Posts filed under 'Home'

Home – Living Room

The living room is huge and nearly empty, except for all the sunlight that spills in through the north and east facing windows. The floor is the color of new grass in the springtime – young and tender and green. At first, the room has just two pieces of furniture; a dark brown rocking chair in one corner, and an antique icebox, the burnt umber of a lingering sunset, in another. We spend long sunny days in the living room, listening to John Denver records, and rocking.

The icebox hides our record player and collection of records behind something more 19th century and decorous. A heavy wooden lid secures the top of the erstwhile ice chamber. The lid is too high, too ungainly, and too heavy for our small arms; by clever parental design, that’s where all the records are kept. Underneath the ice chamber, behind a carved door with a tiny latch, the record player can be found in the alcove that used to store food. Sometimes, if we’re good, the speakers come out of the icebox and on to the floor where we lie down, heads between the speakers, and listen to our favorite songs as they expand to fill all the space in the room – in the world.

The icebox sits right next to the door that leads from the living room to the dining room, and right before the door, the floor dips down mysteriously. There’s a dent, like something smooth but very, very heavy once fell there, or like a glacier from the last ice age scraped this spot a bit deeper than the others, just in case a tiny pond needed to form here. Sometimes when I run from the living room to the dining room I put my foot right in the middle of the dent, just to let it know that I’m there. Sometimes, I avoid it, wondering if it’s soft and bruised inside.

In the corner diagonal to the rocking chair, there’s a secret passage to the kitchen. The tiny square, cut into the wall near the floor, was originally a vent for the furnace. We only used the furnace the first year; then it broke and we never used it again. First the screen came off the duct on one side, then it came off on the other, and then there was a short, square tunnel connecting the old furnace room (now a kitchen annex) to the living room. It’s just a little bit too small for kids to squeeze through, but our animals run through all the time. And even if we’re too big, the potential of practically teleporting from one side of the house to another is exhilarating.

Add comment August 5th, 2008

Home – The Front Hall

The front hall is perhaps the smallest room in the house, but conversely, the one that provides the most opportunity. One might enter or exit by the front door, go through the door to the left (but only in theory; that way lies the parental chamber and only brave or reckless children dare pass), go through the door to the right into the living room, or go up the stairs to the second floor. The last visible corner of the front hall is the epic eleventh stair; shaped like a triangle, and big enough to hold a shelf. For a time there was a chandelier in the ceiling that sometimes worked, and the first step on the staircase sprouted a lovely newel post with a flat square surface.

The front hall has had many incarnations, though there is only one stretch of wall that’s big enough, and out of the way enough, to put furniture against. Once, we used that bit of wall to hang a full-length mirror. Later, an apothecary chest took the mirror’s place. It had hundreds of tiny drawers that I wasn’t allowed to open, but that smelled wonderfully when they somehow came open in spite of my interdiction. For a while a dog lived there. Once, a dog died there.

There were years when we rarely or never used the front door, having shifted familial traffic to other ports of entry. But there were also whole summers when the door stood open, letting all sorts of flies and heat into the house, as I relocated my toys, armload by armload, onto the front porch.

Add comment April 10th, 2008

Home – The Galaxy Above the Stairs

The wall on the right side of the stairs has three distinct parts. For the first five stairs, there is no wall, just a banister that separates the stairs from the rest of the front wall. One can stick one’s head through the bars that connect the stairs to the handrail, turn one’s head to the side so as to become “stuck” and scream for help, though of course there is an age limit on such amusement. After the first five stairs, the wall starts. The bottom part is drywall, and the top part, which corresponds with where the second story begins, is smooth yet bumpy plaster. At stair eight there’s a big nail in the drywall; it’s just underneath where the plaster part of the wall starts, and the plaster wall comes out a few inches further than the drywall. It would be hard to catch anything on the giant nail, sheltered as it is by the plaster overhang, but it scares me. I slink past every time.

The ceiling above the mid-part of the stairs is like its own universe. It’s wide open up there – huge, high and cavernous. There’s easily enough space for another room, and the space already has three walls and a ceiling – all that’s missing is one more wall and a floor. It’s torturous to consider; an entire new room, unused, vacant, yet totally inaccessible. Because the builders of the house apparently wanted to include a vast amount of empty space, and frankly, it’s hard to complain too much. One’s thoughts, dense and hovering about one’s head in the rest of the house, suddenly soar to new heights on the middle part of the stairs. Of course, they’re packed back down by the normal-height ceilings that encroach at the top and bottom, but there in the middle… there’s no limit.

The space houses nothing but air, shadows, and galactic cobwebs that stretch from one corner to another. In any other house they’d be invisible, but we live in a wood-burning house so all the cobwebs collect micro-fine specks of soot and turn black. The effect is that spiders, left undisturbed for a hundred and fifty years, have spun a web big enough to trap a child, should a child find a way to access that space. And they must certainly trap some of the thoughts that float up to the sky, unhindered.

One time we fastened two brooms end to end and managed to stick the bristles up into the galaxy above the stairs, clearing out the cobwebs. It looked cold and empty afterwards; the lines too sharp, the empty space too empty, wasted. I was glad when the cobwebs grew back.

Add comment March 31st, 2008

Home – Secret Passage

Sixteen stairs connect the first floor to the second. The wall on the left side of the stairs is white, and made of a kind of bumpy plaster that looks like the smooth surface of a fresh tub of cottage cheese. It’s always cool to the touch, though the little bumps just beg little fingers to pick at them – and after a long, humid, Midwestern summer, they are easily pried off.

Near the seventh step, there’s a small hole in the wall. The hole has always been there, and has nothing to do with small prying fingers. It’s about two inches square, and the lines are clean – the plaster is gone, revealing a piece of dark brown wood beneath. It looks like the result of a single sharp impact. Between the plaster that’s visible on the surface, and the wood that lies underneath, there’s an empty space. It’s hardly visible and can most easily be detected by running one’s finger along the exposed horizontal surface of the plaster, inside the hole.

The hole, and the empty space, function exactly like a candy machine, where a coin pressed flat into a circle-shaped depression will fall down, through a narrow slot, into a receptacle below. The hole in the wall is similarly suited for coin deposits. A penny pressed flat against the wall falls through the empty space below…

… and many, many long milliseconds later, can be heard hitting the floor somewhere down beneath the stairs. The sound echoes strangely, close enough to hear, yet far enough away to be problematic, and raise all sorts of questions. Is the hole in the wall the only known point of entry into a secret space that has somehow escaped discovery by previous residents? How big is this mysterious cavern? What else might be in there? Is there any way to access it? Is it big enough, maybe, for a kid to crawl inside and hide? Maybe a kid could dig through a wall under the stairs, find the cavern, and build a little room in there with just the basics; some books, a flashlight. A kid could live for a long, long time in such a hiding place.

Answers to such queries are elusive. Pennies can be hard to come by when you need them most, except of course for the forbidden collection of ancient pennies housed in a beer stein on a shelf on the eleventh stair. Attempts to tie a string around a penny so that it can be dropped and then recovered prove fruitless – the mechanics of such an operation are too complicated, though the lure of pulling a penny back from the brink of mystery is compelling. Maybe it would come back covered in phosphorescent goo, or even better, with a tiny note affixed to the surface – a message from the current occupant of the hidden chamber. The only thing to do is to keep dropping pennies through the secret opening, where they hit the floor, and occasionally, the other coins deposited over the years.

Add comment March 24th, 2008

Home – Stair Sounds

Sixteen stairs connect the ground floor to the second floor, and each stair has a different sound. Some creak in the middle, some creak at the edges. Some emit a deep, sonorous groan that goes on and on, even after you’ve jumped up to the next one. Others let out a sharp, high-pitched squeak that can be heard miles away. Every once in a while a stair will be silent, giving no clues as to one’s passage. Those are the best stairs, but you can’t count on them to stay silent twice in a row. And some stairs change their tactics; if it groaned in the middle last time, chances are good that it won’t groan in the middle the next time – instead it’ll squeal in the upper-left corner or on the middle-right side. There’s just no predictability.

The loudest, most resounding noise, however, lies silently, waiting underneath the eleventh stair. Step number eleven is extra-large and shaped like a triangle, which allows the stairs to take a sharp right turn. There’s a long, skinny, horizontal piece of wood there, a kind of molding that was meant to round-out the right angle formed by the run of the step sticking out a bit over the rise. The board has come loose without completely falling off; it’s attached by a nail or two, but moves when touched. And it lies precisely along the trajectory taken by a pair of toes, lifting to the next step. It’s almost impossible, even with considerable strategy, not to brush against the loose board with your foot. And when you do… The board doesn’t groan, or squeal. It lets loose an amplified vibration that is louder than any law of physics could explain. It rolls on and on like distant thunder, and manages to combine a sharp penetrating pitch with the sonorous persistence of resonance.

If one is lucky, the other noises produced by the stairs might dissolve into the ambient sounds of the rest of the house. Even in the middle of the night, boards creak, floors settle, walls adjust. What’s a single squeak here or there? But there is no mistaking the rattle of that board underneath the eleventh step. And that is the point of greatest peril when climbing up to the second storey.

Add comment February 11th, 2008

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