The Key to Room 14

by Linda Casper

By the time I arrived in the Latin Quarter, my clothes were sticking to my body.  The air was thick with the smell of Gitanes mingling with the aroma of strong coffee and drains. 

I found the hotel easily enough and an ancient concierge handed me a heavy key.

“Quatorze ma’moiselle.”

A shower, followed by a quick nap, revived me and some time later I left my key on the desk in the dim foyer and stepped out into the sunshine.  The street cafes were filled with intellectual types engaged in lively debate and damaged pavement was the only evidence of the riots which had occurred here the previous month.  I devoured a croque monsieur and a coffee and, realising how exhausted I felt, made my way back to the hotel.

On asking for my key, the same concierge brought an old, tin box from below the desk and rummaged around in the large collection of keys it contained and handed me one.   The key was not labelled and I was surprised that the hotel did not have the usual numbered board for keys.  In my best French, I asked the concierge is he was sure that this was my key, the one for Room 14.  He assured me it was.  I was perplexed as all the keys in the tin looked alike to me.  I asked him how he could tell one key from another and this is what he told me. 

Cataracts meant his sight was poor, so numbers were of no use to him.  He only needed to touch the key to sense who it belonged to.  He knew me as the young Englishwoman who wore sandals which flapped on the tiled floor. 

I ran my fingers over the key, suspecting it had the number in Braille or some other clue, but the metal was smooth.  Intrigued, I asked him if he could find the key to Room 15 and describe the occupant.  He shrugged and delved into the tin and came up with a key similar to mine.  He described an Italian man who whistled constantly, except when he was smoking Marlborough cigarettes.  Just then, a heavy-set man entered the foyer.  The concierge dipped his hand into the tin, brought out a key saying.  “L’Americain, chambre numero onze”

Intrigued, I followed the American up the stairs and saw him open the door to Room 11.  Shaking my head in disbelief, I continued to my room and heard someone whistling next door.

I woke up ravenous.  I had slept the clock round.  Recalling my dream, I checked my key.  It had a huge, wooden tag attached with metal numbers which read 14.



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Writers Bio

Linda Casper hails from Yorkshire and, after a long career as a high school teacher, she has recently begun to write and have published many short stories, poems and travel articles.  Linda has a keen interest in gardening and is a judge for Yorkshire in Bloom.



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