Friday, January 04, 2008

Silent As Dust - by James Maxey

I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, in a little house on Courtland Road that was full of hidden rooms. Most adults probably wouldn't have been aware of these rooms; they were really just gaps and spaces leftover by architectural flourishes. For instance, above the front door of the house, there was a little gable in the roof with a window in it. The gable was purely decorative. But, in the attic, where the roof sloped down, there was a paneled wall about a yard high. If you pulled off one of the panels, there was a wedge-shaped crawlspace where my mother used to store Christmas decorations. If you wriggled inside onto the plywood floor, then crawled along it until the plywood ended, you could continue along the rafters until you reached the little gabled room with the window. It couldn't have been more than a yard wide and deep, maybe four feet tall at the midpoint. There were loose boards across the rafters that formed a place to sit. This tiny forgotten room was useless space for any adult, but for a young kid, it was a top-secret clubhouse.

This wasn't the only secret place. There was a pretty cool cave under the basement stairs. There was also the kitchen table with the drop down leaves. With those down and chairs at the ends of the table, it was a practically a fortress. I can still recall being able to crawl under beds, or climb inside kitchen cabinets. The world just offers more spaces for children than adults.

All these hidden spaces were in a little two bedroom house. I haven't been back as an adult, but, if you didn't count the basement and attic (which weren't heated), I'm guessing the whole house was maybe 900 square feet. Growing up, however, it felt like an enormous kingdom that was forever yielding some new secret. I remember digging in the dirt near the front porch and finding a little plastic army man. An archeologist pulling a golden cup out of the sands of Egypt couldn't have been as happy.

"Silent as Dust" has its origins in those childhood explorations. There's a mansion a mile away from me in Hillsborough called "Seven Hearths" that's reported to be haunted, so I loosely based "Seven Chimneys" upon it. And, like the town of Seven Chimneys in the story, Hillsborough is a city where a core of large houses downtown give way to old mobile homes and tin-roofed houses just a few blocks away. I myself live in the tin-roof and mobile home district, in a cinderblock house about 900 square feet in size. I actually have a conventional roof, with a decorative gable above the front door. In the attic, there's a panel that can be pulled aside, revealing the rafters beyond.

Alas, I've never ventured into that dark, narrow crawl space to discover if the tiny gable holds its own secret room. I'm 6'2" and some of the useful spaces of my childhood would be extremely uncomfortable to explore.

Still, I sometimes wonder about that space, and whether any children ever discovered it. If I were ever to crawl into it, I would discover some childhood treasure? Perhaps a green plastic army man, forever standing sentinel over a forgotten kingdom?

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