He seemed fine when he came down to dinner. He asked her how she had been, how the weather had been, how her family was. Boring, he was always so boring. She told him all of it anyway, since he had asked. He listened closely, he seemed to be starting to say something a couple of times, but she just kept on telling him about the weather, all of the weather there had been, every day, since he had gone. He asked, after all. Then she started on her family. Lots to tell there, they were all crazy. Finally he raised his hand and asked her for his keys. That was rude, she thought, just to ask for the keys back while she was answering him about her family and she hadn't even finished with her mother yet, let alone her sisters, but she handed the keys to him without saying anything about his rudeness. Then she went back to catching him up on her mother. He was looking through the keys.
They're all here, he said. As if he had not expected them all to be there.
She stopped mid-word, sat with her mouth open. What are all there? she asked, because of course the keys were all there, where else would they be? It surprised her so much she figured he couldn't be talking about the keys, he must be thinking of something else.
He was turning his keys over and over in his hand, looking at them closely, holding them up to the light. They're all here, he said to himself. Every one of them.
She stared at him, narrowed her eyes. Crazy. Just like her mother. Dang.
He looked up at her, caught her measuring gaze, gave a forced laugh. My keys! he said in a jolly way, my keys are all right here! You took such good care of them. How nice of you.
She was nodding to herself. Yep. Just like her mother.
So, he said casually, what did you do with them while I was gone? Did you have any...adventures?
What did I do with them? she asked, what did I do? I used them to open doors, she said, and felt silly. What else would she use keys for? she wondered. Was this some sort of a test?
Of course, he said heartily, of course! Opening doors! Yes. Yes. Any special doors? he asked suddenly and sharply, looking right into her face.
She made her eyes big. There aren't any special doors here, she said, just the normal sort of boring ones.
The truth was there really wasn't anything special around here, nothing special, nothing to do.
He had given her the keys to everything before he left, of course, and told her she could do anything she liked as long as she never went into the small room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. The trouble was she didn't know what she liked to do, so she watched television and worked on her tan. That was all the work she needed to do here, everything else somebody else was paid to do. It was so boring. Her mother had been excited, so excited about him, even though he was so old and strange looking. Her mother was so excited that finally one of the girls was finally going to marry someone with some real money. Finally. Well, he had money all right, but living in this big old house out in the country was not so great, as far as she could see. Boring, boring. No wonder all his other wives had run off. They'd have died of boredom if they stayed here. She drove to the mall, to her brother's house, to the club, to the lake, to her mother's house, to the mall again, then to all her sister's houses. Then she went home and it was not even lunch time and she thought she was going crazy. So she invited everyone to come stay with her and they all said they'd come. They were coming tomorrow, she was planning a barbecue. But now he was back, which was fine, but he was being so weird about his keys. He was going to spoil it, she knew he was, he was going to be old and strange and spoil her nice plans.
But he didn't spoil anything. He left instead.
First thing in the morning, without explanation. He gave her back the keys, told her the same thing he'd said before and asked her twice, twice! like she was a baby! if she understood she was not to use the little key that was for the small room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. She said she understood. Gosh, he was an old weirdo. This marriage was a mistake, money or no money. He got right in her face, lots of drama. He said she was forbidden to use the little key. Told her in no uncertain terms that if she used it, if she went into that room, he couldn't answer for his actions. He said, I forbid it in the strongest possible terms. So, she didn't go in there. Sheesh. Who wanted to, anyway?
Her party was not ruined and her family loved the house, just loved it. She was almost glad she had married him after all. Almost.
Two days later he was back. Not even pretending to care how she had been, just asking for his keys. Fine. See if she cared. She did not. Keys. Check. Who wanted them, anyway? And he freaked out, he just freaked out. Kept yelling that they were all there, that the stupid things were all fine. Well, what did he expect? This was just stupid.
He didn't even come down to dinner. She could hear him upstairs pacing and talking to himself. She put on loud music so her family wouldn't hear him. That made it feel even more like a party and cheered her up.
He left in the middle of the night. Woke her up to give her the damn keys. Made her promise, swear, that she wouldn't go into the little room at the end of the long gallery on the ground floor. Or use that little key. In any way. She was so mad at him. In any way? How was she supposed to use it if she didn't go into the room which he had just told her not to do? He was worse than her mother, lots worse.
He came home again that afternoon.
He was calm now, calm and completely creepy. So, he said, so. She looked up from her magazine and her sisters looked away, embarrassed. He was talking in this voice like he was God or something, and like she was a naughty little girl. So, he said, now tell me about it. Because, he held up one finger like he was stopping her even though she wasn't about to say anything to him when he was being such an idiot, because I know. Remember, he said and looked hard at her, I know what you've really done. You're only a woman, you can't help it. You have to know everything, you can't control yourself. Now her sisters were not looking away, they were looking at him, right at him. And they were not happy. He ignored them. He stared at her and his eyes got all twitchy and scary. You went in there, I know you did. It was only a matter of time, they do, they all do, because they're just women! Women can't control themselves, they're weak, they're liars, they're stupid and they deserve what they've got coming to them.
Now her brothers were standing up, walking over, looking hard and hot around the edges. She stood up, too, and she was mad. You're a jerk, she said furiously. You're just a big fat jerk. Why did I even marry you? Who cares about you? Who cares about your stupid room? What the hell can you possibly have that you think anybody is going to be interested in? I hate you, you know that? I hate you and you are every bit as ugly as people say you are. You should shave that horrible thing off your face and stand up straight and dress like you were born in this century. Here are your stupid keys. I never want to see you or them again.
She stormed up to her room, packed her things, all of them, even the new things he had paid for, and stomped out, slamming the door.
Her brothers drove her home.
Well, her mother said, well. So much for the money.
More important things in life, Ma, she said shortly and went upstairs to unpack. Lots more important things, her sisters said as they helped her put away all her new loot. Good stuff, she had gotten some really good stuff. Like, one of her sisters said, like not marrying a man with a funny colored beard. No beard at all next time, she promised herself, I think that's a deal breaker.