This month’s short story challenge was 1200 with “permanent” as a prompt. While it’s not a true story…it could be, hence the painting of my corgi girl. Enjoy!
I knocked and knocked, but my dog refused to grow a thumb and unlock the door. I peered through the window. My puppy, Fellah, sat on the floor gazing into my eyes without acknowledging the stress of our predicament. On the floor next to her, was my house key. The key rested next to the Fellah’s leash. Everyone waited for their hero, me, to break in and take them on a walk.
Once my breath had fogged my view through the window, I turned and collapsed into the porch chair. My boyfriend would be waiting for me at the park. Perhaps I could have called him for help, but I couldn’t materialise a phone in the pocket of my leggings. My phone, my third hand, had been amputated by the locked door as well. All I had, was a useless wallet.
Useless. Useless. Useless.
The word ping-ponged through my brain, scuffing the walls of my mind.
I slapped my knees, mustering all of my feminism and made a plan. First, I must remember where I left the spare key. I can tell you where it was not: under the welcome mat, in the potted plant, or under the fake rock I’d purchased for spare keys.
Ah! I remembered placing the hide-a-key box in the door pocket of my Honda. This had been a brilliant idea, because I never locked my car. I skipped to the driver’s door of my sedan and yanked on the handle. The plastic flap flipped off the tips of my fingers and smacked with the same clap my elementary teachers had used to get my attention – severe and unamused.
Perhaps the Universe can sense when we need a little conflict in our lives. Why else would I lock my car for the first time in months, only to also lock myself out of the house on the same day?
Then I remembered. During the last few weeks, I’d seen a scruffy man shuffling through the neighborhood. I lived on the safe side of a border town, which meant occasional break-in’s. The man’s body odor alerted me to his presence from a block away. His beanie slouched low on his head, exhausted from wiping up his sweat and grime day after day, I’m sure. He didn’t smile. He didn’t make eye contact. Though if he had, it would have bothered me more. So, I’d started locking doors.
The gleaming windows of my home caught my eye. They begged me to pry them open. The glass sirens called and I surged forward raising my hands to pop out the screens.
When was the last time I had to solve a problem on my own? Certainly, it had been a while. I’m a people pleaser and a team-player. Standing alone on the porch, trying to eek the screen out of its well-worn groove, and avoid breaking an already chewed down fingernail, I felt…
I felt. Alone?
The word echoed in my mind with the timbre of a voice. My solitary voice.
Not even the emotional support dog could help me now. I looked through the window at her. Fellah was steady and loyal, she looked at me like I was the sun and the moon and the deliverer of all food. But, looking through the window at that moment, all I could see was a toppled trash can. My spunky, lovely dog had stepped around this morning’s coffee grounds to play with last week’s grease soaked paper towels.
I yanked the screen window out of its groove, tripping backward with the force, and the screen bopped my forehead. I caught my balance, then sat in the grass. Perhaps I’d just live in my yard forever. I scrambled to the window and tried shoving it open. I never locked the windows, it should have slid ajar for me. But, when I took three seconds to look at the window clasp, tears welled in my eyes. It was locked.
Before any tears fell, my dad’s words drifted into my mind, “If you’re ever locked out. Take a credit card and slide it through the door jam, it’ll jimmy the handle and open the door.” Perhaps me and my wallet weren’t so useless after all. I whipped out a purple visa and set to work on the handle. I’d locked myself out, so the deadbolt hadn’t slid close. It was just a matter of working the handle itself.
In a matter of seconds, my card bent irreparably.
I wondered if I could climb the tree, leap onto the roof of my house and crawl through a bedroom window.
I shook my head. Be reasonable.
Maybe a neighbor could pry open the door. I looked up and down my street. On a beautiful Tuesday morning, most of my neighbors could be found in office buildings, working like normal grown ups. On this side of town, the adults didn’t loaf around their house and then lock themselves out.
I heard the dog before I smelled the owner. Then, I smelled him before I saw him. Mr. Greasy Beanie and his golden retriever shuffled down my street. HIs dog had a knack for putting me at ease, but his owner’s thin lips and hard set jaw made the hairs on my neck squirm. I didn’t know his name, but I couldn’t bring myself to call him the Creep, because I truly believe anyone with a golden retriever couldn’t be all bad.
“Locked out?” he asked.
Startled by hearing his voice for the first time, I forgot to respond.
“You okay?” he asked.
I nodded, “Yes, I’m fine but I am locked out.”
“Dead-bolted?” he asked.
“No, just the handle. I tried a credit card, but it didn’t work. My next plan was to scale the chimney and lower myself down.”
He laughed. No, he politely coughed as if I’d said something funny.
My heart rate quickened. The female decision tree I’d been honing since I was a teenager kicked into high gear.
Does this person obviously mean me harm?
Do I have an escape plan in case harm becomes a possibility?
I will scream and fight. He doesn’t have a car so I won’t be kidnapped.
But, his dog might have a secret attack command I don’t know about. He might also have a knife.
He might also help me open the door, only to push me inside and kill me there.
But, is that likely?
He’s most likely a new neighbor with poor hygiene.
He most likely minds his own business.
He can try the door, but I’ll stand six feet back and wait.
I don’t enjoy assuming the best about strangers, though statistically I should.
“You got another card I could try?” he asked.
Another decision tree played out in my mind, it determined I would be okay if he used my library card.
I stretch out my arm and let him take it from me. He didn’t bother looking at the card or my name or my library id number. So, he’d either stolen my identity already or he didn’t care.
“Sit,” he said. I flinched. When his dog sat next to him, I realized my misunderstanding.
“Pretty dog,” I said.
“That’s Alma. She’s a retired service dog. She was my sister’s,” he slid the card through the door jam.
“Was your sister able to get another?” I asked.
He grunted as he worked the card with the handle, “No. She didn’t need one.”
“Oh, that’s good,” I said, thinking his sister must have recovered from an ailment.
“I guess. She died.” The door popped open.
Should I express gratitude or condolences or embarrassment?
“Um.” I didn’t move. Then, the words poured, “I’m so sorry. I’m an idiot.”
My loyal, spunky dog ran through the doorway barking and jumping onto the stranger. Her little paws stretch to his knee and he bent to pet her. She licked his hand like an old friend. Traitor.
“It’s okay. I don’t explain myself well sometimes.” He kept his gaze trained on my dog, but his voice sounded sincere.
“Welp, there ya go.” He grabbed his own dog’s leash.
“Yes, my goodness. Thank you so much!” I gave an awkward laugh, “Lesson learned. I’m Mila, by the way.” I gave a little wave, I wouldn’t risk him grabbing my wrist after such a nice interaction.
“Nice to meet you. Bring your dog by anytime to say, ‘Hi’ to mine. Her name is Fellah.”
“Okay.” He actually smiled.
He turned and left the yard. I appreciated his disinterest and lack of enthusiasm. He’d be a great neighbor.
I walked inside and gathered my things. I still hadn’t solved a problem in my life on my own, but no man is an island, right? Plus, I’d gained a permanent acquaintance; the kind you can say hi to, the kind who will unlocked your door. For me, that turned an annoying day into a very good day.