cause you’re so smart? Cause you’re so special? You’re neither.’
‘You found her, didn’t you? Your mom. You’re the one who found her, when she… Passed.’
‘So you did some snooping around! Bet you feel real proud of yourself for that. What, did you speak to my great aunt Carolyn, who told you what she heard from cousin Jenny, who-’
‘Your father told me.’
‘No, he didn’t-’
I stopped myself.
‘My dad wouldn’t-’
My clothes got a little tighter. That’s what Maria always did. She’d suffocate me.
She softened her voice: ‘I’m not, sweetie. He told me everything. He worries about you.’
‘Oh screw you.’
‘All of you. Get the hell out of my flat.’
‘Because this is my place and this is me saying goodbye. Give me your keys back and leave.’
She slowly grabbed her keys. Her eyes were too shocked to tear up. They were staring into mine, cold. She put her hands in mine, the keys along and said: ‘If I’m gone, I’m gone. You won’t see me again.’
‘Wasn’t counting on it.’
And just like that, she left. Shut the door behind her. I double locked.