I sprung out of bed and ran to the doorway of my parent’s bedroom. The empty bed, all nicely made, was bigger than mine but the room was the same size. There was just barely room for a little night stand at each side of the bed, and a dresser on the other side of the room. There was no room for a chair like in my room. The rain tap tap tapped on their window looking out into the backyard where the spruce trees on either side of the yard were glittering dark green and swaying in the wind.
I ran into the kitchen to find my mom wearing an apron and sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, looking up at me with pretend surprise.
“Good morning Zuper Duper Clubius Coopster!” The list of nicknames in reaction to my energetic entrance I figured.
“It’s raining!” I said breathless.
She almost laughed but instead just grinned. Shaking her head and then nodding, a bit odd I thought doing both.
“It’s nice to hear you deliver the weather report!” She noted with a big smile on her face and her big blue eyes all lit up. “Do you have anything else to say this morning?”
“Not yet, but I think I will.” I tried to answer her question honestly but it made her laugh. Who could understand these crazy adults. I could smell the scrambled eggs and toast cooking.
“Tell your dad that breakfast is ready.” She motioned her head toward the side door and the stairs down into the basement.
I ran down the steps into the basement. I liked the way I had taught myself to just let my feet quickly tap on each step so I could go down them quickly without really fully landing on each step. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen steps, though today I jumped from the eleventh to the concrete floor.
It was my favorite part of the house. It went off in four directions from the bottom of the stairs, and each direction, each corner, became a different sort of place with its own feel to it. The floor was all concrete and the walls were giant sized bricks. Small high windows looked up out onto the driveway, back and side yard. The ceiling had wood beams, and metal pipes that would whoosh with water.
Off to the right and behind me was the furnace. You had to walk all the way around it to get into the laundry room with the washing machine, the big concrete and metal sinks, plus clothe lines for when it was too cold or too wet to hang clothes outside. That was one quarter of the basement.
Off to the right in front of me was my dad’s office. He had his wood desk in the corner painted white with his black typewriter on top and always changing piles of papers. He was sitting in his wood desk chair, which was painted green. To me, it was more like a machine than a normal chair, since it rolled around on little wheels, the seat turned around, and big black springs under the seat let the person sitting in the chair lean back to do extra thinking. On either side of his desk were shelves along the walls, made out of wood boards I had helped him paint white, separated by bricks, where he put all his many books. Between where I stood and his desk was a small low bed, where he took naps sometimes when he was working late. He had hung two bamboo screens from the ceiling on the stair side of the bed to give him a little more “privacy”, a word that he had just explained to me. His quarter of the basement had a small rug, filling the floor from the edges of the bookcases to the edge of the bed. My mom said the rug made that part of the room feel cozier when he was down their alone.
To the left and behind me was my quarter of the basement. It had shelves against one wall made with longer, wider, painted white boards, separated with bricks. Various sized wood boxes sat on the shelves holding all my toys when I wasn’t playing with them. Unlike in my bedroom or living room where everything on the floor got picked up, I could leave my toys set up in my section of the basement overnight or as long as I wanted. I could even write on chalk on the basement floor to make roads or islands or rivers or whatever I wanted, to create my imaginary worlds. Those worlds would sometimes even extend into that fourth quarter of the basement, that had just a white wood table with metal legs in the corner and just one white wood chair to sit at, a table that my mom or dad sometimes did “projects” on.
I journeyed into my dad’s office quarter. He heard me coming and swung around in his chair. “Good morning Cloobster! Is it still raining?” Because I had not been talking much until yesterday, my mom and dad had gotten used to anticipating what might be on my mind.
I had intended to report that it was raining, but he had said it first, though I was confused why he said “still”. It wasn’t raining last night before I fell asleep. I furrowed my brow and he figured out what was confusing me.
“The rain started late last night after you were asleep. It’s supposed to rain all day.”
Now that was really exciting to think about. All nice and cozy inside. Like we were in a boat or a submarine with the water all around us. Or maybe put on my raincoat and go outside. I loved walking in the rain. Seeing everything looking different and all wet and shiny. Smelling that rain smell in the air.
“Hey you two. Breakfast is served!” It was my mom’s strong clear voice from the top of the stairs.
I raced up the stairs, maneuvering around my mom on the stoop by the side door. I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked up or down them slowly. Even in other people’s houses or buildings in town with stairs, I liked running up and down them too. Being on stairs felt like being nowhere. The exciting stuff was either at the top or the bottom.
My mom served the eggs and toast and the three of us sat and ate at the little table in the kitchen. She told my dad that she had read in the paper that Nikita Khrushchev had been made the new premiere of the Soviet Union.
My dad shook his head and scoffed, “He’s just another two-bit Stalin!”
My mom seemed less sure about that, tending to think more about things happening out in the world. She noted, “The way I see it, things have an opportunity to change when the people in power change.”
I had heard the “Soviet Union” mentioned before in conversations between my mom and dad and some of their friends. My understanding was that the Soviet Union was our enemy like the Germans had been during World War Two, except now it was some sort of “cold” war, whatever that was, instead of a regular war, making everything more complicated and harder to figure out. I was totally intrigued by the idea of war, but had no sense of what that sort of magnitude of death and destruction really was, and how it affected people. To me it all seemed like this great enterprise and adventure that men stepped forward to participate in with courage for their country, like my dad had done in World War Two. It was the kind of real life drama that I tried to come to grips with and work through in my imagination play.
So back two days ago when I wasn’t talking yet, deciding whether to ask my parents a question wasn’t really an issue. I just listened carefully to everything they said and pieced things together as best I could. But now that I had decided I was going to talk, each time I was curious about something I had to decide whether to ask a question or not. Whether to risk being awkward or stupid to find out something interesting. It would be an ongoing dilemma. Things were much simpler when I wasn’t talking!
My mom and dad looked friendly enough this morning, and I felt like I could risk asking at least one question, since they had already brought the subject up. But not the basic “What is the Soviet Union?” question. I felt like that would make them look at me sweetly and think, “Oh what a cute little kid wants to know what the ‘Soviet Union’ is!” So something more to the point then.
“Are we fighting the Soviet Union?”
They both looked at me but I was so glad they did not smile sweetly as if I was cute or something.
“Well,” my mom said and then paused and I could see by the way she looked up with her eyes she was thinking how to answer. I was excited that I’d asked a good question, and might get some useful information out of it. But I was also concerned by the length of her pause that there might not be an answer, or worse, not one they were willing to tell me for some reason like they didn’t want to upset me. I thought to myself that the next time I was at the toy store I would look to see if they had plastic Soviet Union soldiers for sale alongside the American and German ones.
I noticed my dad purse his lips in thought and starting to grudgingly nod his head, which seemed to prod my mom to finally reply.
She put her hand on my dad’s shoulder to maybe head him off from what he was going to say, though I would have liked to have heard it. Instead she spoke.
“I would say it’s more like a very important contest and we are one team and they are the other team. And we are afraid what will happen if they win and they are probably afraid what will happen if we win. So if the game continues with neither side winning, whichmay be the best outcome we can all hope for.”
My dad put his hand on hers, still resting on his shoulder, and looked at her with his biggest smile.
“Liz”, that was his nickname for her, “You are a born politician, Eisenhower could not have said it any better!”
My mom grinned, her cheeks flushing just a little bit and her blue eyes twinkling. She seemed flattered by his comment but also pleased that she provided what she thought was a good answer to me. It was certainly new information and something to ponder.
And as we all ate our breakfast and my mom and dad continued to talk about their plans for the day given it was raining, I pondered this “contest” with the Soviet Union that might be best if neither side won. I liked playing games. I liked winning better than losing. My parents liked playing games and winning too. I’d watched them both play tennis, baseball and that card game Bridge. They both always tried hard to play well and be the winners. But my dad would often get mad when he didn’t play well or particularly when he lost. Was winning the most important thing? Was it more important than just having the chance to play the game? What if you just played for fun and nobody won?
We all ate quickly and my mom washed our plates, forks and glasses, along with the frying pan in the kitchen sink. She liked to have it all done immediately after we ate. Plates, glasses and forks all arranged in the dish drain. She put the frying pan on the stove upside down and turned on one of the burners for a minute to make it hot. I remembered she said that kept it from getting rusty.
As discussed at the table, she put on her raincoat and took the umbrella from the living room closet by the front door and then headed out the side door to drive the car and go shopping. That was the work she did for the family. Making meals, doing dishes, washing and ironing clothes, keeping the rooms in the house clean, weeding and pruning out in the yard, and buying things at the store. My dad’s work was very different. He had “papers to grade” and work to do on his “dissertation”. He would also fix things around the house, like a sink, the toilet, a door, or a window. And to do so, he would also buy things at the store, but a different “hardware” store that I liked going to and looking at all the interesting tools and “hardware”. Outside he would mow the lawn and sometimes help my mom with the weeding. I heard them discuss their work sometimes at night when I was in my bedroom and they were in theirs. My dad seemed to enjoy most of his work, but my mom said a lot of hers was boring and she tried hard not to “feel like a drudge”.
After my mom drove off in the car my dad was still sitting at the kitchen table. He was looking up at the ceiling like he was doing thinking that was hard. He spoke without looking at me.
“Cloobster”, that seemed to be the version of his nickname for me that he was mostly using lately, “I have some student papers to grade down at my desk. Are you going to play down in the basement?”
I nodded. I had been thinking about playing pirates and soldiers like I had last night in the tub, but this time down in the basement with all my toys, not just the bathtub ones. But now I was also thinking about having the chance to be in the upstairs of the house all by myself.
“I’ll come down a bit later.” I had heard my parents use that phrase, “a bit later” a number of times when they wanted to spend time alone.
He looked at me and seemed to be pondering whether that was a problem or not. Finally he said, “Okay”, and he got up, rubbed the top of my head with his hand, walked tentatively over to the side door stoop, took one last look at me and then quickly descended the basement stairs, with a haste not unlike my own usual descent of those stairs.
I walked from my chair at the kitchen table and stood in the doorway that separated the kitchen from the living room, a door that we generally kept open. From all sides I could hear the patter of the rain on the windows. I found the exact spot, which happened to be just inside the living room from that doorway, where I could still see both windows in the kitchen plus both in the living room, all spattered and dripping rain. Looking over my shoulder, I shuffled just a little farther into the living room to a point where I could see through the doorway from the living room to the back hallway and across to the open door of the bathroom and its window looking out into the backyard.
The rain pelting on all the five windows that I could see gave the dry, still, interior of the house a certain sense of holding space. The sparseness of the living room – bare white walls and ceiling, shiny wood floor, empty except for two “Windsor” wooden chairs in the far corner – heightened that sense. It was exhilarating. I loved spaces that had been created on purpose. I listened to the rain for a long time in a sort of a trance.
That trance was finally broken by the thought of wondering whether there was some other spot in the upstairs of the house where I might be able to see five or even six windows. It seemed the best possibility was standing in the back hallway by the bathroom door. I could see out the bathroom window, and then turning my head each way see out the window in my bedroom looking out onto the driveway on that side of the house and out my parent’s bedroom window looking out on the other side yard. And then looking over my back, if I adjusted a little bit toward the living room, I could see out both the front and side windows in that room, so five total as well. Adjusting my body a bit more through the doorway from the back hallway into the living room, by the time I could catch sight of the front window in the kitchen I had lost sight of the windows in each bedroom. So I had lost two and only gained one. Four instead of five.
I became curious to walk into my parents’ room. I was seldom in there and almost never when neither of them was there as well. But I wanted to feel the space of it now with the energy of the rain outside. It seemed the most full of furniture of any room in the house, while being the second smallest along with my bedroom, the smallest being the bathroom, which had no furniture at all. I pondered that the tub, the sink and the toilet in the bathroom were not considered furniture. My thought was because they couldn’t be moved around.
My parents’ room had four pieces of furniture, actually less than the kitchen which had five, if you counted each of the four kitchen chair as a separate piece. A bed in the middle of the room against the side wall of the house that was wider than mine and did not have a metal frame like mine. It had white sheets covered by a blue blanket like mine, but two pillows in white pillow cases where I only had one. On each side of the bed next to the pillows what they called “nightstands”. The one on my dad’s side of the bed was just a little table with skinny painted white legs and a wood top that was “stained” rather than painted. Not stained like the grass stains on the knees of my long pants, but all shiny where you could see the “grain of the wood”, as my mom would say. There was a small white bowl shaped basket on top where my dad kept his wallet, keys and coins, currently empty because they were presumably in the pockets of the pants he was wearing. On my mom’s the nightstand had little drawers and a small lamp on top, and was completely painted white. Finally, across the room from their bed, against the wall it shared with the bathroom, was their dresser, which just fit between their bedroom door and their closet.
I had seen into their closet before. It was stuffed full of clothes on hangers with some in big clear plastic bags with a little shelf above with shoe and other boxes. I was curious what was in my mom’s nightstand drawers and the two small top drawers of the dresser. I had seen my mom put their clean folded shirts, pants, socks and underwear into the big bottom two drawers. But not so much in these small drawers, where something taken out went immediately into my mom’s purse or into one of my dad’s pockets.
I pondered whether it was okay to look. If I would be violating their privacy. I know my mom would put my clean clothes in my drawers. But I had at least one drawer with no clothes in it just various random things that were mine and fit in there – my favorite little stuffed animal, a keychain, occasionally a candybar or gum I had managed to acquire and squirrel away for when I really wanted it. My mom had to have looked in there, at least once, if for no other reason to confirm that I did not keep clothes in there where she should put the clean ones of that type. I decided, at least on this occasion, not to look in those mysterious nightstand and top dresser drawers of theirs.
I pondered if my not looking in theirs made them any less likely to not look in mine, and what if I did have something in mine that I did not want them to see. I engaged my imagination to no avail to think of something I would want to keep but not share with them. Wouldn’t I have to make a deal with them that I wouldn’t look in theirs if they didn’t look in mine? There was no way I was going to talk to them about that!
To proceed toward completion of my taking in of every venue of the above ground part of our house, I returned to the back hallway between their bedroom and mine and opened the closet door next to the bathroom door. It had shelves from top to bottom, with folded towels, sheets and pillow cases on the top shelves, and stuff my parents used to clean the house on the bottom shelves. There was that smell that the house smelled like when my mom had just cleaned it. A broom and a mop were clipped on the wall on each side of the closet. There were two plastic pails on the closet floor.
Then I returned to my own bedroom and opened my closet door. The contents were familiar, just a couple shirts and jackets on hangers pushed to one side. On the shelf above were a couple pairs of shoes and a pair of rubber rain boots, plus an extra blanket. Looking farther up I could see the “hatch”, that was what my dad called it, that was the door of sorts into the attic. There was a wood ladder attached to the closet wall under the hatch that I had seen my dad climb a couple times.
I was curious to look in the attic and it was my closet after all and not theirs. I climbed the ladder and carefully pushed up on the hatch. It suddenly fired my imagination that this was more like a ship than a house, climbing through a “hatch”. I wasn’t sure exactly how it opened and I pushed on it gently with my hand and one side rose a couple inches. I screwed up my courage and took another step up the ladder and pushed it up a couple more inches, enough to peek inside. There was just enough light coming in from a tiny window I could see on the other side of the attic and another, that based on where the light seemed to be coming from was on the opposite wall of the attic I could not see. I could make out slanted wood beams above and then other wood beams below instead of a floor.
I was about to lower the hatch back down in place when I noticed what looked like a wheel off to the left. I looked closer and there was a second smaller wheel of what looked like, in the subdued light, a tricycle. It was sitting on wood planks over the wood beams. Having never looked in the attic before, I wondered if it had always been there and why.
As my closet shared a wall with the stairwell into the basement, I could hear my dad’s feet coming up the stairs into the kitchen. I quickly lowered the hatch but it banged against the frame of the opening a bit askew. I could hear my dad walking through the kitchen and possibly looking for me or at least headed to his bedroom. Panicking, I left the hatch askew and climbed down the ladder, exited the closet and closed the door. I had time for just one excited breath before my dad poked his head around the door from the living room into the back hallway and saw me standing by the closet door looking uncomfortable.
“Cloobster, are you alright?” he said, coming to the door to my room and looking at me with his big brown concerned eyes.
Feeling discomfort I reverted to my pretalking mode and just nodded, a bit too vigorously. I could see from his eyes a lot of thoughts going through his head but he said nothing. My panic increased.
“I was just checking on you, it’s okay.”
I nodded again to acknowledge that yes, let’s go with that, it’s okay!
“You going to come downstairs and play?”
I nodded yet again, saying nothing, and taking the opening he had offered, I ran by him, out through the living room into the kitchen and then down the basement stairs. I pulled the wood box off the shelf in my quarter of the basement with my plastic soldiers in it and put it on the basement floor. Then another wood box with a bunch of cars and trucks, along with a couple toy boats. The sound of the rain softly tapping on the small high windows on three sides of me made the interior space seem cozy and calmed me. I sat on the floor and started rummaging through the content of both boxes, which redirected my attention to something exterior and started to soothe my jangled mind. Still I knew that tricycle was up there in the attic above my bedroom but not why and what that story was all about.