The Gift

The Gift

By Margaret Ann Porter


several old keysTo suffer writer’s block is to drink a double-shot of dread and chase it with self-loathing. The empty page mocks you but there is no clever retort, no kinship that might be restored between dexterous thought and sharpened pencil. As the concrete begins to set around the feet of your intentions, you are silenced by the deep dislike for writing that dwells in the loneliest corner of your mind, ever threatening to expose your failure. To ever. Produce. Anything. Worth. Reading. Again.

Still, you get up the next day and go at it one more time. Or you carry your overwrought similes, metaphors and analogies, along with your fat and gassy adjectives, down to the water where they are sure to be cleansed by a baptism in nature.

There we were out west in August, the dogs and me, down at the 10-year-ago waterline, where we discovered the remains of erstwhile hopeful bushes that had established themselves in the dry lake bed. Over the 3,000 some-odd days from then until now, heavy rains and dam politics had drowned them, then the waves and sand whittled their thick stems into sturdy elk antlers that were rising up through the muck.

While tip-toeing through them, I spied a set of keys among the hardening points and so I picked them up. A tiny barnacle had begun its life on the bow of the most interesting one – an automobile key with a four-flanged blade. Probably European; the Japanese aesthetic wouldn’t allow such complication. The keys have since sat here on my desk for these three long months, the powdery rust and calcification fighting to tell me a story: How did these keys get down there?

There are five connected rings with 14 keys strung on three of them. All the brand names have rusted off, but on the larger, foreign-car ring are also found two General Motors-shaped keys, which I recognize because my ex-husband owned a pickup with keys exactly like these.

Ah, yes. The pickup, 1985. Purchased when we were supposed to be choosing new carpeting for our house. Purchased with the money that we’d saved up together. This was after he’d spent the previous year’s carpeting money, but that time on a Harley Davidson. And the year before that, a Rolex watch and 9mm Glock handgun. And probably, her.

My husband seriously needed a swift kick in the ass from my imaginary best friend Big Rufus. What he got instead was a divorce decree, which I didn’t really want because of the boys, but it’s damned hard to have a marriage when you’re the only one who wants to do things for the family. But I digress.

There’s a ring with eight keys that are typical for door locks, each one with different teeth. The next ring has a duplicate set of the General Motors keys, along with a little gas-cap key. This ring is the quick-release type, indicating that the owner wanted to easily remove this set and snap it back on – to be able to lock the truck while the original set of keys kept the vehicle running, and warm. So the keys probably belonged to someone from cold-weather country. A Canadian. Jogging along the shore amid the shrubs 10 years ago, trying to lose the results of all that poutine. Plop! There went the keys and he had no idea until he got home. But would such exertions bring him this far west on the lake, where gringos don’t usually tread?

Aha! But the same scenario is possible for someone who wanted to keep the vehicle cool. Air conditioning. The month of May in Guadalajara. Keep the truck running. Lock it up. Into the Oxxo. Grab a twelve pack and a bag of ice. Snap the keys back on. Head for the lake. Amigos are out west. In the bushes. Turn up the radio. No one will complain down here. But now, chingale! Where are the keys?! How am I going to explain to Papa that I borrowed his truck but I didn’t go to work. I came to the lake instead, hoping that Martina would wander by and ask for a swim. Pinche cabron! When she said come here, I grabbed the keys from the ignition, hit the lock, rushed them into my pocket, slammed the door and dove toward the glory that is Martina, who, like a miracle, lights up the dark night. I tell you, Papa, I have seen it

Ah, relief. The doors are unlocking, the dread escaping, and the blessings descend like butterflies. Thank you, Lake Chapala, for the gift.

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