The Staircase

Alvin slowly climbed down the stairs, one step at a time, careful not to make any noise. At the bottom of the staircase, his feet touched cold, damp concrete. The air was humid and musty. It reminded him of the basement of the house he had been living in, the basement he would escape to in order to relax and recharge, until the storm came.

The storm. One big “fuck you” from the universe to Alvin. He could feel his ire starting to bubble.

It wasn’t even a real storm. Alvin knew that, but in his mind it felt sudden instead of slow and building.

Work had been getting to him. It wasn’t his dream job. It wasn’t even the field he had intended on entering. But it had set hours and a steady paycheck. For the first time, he had what all the adults called “benefits.” It was meant to be a temporary position, somewhere he could rebuild his financial assets after the terrible post-college accident.

He would cross the bridge and go in to work every morning, bright and early. After an honest eight hours, he would cross the bridge and return home, exhausted. Alvin did that five days a week, twelve months out of the year, for what was supposed to be one-maybe-two years before he got back on track with his life plan. Six years later, he was still there. The temporary position had become a permanent pit. A hole he could not climb out of.

At least he had the house. Not his house, he couldn’t afford something like that, but a house. He had found the room on Craigslist, and moved in with the owner, Frank, who lived upstairs. He needed someplace close to the office while still affordable. Frank needed someone to help pay the mortgage.

As per the agreement, Alvin would live in the basement. It had two finished rooms, a bathroom, a fridge, and a kitchenette. At that point in time, it was both more than Alvin needed and more than he had ever had, evidenced by the spartan furnishings. In addition to his bed, Alvin’s furniture consisted of a table for eating, a desk for working, and a chair that was tossed back and forth between the two. Over time, Alvin would add a few decorations to make the place feel more like home; a plant, a few pictures of family and friends, a lamp shaped like a walrus. He also installed one long shelf that would hold at least a portion of his books that had been piled into a pyramid of prose. He didn’t need much more than that, because in addition to having control of the basement, Alvin was allowed to enjoy the full kitchen and living room Frank had furnished upstairs.

Over time, Frank and Alvin had become pretty good friend. Frank’s girlfriend Jean would tease Alvin on how quiet and boring his life was, but he knew it was all in good fun. It was through Jean that Alvin met Amy.

“Just keep moving!”

Alvin cringed.

The only time Alvin would avoid joining the upstairs world was when Frank and Jean were fighting. By year five, the big blow-ups would become a bi-monthly occurrence. After year six, it was increasing in frequency. A couple times, after the yelling subsided and doors were slammed, Jean would descend into Alvin’s world, where they would talk until she stopped crying.

“Just keep moving!”

Alvin imagined that all his energy was being pulled out through his feet. He walked a few feet into the darkness, knelt down on the concrete for a moment, and then just curled up into a ball.

In the midst of the storm, Alvin went in to work. He stared blankly at the computer screen. He felt nothing. His performance appraisal was that day. It was supposed to be last week, but his supervisor pushed it back a week and a half. Had his performance appraisal not been that day, he would have called in sick and taken a three-day weekend to recover. Instead, Alvin sat at his desk, and waited until the meeting with his supervisor that afternoon.

Had it been any other day, his ire would have boiled over. On that Friday afternoon, he just stared as blankly at his supervisor as he had his computer screen all day and replied “no” when she asked if he had any other questions.

“Security will escort you out, then.”

Alvin didn’t even feel like he was in his body when he was crossing the bridge that day. Before he reached the other side, he realized it didn’t matter if he crossed. Frank had kicked him out. Amy was gone. There was nothing for him over there. He looked out over the bridge, into the river.

“Just keep moving.”

The river was always moving. It never stopped. Nor did anything else. People passed by. Never stopping, just like the river. Alvin felt frozen. He felt like a man out of time. Out of money. Out of energy.

Alvin let the last remaining drops of his energy seep into the concrete. He stared into the gaping maw of darkness, and without any resistance, let it consume him.