There is a light. The light does reach the farthest corners. The light leads the way and the way does not end, despite the walls. The light does not betray a dark beneath. The space is cramped, a sort of canal after the climb. Wyatt crawls on his knees and wrists, following the light that leads him on and on. He crawls through a cavity within the world.
The more he moves through the small space, the longer he follows the light, the more the way widens, opens to reveal a hollowed walkway of stone smooth on all sides. Wyatt walks on his feet for what may be hours, maybe days. But here there is no dark, no sense of the contrasting qualities that mark time. Wyatt does not feel anxious or weary. Here Wyatt walks because he was born to do this. And the light does not leave him. He hears the wind outside the stone walls. He hears voices calling names to come home again, to take the phone calls waiting in the kitchen. There is no crying. He hears no grief. He hears the echo of the small shoes strapped to his feet, the clap of the soles across stone, but here his feet are not sore. Here his toes are not crushed. He does not waddle or hunch or stop to sit and wheeze while the world continues on outside. Here his shoulders are upright. Here he follows the light that leads him on because he knows he will reach the day.
The girls slipped up the carpeted steps into a stairwell shaded because the high light of the sun only come through in white splashes from a single window at the edge of the hall, the last window on the east side of the house where, when the girls were taller, they could see the river on the other side of the street where the cars passed all day. When they were tall enough to open the window and look, they could lean and point to the Pontoon Keith kept docked at the edge of the river, but they were not tall at all, so they slipped up the carpeted stairwell to stare up at old wooden doors closed so they could not see. Elisha in her sundress and Andrea in hers but also in shoes that Elisha would not wear, they set their small hands on the doors that were not open, saw the light under the doors that looked like the same light that splashed in white from the one window because the day was so blue and clear. When they could reach, and really they only needed their toes, they hung on the round handles to see which would open, to see what was being kept in closed rooms. When they hung on the handles the doors opened and the girls went from giggles to silence, said nothing so they could see inside, said sssshhhh to each other when one sister would speak because they can’t talk when they look in the rooms—they have to be quiet so they can look and see what they did not already see because maybe if they closed their mouths they might see something that Nancy did not know, that Keith did not know. Maybe there was something that closed the door to keep their family from knowing and seeing and so they were silent when they looked. Downstairs under their feet the women were talking at the wicker table or there was no sound except for the sound of the breeze and birds outside the window on the east wall. When they reached from their toes and hung, the doors mostly opened: a room with boxes and stacks of clothes in plastic wrap from the laundry mat; a room that was empty except for the white light laying on hardwood in long rectangles, except for the dust and dead bugs by the windows; a room with a desk with drawers, a high-backed wood chair, small shelves of books with broken bindings and stacked boxes of stationary.
These doors could be opened and the girls saw what they usually did not see, though this meant nothing. The closets they kept clear of because they were black where the sunlight did not go. Andrea took two steps toward the folding doors and did not dare any more but looked at the dark with her fingers in her mouth. When Elisha pushed the base of her back her sister shrieked and slapped her shoulder. “Elisha!” she said because saying her name that way meant she was mad and scared of the dark that the folding doors did not cover. Sometimes Andrea pushed Elisha, who shrieked and slapped and pushed back while Andrea laughed and laughed.
One door did not open no matter how long they hung on the handle, because the handle turned but a metal chain hung on the inside, keeping the door closed except a small crack. Through this crack they could not see much of the room because the room wore blinds on the windows. The blinds kept the white light from lying on the hardwood in long rectangles, turned the light into the color of the blinds, which in this room were a dark blue. Door locked and light made dark, the room was a piece of the house the girls had not seen and so did not know. They did not know what was behind the door or who. They only knew what they could see and so saw a small patch of a room blue unlike the other rooms upstairs. They knew that this room was unknown to them. Quiet in the hall but for the talk at the table downstairs or the sound of the wind against the trees when the window was open (muted and whispered when shut), they peeked with stacked heads in the small space of the closed door, enough space to see the dark blue light, a patch of floor, a shape that could be a bed or a sofa, or a table draped so that a girl could hide beneath and go somewhere where no-one would see. Maybe what locked the door was draped beneath the sheet or blanket or skirt so she could slip through the floor to spots the girls could not go. But maybe if the door was unlocked they could look inside and sneak under the sheet to see what locked the door and if it did not eat them with eyes white without small colored circles for seeing—if it liked them or loved them like Nancy loved them maybe they would slip through the floor and she would take them to spots they had not seen. Elisha would not wear shoes in the grass all day and the sun would always be high up in the blue and the house would always be in a square of shadow where she would sit with her sister. They would sit until they were bored but then the world would be new and like nothing they had seen and so did not know when they were shown, and it would change all things.
The girls pushed with their hands and with their backs, pushing off from the floor with their feet, but the door did not give. It rattled in place against the frame and they stood on the floor, faces aimed upward at the door, at the peeled white face of faded paint and scratches and chips, slivers waiting to stick skin. The single window, the sounds of the women downstairs saying things, sometimes with laughter, sometimes saying nothing at all, sometimes saying things in hushed tones that did not sound like talking did sound. The sun cannot stay in the center of the sky; the shade cannot stay the seat to sit while cars come and go and the grass comes up from the earth to come down again. The sky does fade and the shadow of the hallway did become dark while the girls watched the doorway, the one window. When the women left quiet was complete but for the swooshing of cars that passed outside, the subtle breeze that blew against draped windows that dulled the light that was leaving, the drone of diesel engines at the lumber yard across the river, and the rattle of the door that did not open upstairs: a clatter of metal latch too loose to set itself in place, a heavy wood banging, a series of seconds before the cars or the breeze or the sound of her own breathing before the banging again—the banging of wood on wood dulled and worn from years of closing the door, years before they bought the place, years of slamming and shutting to keep in and out, years of shouting from down the hall, down the stairs, which were not carpeted before Keith laid the carpet because she had asked it. Years of keeping things away from other things and tension, felt in the neck and the jaw, settled in the walls like cigarette smoke, in the floor like flakes of skin. The banging and clatter between the segments of silence but for the outside sounds, sounds that sound behind her sleeping in the middle of the day, sleeping near the window after she’s fed the girls, after they’ve been put down for afternoon naps. Distant sounds suggested her quiet home, the interior quiet that stood in place of the noise she heard when it was not making itself known.
“Girls?” she called, stepping through the kitchen, past the bathroom to the base of the stairs. “Girls?” she called again, but it was quiet. No sounds but her socked feet on the stairs and the squeak of her palm while it rubbed along the handrail that wound with the steps which climbed in a curve toward the dim hall that did not have a light fixture but a window with light while there still was light. When she reached the top of the stairs, her girls stood by the door and said, “It’s locked.” She stepped over to the door, tried herself, and met the resistance of the chain that held the door in place. Like the girls, she tried again. She reached a hand and tried to loose the chain from its socket, but the chain could not be shaken and the hook remained firmly secured to the ring. The door settled back into place and Nancy stepped away, her hands on her hips, her daughters looking upward, two sisters assessing the face of the door, the face of the mother. She stood slender in jeans, in soft cardigan sweater, seeing a door that did not budge, chewing the inside of her cheek. “So,” she said. “So this is locked.”
Most nights Keith sat in the sunroom on the south end of the house. The sunroom had walls of glass, wide slanted panes in place of a ceiling. It was a room made to obstruct no external light. There were two Adirondack chairs so he could recline and watch the sky change along the water. There were two Adirondack chairs but he always sat in the same one, always with a glass of Speyside whiskey.
Keith sold lawnmowers most days. Most days he sold them so that he could keep his seat in the sunroom, keep his sunsets even if they were not shared. He shared so little. Sometimes he drove the van and delivered flowers for his wife while she was busy building arrangements or unpacking boxes of balloons and resin ornaments. He drove the van across town and parked in narrow neighborhood streets, streets that rounded and came back, streets with no exits. He watched front doors and kitchen windows behind window boxes of geraniums. Sketches of people moves behind the glass. He watched for many minutes with the AC on, watched children pass on bicycles. When he rang the front doors they did smile and when he saw inside he saw it would be so easy. Most days he sold lawnmowers in a small red vest. Most nights he had the sunroom to himself and he could watch all night and place the pieces as they seemed to fit. Some nights he could go back and see if he was quiet.
The night he came home to find his family upstairs he had an errand.
“So this is locked,” she said. The girls agreed in echo. “This is locked, Daddy. Why is this door locked? What’s back there?” Keith stepped over to the door and tried the handle, saw the chain, tried to draw the chain from the hook that held it in place. When his fingers failed he assessed the door with his hands on his hips. The girls guessed that they would stand this way someday when they had houses and girls. Nancy had her hands on her hips, top teeth chewing her bottom lip while Keith placed a palm along the frame of the door. “Well,” he said. “I suppose we’ll just have to break it and hope we don’t ruin the frame or the face.” he narrowed his eyes and fingered the chain, twisted his hand to find the socket, swore when he could not fix it from the outside. “Keith,” she said. “I guess,” he said. “I guess we just gotta bust it a bit. Shit. How in the hell?” He fingered again, fussed with the chain. “Keith,” she said. “The window’s open.” He looked back from the door with his mouth open, turned to the east wall, to the hall’s one source of light. “No, the window. In there. Behind the blinds. Can’t you hear the street? You can see the slats move.” He was quiet for a moment, placed his ear to the opening in the doorway. He could hear the Carlson’s dog yap on his leash. He could hear tires roll against the pavement. “Yeah,” he said. “How in the hell?” She put a hand on his back, between his shoulders. “What if,” she said, her eyes on his eyes. “What if,” her voice softened and she looked at the girls. The girls stood staring through the space, each pressing her face to see what was hidden in the room where the door was closed but a window was open.
“Girls,” she said. “Let’s go outside. Come on.” They made no sound when they took their hands. Their steps were quiet on the carpet Keith laid in an afternoon. Keith stuck his face in the space, the opening between the door and the doorway afforded by this chain that kept it all closed. Though the light from without was wandering into night, he could see the thin strips of sun exposed as the summer wind blew on the blinds through the screen. The shades did move.
Out on the lawn the three of them watched while Keith laid a ladder against the north side of the house, car lights like lanterns in the deepening death of the sun, the residual trace of color. Neighboring houses lit lights that matched the sky: overhead fixtures, table lamps, bulbs burning by bathroom sinks—these lights lit in vigil for the day that did pass. Keith climbed until he reached the window, while his wife and her daughters watched on the grass below. The window was indeed cracked—a fracture along the lower edge of the glass, yes, but cracked away from the frame, open just as Nancy had said from inside. He opened the window the rest of the way, spread it out from the frame so that it formed an obtuse angle from the base. He tried to be gentle, hoped that the handle would still work to roll it shut when they were back inside. With the glass cleared he fingered the screen, pursed his lips and worked his nails into the small spaces of give. After a few tries it popped loose in his hands. He set the screen inside against the wall and propped his arms on the edge to pull himself in. He looked ahead into the room and stopped. From the grass the girls watched their father stare into the opening for several seconds, his upper body poised against the square of black that he had uncovered. He slumped against the ledge, his head and shoulders sinking into the room. His foot slipped a rung and Nancy spoke. “Jesus, Keith. Will you watch it?” Keith gripped the inside of the ledge and regained his footing on the ladder. “Shit,” he said, shaking his head. “Shit.” He looked back into the dark of the room, a dark that denied the remaining threads of light still attached to the sun. “How in the hell?” he asked. He pulled himself up and into the room. His sneakers snuck inside after the rest of him. The girls watched the dark patch, much like the way they watched the reflection of the sky during daytime, when they sat in the square of shade this house did make. They watched the dark patch while their mother watched it, her arms folded across her chest. They were not yet old enough to fold their arms like this, though they supposed they would fold them when they had husbands and holes in their houses that ate them when they asked that they climb ladders.
It was full dark when Nancy called his name. “Keith! What are you doing?” They heard the water along the shore. Headlights dashed against the house and faded. “Keith!” She called again. The square hole in their house said nothing. Nancy was about to bring the girls inside when light filled the shape, when the room’s far wall and ceiling could be seen with the help of a bulb. Keith’s head appeared in the window. “The light was burned out,” he said. “Got a new bulb in here. Come on.”
The room was bare but for a few boxes and an old bed dressed and made with mattress skirt and bed spread. The floor was finished wood. The girls slid on their socks and touched the walls with their hands. Elisha looked beneath the bed. Nancy opened the closet door and could not find a switch. Her hands touched the walls and reached above her head to find a bulb but there was no bulb. Her fingers found a few empty hangers. Keith stood with his hands in his pockets. His hands touched no things. His work was done. The door was now open and he could close the window, reattach the screen. He stood with his hands in his pockets while the girls peeked under the mattress skirt and made noises, while his wife watched the closet with her hands on her hips.
They put the girls to bed way beyond bedtime, and they were not tired in spite of the hour. Nancy lit candles at the wicker table and shuffled decks. She cut the cards and lay them out in circular spreads. She asked what it meant that the closet was dark, what would happen if she brought more light. Keith sat in the sunroom with no sun to speak of, though he still had the scotch. He sat placing the pieces to see if they fit. If they fit he would find a way to find out, but he would have to be quiet. He would have to kill the lights and the radio and the engine. But he’d seen inside and so he knew how easy. The cards did not offer easy answers.
The girls lay in their beds babbling about the uncovered bedroom. Andrea asked, “Did you see under the bed? Did you see it sitting?” Elisha said she did. “Where does it go when no one looks? When Daddy turns out the light?” Andrea sat up on an elbow and Elisha could not see her face in the dark. Elisha said she did not know. “But maybe she plays in a yard that’s like our yard. Maybe her Mommy has friends over during the day.” Andrea watched her sister though her sister could not see her features. Her face was blank because in the dark she has no face. “Mmm,” Andrea said. “She doesn’t look like a she to me. She’s not a girl like the girls at Connie’s. She doesn’t look like she’ll play in the yard.”
Above their heads they heard scraping on the hardwood. They heard the boxes slide across the floor. They heard the bed springs and Elisha did take off her clothes. “What are you doing, Elisha?” her sister asked. She said, “Nothing,” and she was naked next to her sheets. The scraping above switched from floor to wall and she shivered. After some time Andrea fell asleep and Elisha watched the ceiling, wondering about the sounds which were now soft and sporadic. She stared at the ceiling until they stopped altogether. When they stopped she slipped out of bed and stood naked in the center of their room. She felt the carpet on her feet and she listened to see if the sounds came back. When she heard no sounds she crossed over to the closet and pulled a denim dress down from a hanger. She dressed in the dark and could not see her sister where she lay beneath her covers. Her sister was a shape.
Elisha stepped out into the hall. A light was on in the living room, and she could hear her mother laying cards against the glass. She heard her mother turn pages. When she looked back at the base of the stairs she saw slender fingers gripping the corner of the wall, she saw eyes buried in black and thin hair on a small head. She was out from beneath the bed but she turned and went back upstairs and so Elisha did follow. The steps were quiet on the carpet that Keith did lay in one afternoon. The stairs did not groan or creak and so it was as though they were not there—girls or stairs, neither. This was happening somewhere else. As she followed the shape she saw beneath the bed, the girl, Elisha did wonder if she was a story. Sometimes Keith came in the room and said stories to them and in the dark they could not see his face and he sat on a kitchen chair by the door. He spoke until they slept but the stories were not like the stories Nancy told, like Ann told when she was watching them because Keith and Nancy were out. He spoke to them in a low voice about the things he’d seen and how easy they would be and then he was quiet because they were sleeping. Then he sat in the chair without speaking. The girl-shape slipped inside the new room and Elisha did follow though it was black—not dark now but black because the blinds were drawn: no streetlights, no nightlights. She was in the room because the floor was smooth on her feet but she could feel nothing else, could not see. She waited and reached her fingers to find something she could hold because sometimes when it was dark her eyes could find things after a few minutes. Her eyes rolled in her sockets and she could not see if she was seeing the girl-shape or the bed, or the boxes she didn’t want to bump into because her mom would find her and be mad. She heard the scraping along the walls and the sound of the shape saying things she had not heard from her sister, from any other mouth. The shape told her to walk and so she walked. She was slow at first, then surprised that she did not crash into the bed or the boxes or the wall but walked like she was on a straight street, like she was outside along the road. She walked forever until she saw the stairs, the shape and the shape of the stairs in the middle of the black, lit by a light from somewhere she did not know. At the bottom of the stairs the shape sat and waved its hands, told her things that were new that she had never heard from any mouth because she was not sure they were words. It told her to step down the stairs and so she did do this, one stair at a time until the black at the bottom swallowed what she saw for a small while.
Wyatt reaches his hands out of the small square, pushes his head out past the small piece of cloth, and claws at the cold concrete. His fingers find grease stains and pebbles and scattered leaves from seasons he cannot remember. His brother is still speaking from the speakers because now Wyatt knows what he did know and so he says it.
The day is a trick there. It cannot last. Try to keep the sun from setting and the lights will go out. He knew how easy it would be and so he does it but he does it quiet. She keeps the cards on the table, keeps consulting books. She calls her friends and they come over and the girls still go upstairs. They go upstairs to see what is hidden because he opened the door and so now it does all it wants. Sometimes the chains should be kept because to loose them is to know what you did not know. And knowing is so much worse. I know I am not his son and I know I do not love them both. And I know I knew this all along. I know I am. You are. I know I am what I do but I do not know how to do with what he made and gave us in small heaps. This is not our house. This is not his house. This house is no-one’s. And it was never here.
Photo By: jurek d.