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Atop the City
I remember the stories my mother would tell me of her childhood, of long afternoons spent in the tree by the farm house, of the monsters that were surely hiding in the cellar and up the rickety staircase to the attic, which for some reason began in my uncle’s bedroom. She told them so often and in such detail that I could remember everything as if I’d experienced it myself. I loved to imagine my mother as a child, innocently living on a farm somewhere in Pennsylvania, not a care in the world except for the Deadly Nightshade growing under the porch. wouldn’t have even dreamed that one day she’d skid on some ice while driving home from the grocery store, her daughter in the passenger seat.
Seven weeks later, I was officially moving into my aunt and uncle’s house. The same uncle who’d had the attic stairs in his bedroom, as it turned out. They were my guardians, should anything ever happen to my mom, and while they were particularly stressed to make ends meet, they were still more than happy to give me a home, something that I will never be able to repay them for. I arrived in their city on a cold and cloudy evening. It should have seemed much drearier, had the street not been lined with the most beautiful old homes which were all lit from within, casting a soft orange glow on the snow-lined sidewalk. My aunt and uncle’s home was exactly the same as it was when it had first been built. It was a requirement of the historical district in which they lived. Faded light blue paint and red gingerbread molding on the porch. It had a lightly decaying charm to it that I found undeniably welcoming, like a cozy old blanket.
I thanked my uncle about ten thousand times as he helped unload my many bags from his car. I had to bring everything I needed from my old house, and that wasn’t even including the furniture he’d brought up beforehand. After we’d finally got everything up to the second story, we took a break.
“So, how do you like the house?” my uncle gestured grandly to the small kitchen in which we were sitting.
I looked down at my fingers, laced together on the white tabletop, “It’s really pretty.”
“Awh, now you don’t have to be so shy, Emma, it’s your Uncle Jack you’re talkin’ to!” he followed this with a great laugh, which was so booming and ridiculous sounding that I started to giggle myself. He continued with his rasping guffaws until I found myself shaking and in tears, laughing harder than I had since my mother had passed away. This uproarious brouhaha had alerted Aunt Sarah, who poked her head cautiously into the room, a basket of laundry in her arms.
“Everything alright in here?” she asked, “Seems like I missed a good joke.”
Uncle Jack laughed once more, “Just laughing at laughter, I guess. Best kind, if you ask me!” my aunt agreed and left us to fold clothes in the living room.
Uncle Jack announced that we should get my stuff up to my room, so we trekked up the steep staircase once more. The house, while really nice, wasn’t particularly big. When we got into the hallway, I realized that the only two rooms on the floor were the master bedroom and the master bath. Jack went over to a narrow door at the far end of the hallway, by a yellow-curtained window that looked out onto the streets above. I was quite puzzled at first to see that I was staring at a few shelves and some cleaning supplies. I gave my uncle a questioning look. I didn’t want to say anything, but I was pretty sure there was some sort of law against keeping your nieces in the linen cupboard. He only smiles and put his hands on my shoulders and repositioned my gaze so that I was looking at the far right wall of the space. Stairs… slightly crooked attic stairs in an odd place. All of my mother’s stories came back to me as I stared at them.
“This goes up to the third floor. I hope you don’t mind, but that’s where the guest room is.”
I began to climb the stairs, one at a time, none too quickly. Some far off part of my brain believed with all its might that I was about to emerge into a room full all the monsters from my mom’s child hood. At the top of the staircase, another narrow door opened up to a short hallway, with a small bathroom and the guest room that had become my new bedroom. It was smaller than my old room had been, but that was fine. We began to bring up my stuff, and by the time we were done, it had grown dark outside. Uncle Jack hugged me goodnight and thumped down the stairs to the second floor.
I had planned on spending some time organizing everything, but I decided to leave it until later. There was something I had been thinking of since I’d first come up here. My mother and her stories of the scary attic steps were swirling around in my thoughts, and I couldn’t help but wonder: Did she ever face her fear and go to see just what lay at the top of them? I realized of course, that I would never know, but sitting in this strange new place atop the city, it didn’t matter. This small similarity was enough to make me feel close to her, like a distant call from the past.