The Spare Key

On the last night of the marriage my husband and I went to the ballet. We had seen Sleeping Beauty at least four times before but as Neil said that morning over his omelet and toast what are we if not creatures of habit? Indeed I said and took a sip of coffee. It’s all that keeps us sane.

On the last night of the marriage we had a reservation at Café Fiorello for seven o’clock. I sent Neil to the dry cleaner’s on the corner to pick up my mink and fixed myself a martini while the bath was running. I was looking for my pills in the cabinet in the bathroom when Helen called to confirm about dinner and I asked why don’t you and Tom come over for a couple drinks around five? Then I hung up the phone and got into the bath even though the water was a bit too hot.

On the last night of the marriage we were out of tonic water and the ice machine in the freezer was malfunctioning. I called Neil to ask him to stop by the supermarket for a few bottles of Seagram’s and a bag of ice. My toes were shriveled from sitting in the bath too long so I sat on the sofa by the window and looked at them for a while. I must have lost track of time because when I looked out the window there were Helen and Tom crossing the street and Tom looked up and saw me in my robe with my crinkly toes propped up on the edge of the sofa but then he looked away. So I got up and ran into the bedroom and put on my dress and brushed my hair and then the doorbell rang but I couldn’t find my shoes and the doorbell was ringing ringing ringing.

On the last night of the marriage Neil was late coming home from the supermarket. If he had been there I wouldn’t have had to answer the door without any shoes and Tom looked down at my crinkly toes and he was thinking about how he had seen me through the window. I knew he was. And Helen said how nice of you to invite us and I said please excuse me for a moment and have a seat. And I went back into the bedroom to look for my shoes and there was a pair under the bed but not the right pair and a lipstick but not my lipstick. That’s strange I thought I must have forgotten I bought this and I put it down on the bedside table next to the ashtray that’s never used anymore since I told Neil I quit smoking.

On the last night of the marriage it was raining cats and dogs. I found my shoes in the hallway in the puddle of water made by Helen’s umbrella when she left it by the door. So I put on my shoes and sat down next to Helen on the sofa and said I’d offer you a drink but God knows where Neil is with the ice. Tom was standing by the fireplace and now he pointed at a painting on the wall and said De Kooning? and I had no idea what the devil it was I’m not on speaking terms with the old decorator but I said yes because he was waiting for my answer and he had turned around and now he was looking at my feet. I felt self-conscious even though I was wearing shoes now and my feet weren’t crinkly anymore so I walked around to the other side of the sofa and pretended to fuss with the air conditioner but then the doorbell rang and it was Neil.

On the last night of the marriage there was something wrong with the clock in the bedroom. It was an hour behind and it chimed four thirty at the same time as Neil rang the doorbell. I went to get the door and I asked Neil why he didn’t just come in because if he forgot his key the spare was always under the mat but he said it wasn’t there for some reason he had no idea why. So I took the bag of ice and as I was walking into the kitchen Neil was kissing Helen on the cheek and she said is it really only four thirty we must have been dreadfully early. I made the first gin and tonic for myself and I drank it as I was chopping up the lime into fat little wedges on the cutting board. One of the slices shot a stream of juice into my eye and it stung so I wet a napkin and held it to my eye and leaned back against the refrigerator. Neil came in to get the drinks and he said are you all right and I said yes but why were you so late? He said he had been waiting in the supermarket because of the rain and honey did you remember to take your pills?

On the last night of the marriage I found a grey hair. I found it as I was looking through the medicine cabinet for my pills. They weren’t there so I slammed the door closed and the door had a mirror on the front and there it was. I pulled it out and looked at it for a while before I realized I had to find my pills so I went back into the room and looked in the drawer of the bedside table but then there was a knock on the door and it was Tom. He said I’m sorry to bother you but I seem to have made a mess I went into the kitchen to get some more ice but the freezer was full of water for some reason and it spilled all over the floor. And I said please don’t worry the freezer is malfunctioning I’ll get Neil to take care of it. But he said Neil was already taking care of it and not to worry so I wondered why he had come in. He said what are you looking for and I said nothing I’m trying to fix the clock it’s an hour behind you see.

On the last night of the marriage Helen had too many gin and tonics. I could hear her laughing in the living room even after Tom had closed the door. He said maybe I can give you a hand clocks are a sort of hobby of mine. So I unlocked the front of the clock with a little key from the drawer in the bedside table and he stuck his hand inside and turned the gears back and forth with his little finger. I looked out the window at the blue flickering televisions in the building across the street and listened to the rain lashing against the window and the clock ticking and the gears turning and Tom’s breath going in and out. I reached into the drawer in the bedside table and got out a pack of cigarettes. And even though it was raining I walked over to the window and opened it a crack and lit one up. I blew the smoke out the window and watched it mingle with the rain and thought about my marriage. Tom came over and said the clock was fixed so I offered him a cigarette and he held it to his lips as I flicked the lighter.

On the last night of the marriage a telemarketer tried to sell me a timeshare in the Maldives. The telephone rang and rang. I ground my cigarette on the side of the window and dropped it into the rain. The telephone rang again and Neil picked it up dumb bastard. Diane it’s for you he yelled so I walked out into the living room and tripped over Helen’s shoes which were in the middle of the floor. She was sitting on the sofa with her legs over the armrest and her naked feet dangling and she said Neil I’d love another one of your fabulous gin and tonics how do you do it? I didn’t mention that I made the goddamn gin and tonics or that there’s really nothing complicated about them at all I just took the phone from Neil and said How many times do I have to tell you not to pick up the phone this time of night, yes, hello? No I’m not interested. No thank you, please don’t call again. Goodnight. Neil came back with another gin and tonic and he was saying I take ice and then I put gin and tonic water and Helen said Fascinating but then Tom came out of the bedroom and he was holding something little and black and he said Helen isn’t this your lipstick. Helen looked up but she didn’t get a chance to answer because just then Neil spilled gin and tonic all over the front of her dress.

On the last night of the marriage there was a cab driver strike in the city of New York. Because of this we got to Café Fiorello at seven twenty and my mink coat was soaking wet. The waiter said we apologize but we have given away your table to another customer we do however have seats at the bar. Neil said he hated the bar but the show was starting very soon so we sat down and I ordered another martini and Helen said make that two. The waiter came and read us the specials. Neil ordered the Soup Du Jour which was actually the Zuppe de Giorno since Café Fiorello was an Italian restaurant said the waiter. Tom ordered six oysters and I said make that twelve. Helen didn’t order anything she was in the bathroom. Tom and Neil took turns drinking her martini. I reached down under my chair and pulled out my handbag. Inside was a black leather wallet with three hundred fifty dollars in cash three credit cards and a photograph of me and Neil at our wedding. We didn’t have any children or pets or any other thing normal people have photographs of in their wallets. Inside the purse was also a tube of mascara a comb and a small yellow bottle of pills. The outside of the bottle said Prescription: Diane Rogers take one daily with food. I took the bottle out of the purse and set it next to my plate.

On the last night of the marriage Café Fiorello ran out of oysters. After he repeated the specials the waiter asked Is there anything else we can tempt you with tonight? Tom asked to see the menu again but Helen who was back from the bathroom put her hands over his mouth and said He wants the lobster and I want my goddamn martini. Then she turned to me and said Why didn’t you tell me there’s a lady in the bathroom who washes your hands for you I didn’t have a cent to tip her with. As if to prove a point she dug her hands in to her pockets and pulled them inside out. Look she giggled. Empty—not a cent! And something gold flew out of her pocket and landed on the bar it was the spare key. That’s mine I said I think I’ll take that and I put the spare key in my purse along with the wallet and the comb and the tube of mascara. Then the waiter came back with the food. He didn’t bring me anything so I took a bite of Tom’s lobster because he was talking to a little bald man at a table in the corner. Helen didn’t see she was on her knees under the table probably looking for the key. Neil was also talking to the bald man so I tried a spoonful of his soup. It was white bean. Then I unscrewed the little yellow bottle of pills. I took one and poured the rest into Neil’s soup. They looked just like little white beans.

On the last night of the marriage my husband and I went to the ballet. Actually, we were so late for the ballet that the ushers wouldn’t seat us until the end of the first scene. So we sat down on one of those fancy leather couches outside and I ordered us two glasses of champagne. I had to pay for the champagne with one of my credit cards because I had paid the bill at Café Fiorello in cash and I wasn’t sure how much to leave for a tip so I left it all. How generous of me I thought. Neil was being very rude and refusing to drink the champagne I had bought with my credit card. He was also slumped over in the chair and I noticed that a young couple and an old man across the room were all staring at him. Neil sit up for God’s sake you’re embarrassing us I whispered. But Neil pretended not to hear. I handed him his glass and he dropped it on the floor and it broke into lots of little pieces and spilled yellow champagne all over the nice white carpet. The man from the refreshments counter came over and started to wipe it up but Neil ignored him too. It was mortifying really. I’m going to have a talk with him when we get home.

Katie Murphy
Age 17, Grade 12
Nightingale-Bamford School
Gold Key

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