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Copyright © 2011

Nancy Stebbins





We’d been hearing a lot about the benefits of physical exercise, so God and I decided to take a stroll in the country. She scooted her bare feet through the warm sand. We weren’t making very good time because she kept stopping to admire her handiwork. “See that cow? Classic, pre-war markings. I call it the rook’s feet.”

She names a lot of things after chess pieces. I glanced at the black and white cow she indicated. They all looked the same to me. “I didn’t think rooks had feet,” I said, ignoring the mention of war: you don’t want to get her started on that subject.

She grinned at me. “That’s why it’s so clever.”

Sometimes I don’t get her sense of humor. “Hey, do you remember that key you asked me to hold?” I asked.

She scratched her nearly-bald head. She had shaved her scalp, having grown fascinated by the Hare Krishnas at the airport—she’s so impressionable—but had decided to let it grow back out, admitting she didn’t have the bone structure to carry it off. “Which key?” she said. “I have so many. I don’t even know what most of them open.”

I stopped and pulled the key, which was tied on a long loop of red ribbon, from inside my peasant blouse. I held it up for her in the palm of my hand. “This one.”

She put on her cat-framed bifocals and leaned over to examine it. She shrugged, one bony shoulder lifting higher than the other. “Not a clue.”

We walked along for a while. She pointed out a group of billowy clouds she thought looked like a whale spouting water. I pondered the key. “You mean it wasn’t a test?” I finally asked. “I thought it opened that big trunk in the attic, but I’ve tried not to think about it.”

Her brow furrowed. The wind had whipped up the fine white sand, and it had settled into the sunscreen we had applied giving us a plaster of Paris look. “Why not?”

“You know. That whole curiosity thing.”

Her expression showed that she wasn’t following me. I tried again: “Curiosity killed the cat, right?”

She pursed her lips, considering. “No, I’m pretty sure that was the dog,” she said, “and I frankly don’t remember what’s inside the trunk. It’s been centuries since I opened it.” For a while, she mumbled to herself, trying to remember. “Old quilts? Cannon balls? Christmas decorations?”

I untied the ribbon and handed her the key. “Here,” I said. “Let me know if you figure it out.”

As we headed back towards home, my step felt lighter, as if the weight of that trunk had been lifted from me. Up ahead of us, a small boulder lay at the side of the road. I was struck with an irresistible urge to know what was beneath it. I ran forward, wondering if I could budge it all by myself.