the stair where the stories spill
a.a. milne wrote a poem about it. called it halfway down. “halfway down the stairs/ is a stair/ where i sit./ there isn’t any/ other stair/ quite like/ it./ i’m not at the bottom,/ i’m not at the top;/ so this is the stair/ where/ i always/ stop.”
it goes on. talks about how it’s the place where all sorts of funny thoughts run ’round his head.
it’s a poem i don’t have to dig out from a book. just from that little tucked-away place in my brain where i store all the essentials: my growing-up phone number, the feel of the velvety collar of my first scarlet coat, the poems my mother recited to me when the bees stung, the lightning cracked or i plain felt afraid.
many a night, here in the house of the peripatetic won’t-go-to-sleeper we act out the poem of the author of pooh (milne is, i suspect you would know, the one who penned the adventures of that silly old bear in the first place).
it happens like this: the prayers are said, the sheets are tucked, the head is kissed, the lights turned out and i climb down the stairs.
i round the bend, sigh a sigh, think thank God another day now safely put to rest.
and then the hoof beats up above. kerplunk i hear a sword or saber crashing to the floor. and then the little feets tumbling shortly after.
there is a moment’s pause sometimes. perhaps he’s gauging consequences (although that most likely is a mother’s far-fetched thinking, for it’s not yet clear if this sweet child worries much what’s around the bend in that department; he seems unfazed).
and then, of course, the pitter-patter comes. it’s soft, sometimes, as rain landing on a petal. other times you think the buffalo have returned.
often it stops. a trip to somewhere is suspended. or maybe it’s where he intended. safe landing, after all.
when the silence stretches long enough, the turn is mine.
i tiptoe then, around the bend, and nine times out of 10, i find him sitting there. on the step that pooh’s inventor put so utterly, trippingly to words.
he isn’t at the bottom, and he isn’t at the top. in fact we counted: he’s six from the bottom and nine from the top.
the stories that spill there are the ones that seem to have sprung like a seed in rapid-vision. some little speck of a worry, planted hours and hours ago, suddenly a fully-opened daisy there on the stair. ready to be plucked. needing to be plucked, petal by petal, as he recounts in precise sequential order just what happened and just how it hurt.
whether it was the boy who told him he cheated with that kickball, or the one who called him “the S word,” this is the place he is pulled when the stories need telling, need airing out before bed.
seeing as he’s my on-the-ground reporter for the inner life of the 6-year-old head, he explains how it is that he’s propelled out of bed, night after night, not long after the lights go out.
it seems, in his rube goldbergian thinking, that the light switch flicking down, triggers some rumbling up in his brain. the rumbling, in turn, makes the toes sort of wiggly. the wiggly toes lead to squirmy feet, which then, without conscious thought, begin ambulation.
“i just randomly go there,” he reports. “daydreams, nightmares, all kinds of stuff, that’s what comes in my head. usually my daydreams are happy, but my nightmares are not.”
and why, my inquiring self finds myself inquiring, do you plop on that particular stair?
“i just do.”
is there some unique aesthetic to that step, some je ne sais quoi that makes it so fitting to the bottom and brain that so often settle there, i ask my interviewee?
he shakes his head in the affirmative way; oh, golly, i think, something good might be coming.
“because,” he uncorks, all of one word.
hmm. oh well.
no one said 6-year-old analysts were deeply revealing.
being 44 years his senior, i of course have my own thoughts on the matter. first, i find it so apt that the stair is the place that he stops. in the interlude between night and day, it–the step–is neither here nor there. depending how you approach it, it’s the tumbling down of the day, or the spiraling into the nighttime.
it’s the nethertime, and he is traveling to a netherplace.
being perched on a stair, as opposed to a pillow, offers a few vantage points. (besides the fact that you can look down on your mother, who herself is primly plopped on the fifth from the bottom, the tenth from the top.)
he is just a bit closer to the action of the house that’s not settled below. how unfair it must seem, night after night, to be the first dispatched to bed.
and then there’s the innate architecture of a stair. it is a structure that begs the cascading of whatever’s tucked deep inside. it practically demands the step-by-step telling of stories.
and besides, it’s all rather tight and cozy. in the midst of ascension itself.
i myself spent many a night on the stair. but my preferred raison d’ stair was not storytelling so much as spying.
i loved nothing so much as to sit at the top on the nights when bridge and its better half, adult conversation, murmured below. the cigarette smoke. the crunch of the cashews in the cocktail mix, those nuts in the blue-colored can. the guttural laughs of the men and giggles from housewives dressed up in their lipstick and stockings. it all wafted up, swirled, made me dizzy for a world where i wasn’t admitted.
which makes me think that perhaps to a boy who is trying to get a grip on the world, there is indeed something more than appealing in finding a place on the map where you can look out, scan something of a horizon, set your dreams sailing on the landscape beyond.
it’s the pirate up in the eagle’s nest. the climber high in the tree fort. the man on the side of the mountain. we go to a place with a vista when we need to see things not quite so blurry.
and heck, it sure makes it easy for me. i know, if i can’t find him in bed, i need only turn to the stairs. chances are, there he’ll be, the boy with the dreams and the nightmares, sitting bolt upright. not at the bottom. not at the top.
right at the stair where the day gives way to the night.
when he gets sleepy enough, when we’ve talked it all through, then, only then, is he willing to stand, to relinquish his stair, and return to the bed where once, long ago, i had left him.
i tuck him again. kiss him quite softly. then it’s off to the land where there’s no need for a stair to make sense of what spills through your noggin.
have you a stair? a stoop? a perch where you too look out on the world? had you one as a child? have you a child who has one, or had one? tell your stair stories. let them tumble below….
it all makes me wonder, the prayer place yesterday, the story place today, what it is about the human essence that draws us like magnets to a particular place for a purpose that’s often repeated. how is it that a particular function of the soul, or the mind, is best lubricated in a single location? these are the things a soulful architect might ponder. i think i know one. maybe i’ll ask him. (although he is not an architect, he’s a critic of architecture, which in my book means he actually thinks these things through rather than sketching them…..)
have a lovely weekend. see you monday.