Foresight by Gwen Niekamp

Old keyhole and slider lock

Watch closely as I walk the three blocks up to Horton’s Hardware by myself while my parents are at work. I’m fourteen, will start high school come summer’s end, and am I up to something? Sure feels like it. See how I startle when the bells on the door signal my arrival. See how I wince when a cashier calls out an offer of help.

I have been in Horton’s Hardware before but only with Mom. We’ve come here for a plastic sled on a snowy day, for copies of the house key, and most recently, for a can of creamsicle-orange paint, to make my bedroom feel punchy by day and soft and dreamy by lamplight. Today, with quarters I took from the jar of change in Dad’s closet, I buy two locks. They are barrel bolts, and one is three inches long; the other, four. I don’t look the cashier in the eye.

Follow me home. Watch as I rifle around the workbench in the garage until I find the drill and the proper bits. Look at me carry the tools into my creamsicle room, lay them out on the bed along with those barrel bolts, and smear grease by accident on my flowery duvet. I study the locks, deem the bigger one better suited for my bedroom and the smaller for the bathroom. Look at me make pencil markings on the doorframes where the screws will go. I’ve always been so careful.

When I use the drill for the first time, self-taught, I think that all I am after is privacy. No more opening a closed door, with or without a brief courtesy knock. Until now, no room in our house has had a working lock. Plenty of keyholes on the old brass door plates, right under the crystal knobs, but not a rusty key to be found. Today I fix the problem. I install the locks myself. When my parents get home from work, I will be able to lock myself in my room. And two years later, I will understand why I need to.

On that day, Mom will agree to give me a driving lesson in the Taurus, which has been sitting in the driveway idle for months. Halfway between the house and Horton’s Hardware, the old battery will die. Right then, as friendly neighbors volunteer to help us move the car from the intersection, Dad will drive by on his way home from the bar, and he’ll pull over and rail at us, liquored-up body lumbering closer. His voice rolling from full-throated shouts, to curses boiling just under his breath, to vicious verbal assaults launched directly at my mother. Why did we take out the junk car? Did we know how much this little joyride of ours would cost him?

My need to disappear makes me run, and Dad will follow, but only for a moment before he turns and gets back into his car. Maybe this is what buys me enough time. Maybe it’s because I’m on foot, and I can cut through backyards. Either way, I will beat him to the house by moments. I will tear down the hallway, my room at the end glowing its creamsicle glow, and when Dad is a mere arm’s length behind me, I will slam the door in his face and slide the lock into its barrel. I will laugh through his curses. Collapse on the floor. Be glad for the little things holding us all in place.

Meet the Contributor

Gwen niekampGwen Niekamp is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. She earned her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, where she served as the 2019-2020 Senior Teaching Fellow of Nonfiction. She now teaches English at Maryville University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boulevard, Belt Magazine’s Louisville Anthology, and Hobart Pulp. She is at work on her first book, a memoir.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS/SCRIBBLETAYLOR

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