Grandpa’s will left it to them, and a week after the memorial they moved in. The young couple and their infant son had little money, and except for that staircase the house was perfect. It was a common enough feature on a two-story house like theirs, common enough in New England. A door from the upstairs kitchen led to a long and narrow flight of steps built into the back of the house. Properly lit and properly maintained it could have been a rear entrance for tenants. But it wasn’t any of those things. It was unlit, both doors caulked off, and the bottom half rotted out revealing a hole straight to an unused cellar, where the smell of old water suggested some passage deep into the earth.
The mother worried more than the father, and she made him put a latch on the door leading to those stairs, and the father did, and until the accident the latch was perfect. But of course, after the accident the couple left the house and didn’t speak of it again.
Their boy grew to be a toddler, and he climbed all over the furniture and made a great, big, cheerful mess of things. And he didn’t belong on the second floor, but the heat worked better there, and they didn’t have money to fix things. The mother knew the boy was big enough and strong enough to climb out of the crib, and he slept just down the hall from that latched door, but he’d never shown an interest. He’d never left his crib at night, she thought, and anyway she was sleeping next door, and she was a light sleeper. And until that night she was completely correct, but of course that was the night of their anniversary, and the man and the woman had a bit too much to drink, and the man snored, and the woman slept more heavily, and they didn’t hear their boy climb out, make a soft thump on the floor, and toddle toward that door.
She heard the scream, and she knew what had happened, and she dashed to the door, its wood softened with mold, which made the latch easy to rip out, and of course her boy was a very strong little boy.
But the woman found him sitting in front of the door, which was still closed. He was crying with a cut, a cut on his tiny hand. But he was fine, she sighed, fine, and she picked him up and patted his back, and when he was quiet again, and almost asleep that was when she heard the voice. Grandpa’s voice. Calling him from down the stairs.
© Paul Bibeau