Favorite

The key 

The Observer has been thinking a lot about guilt and innocence recently, a cerebral by-product of a story I'm working on about a guy who spent a lot of years in the Concrete Hotel for a crime he may well have not committed in the first place, put there partially on the word of a cop who later resigned after admitting he cooked up evidence in a very similar case. Stay tuned for that one in the Arkansas Times soon. I am, in general, a guilty sort. A confession then, after all these long years:

When I was 6 years old, already a scribbler, Santa brought me a diary with a lock. You cannot imagine, dear friend, how thrilled I was with the prospect of having a place to write things beyond the grasping, ammunition-gathering eyes of my older brother. The Lad Observer wrote little snippets of my day in that diary for two weeks — all my secret fears, unspoken slights and desires, which ain't much when you're 6 years old. If The Observer had a second birth as a writer, it was there. Writing, writing, writing, sometimes long after supposed lights out, by the yellow glow of Pa's tar-spattered G.I. flashlight. I learned the delicious feeling of words curling out of my brain and through the Mercury dime-sized spot all writers have in the middle of their foreheads; of seeing thoughts manifest themselves. I learned of the power of revealing the truth. I learned to trust the truth to see me through.

Then, I lost the key.

Lost? Filched by my asshat brother? Who knows, but it was gone. Oh, I could have pried open the lock with one of the old, nicked screwdrivers that lurked in the bottom of Pa's toolbox. But what use is a locking diary with a broken lock? So, sadly, I put it away for awhile, in that world before step-by-step YouTube videos on how to pick diary clasps.

A few days later, while accompanying Ma and Pa on their weekly jaunt to the Safeway store, The Boy Observer was wandering the aisles, no doubt sucking on a root beer barrel bought from the honor system nickel candy bins, when I saw a stack of diaries just like mine, this being surely the same place Santa had purchased mine. I moved in closer and saw that to each, strung to the clasp by a hair of white twine, was a key. Under the covers at night before lights out for real, I had studied every groove of that key, concealer of all my mysteries. These were exactly the same.

My allowance was gone by then, spent on root beer barrels and slushies at Markrum's store and who knows what, and I knew Ma would never buy me another when the other wasn't even half full yet. Just break the lock, she'd say, not understanding what that lock meant to me — which was, of course, everything.

Before I could think, I did the unthinkable. The twine broke with a "tik" and then the key was in my pocket, heavy, so hot on my leg that I thrust a sweaty hand in after it and crushed it in my fist. I found my parents and walked with them, guilty hand in shameful pocket, silent and tormented as they paid for the groceries. I was sure a klaxon would sound as we walked out, searchlights raking the aisles like in the old black-and-white prison break movies Pa watched on TV. But none did.

I almost made it home before I ratted myself out, Pa pulling Ma's pea green Pontiac onto the shoulder near a stony rock quarry as I tearfully confessed my crime. I tried to explain and failed. Finally, I produced the key, which lay damnably on my varnished palm. Everybody in the car stared at it in silence but me, weeping inconsolably, entombed in the green vinyl hell of a mile-deep Bonneville backseat.

After dropping off Ma, siblings and the groceries at home, Pa drove me back to the Safeway, not angry but quietly disappointed, which is worse. There, I was gently marched inside and made to apologize and return the key to a balding assistant store manager who looked like he was sent over from a Norman Rockwell painting called "Guilty Little Shit Returns What He Stole."

Thirty-four years later, and the shame of that moment has never left me. It has obliterated the fate of the diary altogether, whether I went ahead and jimmied the lock or just cast it into the burn barrel out back with the trash. The key is everything now, and still haloed in neon guilt. The Observer has never, for instance, told that story to anyone, not even my wife. But now I have told it to you.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • I'm sorry

    I'm sorry we stood by while your generation's hope was smothered by $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, just because you were trying to educate yourselves enough to avoid falling for the snake oil and big talk of a fascist.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Show and tell

    The Observer is an advocate of the A+ method of integrating the arts and using creativity to teach across the curriculum, an approach that the Thea Foundation, with help from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, is offering to schools across the state.
    • Feb 25, 2016
  • Yawp

    The Observer has been in a funk lately for a number of reasons: revulsions and slights, both foreign and domestic. We get that way most years as the winter drags on, once the tinsel and colored lights of Christmas drop into the rearview, soon after we come off the New Year's Day hangover.
    • Mar 24, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in The Observer

  • Snapshots from an execution

    The Observer stood in front of the Governor's Mansion on Monday night in a periodic drizzle, waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether a man would die, not knowing there would be no execution that night.
    • Apr 20, 2017
  • The chair

    The Observer's pal and former colleague, a dedicated Deputy Observer, ran across the following piece of writing while cleaning out an online folder to make room for still more of the snippets and starts and literary flotsam and jetsam that seem to pile up around a writer like snowdrifts.
    • Apr 13, 2017
  • 8 in 11

    The state of Arkansas is planning on killing eight men soon, one right after the other, in 11 days. They are doing this to punish them for having killed people. The Observer used to be very much a capital punishment believer. But then, we sat through a death penalty trial, start to finish.
    • Apr 6, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »

April

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Profile of a plant

    • The last thing I will ever do is to believe on MEDICAL drugs intense of…

    • on April 25, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation