My brother and sister are amusing themselves with the game of tinker toys that has been culled together through remnantsof other games and their replacements. I pretend I have to go to the bathroom and sneak away. My heart is pounding. I put my foot on the first step and gingerly test it with my weight. So far so good. I hold onto the railing, keeping my weight off the wooden steps. My socked feet slide on one step, causing me to stub my toe but I don’t cry out. I step on a middle step, half way there, and the floor creaks. I lift my foot immediately and wait for anyone to have noticed. I am not breathing. The laughter and mix of young and old voices drifts towards me, far away. I am safe. I continue creeping up the rest of the stairs.
At the top, there is a door. The next challenge – can I open it without attracting notice? We’re not allowed in Grandma’s attic. Too many things to get hurt with, they say. And of course that makes us children wonder what’s really up there. Scary things like monsters or ghosts or skeletons, or a mentally challenged relative who’d been locked up there? Old, hidden but not forgotten family secrets from a different life? A sea of bats? Dead bodies? What? The kids have had endless conjecture on this.
I push open the door. It doesn’t make a sound. I step into the room. The dust settles around me lazily, drifting diagonally through the slashes of light from the small window in the top of the slanted ceiling. I look around – some old furniture, stacks of old magazines and papers, an old chest of drawers, and a couple of wooden boxes that look promising. I wonder whether I’ll be the queen of the storytelling today with my finds.
I walk carefully around the piles of things. The dust settles heavily. It doesn’t look like anyone’s been up here for a while. My Grandmother has made her bedroom on the ground floor where she is more comfortable and her son, my Uncle Jim, I doubt cares much to clean out the attic. I wonder how long these things have been here.
I open a box, loosely nailed shut and used to house some sort of faded fruit – plums, peaches, apples? The ink is a bare imprint of juicy treats and the name long since faded. Inside is a pile of metal gear type looking pieces. Stuff my brother might like. I close the lid carefully, not wanting to stir any more dust as my nose is now tickling.
I leaf through a magazine. Nothing very interesting – outdated fashion and cheap looking gadgets promising kitchen and cleaning miracles. I put it back down disinterestedly. I make my way through the stale air to the bureau. It’s coated with a thick layer of dust, moreso than even the rest of the discarded furniture, and put my two hands on the curved wood handles. I pull. Nothing. I wiggle the drawer just a little bit, not to make noise. There is a jiggle. I wonder if any of the children were ever put into this bureau drawer when they were born. It's odd to think of my Aunt Jane or Aunt Mary, much older than my own mother, being babies.
My excitement rises. The drawer feels heavy. Suddenly it breaks free and jerks halfway open. I have to stand on my tiptoes to see inside, but am immediately disappointed. Some old papers with neatly printed lines and stamps to make them official on one side Heavy sweaters that smelled like fading mothballs and a pile of needles on the other side.
I try the other drawers, searching for the dark family secrets, never realizing that if there are family secrets they are probably mundane details in the paperwork – not discarded body parts or secretly hidden, ill relatives – but the other drawers won’t budge, swollen by the hot air and wedged tight. Disappointed I close the top drawer. Before leaving, I trace my initials, KSK, in the dust for the next secret-rescuer to find. Suddenly feeling like an intruder, I close the door behind me, wipe the dust off on my pants and rejoin the game of tinker toys as if I'd never left.