Friday, March 12, 2010


The stairs lead up. I pause. Stand in the sun shining down through the skylight. I am in the hallway long enough that the man at the desk behind me clears his throat. 

Can I help you? 

I do not turn around, but raise a hand and wave.  A slight wave, to say, no, not right now, but I may need you. There's no way to know for sure that I won't need you. I can feel his eyes on me for a few moments longer before he looks away, or down, or inward, just not at me. Yet, what I want to do is ask him if it is okay to climb the stairs. I want to climb toward the light. I want to knock on every door along the way to the top. I want to ask anyone who answers how long they have been here and if they notice the light when they come in, how it's like being under water, the way everything looks green, the soft pool of light shining through the surface where the sun shines on us brightest, as if to say I see you there beneath the waves.  We would lean out over the railing, staring into the light, following the line of my arm pointing up, pointing at the glass but far, far beyond that, too.  One by one, everyone would step from their doors, and we would all stand in the stairwell, leaning out over the railing, looking up to the light, to the infinite possibilities.

The stairs are old.  Marble. Beveled where they have been traveled most, marking the way in and out of the building.  Years of travel rest in the shallows of the grooves.  Footfall both soft and sound have worn each step away. I follow them with my eyes, up from the landing where I am rooted, the way I used to follow the snow sled treads my neighbor made out across the open lot behind my mother's house to the edge of the field, plowed and tilled and covered with snow.  I would stop there every time, at the very edge, the tracks finally disappearing at a distance well beyond what I could see from where I stood. I only wandered out into the field to follow his trail but once.  I followed, looking down, eyes fixed on the tracks, feet falling between the lines, making my way slowly across the snow covered ground until I realized I had gone so far I could not see my mother's home, and the treads had begun to disappear, covered over by the wind. I looked ahead of me and behind me, turning back and forth unclear what moving forward might mean, sure I could not find my way back home.  When I was certain I would be stranded where I stood, consumed by the snow and cold, my neighbor rode up beside me, stern and unsmiling, uncertain why I might be following him.  He didn't say it, but I could see it in his eyes, the shield of his helmet raised to the top of his head. He didn't let me on. Instead, he motioned to me with a quick wave to follow him.  I followed him on foot, behind the sled, back across the field until both our homes could once more be seen in the distance. He pointed briefly in the direction I should head, his finger extending for a second to show me the way before he sped away, swallowed by the drifting white.  I ran without looking back, eyes focused ahead of me, tripping on the uneven ground over and over, tumbling to my knees now and again, scarring the knees of my jeans, until I reached the lip of the field, safe and sound, planting both feet firmly on the ground there. It was months again before I followed his tracks, though I'd watch from the safety of my mother's kitchen as he would ride away, the roar of the sled pulling me from my seat to the window every time.  When at last I chose to follow him again, determined not to lose my way, armed with a small bag of seeds and stone to mark the path behind me, I found the tracks broken by patches of green, winter finally giving way to spring.

I lean further back, to frame the well, to aim my focus so that it reaches all the way up to the light, capturing the details of the rails and stairs all along the way. A bag of postcards hangs off my wrist, rustles against my arm. It's why I am here. The postcards. Each one with a specific destination. Each one with a specific set of directions. A way to reach out to the world. A way for the world to reach back. They are black and white photos:  Jack Dempsey; Memphis Slim;  Port Blakely, Puget Sound. The post card of Port Blakely is of the harbor, where two large four masted barks and two schooners are docked. It is winter.  The sails are drawn.  The dock, but for the boats, is empty, barren, littered with snow and under construction still.  William Renton landed here in the calm waters, first, the wake of the ship drifting still on the water behind him. And those who had journeyed with him, spilled from the belly of the boat, walking out on to the untouched land, hands stretched before them, waiting patiently no more to grasp at possibility, to claim a land so white it glowed.  Clean.  Clear. Open.

A quick click of the shutter and the photo is mine. I cap the lens, the image trapped inside for later. My footfall echoes down the last staircase. The door is heavy. I lean into it, press my shoulder against the wood. The street outside is loud. Cars, people, busses pass each other before me, merging then pulling apart. Storefronts fill and empty. Everything is destination. We are destinations.

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