Sometimes, the answer is right in front of you

My friend Rita eased her van up my driveway close to midnight. We had been on the road since early that morning, having spent a wonderful weekend with another friend in north Florida. As I gathered my gear and said a sleepy goodbye, my thoughts shot ahead to the hot, comforting shower I would take before easing into my soft, smooth, comfy bed. Rita waited, headlights on, until I fitted the key into the front door, then waived goodbye and drove away.

I turn the key. The lock gives, but the door won't open. What? The deadbolt is engaged! I try again, pressing on the door while I turn the key. It's no use. This deadbolt won't open with a key. My son did this; what was he thinking? Has he forgotten I'll be back tonight? I ring the bell. No answer. I ring again - he's a heavy sleeper. I'll have to check his bedroom around back. I stumble over bushes in the dark to peek into his window. The bed is empty.

Now what? I don't want to break a window, but if that is what I have to do to get on the other side of that door, I'm willing. My mind fixes on the hot shower, the bed. Think, I say to myself. Think! Suppose I were a burglar. What would I do to get in? Simple: I'd look for a window; one that could be pried open or broken.

So I go around to the side of the garage, and there it is: the large awning window - open! Not much, but even a crack is promising. All I have to do is get up there, reach in, find the crank, wind it out, and wedge myself through. Problem solved.

Well, not quite.

First, as I said, I have to get up there. It's a little high. Ah! A lawn chair. Heavy, but sturdy. I drag it screeching over the concrete and lift it over shrubs onto the lumpy earth under the window. I step on the seat. It's not quite high enough. I step onto the arms, wobbling precariously as I shift my weight from side to side, and grab the sill.

I reach through the slightly opened window, bend the screen from its frame, and heave it into the darkness of the garage. With success in sight, I fumble around both sides, find the crank, and open the window as wide as it will go. It will be a tight squeeze, but I think I can make it.

It is a particularly dark night. As I reach tentatively inside, my hand touches, hesitantly, a pile of dusty chairs, upended on top of a chest of drawers.

Serendipity! I can climb through the window onto the chest. I push the chairs off into the darkness and probe, squeamishly, the top. Under at least a quarter inch of dust I feel lumps of - what? - ropes, tools, unidentified junk. Off it all goes, landing with a crash.

The garage is pitch black. I hoist myself, scrape my body halfway through the window, clutch the top of the chest, and grit my teeth as I feel the crunch of accumulated dirt, imagining dead or even live bugs lurking there.

Halfway doesn't do it, though; so, wriggling like a trapped snake, I lift first one leg, then the other, through the window's opening. With a grunt and a final heave, I am in, perched like a frog and ready to jump. I consider my descent, take a leap of faith into the darkness, and land with a thud on the concrete, breathless, bruised, but intact.

I step over the pile of junk I threw down, and walk triumphantly through the kitchen door. I feel as though I've fought Goliath and won.

Inside at last, showered and curled up in bed, a worrisome mosquito of a thought buzzes around and won't leave me alone. The other back door, the one that opens from the garage to the back yard - the one I seldom use. I wonder...

I have to know. I drag myself out of bed and back into the garage. There, in the full glare of the ceiling light, I see the door. It's unlocked and slightly ajar.

They say that when one door closes, another opens. Maybe that applies here.

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