The term skeleton key perhaps stems from such keys' resemblance to a skeletel figure, with the circle at top..., resembling a stylized skull. Wikipedia
George pulled his hat off and sat down on the rotting wooden steps of the Adobe House. Gillian had gone off to find a bush or an Andy Gump. He was exhasted from the heat and the long walk down the trail from the road, and furious with himself for asking her to meet him here.
She was obviously one of the students that he needed to keep at arm's length. The powerful attachments these young women were capable of had become numbingly tedious. It was flattering, still, to have that kind of attention, but too risky at his age and stage to make it worth the trouble. Besides, if he had wanted the physical, Kate was always a willing partner. He was just too tired, too bored, too...old. Students were starting to morph in his mind -- he couldn't always remember names, something he had prided himself on in the past. Shit, he needed a sabbatical. Or a shrink.
Gillian came back, looking altogether too fresh, and all together too young.
"Want to start the inventory? Or shall we just sit here a bit?" she said.
"Why don't you start with the outbuildings? I don't think there could be much left in any of them, but we need to be sure. I'll look around in the house. We'll need to finish before too long -- there's no power out here and it will get dark early in this canyon. Take some pictures to support the list in case anybody has any questions later about what was really here and the actual state of the place."
"Okay -- how long have I got?"
"Let's give it about an hour, and then walk back to the cars."
Gillian headed off, her camera slung around her neck like a tourist. Those shorts weren't the best wardrobe choice -- plenty of weeds and cactus to scratch those long, tanned legs...
"Watch out for snakes and poison ivy!" he called after her.
"Yes, dad," she called back over her shoulder.
God, she wasn't any older than his daughter Jenny. Didn't they know how vulnerable they were? They walked around campus flaunting all that flesh and all that youth like they were invincible. Actually, most were, these days. Make a concerned comment about how they were dressed and you'd get a sexual harassment case slapped on you. And Kate would be the one filing it, in all probability. He'd never thought of Kate as a raging feminist, but lately all he was getting from her was rage, of one kind or another. Shit.
He got up and pushed the key into the lock. It jammed, and he had to force it and then the door to get it opened. Good thing he had found some skeleton keys at the hardware store -- he thought he had remembered that's what it would take. Why hadn't security been out here to lock the place up? Surely somebody must have thought about liability issues, if nothing else, even though the facility had been out of use for at least twenty years.
Phew. The smell was rank -- rodents, wood rot, and damp. The roof obviously leaked badly, and there were long streaks of mold on the walls. He pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket to cover his nose and mouth. There wasn't much here to list. An old rocking chair in the living room, and a beat-up trestle table with two benches. One of the benches was missing a leg. Two kerosene lamps. A pile of rotting firewood, and some large wrought-iron tongs. That was it.
The kitchen was more interesting-- assorted dishes and pots, a wood-stove with the door broken off, and an old ice box. Suddenly he remembered that he and Kate had spent one weekend out here before they were married and that ice box had caused their first big fight. He couldn't even remember what they argued about, but she'd spent the night on the couch.
God, that felt like a hundred years ago. He should have known then that she was stubborn and unforgiving. But even if he had, he knew it wouldn't have made any difference. He still would have married her. And the fact was he'd marry her again, right now. But he doubted she'd believe it.
What had ever made him think there was any hope of restoring this place? It was going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he was going to have to raise every one of them. Shit, he'd seen how hard Kate had to work at that -- and she was an expert. But he felt driven to revitalize what had been so important to him, to make it whole and functional again. It would be like regaining some of his youth, some of the passion he used to bring to his work -- and his marriage.
The bedroom was empty, except for an old army cot and another kerosene lamp. A pile of old student newspapers and several stacks of anthropology journals were stacked in one corner. His throat was raw and his nose was running from the dust and mold in spite of the handkerchief. He should know better, with his allergies. He decied to give up on any further assessment until the place could be fumigated and cleaned. He'd have to organize a work party and get the health and safety guy out to tell them how to do it. Probably make a good field project for some enthusiastic undergraduates. Poor suckers.
He pulled the door tight and locked it, then walked several feet into the clear air before he took a deep breath. Gillian rounded the corner of the house just as he collapsed.