There would be no going up into the attic on the first night in our grandparent’s home.
For one, they slept one bedroom down the hall from where we were sleeping, and we were certain to be discovered.
More importantly, my brother and I had to have a serious discussion about what it was in the attic that we were not supposed to see.
Dead bodies were quickly ruled out as a possibility, as were demons. Ghosts, however unlikely to be present, were still a concern; the house was very old and felt as if it were haunted; and although we assured one another repeatedly that we were not afraid of ghosts, it was nighttime, and it would have been insensible to creep upstairs now when dawn was but a few hours away. We agreed to wait until my grandfather had left for work in the morning, and if our grandmother did not go out on errands, or to visit neighbors, we would make our foray in as stealthy a manner as possible and hope for the best.
So there we were, laying in the dark, imaginations running wild.
“What do you think is up there?” I asked my brother.
“Gold. Has to be.”
“That’s what I think, too!”
We then spent some time whispering back and forth about how much gold, where it would be hidden, and what we would do with it all. We decided it would be a great deal. We would take half–no, three-quarters–and travel around the world having all sorts of adventures. We would probably find even more treasure along the way, and even if we didn’t, we would be famous, on television, writing books, and so on. That would enable us to repay our grandparents, so we didn’t have to feel guilty about robbing them.
Until we fell asleep, all I could think of was gold.
When I woke, all I could think of was bacon.
My brother was already downstairs eating breakfast, the lovely scent of which had drifted upstairs. Eventually my stomach overruled my mind, and my fear of my granny. I made my way to the kitchen. She looked at me over her cigarette with a cocked eyebrow and then at my plate of breakfast on the table. I sat in silence and ate.
She stared at me the entire time without saying anything, using that look that mothers and grandmothers have that says, “What did you do, what are you planning to do, and what did you dream that you’d done? Explain yourself.” It felt like being smothered with a mattress. Just when I was about to break (my brother happily munching away on his toast), she said—
“I’ll be going out for a bit today.”
I looked up and nodded my head.
“Only to Mrs. Roane’s,” she said, just a faint wisp of a smile at one corner of her mouth. Mrs. Roane was my grandmother’s closest friend and lived only next door.
I nodded again and went back to my breakfast. I felt her staring at me. Finally, she snubbed out her cigarette and left the room.
My brother and I looked at one another and couldn’t help smiling.
Within the hour, she had left without repeating her admonition to stay out of the attic.
“I’ll be back in a bit. Not long. Not long at all,” she said on her way out the door.
The two of us were sitting in front of the television pretending to be zombies. We just nodded. This seemed to have some sort of an effect on her, as I saw her shaking her head. We watched her from the window as she walked next door and went inside.
We sprinted up the stairs and down the hall to the door to the attic. I turned the door knob. In front of us was a semi-spiral of a staircase. I ran my hands along the wall and found a light switch. Then I thought better of it; what if she saw the light from next door? I put my finger to my lips and we crept up the stairs, excited but uneasy.
At the top of the stairs, half in darkness, was a dress maker’s dummy, which we both instantly mistook for a dead body with both a ghost and a demon inside. How we managed not to piss ourselves is a mystery that puzzles me to this day. Once we realized what it was, we started laughing, and reached the top of the stairs. And there was our treasure.
Not one ounce of gold to be found. I know, because we did look.
Instead we saw before us a collection of books the likes of which we’d never seen before. Some were on shelves, some in crates and boxes, some stacked in heaps here and there on the floor. We began to look through them, absolutely in awe of the variety, even at our young age; books of history and fantasy, politics and prison breaks. Magic of both the stage and supernatural sort. Love stories and horror stories. Crime novels, dime novels, war stories, epics and novellas. Books by people with names like Camus and Sartre, Behan and Beckett, O’Casey and Synge, Shakespeare and Chaucer, Twain and Bierce. So many books on Catholicism that I’m fairly certain that someone at the Vatican Library lost their job, side by side with books on Buddhism and Judaism and all sorts of -isms we’d never even heard of before.
And this was all just at a glance.
Of course, most of this sort of reading material was beyond us. I snapped out of my trance. “Find something, quick! Something you can read. We’ll take one each.” As it went, we both took volumes from a children’s encyclopaedia ), and crept downstairs. When I opened the door, I was certain that my granny would be waiting for us, but she wasn’t. We stowed the books under our bed, agreeing to read them that night. Then it was back to the sitting room and the television.
Not long after that, my grandmother came home.
“Go outside and play,” she told us. “That thing will rot your brains and blind you to boot.”
We did as we were told. While we were playing we congratulated each other on our initial success.
That night at the dinner table, my grandfather talked and joked with us a bit, and I pushed my food around on my plate, thinking of the books in our bedroom.
And my grandmother just stared at me.
(to be continued…)