Esprit d'Escalier

Alan P. Scott - Fictions

after the fact

I have plagiarized myself a hundred times and more, coming at the thing from different angles, over and over, rehearsing it with myself as if there were something I could have done differently. This one starts as I climb the porch steps of the empty house, its seafoam-green cinderblock pale against the unmown grass. The front door, a slab of dark wood, is open an inch or so. Through beveled glass inserts, old and wavy, I can see a staircase within.

Sometimes it starts earlier; I am running my brand-new toy, a hot pink roadster, over the low cinderblock wall in front of the house. The car careens into an unexpected hole, where it glints just a bit too deep for me to reach. Maybe there's someone in the house who can help me get it back.

I don't notice the signs of emptiness, of neglect. Not until after.

The door swings open silently at my push, but sticks halfway, stopped by some magazines on the floor - pink flesh, tan lines and yellow type, sprawled and abandoned. A powerful smell of mold. It's the first time I've seen such pictures, the first of what will be many, but I know what they are. The house rustles, like an indrawn breath.

Then you come down the stairs, running your hand lightly along the rail. You're pale, in a thin light-blue dress, and your bare feet raise small puffs in the dust on the stairs. You are about halfway down - your feet are just above my eye level - when there's a grunt from above. No words, just a noise like a bear's hibernating cough, or what I imagine a bear's gruff voice to be.

You turn, then turn back to me again and press a finger to your lips. I cannot disobey. I back out the door again, timing my steps carefully to yours as you climb the stairs.

I'm late for school already, but even so I do not run until my feet touch the sidewalk in front of the house.


After school that afternoon I go by the house again, dragging my fingers on the wall until I reach the hole.

There's nothing down there. The door to the house is closed now, and there is nothing on the floor within.

A week later the grass was cut and the house was sold, soon to be painted a cheerful yellow and occupied by a rotund mama and papa with an invading army of younger children. I felt out of place among them. I could not speak to them. I could not speak, and I could not forget. I cannot forget.


©2006 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

Last updated May 5, 2006.

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