Wish Upon a Star
by Kathleen Spalding
Diane squinted against the afternoon sleet as she mounted the high-rise’s steps. Silently thanking her father, she swiped her keycard and punched her code into the pad by the door.
The family condo was deserted these days, with her parents in Dubai and her brother away at college. Her mother had suggested selling it, but her father loved it here in New York, so the condo was spared.
The elevator wall was cold against Diane’s forehead. Her two-year stint as Garret’s roommate was over. Good experience, with a price.
Chiding herself, she recalled Garret’s comments when she’d first moved into his spare bedroom. “It’s just a professional arrangement. Why spend two hours riding the subway every day? You need time at the studio; I need you in the gallery. And I promise, I’m perfectly safe.”
She’d snatched at the opportunity to learn from Garret duSache, owner of five art studios in the Burroughs. But the promised studio time evaporated under her responsibilities at the gallery, and she felt her position with Garret slide from debutante to protégé to employee.
In her parents’ nineteenth floor condo, Diane pushed her long brown hair behind her ears and wriggled old folders out of her mother’s file cabinet, stacking them carefully on her parents’ desk. Brazil, Kenya, Alaska, Wyoming…
Some women collected jewelry or art; Diane’s mother collected property. Much of it was non-transferable, closed to development, and ownership would be transferred to neighboring parks or wildlife reserves within one hundred years. In exchange her mother got tax breaks, was allowed to maintain existing structures, and retained lifelong access for herself and her beneficiaries. Diane intended to use that access. It was time for a change.
Sleet pelted the window. Someplace warm Diane thought as she removed the last folders from the top drawer. The stack of loose papers behind them collapsed, uncovering a small, white cardboard jewelry box. Beneath that, two pastel mermaids on either side of a treasure chest smiled from the front of a greeting card. Diane picked the card up, and a key clattered to the drawer’s bottom. Not an ordinary key, but a six-inch bronze Victorian monstrosity with a smooth brown patina.
Setting the card and box on the desk, Diane held the key to the light. KEY TO THE CITY was stamped along its barrel. The word False was etched in bold calligraphy on its shell-and-starfish embellished head. Finding no other markings, she placed it on the desk and picked up the box.
Inside, embedded in cotton padding, was an inch-long dried starfish on a thin gold chain. Diane ran a finger over the small bumpy carcass and felt rather sorry for the creature, torn from its home for no other purpose than this.
She turned her attention to the card and automatically evaluated its artwork. Well executed, pleasant colors. The verse inside read, “Seek life’s riches where you least expect to find them.” “I can’t wait to see you again, Rai” was written beneath. Diane’s eyebrows raised. Who’s Rai? The handwriting was androgynous. She decided to call it a night.
Diane dreamed she was sitting in the audience at one of Garret’s gallery openings, dressed in a strapless gown that wrapped pastel colors tightly around her body. The starfish necklace hung at her throat. Suddenly the starfish moved and started suckering its way up her neck. Frozen in panic, she glanced around the room. No one noticed her jewelry’s odd behavior. She relaxed until the starfish reached her ear and whispered, “Take me home.”
The next morning sunlight bounced off the ice in a golden fury. As she passed the desk, Diane eyed the starfish lying in its box alongside the bronze key. Someplace warm she thought again, returning to the file cabinet. But in the continental United States, with a decent house. A folder labeled Florida caught her eye. Inside, a photograph showed a cinderblock bungalow nestled between palmettos. A map of Florida’s keys had a red circle around the island furthest from the mainland. Squinting at the print she read False Key. “Ohhh, Ha!” she groaned at the pun and laughed at the oversized key.
It was a genuine laugh, a sound she’d uttered far too little this past year. She could use more of it. Diane fished her phone out of her pocket. “Hello, Mom?…”