He keeps his keys in an empty round flower pot, which sits on a ledge next to his bedroom window. When I reach for them, they make a clinking sound that is low and gritty from the clay. Sometimes I pull the keys out and count them when he is out of the room, but the rim of the pot is narrow so I have to sneak them out vertically. One by one. Today I counted thirteen keys. Yesterday there were twenty. Most of them look like they belong to tiny heart padlocks. The ones you buy from old quarter machines in restaurants with vinyl seats.

“Does it hurt when you swallow them?” I ask him. “When a key goes down your throat, can you feel it?”
“No,” he says. “I don’t know. And really I don’t even do it all that much.” He stares at my face and his skin looks soft and simple like felt.

We are facing each other in bed and our words are going into each other’s mouths but our mouths are not touching. I poke at his belly to see if I can feel something hard like metal but I feel nothing except the feeling that I am ready to touch him lower and put my body on top of his. As I pull the blanket over our heads, he reminds me not to tell anyone. He says he’s very self-conscious and that eating keys is something he would like to quit. “It won’t be easy,” he says. “There are so many of them out there.”

I tuck in my lips and nod to show that I can keep secrets. That this is something I am good at. For my entire life I have refrained from spitting out words that I should or should not have said, like I am sorry or I really hate your casserole.

“I think they might be bad for you,” I say to him when he is almost asleep. “I think this really may be bad for you.”

The first time I saw him eating keys was on my way back from the bathroom, which, if I step outside his room, is across from me through the kitchen. I remember comparing him to an alley cat. Not a scavenger with clumpy fur, but something far more graceful that feels at ease near open windows and likes irreplaceable things that normal people throw away. Before he slipped one in his mouth, he studied it first on each side then brushed off any dust that might have collected from the pot. I was standing there in the bedroom doorway when he finally caught me. Wearing nothing. Watching his throat gulp in the light coming in through the glass.

I wonder why he eats them. I wonder why he desperately needs them inside of himself. “This one is fine,” he might think. “This one will do.” And then possibly, he feels wonderful. Possibly, as one slides down his chest, he feels like there is something extraordinary drifting inside him, gently and synchronized with time. It fits in. Somewhere. And it feels at home. It blends into the walls and among the faces that are hung on the walls. It likes it there very much because it’s just there. For absolutely no reason at all.

Early the next morning he isn’t in bed. The blankets are thrown into an awkward lump next to my feet so I just kick them off the end instead of trying to fix them. I scoot to the edge of the mattress to get a better view of the room and the flower pot and he is staring down at it with a ripped bag of potting soil next to his bare feet.

“What are you doing?” I ask him. “You’re up so early.”
“I filled it with soil,” he says while he pats the top layer with his hands. He doesn’t look at me when he says this. There is a substantial amount of earth everywhere. On the floor. On his shirt. On his legs. And judging by the mess he’s made, he has done this quickly, within minutes, without any consideration of anything at all.

I think of the keys in the dirt and how uneatable they now are. Like something dead and eyeless left on the side of the road that I want to poke with a branch. I tell him to just get rid of them. “Put them in the garbage,” I say while I point to the bathroom. “Just dump the whole thing in there and we can take it out later.”

He climbs back in bed and pulls me closer with his caked hands and I bury my nose in his neck, and this is our way of telling each other how we feel.

It takes him eleven hours before he starts digging holes. I come over after work and he has pulled up every buried key from the flower pot and transferred each one to a sink full of soapy water, which up until now, has never held anything entirely solid. Over the months it’s been encrusted in toothpaste foam. Spit. A place to vomit up indigestible things, like vodka or whiskey or both. I look around the bathroom. It looks like how a bathroom should look. Towels scattered. His and hers toothbrushes side by side in a plastic cup. I stand over the water and although I can’t see the keys through the brown froth, I know that they are resting at the bottom of the sink on top of the drain. I know that someone is going to pull them out soon.