Home – Stair Sounds

February 11th, 2008

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.

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