I wrote this modern fable after a conversation with a dear friend and colleague. The image of the haunted cupboard under the stairs arose during the call. The transformation image arrived some hours later. Calling up something I’d seen online which gave me a heart leap (a common occurrence). As sometimes happens, the story asked, nay demanded to be told. I wrote it late one night and offer it to you dear readers to make of what you will.
As always I love to hear from you, with your reflections, questions or comments.
THE CUPBOARD UNDER THE STAIRS
Dark, dank, dusty, she didn’t like to look in there. Best to keep the door closed. Sometimes she thought she heard a wailing coming from the cupboard under the stairs.
One stormy night, when the wind was howling and the windows were rattling, she distinctly heard the sound of the latch on the door of the cupboard under the stairs.
She grabbed the broom from the kitchen and ran to force her weight against the door. Wind or not, she wasn’t taking any chances. She rammed the broom handle through the door handle. There. Now whatever was in there, for she feared there was something malevolent in there. Whatever it was. Would not be able to get out.
Weeks, months and years went by. Many summers and winters passed. The broom handle stayed put guarding the cupboard under the stairs. The door rattled. Sighs, groans, whimpers, cries and shouts came from the cupboard under the stairs. She gave it a wide birth. Sometimes she played loud music or went to town. She almost forgot about it.
One day she got curious in spite of herself. As she heard the foot stamping and the door began to shake instead of heading in the opposite direction, she stopped outside the door. She leaned her head closer and turned her ear to the door.
She heard whimpering which turned into an almighty wail. The sound was like the keening of a lost soul. It cut right through her and she found herself pulling the broom out of the door handle and flinging open the door.
It was so dark in there.
She turned the torch on her phone. At first all she could see was shapeless bundles. Old curtains stored years ago. A leather file case spotted with mildew. Some coats tossed on top. The keening had stopped but she could hear breathing. It was faint. Slowly, her heart thudding, she raised the torch to the far back of the cupboard under the stairs.
There she saw two brown eyes peering round an old eiderdown. It was a child. There in the torchlight, she gasped: it was like looking into her own face. Her own young face looking back at her with frightened eyes.
Her heart melted and all she wanted was to reach out and comfort this scared little scrap of humanity. Ghost or apparition, it didn’t matter. She knew she must bring this child into the warm but when she beckoned to her, the child sadly shook her head.
Whatever had the little one appearing here, could not sustain the form outside the cupboard under the stairs. She understood. Stepping inside, she leant across the bundles and reached out her hand.
Their fingertips met.
She felt the chill, dull energy of the form. It was wavering but still the likeness was true. Her. Aged maybe seven. Come here my love. She offered her curled arm, an invitation. The figure sidled up to her and leant briefly against her side.
So cold. She was so cold.
They sat together for some time. She began to tell the child a story. Once upon a time, there was a brave, strong little girl who lived long ago and far away. The child listened and after some time, her eyes drooped and she began to fall asleep. She laid her gently on the eiderdown and withdrew, leaving the door to the cupboard under the stairs ajar.
She went to the kitchen and made herself an oat chai latte. How to warm and care for the sprite? Ghost or not, she couldn’t abandon her now that she knew it was her own young self. I’ve got it. She pushed herself off the bar stool excited. She would turn the cupboard under the stairs into the most gorgeous reading nook.
There she would sit and read stories to her little self until they had told all the stories that needed to be told.
The next day, she set to, emptying the cupboard under the stairs of all the old and mouldy items. Soon the floor appeared. The little girl watched. Sometimes floating in the roof space. She worked like a demon. Soon everything was out.
Out came the old linoleum, torn and stained with desiccated mouse carcasses and shreds from bags and cushions.
She swept it all up. Over the next few days, she varnished the wooden walls, laid new ruby red soft carpet tiles. Fixed beautiful reading lamps along the wall. And filled the space with a soft futon mattress and deep soft pillows, shawls, blankets. Planks upholstered with wadding and deep purple and turquoise velvet made a Queenly Headboard.
The under treads were sanded and shelving fashioned. Then she rounded up all her books of folk tales and fairy tales from around the world and filled the shelves. She added mirror tiles, dreamy landscapes in gilt frames and a hook on the inside of the door. There she hung two robes, an adult size one and a child size one.
Just inside the door were two pairs of sheepskin slippers.
For the next few months, every day, after work, she’d slip off her shoes and slip into the Cupboard Under the stairs to sit cuddled with her younger self, reading tales from long ago.
She re-imagined those old tales, telling of brave and strong little girls who overcame loss and betrayal to dance under the moon and bring magic into the world. She told of worlds beyond the known and night skies full of brilliant stars. Of mythical creatures who came to aid our heroines and evil monsters they pursued and vanquished.
Little by little the child grew transparent until all she could detect of her was her breathing. One day as Spring appeared, she went to the Cupboard under the Stairs and found it empty. She continued to go and read in there and many years later, her grandchildren loved to go in the reading nook.
They told of the little girl who appeared now and then in the mirror, smiling and encouraging them to tell all their stories aloud.
Decades passed and the house changed hands but a warm glow always seemed to emanate from the Cupboard Under the Stairs. The house lay empty for some years but then a new family arrived and soon enough the children found the nook, a little worn and tired now but there laughter and stories soon livened it up and so a whole new generation of tales were told and the little child smiled on them all.
For those on Facebook, here is a reel by Making it with Abby, I saw some years ago that caused the heart leap. A cupboard under the stairs transformation 😍
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~ remain poised uncertainly in one place or between two states ~
© Juliet Fay 2018