Cliché Experiments: The Key

I have the key now. Ten years of wondering, respecting her privacy and, shamefully, searching, and now I finally have the key. Every year I thought about the box, or more specifically its contents, but I never hoped for this.

I wasn’t expecting to meet my wife when I went to the bar that night, I just needed a drink. I was struck instantly by how beautiful she was; with long, wavy blonde hair and red lipstick and a tight cocktail dress, she looked like a movie star, except for one detail. She looked so melancholy, pushing the olive around her martini glass distractedly. When I took the seat next to her and asked what could possibly make such a beautiful woman so sad, she simply said that today was a bad day. I didn’t push the subject, and we ended up hitting it off.

We continued seeing each other and eventually married and had two beautiful children. We had a great life together and she was my best friend. The only thing we didn’t share was the contents of the box.

On the fourth anniversary of the day we met, I came home from work to find my wife sitting in the living room, a small, intricately carved chestnut wood box open in her lap as she sobbed quietly but heavily. I had never heard her sound so deeply pained, moaning softly like a wounded animal. I rushed to her side to ask what was wrong, but when she noticed me she snapped the box shut and refused to speak about it. She told me that today was a bad day, and implored me to leave it be. I agreed, and held her as she wept.

I couldn’t get the box out of my head, but I knew I had to try to forget about it to respect my wife. About a week later she went away for work and, regretfully, the temptation to find out what was in the box overcame me. I found it quickly, shoved to the back of the wardrobe, but found it locked. I spent the next hour searching for the key, rummaging through her drawers, riffling through boxes under our bed and even looking in the toes of all her shoes before I came to my senses and realised what I was doing.

Every year on the days surrounding the anniversary, my wife never seemed quite herself. There were two other times that I found her with the box. Both times she was startled by my arrival and closed the box, but I didn’t say anything, I just sat next to her and held her as I had the first time.

My beautiful wife died last month. We knew it was coming, but it still felt sudden. Today was the first day I could face putting away her things, ready to sleep alone in our bedroom. I didn’t expect to find the key, but when I brushed up against her dressing gown and caught her scent I broke down. I tore it off the hook on the door and lay with it on the bed, howling into the soft, lilac fabric and feeling every ounce of my grief all at once, and then my hand slipped into the left pocket and grabbed a small brass key.

I loved my wife, and always will love her. I tried to be a good husband to her every day, and did my best to respect her privacy and her wishes. I pursued the key once but managed to stop myself. She didn’t want me to know what had happened and why that day was always so hard for her. But I have the key now.

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