12 years ago

Bare feet ran on compacted dirt. The air smelt like dusty pollen and dry warmth. Everywhere there were people, and there was the rare occurrence of sunshine. Somewhere, a child was crying- not the usual whimpering of hunger or loss, but a simple wail of not getting something they wanted. There was laughter, too. People feasted in the streets and shared with their neighbours. 

It was a day of union. It was the day of the keys. 

Little Lin waited on tiptoe, her hands pressing into the cracked paint and rotted wood of their windowsill. It was her place- somewhere she could look outside. The bathroom mirror and kitchen sink were not hers to reach yet, but here, at the window by the front door, she could see everything. 

Her grandfather, a kindly gent named Albert, had crouched by her side then, as he still did.  Some find crouching down to children patronising, but Lin often thought back to it as him coming to her level so she wouldn't feel small. 

"Look, Linny, look at all the children!" 

She looked up at him, bewildered. 

"Don't look so scared, kit. It's a good day. Look, your sister will take you-," he held out his hand for her to join him. She'd stayed crouched.

"Come on, Lin, don't look so scared." 

Begrudgingly, she was taken to her the kitchen table, her grandfather holding her hand. Her sister, mother and father were waiting, her sister tapping her foot. Back then, Rina was always impatient. 

Her mother had handed her a small, dull key. 

"Here Lin, your first key."

She pressed it into her little hand, and held it tight for a moment. 

"I nev'r found out where it fit myself, but...perhaps you will."

Lin smiled up at her mother, feeling the jagged teeth bite into her hand. Her father was next. 

"Here, love. I sold 'most mine when I were old enough to realise what theys worth, but I haggled you this from an old friend. Hold out your hand".

She'd outstretched her pale palm, and he placed a gritty silver key into it. 

"Look, love, see the number?," he ran his calloused fingers over the indentation.

"It's a numbered 'un. 2-oh-3-1. Maybe you'll foind sunthin' good."

He had ruffled her red hair, a jaunty grin on his features. 

"I hope so, by god," 

Her sister, Rina, was old enough to be patient, but she'd stood as apt and hungry for presents as any child. 

Their Father had laughed, ruffling her hair too, causing her to scowl. 

"We 'aven't forgotten you, Reen, don't bust."

"Mum, you said when I was 17, I could have your room, the den you found when you were my age that you're always talking about."

"Pet, it's a whole place. You might be a little young..."

"You said! For hells sake, mum, you promised."

"Ay! Don't speak to your mother like that girl, or I won't give you your due."

Their father patted his pocket and there was a faint jangling.

"Is that...a bunch?! Pa!"

"Nope, nothin' here," he'd chuckled.  

She lunged at his pocket, and he playfully batted her off. Instead, he stroked behind her ear, and as if by magic produced a bunch of assorted keys.

Rina's eyes had sparkled as she held them in her hand, before she hugged her parents tightly. 

At this point, Lin had tried to creep away. Her grandfather held her shoulders and stopped her. 

Their Mother gave in and went to find Rina the key to her old hideout. Albert crouched down again to Lin and handed her one last key. She'd turned it over- it was shiny, it reflected her face back at her. 

"This one I found on the street, but it's too shiny to not be special. I kept it for you, on your first Key Day n'all."

Finally, Rina had returned triumphant to the doorway, bunch and key in hand. Lin shuffled, holding tightly to her own in her hands. 

With smiling faces, their parents wished them well, and they'd headed out onto the street. 

The End

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