February 20th, 2010
One of the best things about the downstairs is that it’s endless. A left turn at the bottom of the stairs leads to the living room, which opens onto the dining room, which is adjacent to the kitchen, which abuts the parental bedchamber which returns traffic – cleverly – back onto the hallway with the stairs. If, of course, we are allowed to sprint through the last bedroom which we aren’t, unless the occupants are away. Being able to run in a circle around the inside of a house is dream come true. What could be better than one endless sprint that takes you everywhere and back again? It’s like defying linear time – wasn’t I just here? How is it possible to be back where I started without having once turned around? And it definitely makes it easier to catch, or get away from, one’s siblings.
There are only two known ways to cut straight across the loop. First, there’s the square-shaped tunnel from the living room to the furnace room; then, there’s the inside of the library bench where a small storage cube under the seat once opened onto the very same furnace room. Either shortcut permits a further disruption of time and space – turning the circle into a Gordian knot. Deploying either elevates the art of running in circles to a whole new level; one is able to reverse direction without even turning around. The shortcuts provide an overwhelming tactical advantage and not surprisingly, both are only marginally accessible – the former so small that only the cats can use it, the latter so small that it is inevitably outgrown, even by the nimble.
Trajectories beyond the circular do, however, exist. On the far side of the dining room, past the bay window and to the right of the pot bellied wood stove, is a door to the sun porch, which is neither a porch, nor particularly sunny. It’s laid out like a kitchen, with a long counter against the back wall, and is filled with shelves that house green ware and slip and molds – all the tools necessary for the ceramicist in the family, who later switched to porcelain, then to polymer clay. Also housed on these shelves are slightly uncanny miniature body parts; heads, arms, legs; wee hands and dimpled feet; cloth torsos with stuffing coming out of the arm and leg holes. The ceramics go to a kiln to be fired on the other side of the house, but sometimes the bits made out of polymer clay lie waiting, arrayed in neat rows on a cookie sheet, ready to be baked in the oven. Hundreds of glass eyes look out from opaque plastic boxes; hair gathered in plastic bags, or hanging in lank strips, awaits application. Skeins of wool, antique lace, and doll magazines fill the shelves. Sometimes an antique christening dress, transparent from age, wafts in the breeze from a hanger hooked onto a shelf.
This is where we stack the folding chairs when we aren’t using them at the dining room table. There’s also an ironing board, as this is where we iron clothes, and briefly, a washer and dryer. In the winter we hang a thick sheet of plastic over the door to keep the heat from the pot bellied stove in the dining room, effectively turning the sun porch into a frigid, uninhabitable place that I imagine to be somewhat like the dark side of the moon: familiar yet foreign; accessible only to those willing to suit up. But during long summer days, I sit on the washing machine and read aloud from one of my books, while ceramic seams are scraped from the sides of tiny faces.
Two windows look out onto the north yard, and the door that leads to the back porch stands open, or at least partially ajar, much of the time and has never, ever been locked.
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