Photo by Rudri Bhatt Patel

by Karen Collins

The metal key was heavy and cold in the palm of her hand. A smile slowly spread across her face as she tapped the key with her index finger. It felt like freedom.

Carefully, she scanned the supermarket parking lot as she walked away from her car and headed down the sidewalk into a residential neighborhood. She self-consciously adjusted her new hat. It felt as light and breezy as the clouds above her on a perfect spring day. The two-block walk invigorated her and renewed her resolve. After a final glance over her shoulder, she ascended the concrete steps from the sidewalk to the porch of a duplex apartment unit.

The key turned easily in the lock and the dark wooden door swung open, exposing a blaringly beige living room. The property manager had called it “neutral.” She closed the door, locking it behind her. For a moment, she leaned back against the door and allowed her eyes to sweep across the living room. In place of the monochromatic expanse, she envisioned the built-in bookcases filled with books in every hue and colorful curtains concealing the stark white blinds on the windows.

Stepping away from the front door, she followed the route of the original tour, smiling approvingly at the white kitchenette with its new appliances. A clock hung above the sink. After pausing to check the time, she resumed her tour, following the beige carpet down a short hallway to the bedrooms. Two bedrooms and a bathroom continued the neutral theme. She pictured each space as a warm, vibrant home but admitted to herself that for some time to come they would be sleeping on the air mattresses and sitting in the folding lawn chairs she had moved in yesterday. Still, it would be their home and no one else’s and that would make it cozy enough.

She crossed the living room and opened the French doors for the grand finale onto the back patio, then stood motionless as she surveyed the small yard from the doorway. A brown wooden fence stood tall and protective around the entire yard. Yellow crocuses lined up parallel to the back section of fence. Sitting on the floor just inside the open doors, she inhaled the fresh scent of lilac carried by the gentle breeze.

Sighing, she began making a mental list of all that needed to be done prior to moving in. She would put fresh shelf paper in the kitchen cabinets and in the linen closet next to the bathroom. Fortunately, the carpeting and windows had been recently cleaned and would require no effort on her part. On the other hand, she admitted silently, all of those tasks were easy compared to constructing a new life.

She jumped as two squirrels raced over the fence and scurried up a tree, chattering at each other as they ran. Recovering from her initial fright, she laughed and watched their antics until they were in the uppermost branches of the tree. Charlie would have enjoyed that show, she thought. He was going to love this yard. She envisioned him pulling his little wagon filled with his favorite stuffed animals. How she wished she could have brought him here to explore the new space and familiarize himself with it, but five-year-olds cannot keep secrets.

If only it was already done. How wonderful it would be to sit on the patio and watch him playing peacefully in the back yard, away from constant chaos and fighting. He had become too timid because of it and she was determined to give him a normal life. He deserved better.

A sudden crunching sound diverted her attention back to the tree. One of the squirrels had cracked a walnut and pieces of it fell onto the patio. The breeze was growing cooler and chilled her as it reached inside the French doors.

She stared at the clock above the kitchen sink, trying to recall how long she had been in the apartment. She was frustrated that she had not kept track of the time. Had she been gone too long?  Had he noticed? Would he be waiting for explanations when she pulled into the driveway? She could hear him yelling at her for never being able to manage her time, for never having dinner ready at the right moment, for being incompetent in so many ways. The words blared like a recording in her mind over and over.

Her body felt heavy as she stood. Reluctantly, she closed and locked the French doors. She paused and allowed herself one more look at the living room. Then she opened the front door and walked out slowly, looking around nervously. A band of tension tightened across her forehead as she repositioned the new hat.

She knew she would be back next Saturday, as she had been each Saturday for the past three months, but maybe this time she would arrive with Charlie and the rest of their possessions. It was just a matter of finding the courage to take Charlie and leave.

It was time for freedom.


Karen Collins is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. Her published work includes news stories, articles, and book reviews. After completing a stint as an associate editor with a large corporation, she welcomed the challenges provided by the uncertain world of freelance writing, and has never looked back.