The Small Key by Paz Latorena

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THE SMALL KEY
by Paz latorena

It was very warm. The sun, up above a sky that was all blue and tremendous and beckoning to birds ever on the wing, shone bright as if determined to scorch everything under heaven, even the low, square nipa house that stood in unashamed relief against the gray green haze of grass and leaves.

It was a lonely dwelling, located far from its neighbors, which were huddled close to one another as if for mutual comfort, it was flanked on both sides by tall, slender bamboo tress which rustled plaintively under a gentle wind.

On the porch a woman past her early twenties stood regarding the scene before her with eyes made incurious by its familiarity. All around her the land stretched endlessly, it seemed, and vanished into the distance there were dark newly plowed furrows where in due time timorous seedlings would give rise to study stalks and golden grain, to a ripping yellow sea in the wind and sun during harvest time.

Promise of plenty and reward for hard toil! With a sigh of discontent, however, the woman turned and entered a small dining room where a man sat over a belated midday meal.

Pedro Buhay, a prosperous farmer, looked up from his plate and smiled at his wife as she stood framed by the doorway, the sunlight glinting on her dark hair, which was drawn back, without a relenting wave, from a rather prominent and austere brow.

"Where are the shirts I ironed yesterday?" she asked as she approached the table. "In my trunk, I think" he answered.
"Some of them need darning" and observing the empty plate, she added, "do you want some more rice?" "No" hastily, "I am in a hurry to get back. We must finish plowing the south field today because tomorrow is Sunday." Pedro pushed the chair back and stood up. Soledad began to pile the dirty dishes one on top of the other. "Here is the key to my trunk" from the pocket of his khaki coat he pulled a string of nondescript red, which held together a big shiny key and another small, rather rusty - looking one.

With deliberate care he untied the knot, and, detaching the big key, dropped the small one back into his pocket. She watched him fixedly as he did this. The smile left her face and strange look came into her eyes as she look the big key from him without a word together they left the dining room.

Out on the porch, he put an arm around her shoulder and peered into her shadowed face.

"You look pale and tired", he remarked softly. "What have you been doing all morning?" "Nothing," she said listlessly, "but the heat gives me a headache." "Then lie down and try to sleep while I am gone." For a moment they looked deep into each other's eyes. "It is really warm," he continued. "I think I will take off my coat."

He removed the garment absent-mindedly and handed it to her. The stairs creaked under his weight as he went down.

"Choleng" he turned his head as he opened the gate, "I shall pass by Tia Maria's house and tell her to come, I may not return before dark."

Soledad nodded. Her eyes followed her husband down the road, noting the fine set of his head and shoulders, the ease of his stride. A strange ache rose in her throat.

She looked at the coat he had handed to her. It exuded a faint smell of his favorite cigars, one of which he invariably smoked, after the day's work, on his way home from fields. Mechanically, she began to fold the garment.

As she was doing so, a small object fell on the floor with a dull, metallic sound. Soledad stooped down and picked it up. It was the small key! She started at it in her palm as if she had never seen before. Her mouth was tightly drawn and for a while she looked almost old.

She passes into the small bedroom and tossed the coat carelessly on the back of a chair. She opened the window and the early afternoon sunshine flooded in. On a mat spread on the bamboo floor were some newly washed garments.

She began to fold them one by one in feverish haste, as if seeking in the task of the...
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