She didn’t give it too much thought at the time because she was too worried. Her grandmother, having fallen ill two years ago, had given her an old rusty key. Since then, it had become like a safety blanket, something she kept in her pocket at all times. She felt it brought her calm when she was about to break. Now that Grandmother had actually died, the key had become indispensable

It had been a long week after the funeral. People had come in and out of Grandmother’s home, and she’d had to smile throughout all of it. Ever since mother had passed, she was the only one left living in the area, and the only one who’d taken care of Grandmother, so the responsibility had naturally fallen on her.

Yet she did everything, trying to act like Grandmother would have acted in this situation. She reassured crying family members, consoling her aunts and nodding at her uncles badly placed jokes. Let nothing be said about how she had not seen most of them in over years.

She, however, didn’t cry. Someone had to keep her composure and handle everything, from property paperwork to the locks of the house, which had been the source of much stress. She had already nearly polished the rust off the key from holding it to center herself.

Grandmother was the type of woman that everyone strived to be, the type that no one had any hopes of living up to, the type that left a hole in life when gone. She had also been terribly independent and reserved.

Although it was customary not to use lock and key at a person’s home, or allow for a special entrance for family, Grandmother had kept none. So after her death, none of her locks worked anymore. To get into the house, the locks had to be destroyed, something that had been painful to watch. Just seeing the men use power tools to saw through the locks almost broke her facade. But, she managed to look away and hold everything inside.

Most inside her house didn’t have locks though. There were some exceptions such as a drawer with several letters and bills, and a box of jewelry. She also kept a safe, but the locksmiths assured that opening that would be impossible, and that she was better of hoping someone inherited ownership of it in the will. If someone did, then they’d be able to open it without difficulty. The girl didn’t say anything, as she knew very well that Grandmother had left her in charge of her possessions, and the will had very careful language so that it didn’t transfer ownership of these things. The family had already fought over it, but ultimately, the girl would be the one keeping everything else as the will said. 

At the end of the day, the men asked her if she needed any more locks to be broken into, and she assured them that it was enough for the day, and dismissed them. Still, they pushed their business card onto her before leaving. She threw it into the trash. It was amazing how some people didn’t realize how their profession was built on death and grieving families.

Before going to sleep for the day though, she remembered she hadn’t checked the attic. At first, she considered not dealing with it, telling herself that she could deal with it the next day. But something inside her, like a creature that had been twisting and turning inside of her stomach ever since Grandmother passed, clawed at her and gnawed.

She pulled the cord to the attic, climbed the stairs, and looked around. There were old clothes, stuff from when Grandmother had been young. There were boxes pushed aside, most without labels.  Even then, those with labels said pictures or clothes. Some had Grandfather’s name on it, but it was just old dusty clothes and pictures of him. Her attention was taken by something else though, a small red chest with gold leaves and plants on it.

She reached into her pocket and took out the key she’d been holding most of the day as the men desecrated the house. Grandmother never told her what it was for, or why she gave it to her. She had only ever said, “it’s yours.”

Something inside told her that the chest was what Grandmother meant. Something told her that it was time to see what it was.

She sat down on an old dusty chair and took the chest, placing it on her lap. She didn’t expect it to work, but she still slid the key into the lock. She turned it, it clicked, and the latch opened.

She froze momentarily but shook it off and opened the chest. Inside, there was a letter, another key, and some other paperwork.

Unfolding the paper from the letter, she quickly moved under the lightbulb. It was from grandmother and a letter of final farewell. She apologized for not really being there and gave specific instructions about some of the paperwork in the chest. As she said, a lock was better than a will. A will could be disputed among the family, and she was sure they would fight. But if she simply left it all to one person that she trusted, and then that person distributed as if it were coming from her heart, no one would fight it. More importantly, Grandmother said that this was her gift to the girl because she knew the girl would feel alone. Being the last member of the family in that city, so far away from everyone, she didn’t realize what she actually had. So having her go and give these things in person would help her meet the family and get close to them in a way that would’ve been impossible otherwise. In a way, as Grandmother explained, this was the greatest gift she could the girl.

The key was to the safe, which the letter gave to her. Inside the safe, there was money and some other savings. In there, she would find all of the things of value that the family would find. The paperwork in the chest was a mixture of letters to family members as well as some other legal papers. It seemed that grandmother had purchased much in her own name to help the family, but she was giving it to them permanently.

The girl smiled, and held both the key and the letter close to her, and finally let herself cry. It was true. She missed Grandmother so much, and she felt so alone. And with all of this, she felt like there was no one there to help her deal with everything or anything. But it seemed that even after death, Grandmother was there along with her. Even if it meant a little more work. Even if it meant seeing the family again. She would follow the letter. Maybe this way she would not be alone.