The Basement Door
By Dan Upton, student, Center for Distance Learning
February 28, 2011
I can smell the sweet scent of my mother baking her famous chocolate chip cookies, the rich morsels melting so deliciously as the dough changes to a nice golden brown. I can hear my father’s voice as he returns home from his shift at work. His voice gets louder as he explains to my mother and older brother how the mainframe at work unexpectedly shut down causing a severe delay in the workload. He tells them how his boss was very upset and had given him a hard time about it. My brother tries to cheer up my father by telling him how he made the varsity rowing team and that the coach thought he would make a great coxswain because of his build.
I can now hear my mother walking down the hallway towards the basement door where I am seated very quietly. The top stair is narrow. So narrow that only my right butt cheek fits. I sit perched with my ear turned towards the door. As my mother walks back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, where my father is now reading aloud the obituaries from this morning’s Poughkeepsie Journal, I feel a spider crawl up my sock and onto my bare leg. The spider’s fangs penetrate my calf and I let out a low cry. The warm tears run down my cheek as I hold my right hand firmly over my mouth so my mother won’t hear me perched at the basement door. As I rub the throbbing welt on my leg, I hear my mother inform my brother and father that it is time to wash-up; dinner was ready.
The occasional thump of the furnace kicking on and the drip of the old wash-basin are the only sounds that break the silence. The light over the stairs flickered out six meals ago, so I wash the old chipped-plate, from the leftovers my brother snuck down to me, in the dark. I quickly place the clean plate in a box with the others so mother doesn’t find out that I have eaten. As bedtime soon approaches, I try to refrain from thinking about the time or day of the week. Instead, I think about the last day I went to school.
I had come home from school late that day because I had lost my tiny gold heart-bracelet that my mother’s sister had given me for my eleventhbirthday. My friends and I had searched the entire school grounds for it, with no luck. I remember how mad my mother was. She screamed at me the entire night. When my father found out how irresponsible I had been, he decided I should spend some time alone to think about what I had done. I knew I had disappointed my parents. I seemed to, on a frequent basis, but I didn’t realize the extent of their anger until I heard the click of the lock on the basement door.
The sunlight teases the corner of my eye as I wake. I can hear my mother and brother in the kitchen walking around. My father left for work already, so I think it must be around 7:30 a.m. or so. The smell of bacon and eggs whiffs through the house. I decide to glance through an old photo album that I found three meals ago, while looking for a flashlight in the old boxes under the stairs. I flip through the tattered book. The old musty-smell of Polaroid pictures and dust overcomes the smell of my brother’s breakfast and suddenly my stomach stops rumbling. As I glance at each page, I see the snapshots of my parents’ trip to Florida last year; the photos taken while at Disneyworld seem endless. I stare at the one of my mother and brother, standing in line at the Tower of Terror. My brother had always loved Halloween as a child and he and my parents would often watch scary movies together. I look at some others of my father and brother at Sea World, taken right in front of Shamu, the killer whale. They had been splashed, and if you flip through those particular photos, you can almost watch as the water comes out over the tank, eventually drenching my father. As I come across the photo of all three with their mouse ears on, I touch the scar on my right forearm.
I still remember how angry my father had been when he saw me wearing my brother’s Mickey Mouse ears. First he screamed at me. Then he grabbed my arm and lifted me so high in the air that I grazed the ceiling fan with my shoelace. When the doctor had said my arm was broken, my mother screamed at my father because I needed a cast. Then my father screamed at me because my mother screamed at him. I will always remember not to touch someone else’s belongings; lesson learned!
My father came home early from work today. I can hear him talking to my mother in the living room, but I can’t make out the words. Their conversation is muffled by the fancy Berber carpet which my mother had installed last year. I remember lying on that carpet watching television with my brother, until the day my father got angry and ripped the cable wire out of the wall. I never set foot in the living room again.
I move so that I am standing beneath the dining room, and now I can hear more of my parents’ conversation. It sounds like my father has bad news. I can’t really make out what he is saying over my mother’s screaming, so I look into another box from under the stairs. I find my mother’s wedding dress; it’s so beautiful. I remember the picture on the mantle of my parents on their wedding day. My father looked so happy. My mother looked as elegant as ever, with her long gown flowing down onto the floor. They seemed to be the happiest couple ever. I often dreamed that one day, I too would find someone to love and be just as happy.
Next to the box with my mother’s gown is an old hat box with a heart and my father’s name on it. I open the hat box and find countless letters, valentines and pictures of my father. As I read through the valentines one by one, I can’t help but chuckle at the thought of my father being such a sap and can’t imagine my parents being so in love for my mother to save all of this stuff. At the bottom of the box I find a small cardboard, red, heart-shaped box. Inside there are several chocolates that appear almost like a creamy cocoa oasis. As the sweet goodness goes down my throat, I think to myself how angry my mother would be if she caught me eating her candies that she had saved. Overwhelmed with guilt, fear and now a bit of a stomach-ache, I tuck the box back under the stairs hoping no one ever notices.
I awake to a loud slam. I hear no voices, hardly a footstep and only one final slam of the front door. I patiently wait for the smell of bacon and eggs. Maybe I overslept and missed my parents’ morning chat. Perhaps my brother left for school already and my mother was out running errands. As I wait on that loose rickety top step with my ear firmly placed against the door, I hear silence. The occasional thump of the furnace has even stopped. I rush over towards the warmth of the sunlight, beaming in through the slight crack in the plywood, covering the lone window. For hours, it seems, I pace between the top step and my spot beneath the kitchen, holding my breath as to be ever so silent. I focus on listening so hard that I can now hear my heartbeat in my ears. As I wait anxiously for my family to return, I don’t even notice the sun going down. Now I wait in the dark without even the sound of the furnace to keep me awake.
I wake with my head leaning against the basement door. I hear footsteps and I rush down the old stairs and hide behind the boxes in the far corner next to the cold furnace. I hear the latch click and the door creak. I now see light flooding the basement from the open door. I tuck my head between my knees and I sit shaking behind my cover, praying my mother doesn’t notice I went through her belongings. I try to remember if I put the boxes back in the exact spot or if I left a photo out in plain sight. As the footsteps get closer, I hear a strange voice. Suddenly, a flashlight aims right at my face and blinds me with white stars. I try to understand what is happening. I hear the man saying, “Oh my god!” over and over. He helps me to my feet and carries me up the stairs. He rushes me through the living room and out to his truck.
The furniture is gone. The walls, which were once decorated with endless photos, are now naked except for the slight outline where the old frames had hung. As the man calls the police from his phone, I hear him say that he is from a realty company and the owner left in the middle of the night. He keeps repeating that he just found a girl locked in the basement of the empty house.
The air smells so much different outside. I can’t remember the last time I saw the sunshine so bright. Although it is cold enough to see my breath and I am only wearing a t-shirt and socks, I feel so warm inside this stranger’s truck. The thought of my parents leaving me makes me upset, yet I am extremely relieved at the same time. I feel abandoned, as I had been most of my childhood. The gross realization that my parents could actually leave me doesn’t sting as bad as my worries for my brother. We have always been close, and I know he must be terrified. But, if he speaks up to my parents, he will be treated as awful as I was. As I watch the police and ambulance pull around the corner towards my parent’s house, I begin to cry. I cover my mouth, afraid to make a sound.