Sitting below the stairs in that grey, cold, inhabitable space, Charlotte recalled the sense of peace and calmness the cramped and lifeless space brought to her so many years ago. It all started when Charlotte was seven years old and out of nowhere the eruption would happen. Her parents would be screaming at each other at the top of their lungs and Charlotte couldn’t decide which behavioural method of her parents she preferred; the yelling and screaming or the quiet as a mouse nonsense that seemed to go on for days disrupting the whole house and always left Charlotte feeling bad about herself.
On this day, her parents were yelling and screaming and Charlotte found herself at the back door. She opened the door and slipped out into the beautiful sunlight as if she was entering another dimension. Slowly she walked down the pathway, paying attention to every stepping stone she stepped on, careful to make sure her whole foot fit into each stone and every step was taken with a painstaking effort to ensure that she never stepped on the cracks, surely this would “break her mother’s back.” She found herself around the side of the house staring at her feet as she stepped on each stepping stone when suddenly she heard “are you alright sweetie?” Charlotte looked up to see her sweet neighbour, Mr. Brown, looking over the fence at her with such concern in his face.
Charlotte instantly felt grateful as she was sure he could hear the yelling and screaming coming out of the open windows of the house. Thankfully she was standing at the garage side of the house where there were no windows and the yelling and screaming sounded as if the fight was coming from a far off location. She gave Mr. Brown the biggest smile she could, looked at him straight in the eyes and as confident as a seven-year old could be, she said; “thank you for asking Mr. Brown, everything is good and will get better soon.” “If you ever want to talk sweetie you just say so.” Off she skipped away like she hadn’t a care in the world, all the while feeling the stare of Mr. Brown on her back and even though she was not looking at him, she knew he was shaking his head in disgust. Her parents were always fighting and it was obvious he knew all about it and he was concerned for his little neighbour. Charlotte would never in a million years betray her parents but she appreciated Mr. Brown’s concern and his gesture gave the situation some lightness. At least he cared, her parents had no idea where she was and at this moment they didn’t care; they were consumed by anger and jealousy.
Down to the end of the house, across the driveway and up the walkway she found herself at the front door of the house. What she was doing there she had no idea, the last place she wanted to be was inside that house. In the moment she was standing there she saw her father near the front window and in a panic she ran up the steps and under the stairway where she sat amongst stones, spiders, ants and dust. Charlotte closed her eyes and tried to remember when her parents weren’t fighting. If they weren’t fighting then they weren’t talking to each other, she couldn’t remember if they were ever happy, did they ever smile? Not really, they never smiled, both of them seemed miserable. Sitting underneath the stairs Charlotte tried to think of happy thoughts and smile. It was tough to do because in order for her to have happy thoughts she had to block out all the yelling and screaming.
Charlotte’s desire to be happy was far stronger than her desire to listen to her parents stupid fights. She would close her eyes and think about the time her daddy took her to a farm in the country and let her ride a horse. That day her dad had the biggest smile she had ever seen. She grabbed hold of those reigns and kicked that horse to get him going like she was an old pro, problem was she had no idea what she was doing and that old horse took off with her on it. She fell off that horse and Charlotte’s anger gave away to all caution when she walked straight up to that old horse grabbed those reigns and got right back on as if nothing happened. When she glanced over at her father he was smiling from ear to ear. In the car on the way home, her father told her he was so proud of her for being so strong and confident.
She never forgot that moment and now siting under the stairs she tried to be so strong and confident. Charlotte imagined herself riding a beautiful black horse, with a white diamond fluff of fur on the top of his head, up and down the beach staring at the ocean and feeling like she could hear God talking to her in the roar of the waves. She imagined God was telling her “Charlotte, everything is going to be alright, just keep listening to the universe.” Charlotte opened her eyes and there in front of her by her feet was a stick of pink chalk. She must have missed it when she first crawled underneath the stairs. Charlotte picked up the pink chalk and drew a giant heart in the slanted concrete where on the other side the staircase came down to the walkway that opened up to the driveway. In the middle of the heart she wrote “Charlotte and love”, she then went over the top of those two words with the pink chalk over and over again.
Thirty years later Charlotte was driving down that old street with her husband and children. Charlotte asked Steve to stop the car and she found herself standing at the front door in front of that staircase. In the background she could hear Steve and the children yelling out the car window; “Charlotte, mom, what are you doing?” Charlotte had learned many moons ago to block out noise she did not want to hear.
As if in a trance, she walked toward the side of that staircase and pushed her way past the overgrown bushes, that were just little twigs thirty years earlier, ducked her head underneath that staircase and sat with her legs crossed as if she was seven years old again. Staring at the slanted piece of concrete she could see the faint pink chalk writing shaped like a heart and in the centre she could make out “Charlotte and Love.” Closing her eyes she pictured herself on that beautiful black horse with the white diamond fluff of fur on the top of his head riding down the beach and she took a deep breath to smell the salted air feeling the mist of the sea dripping down her forehead, arms and legs. Charlotte’s Mother and father were long dead and sitting under that staircase looking at her chalked heart, “Charlotte and love” she had written so many years ago, she realized the survivor tactics she taught herself so long ago had many times saved her from herself over the years.
Opening her eyes she could hear Steve’s footsteps, sensing the motion of Steve pushing away the overgrown shrubs, she waited for him to look in and find her in that grey, cold inhabitable space. “Should I ask what it is that you are doing and why you are sitting under this staircase with your legs crossed as if you are practicing Yoga moves?” Charlotte made a move toward Steve and gave him a big kiss on the lips and said “no honey, just know that I love you and the children more than anything on this earth and that love sprouted from this grey, cold inhabitable space many years ago.”