Driftwords – The Back Stairs

March 13th, 2008

I had to go to an event for work wearing only my bathrobe. The event was on the other side of campus, and my bathrobe – selected for its sleekness – had no pockets for house keys. So now I have to slink back home, in this strange state of semi-undress, and find a way back into my dorm room.

There is a precedent for this, of course. Whenever anyone gets locked out, in the middle of the night, wearing something inappropriate, the thing to do is climb up the fire escape stairs at the back of the building, beg entrance into whomever’s dorm is attached to the stairs at the top, ask them to let you in their back door and out their front door, from which one can scurry down the hall to one’s own home.

So I run through the back of the building, down dark corridors, up several flights of emergency escape stairs until I am, I estimate, on the same floor as my own dorm room. I find emergency escape stairs that lead to a back door, and start running up.

But halfway there, I realize these are stairs that do not exist merely as a passage way, at the pleasure of those who use them. Oh no. First, they become detached from their moorings at the bottom, and begin to sway – as though in a brisk breeze. Then they begin to spiral crazily, and I’m bent double, trying to keep my footing in a high wind, while my pathway pitches and rolls with alarming velocity. My bathrobe catches the wind, and I have to devote one whole hand just to staying clad, leaving only one hand to cling to the handrail.

The wind dies down, but only, I sense, so it can pay close attention to my every move. For the stairs have just become a kind of two-dimensional Gordian knot. A second ago, the handrail was on the left and the stairs were on the right; now they’ve twisted like a ribbon and the handrail is on the right, with the stairs on the left. And to follow them, I have to flatten into two dimensions as well, and somehow compel myself along the twisty-ribbon two-dimensional surface until the stairs pop back into their proper shape on the other side. I take a deep breath and dive in before I can really contemplate what I’m about to do.

I don’t remember the second half of the stairs after that; maybe going into two dimensions squeezed the memories out of me.

The next thing I know I’m at the top of the stairs, finally. The stairs themselves are about two feet wide, and they’re connected at the far right side of a doorway that’s at least eight feet wide. To the left of the stairs, there’s nothing but empty space that goes down a very long way. The doorway itself houses multiple doors. There are pocket doors, normal doors, trap doors hung sideways into the wall. I stand on the handrail, on tip-toe, and stretch as far to the left as I can to slide one of the pocket doors open, then reach through for the next door. It takes hours and many precipitous reaches to disengage them all, and all the while, the unmoored stairwell swings beneath me.

Finally I break through the last door and tumble onto the ridiculously safe, stable, and sane-looking linoleum floor of someone’s kitchen. My dorm alternates between boys’ and girls’ floors; of course, I miscalculated and landed on the boys’ floor. In my bathrobe. My neighbors are polite, nevertheless, and I am welcome to walk through their dorm room and use their front door to access the interior of the building where I can take the normal stairs down to my own floor.

I know they think I’m crazy.

Entry Filed under: Driftwords