The first thing I remember from that day was coming up the stairs and hearing a determined creaking. I cursed under my breath and strained to hear where the joints were unsettled, hoping a little glue would do the trick but figuring, with my luck, that I’d have to pull the staircase apart and sand down the bevels, maybe drill new divots. There went my weekend.
I closed my eyes as I ascended and descended the stairs trying to get a feel for where the wiggle was. I hunched up my face in confusion as not one of the stairs felt loose, so I jiggled the banister for good measure. It all lay together perfectly as the day I built her, each piece lathed down from the raw wood, hand stained and fitted, the edges hand-sanded round on the off-chance anybody took a spill, they’d be able to spare broken bones and only deal with bruises. This staircase had seen its fair share of abuse, the dog rambling up and down like a maniac, chasing some imaginary prey; the dropped and shattered case of Coronas that frothily cascaded down, working a deeper tint into the stain. Hell, Jim and Amanda tagged this staircase when their relationship was still young and they couldn’t keep it in their pants for five minutes, never mind that they were in public. No, this staircase was sturdy, the creak came from elsewhere.
I walked up to the landing and drew closer to the noise. It seemed to come from down the hall, so I ventured forth. The day seemed overly bright, a harsh light that stung the eyes like sun off snow. I heard birds shrieking frantically out the window, their mating call hitting crescendo and falling dissonant. I suddenly felt a cold ball of dread in the bottom of my stomach as my hands grew clammy. I shook it off, pegged it on the dubious meatball sub that I had downed for lunch and continued down the hall. The creaking seemed to originate from behind Jim’s door.
I remember hesitating as I reached for his doorknob, haunted by the thought of busting in on him doing what men do best. I called his name once, then louder, in case he couldn’t hear me above his ‘alone time.’ The creaking, though, lacked a determined rhythm; instead, it seemed to laze around, like a tired rocking chair on a storefront porch.
I slowly turned the doorknob and shielded my eyes, lest I see any compromised positions. The air in his room lay still, the bright sun from the window illuminating the golden dust particles in the air and drawing a dark silhouette. I looked up to the exposed beam he had tied his hitch to, a beautiful piece of teak that was quite breathtaking as the focal point of the room. His weight pulled grooves into the wood and the source of the creak was found. Other than that lazily constant noise, it was library quiet in that room. I felt my cheeks moisten as hot tears spilled from my eyes and my Adam’s Apple worked up and down silently. I bowed my head like a disappointed child, shoulders hunched as if avoiding a blow. I turned silent and gently pulled shut the door.
When I reached the hallway I pulled out my phone and began making calls. When they arrived, we held each other closely, bitter tears and anguish the norm. All spoke in hushed tones, afraid to break the spell. This hurt is what sticks with me. We were the survivors. We were the survivors. We were the survivors.
Sure doesn’t feel that way.