I wish I had a Spare Key

Creative Writing Prompt

“That’s her mum.”

“Who’s mum?”

“Nancy’s mum!”

He grunts in reply, and I know I’ve lost him, he’s probably sick of hearing me talk about Nancy as awful as that sounds – poor woman.

I nip my lower lip between my teeth as I wonder whether it would be insensitive of me to go out and ask her about the package. It’s hard to gauge the mood from my perch by the lounge window; she doesn’t look that miserable from here but it’s obviously not a social visit. Perhaps she’s here to start sorting out the house. In which case it makes perfect sense for me to raise my issue now before things get too hectic, I’d be furious if it ended up getting lost in the hubbub. I should go over there.

“I’m going over there.” I declare to the room.

“Going where?” He asks.

“To Nancy’s house.”

“Nancy’s dead.”

I roll my eyes at my own reflection in the mirror over the mantlepiece; my hair is smooth, and my eyeliner is neat, I am ready to socialise. I don’t bother saying goodbye as I don’t intend to be out long. Action plan; say hi, offer condolences, ask for the package.

The sun is pleasantly warm when I step outside and I turn my face up to it soothingly, it certainly feels like spring has finally sprung after such a miserable and wet couple of weeks. Nancy’s mum has already gone inside the house next door to mine. I march up the pathway, determined to get this over with it’s been bugging me for weeks now. I knock gently, then I remind myself stop biting my lip because it makes me look nervous and try very quickly to arrange my features into kind and sympathetic – drawn in eyebrows and an upturned smile.

The woman who opens the door looks a lot more miserable than I previously gave her credit for with a grey haggard complexion, drooping eye bags, and a perpetual look of confusion about her features.

She stares at me, and I stare back. As if we were talking over the phone, I expect her to speak first because I am the one that’s calling.

It soon becomes apparent that she isn’t going first so I clear my throat, “Poor Nancy.” I say and inwardly cringe, I wish I’d prepared how on earth I was going to navigate this conversation instead of just coming over here.

She blinks, her mouth flaps open once, twice, and then she sighs, “Yes, Nancy.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, dear.”

“She was a lovely person.”

“Yes.”

“Gone too soon.” I’m pinching cliches out of my head like lice, I cannot fathom why I thought this was a good idea. My tight expression probably looks more condescending than sympathetic at this point, and I can’t for the life of me think of another word to say on the matter.  

We stare at each other again. It’s tense. I can’t offer my condolences because I already said I was sorry. She’s waiting for me to say something, allude to the reason I came over here. Why did I come over here? What fool would plant themselves directly in this uncomfortable unending situation. Then –

“Was there something I can do for you?” She asks, peering at me through squinting eyes.

Relief bursts, suddenly I am grinning like an idiot, I can’t stop myself, “Yes!” I beam. “Sorry, yes, I did come here to ask you a favour.”

“A favour?” Her cheeks pinch up with her eyes incredulously. But it’s okay, she doesn’t understand yet what an infinitesimal favour it is that I need, perhaps I worded that wrong, of course she’s confused, dropping round to the dead neighbour’s mother for a favour –

“You see, before she died – bless her – Nancy kindly took in a parcel for me.” I explain.

Her attention is snatched away by the arrival of a huge white van pottering down the road towards us, with another identical vehicle trailing just behind it.

“Ah, the movers.” She grumbles, “I had hoped to get some keepsakes packed up before they arrived.” She steps past me onto the path to hail down the drivers and I want to melt into the shrubbery. I’m nibbling my lower lip again.

I cast one longing glance back through the open front door, hoping that perhaps I could spot the package there in the hallway or sitting on an end table waiting for me. Then Nancy’s mother is bustling past me again, two movers in tow, leading them straight into the house and away.

It’s probably best that I leave them to it. This is worse than feeling like a sore thumb, I’m a boneless fifth limb; useless, in the way, and liable to trip someone over if I stay where I am. She has led them deep into the house, I can only hear the distant murmur of voices through the open door. Time to get home I guess.

Instead, I take another step and lean around the front door. If I can see the parcel, then I can scoop it up and get home without bothering anyone for a moment longer. My frantic, sweeping look reveals nothing on the stairs, the shoe cupboard or the end table.

Footsteps and voices are moving towards me again, it makes my heart leap, and my feet start moving. I scurry down the path and directly across my own lawn in the attempt to get home before they come back out of Nancy’s house. They are at the end of the path talking while I am fumbling with my own front door. My ears are burning and there is hot prickly sweat in the small of my back and under my arms. I am so embarrassed, and I should not have gone over there. I couldn’t have known that Nancy’s mum was clearing the house today, I was just trying to get my package back.

I shut the door gratefully behind me and slump against the inside with my eyes closed.

“I feel like an idiot.” I say to the empty hallway.

He grunts from the lounge, “bet you wish you took that spare key when Nancy offered it.”

© Emma Stead

11 responses to “I wish I had a Spare Key”

  1. Well done! Kept my mind racing to figure where you were going with this. As good writing does, this left a bit unresolved for my mind to play with for a while well after the read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very intriguing story that makes us sympathise with your MC’s misfortune. Beautifully written, Emma!
    ‘pinching cliches out of my head like lice’
    ‘I’m a boneless fifth limb; useless, in the way, and liable to trip someone over’ – some unusual and inventive descriptions here! Really makes them stand out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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