Mara and The Keys


by Romana Guillotte


I.

Guy was unkempt for an Orderly.

Orderlies were generally boring and smelled of rubbing alcohol. Guy smelled raw–like tobacco and sweat–like nothing she smelled before. Especially for an Orderly, Mara watched as he scratched his unshaven chin. And he had a tattoo peeking out from his scrubs. Mara hadn’t seen any–she heard sailors had them and all ready this was more exciting than the other institutions she had been in. This one promised to be clean.

And she’d have her own room. So the promise goes.

“Moving in with the adults now?” Guy smiled. It was an attractive smile. Though Mara wasn’t sure if she could be a judge of attractive on her credentials. Six years in a child ward didn’t lend itself to very much pubescent stimulation. But Guy made something stir in her. Something she’d never felt before. She watched him roll his tongue around in his mouth as he examined her paperwork and…felt odd.

Nurse Nina–whose fierce bun and creaseless dress made her appear more the witch than even Mara thought of her–gave a sort of dutiful sigh. Nina then handed over Mara’s only possessions to him like they were tokens for the subway. “These are also hers. Make sure they are kept somewhere she can’t get them. She has an unnatural obsession.”

Guy held them up. “Keys?”

Mara didn’t listen to them once the keys made an appearance. They tinkled together like wind chimes in a soft summer breeze–a feeling that went right up her spine.

She needed them near her–now.

NOW.

She jumped for them. No one expected it.

“Whoa there.” Guy held them far above her reach. His steely gray eyes met hers for the first time and they softened instantly. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to look away.

Nurse Nina shrugged and broke up the moment. “I told you, Orderly.” She sauntered off, as if on her own parade.

“That’s Chief Orderly.” Guy shook his head and stuffed the keys in his jacket pocket.

“Follow me, princess.” They walked a leisurely pace down the hallway.

“I’m not a princess.” Mara’s matter-of-fact answer sounded odd even to herself.

Guy smiled when he realized she wasn’t joking. “I was joshing you, don’t worry.”

“Oh. I’ve never known someone to josh me.”

He kept that smile. “Well, I’ll help you with some practice. I assume your family isn’t the joshing type?”

“No…they’re not so accommodating.”

Guy’s smile faded. “Did they…?”

“My mother saw me talk to an angel…she didn’t see it, so she had my father punish me…” the memory was a little much–she started to hyperventilate.

They turned a corner, to an empty hallway. He stopped her and took her shoulders.

“You don’t have to tell me. Take a few breaths.”

Mara did. In and out. Her heart slowed and the world was normal again.

“Better?”

Mara managed a nod. No one had ever given her a moment to catch her breath before.

“Good. Now, let’s keep going.” He motioned down the long hallway. “I’m new here myself, so we’ll learn about this place together.”

“Okay.”

“Cafeteria’s down that way, and where group therapy will be on Wednesdays. Your personal therapy day is Tuesday. Mondays are for fulfilling our patriotic duty and either working in the gardens or preparing meals for the homeless.”

“Of course.”

“The other days are where you can join activities, like sewing or reading. I think they are going to put together a play too. Pending approval from the board.”

Mara nodded along. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know such things yet.

It wasn’t long before he asked, “Why keys?”

Mara didn’t hesitate. “There’s a door I must open. The angel told me.”

“Really? What’s special about it?”

“I was told to look for a door. One of those keys unlocks it.”

Guy led her into a stark room; a bed with a thin mattress and wooden nightstand, looked awfully lonely. “Maybe there’s some here we can try.”

“Really?” She became excited. No one had offered before. Maybe this was what being an adult was about.

Guy smirked at her enthusiasm. “Yes.” Before he led her into the room at the end of the hall, he looked to see if anyone was around. She wasn’t sure why until he said, “I’m not supposed to be alone with you, but if you want to try some doors, just let me know.”

Mara almost pounced on him and grabbed his arm. “Would you?”

Another moment; a breath in and out. “Yes.” Then he smiled–she could see his teeth-–and Mara turned to goo.

Their eyes met again. He broke the tension by saying, “Dinner’s at six. You’re late for the day’s activities, so a nurse will come escort you to the cafeteria later.”

And he was gone. With her keys.

That was her first day in that nameless institution.

II.

No days of the week mattered but Tuesday. Tuesday meant Mara saw Guy. Tuesday meant he’d escort her to therapy. Tuesday meant she’d see her keys. Everything she ever wanted happened on Tuesday. Being in the adult world was the best thing to happen to her.

Guy always walked her back after those sessions. It was the best part of Tuesday. And one Tuesday changed her life with a simple question. “Has the angel ever come back?”

“What?”

“The angel that visited you, that your mother never saw. Has the angel ever come back?”

Mara didn’t know how to answer. Certainly it wasn’t a question her therapist thought to ask–he seemed more concerned with her patriotism. “Maybe because I haven’t had a chance to open the door I’m supposed to.”

“I suppose I should find you some doors then.” Guy smirked and it made Mara feel good.

The good Tuesdays only lasted a year before the honored leader died and a new one took his place. Mara didn’t know much about it, except they had a large ceremony in the courtyard. Everyone wore the cleanest uniforms. Honestly–she had never seen things so clean. Guy looked very smart in his and Mara tried not to stare too long. It was also the first time she had seen such worry on his face. Later she found out why.
She woke from a nap later to arguing in the courtyard. Carefully, she stood on her bed and could see Guy, who looked to be seething. “I can’t believe that you are going to allow such barbaric technology into this hospital.”

“Believe it. Those studies that discredit it don’t know what they are talking about. I helped countless patients at my old hospital with it.”

“So you said. But this has always been a progressive hospital. Dr. Reinhardt had seen to that, that’s why I took this job.”

“He’s not in charge any more, and his views were antiquated. With our honorable leader’s dedication to his citizens’ well being, your views are also sounding increasingly unpatriotic. Shall I remove you from your position?”

Guy did not skip a beat. “No, comrade. I only wanted my concerns heard before rumor molded them to untruths.”

“Good. We’ll start tomorrow, with the compulsive girl.”

Mara watched Guy’s face turn from angry to fuming. She had never seen anyone so mad. It scared her.

“Your silence indicates a problem? Or shall you take a few days to think it over?”
A long moment passed before he spoke. Instead of yelling more, he somehow held his composure. “No. Thank you for hearing me doctor.”

“I’m glad you came to your senses so easily. You’ll have a future here.”

Guy exited the courtyard.

And then came the worst Tuesday of her life.

Nurse Reggie and Nurse Sheena strapped her to a table, something they did when they washed her hair, so she thought nothing of it. Until they locked her wrists up and put a gag in her mouth. She wasn’t sure about whatever else they put on her head either.

Then came the pain.

The pain was like lightning though her body; a strange tingling. She couldn’t stop shaking.

Then another.

And another.

No one noticed her cry. They were only angry at her being unable to walk back to her room when it was all over. A random Orderly carried her back and deposited her on the floor. It was her seventeenth birthday.

Mara tried to understand why they did it. All she wanted was her keys. She didn’t want alcohol or morphine or anything that would harm her. She supposed she should have wondered why the angel never came back as Guy had said. The rest of her day, she huddled in the corner, a wounded animal not caring what time or what season. Mara never wanted to see a single soul again.

A knock on the door made her wince. She jumped when it opened, but still could not move or stop crying. It was Guy, his face hard. He gave a quick look down the corridor, propped the door more than halfway closed and came over to her. Mara tried to back away, but he was larger than her. “Don’t worry, it will be all right.” Guy sat on the floor and embraced her. She clung to him and the tears came more, she stained his shirt with her tears, but he didn’t seem to care. He just held her close, even rocking her until she fell asleep.

III.

Nurse Reggie couldn’t meet her eyes, so Nurse Sheena spoke instead. “You’ve been excused from group therapy today, I’ll have your food delivered to your room.”
Mara nodded, but couldn’t find her voice; instead she sat on her bed and stared at the door. The world changed in that blink. Everything made her jump and gun-shy. Days of the week didn’t matter, because they all lead to that dreaded day. No more keys, no more Guy. He was only ever present in the cafeteria. But she didn’t go there anymore either.

She endured three of those torturous Tuesdays. Each time left her teeth chattering and her body cold. She didn’t want to move ever again. One Tuesday she decided they couldn’t do that again if they couldn’t move her. Mara gripped her bed frame in anticipation.

But that Tuesday she heard other noises in the courtyard. Lots of shouts and cries–she wasn’t sure what was going on. She heard Guy’s knock on her door. But that couldn’t be. He didn’t come on Tuesdays anymore. The door opened to reveal him. Mara started to cry, she felt betrayed. “Please don’t take me there. It hurts so much.”

“Shh. Shh. Don’t worry, I’m not taking you there. Things have changed outside…”
Mara wiped her face and sniffed. “Don’t I have to?”

“No. Dr. Mikas isn’t here today, a lot of the doctors aren’t. There’s some commotion in town. And since no one expects you to be anywhere, I figured I’d take you to…” He had a coat on. But she only figured him cold.

“Try a door?” Her body lightened. Whether with hope or relief, it didn’t matter.
Guy nodded too quickly. “Yes, of course.” She noticed his eyes disagreed. “Follow me.”
Mara’s world was somewhat cloudy, so she wasn’t sure why Guy snuck about, or why he grabbed her coat. The main corridor was noisy at the very end, and he took one look at it before he led her down a secluded hallway. It was an old hallway–long and dark, glints of the sun coming through the dirty windows along the top. “What is this place?”

Mara became a little nervous-–at least until he took her hand. Her stomach fluttered.

“An old wing I found by accident my first week here. See plenty of doors to try.” He held out her keys. Mara squealed with delight and he calmed her. “Shh. We can’t be too loud.”

Mara nodded as their eyes met again, her stomach flipped. She carefully gripped the keys in her hand as he leaned in and gently kissed her. It was a surprise, a nice one. Guy watched her carefully; her reaction was mute. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”

Mara stared at him. “Thank you. I’ve never had a… friend before. Of any kind.”
He hugged her then, and she liked being so close to him. “I’m sorry they did that to you. I tried to stop them, but…”

“I know. I heard you in the courtyard. You would have lost your job.”

“And I couldn’t have helped you. That’s when he reassigned me.”

Mara nodded, then parted from him and tried the task ahead of her. She tried each door, each key. She only had six. Guy trailed along with her, not interrupting her process. But she could smell him. When they neared the end of the hallway, she stopped a moment to face him. “Can you kiss me again?”

“I don’t know, I really shouldn’t have in the first place…”

“Please? I had never been kissed before. It’s quite nice.”

Bashfully, Guy did so. Mara sank into it as he took her in his arms. It was a long deep kiss, and suddenly she felt his tongue in her mouth. Instead of pulling away, they both became more ferocious. And all the while she held onto her keys tightly. She had to come up for breath – and at the same time he pushed away from her.

“I…I shouldn’t do this…” He couldn’t look at her. “We should go back. We’ll try some others again some other time.”

An air raid siren sounded. Mara stared at him a long moment before looking again at the keys in her hand. “May I try one more? I know that means we must go.” The industrial style key the first in her hand caught her fancy–and slight panic at being separated from them again.

Guy sighed and grabbed her by the waist to look at her in the eyes. “Just one more.”

“Yes, one more. I promise.”

He waited for her in the doorway to a small storage area as she went for the farthest door. She paused before hand. “Can we do this one together?”

The look on his face was hard to place. Somewhere between surprise and relief. He returned to her and put his over hers as they poised to open the door. It was a long moment as he positioned himself behind her–unconsciously smelling her hair and neck. Mara closed her eyes as she let him. Then the key was in the door, and Mara opened her eyes in shock. “It fits!”

Guy was taken aback as well. “That’s…”

Mara turned the key and the door opened to the outside, beyond the walls of the institution. Guy let go of her, but not without a kiss to the head. “How did you possibly get a key to this door…?”

Mara hardly could hear him. In the distance she saw the angel motion out to the world, to coax her through. “We must go.” She looked at him and dropped her keys.

Guy bent to pick them up. “No, I don’t need them anymore.”

Guy gave his smirk and took her hand before they walked out into the world.