The ring of iron keys…

***This is the beginning of a short story I am working on.***

I climbed out and stood leaning against the solid bulk of the car. My breath fogged in the chilly air when I finally walked up the short gravel path. I pulled the key ring from my pocket. It was heavy in my gloved hand. I walked up three worn, shallow cement steps, through the screen door, and across the porch. The old boards creaked under my boots. The wood was bare, and dried by years of harsh winters and dry summers. I wondered when it had last seen a coat of paint. Memories flooded through me, as I fisted the heavy iron ring of keys.

I was four years old. It was hot and dry. The keys were in my father’s big brown hand as he unlocked the door. As we walked from his truck, the gravel burned my feet through my thin soled sandals. I was hopping on the boards of the sudden coolness of the deeply shaded porch. There had been a thin coat of paint on the boards that afternoon. I remember feeling very hot, but oddly dry, not sweaty. When my father opened the door, he had to shove hard. The door gave way with a familiar creaking sound, and a woosh of stale air greeted us. I smelled dust, stale lemons, and something oily. 

Today, the iron ring was in my own hand. The ring was big, my hand fit entirely inside the ring, my fist covering only half the circumference. Half a dozen old keys dangled from the smooth metal. I put one homely key in the lock and worked until it opened. I had to shove but the door finally opened for me. I felt the rush of air as cold raced past me into the relative warmth of the house. Then I smelled it:  stale pledge, cold ashes, lamp oil, and dust. I took a deep breath of clear cool air and stepped inside.

The porch opened into the kitchen. It was neat and tidy but covered with a  fine layer of dust. I walked across the wide planked floor to the window above the sink. The window was only a little bit dusty and I could see the outline of mountains across the valley. I stood, wearing my coat and gloves, as I allowed the presence of the mountain to fill me.

The little house was heated by a wood stove in the den. I was pleased to see that there was a neat stack of kindling in a box on the brick hearth. The wood pile was outside the back door, three steps from the house in a neat brick rack. I unlocked the back door with a key from the iron ring and brought in an armload of wood. After lighting the fire, I brought another armload. It would take a few hours to warm the place properly.

I re-locked the back door. As the heavy metal door swung tightly shut, another flood of memories hit me like a blow to the gut, I had to put a hand on the door.

I was eight years old the winter that a mountain lion stalked the little house in the shadow of the mountain. My grandmother and I were alone. Grandpa and father were working for the railroad and they stayed at a boarding house in town. They visited a few times before the snows came. Each time, they brought provisions, and news. It was a week after thanksgiving when the snows blocked the road. We would not see them again until the thaw. 

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