A Stair Case

Image: ©️ Julie Dey

Author: Julie Dey

It may sometimes be a question of viewpoint. That is why the reader should pay more attention to the surface of things. Read story A and story B and then adjust your lens.

My name is The Staircase, I live in an old building which is four storeys high and of which I know all the occupants. For example, on the ground floor, there is the guardian who has the good grace to make me as clean as a whistle. I like the way she cleans my steps which are damaged by the wear and tear of time. She flutters around me, passes from one floor to another and leaves behind a subtle smell of cleanliness.

Oh! Here comes the young lady living on the first floor. A handsome woman, always on high stilettos. With her self-confident gait, she climbs up the stairs and caresses my railing with her perfectly manicured hand. She wears a sumptuous dress, which, every step, lets me glimpse at her lace underwear. She pulls her keys out of her coat, opens the door and double locks it.
A few minutes later, I hear the musical notes of her piano getting lost in the stairwell. It is the end of the day. Through the window of the floor, I observe the setting sun which disappears slowly behind the hills.
Someone just walked into the building, a draught pushes the dead leaves into the lobby.
A man with polished shoes climbs upstairs with the quietest footsteps. He holds in his hand a splendid bouquet of carmine red roses. His other hand is tense and sweaty. He stops in front of the young woman’s door, hesitates and then rasps shy knocks. The door opens, a kiss, a few words exchanged, the door closes. He goes down again, his legs wobbly, feeling giddy.
It is night. Loud voices come from the second floor. They are Mister and Mrs who argue again. One hears glasses and plates breaking on the floor. A door opens violently and then closes in a crash. A big man takes a heavy step down my steps, opens the door to the building and then sinks into the darkness.
In the attic, I hear high pitched squeaks, hustle and bustle, probably some mice.
The bell tower of the Grande Place rings two times, the door opens. It is Mister who comes back from the Café next door. With an unsteady gait, he climbs up my stairs clutching the handrail. His clothes smell of alcohol and tobacco.
Winter is here again. It snowed a lot last night. I see through the window the hills covered with their white coat. Early this morning the guardian was clearing snow. The two kids from the second floor are excited, their cries resonate in the stairwell, they run me down and rush to the playground. When they go back home, my stone steps are wet and cold because of their snow-covered boots.
Two turns inside the lock. It is the young lady from the first floor. She wears her fur coat which brushes against my steps. Probably going to work. She comes across a blonde-haired woman and smiles at her. The blonde woman enters the old lady’s flat on the third floor, presumably the housekeeper.

It smells of gingerbread. It’s from the third floor. From this apartment comes a delicious smell of cooking, sometimes a roasted chicken, sometimes an apple pie, what an olfactory delight! She’s the old lady from the third floor. A nice lady who has always lived alone.
Today as every other day, she goes for her usual walk. I hear her door creaking. She grabs the handrail with her frail wrinkled hand and slowly and carefully gets down with a trembling step. She leaves in the air a subtle smell of powder and soap. After her walk, she usually sits down on the bench near the entrance and looks thoughtfully at the children playing. A few minutes later, the blonde woman gets out of the building.

On Sunday, when most people get together with family, the old lady goes to church, wrapped up warmly in her heavy coat with her rosary clanking in her hand.
Winter is already gone. After all this white comes green. Nature awakes, I hear birds chirping by the window. The sun shines and warms my steps. What a delight. Nonetheless, something spoils this fresh atmosphere. A putrid smell comes out of the door of the old lady, therefore I imagine the worst.
It has been two days since and the smell only gets worse. The guardian knocked at the door of the old woman but this latter does not answer. Owning the duplicate key of her flat, she unlocks it and screams.
The residents of the other floors rush one after another. The young lady is shocked, she then sits down on my steps nearly fainting. Mister and Mrs come next and Mister calls the police.
The kids from the second floor are curious and want to see the dead body but their parents prevent them from seeing the horrific scene. The ambulance and the policemen arrive. They carry the old lady, whose body is covered with a pure white sheet, on a stretcher and carefully gets down to the ambulance. “Heart attack” the ambulance man declares.

It has been over a month since the sad event. On the third floor, it smells of fresh paint because the flat is being renovated. Every morning, I hear the workmen coming to work whistling. Right after begins the concert of electric drills and hammers. At the end of the day, the workmen go home with a tired heavy gait.
The renovations in the flat are now over. A young couple moved in. Something saddens me. The door has been replaced, there is no more creaking… and I will never hear it again.

It is summer. The air is heavy, even at night. A burst of fresh air comes in when the man of the third floor enters the building. He climbs up the stairs, one sweaty hand on the handrail, the other typing on his phone, as usual. The cries of Mr and Mrs resonate again, suddenly cut by the melody of the young lady’s piano.
On Sunday morning, like every Sunday, the woman of the third floor gets out for a walk. As usual, she stops by the window and looks outside with her blank gaze. She then goes out and comes back with some warm bread from the bakery.
The ritual of life goes on and time goes by.

Many years went by. I am now very old. My steps are worn out and cracked on all sides. I fall apart. The walls are damp and musty. The building has been emptied of its occupants. Some workers have come to discuss a demolition project. They plan to construct an old folk’s home.
The building will be gone tomorrow morning.

Time has come. I am not afraid. I am blessed to have lived such a long life and to have seen many people from different backgrounds. I am happily going to remember forever the old lady of the third floor.

An excavator crashes on the roof, breaking down walls and ceilings. Some bystanders gather around the demolition site.
A little boy exclaims:
– Dad, look! They break it all down except the staircase!
-Yes, but they’re gonna demolish it now, look, the excavator rises and BOUM on the staircase! Come on, it’s over, time to go home now.
– Hey dad?
– Yes, buddy?
– Do you think the staircase is dead?
– Ah yes of course he is. Definitely dead!

Olga is a beautiful woman. She does not know it. Maybe she pretends not to know. She thinks it is simplistic to show your awareness about your own beauty. Pretending is better because it leaves room for mystery, room for possibility. Olga likes this word. It is the name of her favourite lipstick. The red velvet one she wears every day. She likes to think she lives a life of endless possibilities or rather possibilities of impossibilities. “Create yourself new possibilities” claimed an article she read in a magazine (the ones she found in the next-door tobacco shop, in the section titled “feminine readings”, to avoid any misunderstanding.) Olga had already read the ones titled “How to please your man?” and the other May issue “Get the Bikini body in 10 days”. “Too easy” she used to think. Her husband was deadly in love with her and her body was envied by all her girlfriends who fought with the numerals on their scales.
Olga lives in a 5-storey building. She just moved in with her husband Dave. Dave wanted a high ceiling flat and a room for his desk and computer, namely a room as the extension of his office in which he spent an awful amount of time. Olga thinks that Dave’s life is controlled by extensions. The one defining him as “male” and the cell phone stuck with fast glue to his hand.
Olga wanted a flat with a lake view. When she was younger, she would have killed for such a view. Now she had one. The lake view was the kind of things she could mention during one of these dull parties she had to accompany Dave to. People were more friendly if you had a lake view. The power of two words. It was Olga’s way to reassure them she fitted their parties and that her invitation was not the postman’s mistake.
Olga worked as a secretary in a consulting firm. When anyone would ask her about her job, she would unintentionally omit the word secretary. “I work in a consulting firm” was evasive enough to avoid any further questions about it thus, allowing Olga to shift attention away from her and redirect it to the addresser. That was an easy task, people love to talk about themselves. In fact, she did not want to speak too much because words had a bad tendency to betray her sometimes. Words are so loaded and heavy they may drag her down, she may drown.
Olga prefers listening and observing people. While listening to them, she dissects them inch to inch and absorbs every component of their being to fill herself, but it remains insufficient, she is still hungry, still so empty.

Olga likes her flat, but she does not like the occupants of the building. She hates hearing the couple argue. Why do they always choose to argue when she is watching her favourite soap. She cannot hear if Brad cheated on Jessica or if Jessica’s step sister had had an affair with Brad’s twin brother. Olga needed silence to concentrate, it was important for her to understand the events. (What would her friends think at her Pilates class when they’d find out she did not understand the story. For sure, they would reject her. They only accepted the ones who followed.)
She also hates coming across the woman after the argument. When Olga meets the woman in the stairwell, she notices the blackeye on her sad face, the same boxers have when they get punched in the face. She knows she must feel sorry, but she does not want to be forced to. She is the one who decides what to feel or not. Olga wonders why it seems so hard for people to put on a happy face. When she wakes up in the morning, she washes her face and puts it on. It is not itchy; it is a second skin. It is soft and practical.
Dave says she is so beautiful when she smiles. She loves Dave and Dave loves her. She knows he loves her because she sees it in his big brown eyes and by his soft touch on her skin, almost unnoticeable. He loves her because why wouldn’t he? It is not questionable nor explicable, it is definite. Maybe it suits Olga to think that way because again, it is easier.

When Olga meets the beautiful woman of the first floor, she feels her mouth tense, she quickly glances at her and politely greets her. She sees her pearl white skin, smells her perfume, feels the brushing of her fur coat. The woman smiles at her. Not a smile because there is a need to but a warm and kind smile. A warning sign. No evaluation, no looking up and down, just a smile. Olga is confused.
The bell tower of the Grande Place rings two times, Olga takes a sip of her glass of wine, she hears the door open. Dave comes back from work. She hears the same ritual. He throws the keys on the shelf, pours himself a glass of water, sits on the sofa, watching his phone. Olga gets up and hugs him. “You should be sleeping by now. I’m exhausted, let’s sleep now” he says. Olga returns to her bed, switches the light off. She cannot sleep. She imagines the scene. He comes back, throws the keys on the shelf, pours himself a glass of water. She hugs him, he hugs her too, he then asks her how her day was, tells her he loves her. The remake of the scene lasts the whole night. She wakes up, puts on her mask. “Good to go” she thinks.
Winter is here again. It snowed a lot last night. Olga sees through the window the hills covered with their white coat. Early this morning the guardian was clearing snow. The two kids from the second floor are excited, their cries resonate in the stairwell. Olga smiles at them. She wonders if someday she’ll have a baby. A baby to herself, the flesh of her flesh. A baby that she would love and that would love her endlessly. She looks at the snow. Her mom never loved her because she cared too much about the snow. This icing sugar that would make her wicked. Olga was sent to a foster family home; she never saw the snowwoman again.
Olga decides to make some lemon cake. She’ll make a layer of frosting because Dave likes it that way. She starts musing. It always smelled of cooking in this flat before she moved in. The old woman apparently loved baking too. A common tie binding them. Olga always made sure to lift the door a little bit when she entered her house, so that it would not creak. Then, she would wander in the apartment without making any noise. She observed her for hours behind the dining room wall, gazing out the window: the lake. Wide body of water.
One day when the old woman turned her back, she poured some white powder in the cake mixture. She was her mother’s daughter, she thought. Wicked.
A week after, she and Dave moved into the flat. While decorating the cake, she looks out the window. What an amazing lake view, she thinks.

This short story was inspired by the short stories “Sunrise”, “Bluebeard’s egg” and “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood.

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