UNITED STATES—There was a manly surrender in heading back on that freeway from the Westside. The phantom set of keys that would let Irma into her new quarters might be on the bed stand where she’d housesat near downtown. They might not. My job was to flush thoughts of defeat out of my head and drive.

We got through the last slog of tailgating as the 101 curves eastward, and could breathe again by the Alvarado exit. The owner of the charming bungalow perched on a last remnant of downtown hillside was still a few hours out before arrival.

At this moment, the total lack of plan or idea heretofore concealed by faux aplomb, yielded to reality. If the keyring Irma needed was still inside, my job was to break and enter.

“I’m so sorry I put the spare key on the table by the note about the cats,” Irma said. “Joseph said to leave it under the brick. I should have listened to him.”

Instead, I had to perform the acrobatic chore of getting a toehold in the retaining wall; another toe in the curls of high wrought iron that gated the patio and then scoot myself gingerly over the metal parapet.

Now my shoe soles gripped the ground. I proceeded on the theory that there’s always an opening. Whether it’s taking out hinge rods or simply a door left open. The slider kitchen window was left open, however, one would have to be a rat or snake to get past the black window grill. In this regard, this home with all it’s endearing improvisations was a too perfect example of 80s fortification. Bars over the windows, regulation black, the principal doors, bars everywhere.

I scrunched in between the narrow side of the house and the neighbors dusty, cobwebbed wall. Assailed by old fears of black widows, I managed to get a hand in an air-conditioning duct by the top of the piano where Irma might have left the banana yellow keyring with the keys to her son’s apartment.

I extricated myself to the front of the house. Irma was moaning:

“This weighs double because these keys belong to someone else. I promised to take good care of the keys. My son said, ‘Don’t lose them.’ Look what happened.”

“The keys are here. I’m sure they’re near you.”

There I was trying to be reassuring, and Joseph pulled into the drive, earlier than expected. Irma quickly explained how she’d lock her own set of keys in before I drove her to the Westside. Usually being quite good at lost and found, I joined in the fray. Alas, the keys with the yellow fob weren’t on the piano, the bed stand or under the bed or by the aquarium. Nowhere.

Irma was frazzled. Joseph invited her to stay for a cup of tea and to stay over if she needed to. I was free to complete the story where a rekeyed lock is an element of suspense. Sometimes I don’t wonder that we write the stories, but we are written by them.

It was a gray afternoon and I felt gray inside. I passed all the familiar old streets heading west on Beverly, and row after row of fantasy apartments. My phone hummed on my pocket, usually a jarring thing still. Before Carandolet, I stopped to see what had happened. But I knew.

Irma had found the keys. I turned back to pick her up. When I got back to Joseph’s house, she explained how she sat to use the bathroom, she felt a tiny weight in the very bottom of a side pocket in her sheer sweater.

“The keys are laughing at us,” Irma said. “Why didn’t you tell me to check my pockets?”

The End.

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)