45 Keys (short story)

2 04 2011

At the top of a New York apartment building, above the crust and stale despair of a dark and dilapidated neighborhood there is a room. To reach it you must walk up six flights of stairs for the building has no elevator and looks as though it could not sustain the shock if an elevator were to be introduced into its’ decaying superstructure. The stairs are tired and sag to prove it. The walls were papered once but the pattern has faded into a dim memory of itself. Occasionally, if you happen to attempt the climb, you meet rats and mice who greet you in the manner of very small and velvety doormen. Sometimes a particularly bold rat will escort you all the way to the top floor.

There is a landing above the uppermost step, but no hallway. The other floors have hallways but even passages cannot be bothered with sixth floor walk-ups. Instead you get a landing and a green door with a tarnished placard that reads only “Mr Sharpe”.

The tenant’s name is not, it may be observed, Mr Sharpe. 

Since the tenant is not home just now we can certainly take the liberty of looking around this curious set of rooms which exist in such a disheartening environment. No, don’t bother with the door, as non-corporeal observers we may enter without using the traditional method and we will save time by doing so, as you shall see.

Behind the green door is a gray room. Not the tired, unhappy gray of the neighborhood but the intentional gray of a denizen who prefers neutrality. The couch is gray and large, the walls are painted to match. There are bookshelves but no books and a series of paintings that, whether from some inherent property or due to their environment give the impression of being likewise without colour.

There are two important things about this room and nothing at all important about any of the others. But this room is a rare one and I can tell you why. First, the back side of the door is comprised entirely of brass mechanical-looking devices. They are stacked upon one another, affixed to ropes and pulleys of brass, chained to nearby walls, set with timers and all 45 separate devices have their own keyholes. You heard correctly. To enter this seemingly unimportant abode you must use 45 different keys that match 45 unique locks. And not just unique to the door but unique to the world. Nothing like the green door has ever been seen before or hopefully will be again.

The second thing that makes apartment 601 (did I mention the number before?) special resides under a dark sheet in the far corner of the front room. Shall we pull back the sheet and take a look?


Did you hear that?

The jangling of keys and a man’s footstep.

No, it isn’t Mr Sharpe. I told you earlier that Mr Sharpe no longer lives at this address. Perhaps you and I had better fade into the background. I believe our tenant is home.

There? Hear him putting the key in the first lock? We’ll have a bit of a wait before us if we’re going to stick around until he comes in. But no, he’s done this so many times it takes hardly three minutes.

The door swings open and we catch our first look at this odd personage. He is a man of middle years, though he looks older than he is, I would guess. He’s humming a melody from that new show on Broadway. The one that got all the write-ups? Yes, I enjoyed it too. And he has a lovely voice. And a kind face, don’t you think? I’ve always thought him a pleasant sort of man. Good-hearted, and you know how rare that is these days.

You are still wondering why this pleasant-looking man lives in such a dreary place and why the elaborate security measures. Don’t deny it. You may be non-corporeal but I am omniscient. Just wait a moment.

You’ve never seen a man tap dance around his own apartment? You must have had little or nothing to do with the theatre. Types like this sing and dance the way other people breathe and sleep. It’s no sure indicator of emotion, though, so stop trying to guess what’s going on. This man would tap dance to his own execution.

In fact he does, every day.

There he goes, over to the sheet. Oh, you didn’t notice that it went all the way to the ceiling did you? You types never do, that’s why I’ve stopped bringing people here. Also there are some things that aren’t meant to be put on display like a circus sideshow. Some things are too painful and too real for display. Of course, you are a special exception.

Yes fine, we can watch. See how he pulls that cord there on the side to draw back the curtain? There it is, is it not strange? Most people react just as you have and are surprised by it. Don’t worry, it’s not an ORDINARY piano. That sense of panic you have is because something inside you has realized just what is going on here.

The man’s name is Matthew. He’s lived here for fifteen years now, ever since Mr Sharpe passed on, in fact. And every day he sits down at that piano and he plays. And when he plays something incredible happens. Through his music he draws a little of the darkness out of the world. A little evil, a little hate, a little envy, malice, greed, sorrow and pain.

No. There’s nothing special about him. He’s not even aware we’re here. He just does what is in him to do. His gifts are Love and Music. Yes, if he wanted he could move away. He need never play this particular piano again. He could leave the apartment open and eventually some thug would come in and destroy the place, piano and all.  But such a path has never been Matthew’s choice.

The music has started. Yes, it’s an incredible piece, I agree.

What’s that? Oh, that expression? That’s pain you see in his eyes. Don’t you understand? It hurts him every time he does this but he comes back every day. And every day it feels as though his heart and body were being slowly torn apart. The difference between Matthew and most people is that he chooses Love over Comfort.

When you leave today I want you to look around and see the almost imperceptible lightening of  the atmosphere. See that daffodil that wasn’t there when we entered, or the small girl’s gap-toothed smile. See these things are remember the man with his 45 keys and his Love.

After all, he is worth remembering.




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