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Jeff Friedman

The House

He had a key, but first he knocked. He had found the key hidden in a
drawer and put it on his dresser, where he looked at it for weeks. The
key kept changing positions, glowing in the darkness. It had some kind
of power, he was sure of it, so he put the key in his pocket and headed
to the house where the key would open the door.

The knocking echoed and echoed before it faded. The house knew him
as well as he knew the house. The house spoke, "What does it take to
succeed? Tell me what does it take?" The house knew the answer, but
the question would be repeated until he answered, "Hard work." Why
had he come here again?

He knocked again, but no one was coming to the door. As he turned
the key, the latch gave way. He pushed down on the handle, but the
door resisted. He turned the key back and forth and then pressed
down again. Still it wouldn't budge. "What does it take?" He repeated
his answer again, "Hard work," and then lifted his shoulder to the task and the
door opened.

As he crossed the threshold, he placed the key back in his pocket.
The chandelier over the maple dinner table cast an orange light in
the room. He heard the house shifting on its foundation. He heard his
father's harsh, disdainful voice.

At the table, he used his index finger to write his name in the dust.
A wind blew the door shut. He heard it again, "What does it take to
succeed?" But it was his father's voice, and his father was unyielding.

When he turned to leave, the light dimmed. The door was gone. He
reached into his pocket to get the key, believing that the key would
find the door, but the key was gone also. Then his hand reached into
air. The pocket had disappeared.

"Hard work," he shouted, but his words dissolved into silence.

Jeff Friedman’s fifth collection of poetry, Working in Flour, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2010. His poems and translations have appeared in journals such as Agni Online, American Poetry Review, 5 AM, Margie, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and The New Republic. contact