Dark Side of the Little Spoon
After Brian Dang
The keyhole in Bluebeard’s mansion that one might assume leads to the forbidden room opens its forbidden trap and says, “Ahem.”
The keyhole says, “You know how Alan Cumming shows up in Burlesque, that movie from like, 2010 where he acted only as the contextual guide for Christina Aguilera when she first finds the burlesque club, wearing Harlequin eyes or some other clown makeup, sitting in a glass booth?”
You say, “Um.”
The keyhole says, “Of course not. Everyone forgets his guest appearance. It’s ridiculous! Reduced to a plot device! I will not be cowed in such a way.”
You start, “I…”
The keyhole says, “I will not be cowed!” The keyhole is raised, itself an eyebrow, and somehow threatening, like a bumble bee haunting your pull of wildflowers on the walk home, following, watching, daring you to react. Because you aspire towards patience, and because this keyhole reminds you of your own time in customer service, the incessant transactionality of it, the brutal lack of eye contact, you attempt a kindness.
“How has your day been?” you ask.
The keyhole scoffs, distrustful. “It’s always the same. Everyone is so horny, coming in here with their little haircuts and dog collars, trying to get into the room.”
You’ve heard things about the room. The public sex in the cupolas. The blood rituals. You’ve heard about the wife, or wives, the three U-Haul relationships soured. How they asked for the things that Bluebeard gave them, each having gone too far to come back from. The castle itself and all its terrible secrets, which you stand in now, your downy arms restless at your sides. You always wondered what the ceiling would be like, but you swore you would never come. You try now not to look too hungry.
“Do you get a lunch break?” you ask.
“Barely,” says the keyhole. “Tuna salad is pretty hard to get down in 5 minutes. The white bread sticks to the roof of my mouth.”
You nod, and you can feel the keyhole studying you. You want to ask so many questions. The keyhole seems irritated, rightly so. You venture to guess it’s the same song and dance from every visitor: surprise that the keyhole exists in the first place, shock that they have a voice, annoyance when they won’t just fucking open, let people into the room to see the mythical things that await there. But the keyhole is staring, rather rudely, and you dread what you know comes next.
“Why are you here?” they ask, after a pause, in that way that suggests you shouldn’t be.
You dry swallow the question and reply, “What do you mean?” though of course you know what the keyhole means.
“People who come to the mansion tend to be rather queer. Not to be rude, but I am trying to locate your exact strangeness.”
“I thought you didn’t want to be a plot device,” you shoot back, surprising yourself. You are aware that you are being watched, though you are unsure by whom. You feel a warm hand on yours, though there is nobody there you can see.
The keyhole smacks their lips. “What do you want to know about me?”
In a nervous ritual, you till your hair with your middle and ring fingers, putting them behind your ears and flipping out the ends. “How old are you?”
“27,” the keyhole says.
“How long have you been here?”
“Forever,” the keyhole says.
“What were you like as a child?”
“Quieter,” the keyhole says. “I stole my mother’s makeup and kept pink smears on my cheeks. Everyone thought I had premature rosacea, until they found her compact in one of my tube socks. I drank from the honeysuckle. I sang when I was afraid.”
“Old country. Loretta Lynn,” the keyhole says.
“What’s your sign?”
“Oh I don’t do that,” the keyhole says.
“Hmm,” the keyhole says.
“What is your favorite cake flavor?”
“Grasshopper pie,” the keyhole says.
“Fine. German Chocolate,” the keyhole says.
A staring contest ensues. You feel like you are losing headway. You can’t remember how you had arrived at the keyhole in the first place, though you are trying hard to recontextualize the keyhole as a person, and not a place, or a thing. You are wearing a pleated skirt you don’t remember putting on, as if you were born with it, as if you were always this way, or at least, dressed as such before you were old enough to retain memory. Something familiar, and yet strange plagues the keyhole’s shape. There is a mannerism that cannot possibly be recognizable. Yet here you are. Yet here they speak.
“Did you bring the key?” the keyhole asks, bored.
“No, wait, I’m not done asking you questions,” you press, your voice jittery.
The keyhole recoils. They hiss a little.
“What do you want?” you ask.
“The key…” the keyhole trails off, motioning away from what your question implies.
“Is the key really what you want?” you ask, bolstered by your own boldness. The keyhole wobbles. “How did you become a keyhole?” you ask. A pregnant pause. “You said you’ve been here forever. What does forever mean?”
“Why are you here?” the keyhole asks again.
You realize this is a sort of a collateral. You let your body settle around itself in its snake tail shake and nerve. You are so tired of people seeing you only at the edges, looking over your shoulder, through your outfits and makeup you are so strategic about, past who you say you are. “I don’t know what being beautiful can mean for me now.”
“Mmhmm.” The keyhole senses that you’re getting somewhere, offers, “Now that…”
“Now that I know what I am.”
“What did being beautiful used to mean?”
“If I get into all this, will you tell me about Bluebeard’s room?” you ask.
“Probably. I’m feeling generous,” says the keyhole, briefly amused.
You sigh. “What you said about… about the blush. I think I know what you mean. Beautiful used to be when I would get dressed up to look like something that I wasn’t yet, something feminine and distant, but then I beca