Volume 5 Number 1
2012

 

#6

Kit Rohrbach


It was a railroad town, gray and gritty with cinders. The railroad took us there, even though we drove. I sat in the back; Mother was in the passenger seat, trying to manage both the baby and the cat. One of them peed on her coat.

It was a railroad town. Even summer days smelled like damp ashes. Coal smoke hung in the air, fingers of it smeared themselves down walls and clothes and faces, slipped through any crevice to spread out on windowsills and the kitchen table. We moved into the house my parents were renting until they could find something they liked better. Mother complained it was drafty and hard to heat. My father complained when the bathroom ceiling fell down. The baby didn’t care one way or the other. I was the only one hoping we could stay put.

That house was a fascination to me. It had sliding pocket doors between the dining room and the parlor. Some of the wallpaper in the parlor had torn away and I tried to fix the empty spots with crayons, but that didn’t work out too well. There was a grand oak staircase made black by years and coal dust, and a stained glass window at the landing where the stairs turned. Some of the panes looked like butterscotch and some felt like snow when it melts then freezes again. All the clear ones had beveled prism edges; rainbows of fireflies swarmed on the walls, doing a better job than I had of decorating the bare places. And studded among the shining colors were bright red jewels – probably not rubies, but maybe.

The window made the light not the plain sunshine of outdoors but pools of watery blue and green where goldfish hid just below the surface, threw precious gemstones over the holes in the carpet. I climbed the stairs, stepped into that altered light, and let it alter me. With arms outstretched, I let it bathe me, dye my skin, soak into my hair. I spun within and through it until ribbons of scarlet and azure and emerald danced from my fingertips. When I turned to continue up the stairs, they trailed behind me like the coronation robes of royalty. There must have been cloudy days that stole the window’s magic. There must have been nights when the colors slept. I don’t remember them. I remember glowing green and blue and butterscotch; and walking up the stairs like a queen.