On an afternoon in the middle of summer, the sky opened and pelted the neighborhood with keys. Car alarms went off, dogs barked, and afterwards a few neighbors complained of cracked windshields. I wasn’t sure those cracks hadn’t been there from before.
The kids ran out of the house and, God bless the little idiots, headed straight into the yard. I called them back and made them stand under the porch awning. It was drooping some from last winter — we hadn’t had the money to repair it — but still. Who knew if there would be a second burst? The little bastards bother me sometimes, but I would lose my mind if something happened to them.
I called Carl outside and of course he had all kinds of explanations — a shipment of keys fell off a plane, a neighbor threw them from a roof, an elaborate practical joke by the CIA or FBI or CDC or Illuminati or one of the other acronyms that Carl talks about. He always wants me to watch his conspiracy videos on our family computer, but I rarely have the patience for the dial up. I patted him on the back and said it sounded like he’d missed a big play from the cheers on the TV.
After ten minutes, I let the kids go nuts. I made them wear hard hats though. “But mom,” they whined. “None of the other kids are wearing them.”
Yeah, I said, and none of the other parents are smart enough to realize that their children need to grow up into little geniuses to buy them out of this world’s bullshit.
I put a hard hat on too, because Carl wouldn’t be able to take care of them if a key lodged itself in my head. Carl’s idea of a healthy dinner was hot dog top ramen. Enough said.
As it turned out, the keys were just regular keys. The neighborhood kids tried them on front doors, but none of them fit. Of course, they all would have worked on my shitty Honda that we busted the lock on fifteen years ago, but I didn’t mention that.
Our kids filled a few buckets and kept them around the house, and then, as with most things, they lost interest.
When the holidays came around, it dawned on me that we could make Christmas tree ornaments with them. We always tried to find cheap crafts the kids could make our relatives. I mean, Carl has seven sisters. That’s some nonsense I’m not justifying with a checkbook every year.
The kids got into it, and I didn’t even have to make my jokes about them being my holiday sweatshop. They tied a ribbon around every key, dipped them in glue, and covered them in sparkles. They were a little weird, but it only cost us a vat of glue. The rest was left over from last year.
Carl kept coming in the room and saying that there was a “there there”, which means he could have a good idea if he gave it more thought, but he won’t. Maybe it was a Christmas miracle though, because Carl eventually came back from the computer with copies of a story he’d written about the Christmas key tradition. The gist of the story — that years ago children without chimneys worried Santa couldn’t get into their homes, so they hung door keys on their trees for Santa so he could always get in. We packed up the stories and keys and shipped them off.
On Christmas Eve, as we sat around stirring chocolate powder into hot water, the kids started asking questions like how did Santa get in the first year if the key was on the tree inside.
Carl and I glanced at each other as we stirred. Sure, the story was a bit convoluted, but we hadn’t realized our kids still believed in Santa.
Carl explained that the first year the door was unlocked. Then Santa had the key going forward.
A few minutes later, the kids asked if Santa was God.
Carl and I had never talked too much about God. We weren’t religious people, but this seemed like as good of an analogy as any, so we nodded our heads.
Then the kids asked why God-Santa dropped the keys from the sky if he could get into the houses all along because of the Christmas key tradition.
At this point, to my relief, Carl had found a bottle of Jack Daniels and had added some to our drinks. I took a sip and told the kids that God hadn’t dropped the keys, that the keys just came down and that sometimes things like that just happen. It’s like how sometimes Santa can’t give as good of gifts as last year because the economy hasn’t been great, but that doesn’t mean Santa loves you any less, even if those annoying brats down the street get nicer toys because their parent’s credit cards aren’t maxed. Sometimes Santa loves you even more and that’s why he tells your mom to put hard hats on your heads and that’s why your dad comes up with creative dinners with the things we can afford even if they taste funny and maybe that’s why mom makes jokes about sweatshops when she makes you dip keys into a vat of glue that she secretly worries has a harmful odor that she’ll find out about later and regret exposing you to.
When I stopped talking, Carl and the kids were looking at me, worried. I realized I’d said too much. I looked down at the presents under our tree, wishing that they were a little bigger and had a little more inside.
I don’t know what expression I had on my face, but the kids came over, gave me hugs, and asked if I wanted more cocoa. Carl gave me a hug too — it was a good one, a long one that didn’t seem to be a means to an end.
Katrin Gibb received an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She has work published in or forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Confrontation, Hobart, Water~Stone Review, and Matchbook among other places. In 2016, Chance Press published a chapbook of her story ‘As Elvis’ that was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was also a finalist for the Neil Shepard Prize.
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