THE BOY UNDER THE STAIRS
A quiet dreaming story
© 2009 by David Wainland
A small stairwell barely lit by random light reflecting off the brass mailboxes sheltered me from the casual passer by. Varicose fissures worked their way through the long neglected and yellowed, octagon tiles. Cobwebs and grit fill the blackest portions. The alcove, best suited for storage, baby carriages, shopping carts, mops and brooms held most of my boyhood secrets.
Air did not circulate well in that hidden corner under the stairs and stayed rife with the mingling orders of baby powder, spoiled fruit and Spic and Span.
No, not fit for a child and yet, it was my place, my special niche away from most prying eyes. It is there I went to be by myself. In a city of brick and cement, traffic and crowds, there are few spots for an eleven year old boy to be alone.
Our Bronx three room apartment was small, but adequate. Back in 1951, I shared a bedroom and other living space with my younger brother and sister. Mom dominated the small kitchen, forever preparing an endless variety of aromatic food. When dad stayed home, and it was often after he broke his hip, even the living room filled to capacity.
The word, privacy did not exist in our home.
I can still hear my parents.
“David, go find another spot for your self. I need the space on the kitchen table. Why don’t you go out and play. Get some fresh air.”
“You heard your mother, go on down and play with your friends.”
I did not want to play with my friends, I wanted to draw, copy pictures, and fill in the lines with my best tempera paints.
“If you are going to stay inside do your homework.” I recognized the threat, they want me gone.
“OK dad, I’ll go out can I bring my drawing stuff with me?”
“I don’t know why you need it. The sun is out. Go play.” He went back to his paper and the radio that crackled unrecognizable voices.
“Going, “and I would make a show of getting my street clothes on and pull myself into a heavy winter jacket. With any luck he would not notice that I stuffed my art gear under my coat.
“Don’t lose any of your new brushes,” I heard mom calling though the back of her head as the door clicked shut.
Hallway sounds, cooking, talking, yelling, radios and slamming doors, drifted around me as I stumbled awkwardly down the two flights of stairs, my hidden treasures threatening to fall out at any moment.
At the bottom and to the left, opposite those mailboxes lay my studio. I slid down behind a dusty baby coach that my parents purchased for my brother and no longer used. Inside the carriage and under the pad is my stash of burlesque magazines. They were like money in my neighborhood and could be used for most any trade, but I never parted with them and I was too embarrassed to let my parents find the stacks of semi-naked women in my room.
My paints and pencils out I proceeded to learn my trade.
There, in my hidey hole, I taught myself to draw by copying these luscious ladies.
Imagining what only a prepubescent boy can, I sketched grotesque nude female shapes in the semi-shadows.
I studied how to draw, sketch, cartoon and paint in that hidden cell. Later, it became the library for the books that passed for pornography in those years, A Stone for Danny Fisher, the Amboy Dukes, the Hoods and a litany of other provocative novels.
I wrote my first poems there and later brought my early teenage loves for closed mouth kisses. And once, when my parents sent me to the deli for pastrami sandwiches, I hid there, unfolded the wax paper from each and slipped out thin slices of warm hand cut beef, gobbled the tender fillets and wrapped them back up. Nobody was ever the wiser.
In my fourteenth year we moved to Long Island and I gathered up my gems and jewels and left the Bronx forever.
I never had a room of my own or a private hidey hole again.
One of my quiet dreams finds me back there, learning about life, but mo matter how hard I try, that child remains a stranger and I struggle to remember exactly how it felt to be that boy under the stairs.