September 22, 2018
When I strode out of my apartment at 8 pm on a Saturday holding only my cellphone, I did not feel shame and dread upon realising that I was locked out, with no spare key stashed with any friend, or hidden in any place. I decided very quickly that I had no interest in learning what a locksmith would cost at this time in Sydney, the most expensive city on earth.
My dog Bones – he wears a green tag that says “My name is Bones” – was six months old and inside the apartment. As he’s grown, he’s looked like a little goat, then a young horse, then one of those long-haired Scottish cows. Like many dogs, his back paws are like those of a rabbit. When he stands up his front paws are turned out slightly, in first position. Increasingly, his face resembles Alf’s. Not infrequently, strangers walk past him and just say: “Alf.”
I had been on my way to drinks with a friend, and off I went, buying time and sending a text to my sister-in-law, Amy, mainly to make her laugh. I had a glass of wine with my friend. She said I was good in a crisis, which was a lie. The bartender asked where we were off to next. She was heading home to do work and I was heading home to spend hundreds of dollars to see the error of my ways.
Amy convinced me to call a locksmith. He and I arrived at the apartment at the same time. He was friendly and took out an invoice book and asked me to sign under an amount three times higher than what he’d quoted on the phone. I protested. He called his boss who answered after one ring. I could hear their whole conversation through the phone. It sounded like a script. The boss said did I have a student card. I said no. He said I could still have a student discount. The amount was now double what had been quoted.
As the locksmith jiggled the handle and poked around, Bones barked from inside the apartment.The locksmith said he couldn’t open the lock. He’d need to break it and the cost for a new one would bring the fee back to the original invoice. I said I would have to find another solution. “What about your dog?” he asked. I felt embarrassed and didn’t want him to see me doing something foolish, so I waited for a few minutes for him to leave and started going round the side of the apartment block. But I heard him speaking on the phone on the other side of the falling-over wooden fence. As I pressed my body against a wall, hands flat, like a mime avoiding a spotlight, I hoped he wasn’t in trouble for not successfully scamming me. He left, and I snuck around and jumped down off a wall, into the courtyard onto which the back of my apartment, and the dog door, opens. Bones charged through the flap and into the courtyard.
I called Amy for advice. She was at a party, keeping everyone abreast of the developments. “I’ll look up how to break glass on YouTube,” she said. My battery was on 5 percent. Bones was jumping around.
I looked for a tool with which to break a pane of glass in the door. I found a little clay foot, the sort you use to prop up a pot plant. I figured I’d tap the plant foot gently many times on the glass to crack it.
Amy called. She said her friend suggested climbing through the dog door – the friend shouted this suggestion at the same time in the background. I got down and maneuvered my shoulders through the hole as Bones skipped around in the yard. He put his front paws triumphantly on my back. My hips wouldn’t fit. Then again, I needed to pee. I did this, quickly, in the backyard. Bones looked at me. If only I could explain to him how to fetch the keys. I tried again and only just couldn’t fit. What was left to do but take off my trousers.
For a perfect moment, half of me was inside my house, and half wasoutside. Anyone in the apartments that face the back of mine (there are many ofthese) would, had they looked down, seen two disembodied, flailing, trouserlesslegs emerging from the door.
I still couldn’t wriggle through, but I could just reach my phone charger, which was plugged into the wall. Too bad that I had turned the switch off when I was getting ready to leave the house.
This was when I noticed that the end of the charger resembled a flathead screwdriver. And that it just might be possible to unscrew the frame, pop it out, and get through. It was not: the end of the charger was too thick to fit into the screws.
By now, I’d peed where Bones pees, I was not wearing pants, I was climbing through the dog door. I shifted, he reversed his nose out of the corner, I shuffled backwards out of the hole, and he pressed his head against the side of my body. Finally, he seemed to be saying. Finally, you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
It was at this moment – a few moments after realizing the only neighbors whose lights were on were the neighbors from whom I’d once had a noise complaint and therefore could never approach for a screwdriver – that I realised I had a hairpin in my hair. I had sworn to wear my hair down that night, but I’d found the clip in my pocket and up it had gone, as usual. This particular type of hairpin is perfect: along, thin, golden slide, strong and very inexpensive. Just one holds all of my hair. Biting off the little plastic bit revealed a tiny rectangle that just might fit into the star of a screw.
I was back in my inelegant halfway position, shining the last of my phone’s light onto the inside of the frame. The pin’s edge fit into the ridges of the screws perfectly. I detached the miniature door frame and crawled inside, then sat cross-legged on the floor. I plugged in my phone. Bones sprang in and out of my lap. I knew what he was saying. He was so proud, so thrilled: I’d finally figured out how to use the dog door.