Cezarija Abartis

Posted on August 13, 2012


The Key

The key that the panhandler gave her was elaborately worked–shiny brass with a bow of three interlinked circles that meant something. The circles flowed confidently, solidly. Molly hefted the key in her palm and put it in her jeans pocket. “Be true to yourself; be happy; be curious; be compassionate.” How to be a good human, her father had said.

This was the meaning of life. There are no certainties, her mother had said, love is the answer. Molly thought something was underneath the signs and symbols.

Molly walked to meet her friend from high school, Sam, at Liffey’s Deli. The “f” and “y” in the neon sign were out, so it did actually seem to spell “Life’s Deli.” There were two doors, one at the front and one at the back. She slid into a booth by the window and watched the snow ease down. She tried to swallow, felt smothered. The music in the deli was unrecognizable static. Molly put her hand over her heart. Someone watching her might think it was a pledge of allegiance, but she was trying to calm the thumping. Eventually, her heart seemed to stop. Altogether.

That couldn’t be the case: she was still able to move her hand and lift the salt shaker and put it back in its place. Where was Sam? Sam “the Missile” and his lover, Joey–they would tell her what to do. Not doing something could be disastrous. Molly’s heart began to pound again. She peered out the window on the descending twilight. Her hands felt hot and weary. The key gleamed on the formica table.

She spun the key around. When it stopped, it pointed to her.

She would ask for Sam’s help because she was in danger, would warn him that he too was in danger, everyone was in danger, animals were in danger, viruses were rampant, her blood was shivering, their limbs would be amputated, their memories would disappear, nobody believed her, war was imminent, the universe would end in a freeze.

She had not expected this to be so difficult. She looked at her wristwatch, but the battery must have died. The man in the booth across from her was reading Samuel Beckett. She wished she had remembered to bring a book. A mystery would be perfect. Now the radio announced a retrospective of the Coen brothers’ films. She bent over as if she had been shot. It was too difficult to live through by herself. Where was Sam? The neon lights of the deli sign bled and flashed on the snow. Her ears rang. She smelled flowers, Sam’s cologne, but Sam was not here. It was a phantom fragrance.

Sam, who was studying to be an actuary, had explained that life was filled with stochastic variables, that there was little predictability.

Molly closed her eyes and meant to summon Sam. She pictured him wearing a stocking cap and laughing with squinting eyes. “You’re so paranoid, Molly. Nothing will happen. You’re safe.”

Molly heard the door open behind her. She turned around. It was a man all muffled up. He could’ve been a thief in the night, with his hood and scarf. He stamped the snow off his boots. The door opened again. An old couple shuffled in. They seated themselves in back, where it was warmer. The door opened again.


Cezarija Abartis‘ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Liquid Imagination, New York Tyrant, Prime Number, and r.kv.r.y., among others. This story began on ShowMeYourLits.com and was workshopped on Zoetrope.com. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.

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