Mysterious Keys

I was in a hurry, and my bag swung in a big arc in the small space by my door. The bag crashed into a wooden box of keys, knocking it out of place. The random keys scattered and I cursed while I picked them up. Some were loose keys, but most were held together on key rings. I identified one set as the spare for a friend in the neighborhood and a second set as the ones I give houseguests. The rest? They were mysterious keys.

It’s hard to get rid of keys. Even when you have no idea where they come from or what lock they open, throwing them out seems like tempting fate. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the purpose of the key will emerge just after you’ve tossed it out for good.

After my father died, I found a couple of keys without obvious purpose. I also found his concertina. My mom was certain that he’d given it away years ago, so when I saw a beautiful box at the top of the closet, I asked her if he’d kept some kind of old mini-typewriter. I took the box down and discovered it was locked and neither of his miscellaneous keys fit the antique lock. I soon discovered that my building super was skilled in picking locks; and it was the concertina.

The instrument is beautiful and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the years locked in a box at the top of a closet had not ruined the bellows. I eventually found a musician interested in “adopting” the orphaned concertina in a box missing a skeleton key. Maybe I’ll find that key now that I’ve given away the concertina and its box?

Mysterious keys feel like the start of stories. The key can be an artifact from the past or open a faraway door. It can be worn as a pendant or hidden in a pocket or sewed into the lining of a coat. It can open a safe deposit box, a diary, a rented storage room, an attic, a poison cabinet, a jail cell, a private sanctuary, a cage, a secret compartment, or—until relatively recently—it could start a car.

I’m going to sort through those keys. I’m betting that I’ll find keys to my mom’s apartment and to a couple of friend’s places. But will I also find a story? I hope so. Mysterious keys are inspiring.

The concertina in its box.

The concertina in its box.


  1. This reminds me of the collection of keys my grandpa has in his old shed. I remembered being fascinated by them as a kid, but have no idea what happened to them as an adult. It’s like my grandma’s collection of buttons I inherited though. It’s fun to think about the person each and houses each has been associated with.

    • Candy Korman

      Buttons and keys! They must have been fun people. Collectors of trivial things that we imbue with meaning.

  2. I have a bright purple key on my keychain. It’s been there since long before we moved to Warrandyte [10 years] and I have no idea what kind of door it opens, or where. I /suspect/ it may be a key to the old house [the one we rented for 10 years], but I’m also pretty sure I gave all those keys back. -shrug- The only thing I know for sure is that when I had that key cut, and chose the colour purple, it was to remind myself of…something. -sigh-

    • Candy Korman

      A key as the symbol of childhood!
      That’s a beautiful ‘character tell’ for a story. The reader immediately thinks about her connection to when & where & with whom she grew up when they see that key on a necklace. If it is hidden in a secret place—it’s a variation on that theme. So interesting…. That’s why I look at real people to see what will be significant in my characters.