The Key

by Sarah Salcedo

She handed him her key to the front door. She wanted to ask if he was sure, if it was really better, both of them being alone? Starting over seemed impossible just then, learning to breathe again without the one arboreally absorbing the sighs and rambling words of the other.

Had this been her idea? Or was she the one being kicked out? She couldn’t remember as the dull, serrated edge of the key slid over her fingers into his palm. This had to have been his idea. His fingers closed over the key. His torn nails, swollen-knuckled fist, a tan line where the ring had been, pulled away with her key, her last permission to be a part of her old life, embedded into his hand.

“Okay. Well.” She rubbed the air in between her fingers and looked at the doorknob. His hands disappeared into his pockets as he rocked back on his heels.

“Yeah,” he replied.

She frowned. This was the reason why she was leaving. Or was asked to leave, whichever it was. There was a silence that had been stretched between them like a rubber band. When it finally broke, there’d been no snap, no release, no violent explosion of the words they’d held back from the other. There was just more silence, a realization that the words they’d suppressed for so long had evaporated. She’d been afraid of that once, years ago, if she stopped talking to him she’d forget why she ever had in the first place, that one day they’d wake up, not from a dream but from the restless pre-waking sleep that follows a dream, and barely remember that once they’d filled days with single conversations that were only ever punctuated with sex and the kind of ridiculous puns that only the truly in love can bear to tell and hear from one another.

She steadied herself on the doorknob, to close it, to hold herself up, she’d think of some way to disguise her attempt to grab onto the last bit of the apartment that she could. She managed a smile and desperately wished she could remember who asked who to split up. As her head swam and her fingers clung to their slippery grip on the handle, she could only remember the fact that three weeks ago, they had decided to stop pretending. They had just woken up that way, like someone had set them to “honest mode” in the middle of the night.

Her hand clenched the knob as her arm tensed up. To slam the door in his face or thank him for the good years? Could she do both? Kiss him, punch him, shake his hand coolly like a stranger, slam the door, but not before pushing him out into the hall and running back into their room? She closed her eyes and loosened her grip. The panic ebbed away.

She looked up at him and let the doorknob go.


He took a deep breath and reached for the knob, pulling the door in slightly. “Goodbye.”

Their lips met for a small, light peck, their only comment on how things had been, what they had meant, what each of them was willing to emotionally acknowledge to the other as it all ended. She stepped away and looked down the hallway, through the glass door of their building, at the loaded truck waiting for her in the street.

It was mutual.

She looked back at him. It didn’t matter who asked, who made the important declaration of obsolescence. It was over in that moment, as she moved away from the threshold.

“I’m off,” she said, waving casually, hating that the wave felt like too little and too much. He nodded and slowly closed the door, watching her leave through a crack in the doorway that lingered open before it was finally shut.

In the car, she didn’t allow herself any break-up music. She wasn’t angry or hurt and didn’t want to be lured into any of those easy emotions. She felt proud of the zen-like nothingness expanding within her and guarded it for the next fifteen minutes.

She smiled to herself as she pulled into the loading zone in front of her new building. She stepped bravely up onto the sidewalk and took her new key out of her purse. Several tears began to trail their way down her cheeks as she flipped it over and over in her fingers.

She hurried inside toward her door.

Sarah Salcedo is an award-winning filmmaker, an illustrator, and an author. Her writing and art has appeared in Hypertext Magazine and Cascadia Magazine.

She works alongside her husband, Vasant Salcedo, at Tall Firs Cinema. Their feature documentary, Promised Land, debuted in film festivals in September 2016. In addition to festival awards for her filmmaking, she has received grants from 4Culture and Artists Trust.

She holds two bachelor’s degrees in English Literature and Comparative Literature: Cinema Studies from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle, Washington.