Spaces I've Never Belonged
A few dusty, uneven stairs led in a half circle to an opening just wide enough to shimmy into if you were the right kind of kid. My cousin Gina found this section of unfinished space years ago and had adopted it as her own. She and I swatted at cobwebs and squeezed under a crossbeam to sit as far from the drafty attic window as possible. We passed the Toys-R-Us catalog back and forth, taking turns at dog-earing pages of the things we most wanted. Cookie smells wafted up from the kitchen below. She breathed in deeply, bending the glossy tips of every other page.
I want all the toys. And all the cookies! Her eyes glimmered with desire.
Gina snuck off to smoke clove cigarettes and pass the hours more tolerably, as the grownup siblings gathered downstairs to discuss the goings-on in the small town of their collective youth. It was a circle of tedious, often depressing, information–-who passed away, who had cancer, who got divorced, the addition of a Super Walmart (the one with food!) in a neighboring town. The emphasis on “super” spoken as seriously as a sermon.
We’d sit, often silently, and she’d smoke those cloves, one after the next. The scent of cinnamon spice clung to my clothes and frizzy hair like a good memory. I held my body close, wrapped up small, to keep from getting dirty. This part of the attic was separate from the big part where Aunt Celeste kept the holiday decorations and boxes of clothes the family had outgrown. An actual mannequin from Talbot’s still stood by the window, from when she took on tailoring jobs for her neighbors. In the stagnant, mote-filled air, it looked homesick.
Pieces of a conversation drifted up.
It’s over there by the Eckerts. Or was it Walgreens? Across from Sherman Williams and the supply store.
They’re a real snorefest, Gina remarked, rolling her eyes toward me.
Yeah, I agreed. So boring.
I felt proud and lucky that she still led me into her hidden space, trusted in me not to reveal the location, nor the activities that took place. I mostly didn’t have anyone to tell anyway, but just the fact I could have.
As I near the narrow wooden stairwell, the entrance appears inconceivably small from my present vantage point. I’m not even sure my body, though still petite, will fit any longer. The approach feels dangerous and alluring with the rich smells of cedar and passing time. As I ascend the misspaced, spiral steps, memories pull me further in, closing around me like a bottleneck. I dip one shoulder through, then the other, scraping a swath of blood-prickled skin from my arm in the process.
I push myself awkwardly upward from rib cage to waist until my head emerges, like a meerkat’s, into the intoxicating smell of cedar and, yes, just a hint of cinnamon clove. Gina’s absence hits me immediately and I realize that, childishly, I had expected her to be here. She was found inside the town Pavilion, not far from the elementary school we had both attended, two years apart. Someone at the viewing deemed her unlucky—having overdosed, like so many others we knew, on fentanyl-laced heroin. It had been just days before her 28th birthday and three years clean. Some things defy explanation; others seem almost inevitable in their outcomes.
A vibration from my back pocket startles me and I find myself, stunningly stuck, in the here and now. My lower body trapped below, no way to reverse course. My cell phone continues ringing—someone is missing me, wondering where I’ve gone to.
Laura Jeannerette is an emerging writer living in Pittsburgh, PA, and working as a counselor and advisor for medical students. She describes herself as a dog in a woman's body, and credits humor, books, and her fellow dogs as the recipe for a happy life.