This story is from last spring. It's about loneliness and neediness and locksmiths and desperation. About trying to trick someone into being your lover, or at least your friend.
The smell of the locksmiths is wonderful: metallic and burnt and flat, a smell you can taste on the back of your tongue like blood. It is coming from the keys. There is a whole wall of them, floor to ceiling, every kind of key you could ever imagine, each dangling from its own personal hook. I imagine when the eastern wind blows, they flutter in it, tinkling like wind chimes. It must be so peaceful in this locksmiths in the spring.
The man standing behind the counter is tall, and at first I think he could be dashing, but then he turns to face me and I see that his face is crumpled all the way down the left hand side, as if he has had a stroke, or maybe just got too close to the heat from which all these metal things are forged.
“I need a key cut, any key,” I say, and the locksmith man does not bat an eyelid. I like this; crumple or no crumple, I like this. I think we are going to get on fine.
“Any key,” he repeats.
“Yes,” I say. And this is enough.
The man turns slowly to his wall of keys. He is in no hurry. He moves like those Japanese monks that you hear of, the ones who spend decades practising the right movement to pour a simple cup of tea. He reaches for one, examines it, and hangs it up again. He runs his finger along the row, tapping one then the other with his fingernail. I can see the small shake of his head, feel the tut in the air. Of course. This man has spent his entire life picking the right key. A key whose purpose is to be any key requires just as much care as all the others.
Then, right at the end of the row, he happens upon it. It is larger than the ones he touched before, with a long, thin cylinder and a jaunty oval hoop. A grey so dark it is almost navy. A metal square tooth waiting to be carved for its hole.
The man takes the key to the dark, squat machine waiting in the corner, and looks to me one more time.
“Yes,” I say. “Please.”