Thursday, 3 September 2009

The Stairs - - Carolyn Belcher

When I was sitting on the stairs,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish that man would go away.
When I…

‘Why are you sitting on the stairs muttering to yourself, Andrew? Come on down, you duffer.’ His mother’s voice sounded tired. It always sounded tired these days.

‘Can’t,’ said Andrew.

She walked up the few steps to where he was sitting, and sat down beside him.

‘Why not?’ she asked.

‘Cos,’ he said, staring at his knees.


‘Cos you’re going out,’ he whispered.

‘I’m only popping to the shops,’ she said. ‘Jilly’s in her room, you can call her if you need anything.’

‘She doesn’t hear me,’ he wanted to say. ‘She never hears me. She’s too busy listening to music on her MP3 player, and she’s probably texting her friends at the same time.’

‘Can I come with you?’ he asked.

‘But you hate shopping,’ said his mother.

She was right, he did. But if he went shopping, he would be safe.

‘Bye baby bunting.
Daddy’s gone a hunting.
Gone to fetch a rabbit skin.
To wrap a baby bunting in.’

The voice began to fade.

‘Bye baby bunting.’

‘Did you hear that, mum?’

Andrew jumped up, almost knocking his mother off the step.

‘Careful, Andrew,’ she said. ‘Hear what?’

‘Bye…’ he began, and then thought better of it. He didn’t want to be taken to see Dr. Jackman again. Dr. Jackman was too perceptive. He had eyes that seemed to look inside Andrew’s mind. He said things that Andrew was thinking, like, ‘you feel safe on the stairs, don’t you Andrew.’

He did, and that was why he couldn’t go down, not while his mother was out. He could hear the man, but the man couldn’t get him.

His mother looked at him for what seemed like a long time, then she shrugged, and Andrew knew that she was not going to try to cajole him down. He also knew what shopping was needed; she could not get to sleep without her pills, and she didn’t have any left. Andrew knew this because he had taken the strip out of the box the day before, and flushed the remaining few down the lavatory, carefully replacing the strip back in the box afterwards. It had taken several attempts to get rid of them, and he’d been forced to fetch the rolling pin from the drawer in the kitchen, and crush the pills to powder in the bottom of the pan. He’d washed the rolling pin very carefully, not that anyone used it; his mum bought frozen puff pastry if she made a pie, which was not very often, especially now.

At breakfast that morning, Andrew could see how tired she looked. He knew that she’d had a disturbed night, because she heard his screams when the nightmare came, and had rushed into his bedroom, held him, stroked his damp forehead, wiped his tears, chased the ghost away, and last of all, changed his bedding, telling him that it didn’t matter; lots of children wet their beds for all sorts of reasons.

Andrew felt that the words were to comfort, not the truth. He knew that he was not normal; other children his age didn’t wet the bed, other children didn’t see ghosts who wanted to harm them, and… he didn’t want to think about the ghost again, invite him back.

He felt sick; the ghost would be back, invited or not, and Andrew knew that he could not continue to flush his mother’s pills down the lavatory; she would become suspicious; would realise that something was happening to them. He would sit half way up the stairs if she went out during the day, and try to get there, at night, if the ghost came into his room. He didn’t come every night. But Andrew always went to bed afraid, and tried hard not to fall asleep. The ghost could get angry, he could scream the rhyme, but he would not come down the stairs, not again.

Andrew refused to give the ghost the name, Daddy, Dad, Father. No father ought to behave as he had done, besides, the ghost didn’t look like his father. How could someone yell so with that expressionless face?

Alive, his father had had lots of different faces, a happy face, a sad face, a jokey face, and a serious face. Then there was the face that turned grotesque with anger because Andrew had wet himself; he didn’t seem to be able to help it, what with the rough games and the tickling.

‘You little shit,’ his father would yell. And Andrew would cower on the floor, where he had been dropped, waiting for the blows and kicks he knew would come.

Then, later there was the tearful face, and when his mother got back, the lying face.

‘We were having a game of chase before bed-time,’ he would say. Silly lad fell down the stairs; tripped up; slipped; the reasons for the bruises were endless. ‘I thought I was going to have to take him to hospital.’

And his mother believed him. After all, why should she not? He had never lifted a finger against her, nor against either of his children, in her presence. Andrew said nothing. He didn’t know what to say.

One day, he decided that he’d had enough. He dreaded his mother going out because of the pain he knew that he would have to endure. He had to make it stop.

Rough and tumble games always happened upstairs in his bedroom, and there was a pattern to the evenings. After tea, he, his sister and father watched the television, always a little later than was normally allowed. His father had a six- pack of lager, and they had cokes. The evening of the plan, Andrew had Mr. Duster, his monkey comforter, beside him on the sofa, inside which were some marbles; Mr.Duster used to be a hot water bottle cover, but Andrew didn’t have a hot water bottle any longer. When bedtime came, they all went upstairs, Jilly to her room, Andrew and his father to his. As his father opened the door to his room, Andrew said, ‘I’ve forgotten Mr. Duster, Dad.’

‘You’re too big a boy for that old monkey,’ said his father.

‘He likes to watch our games,’ said Andrew, holding his breath.

‘Um,’ said his father. ‘Oh very well, go and get him. But I’m going to have to speak to your mother about it. I think Mr. Duster ought to be given to a charity shop now.'

If Andrew had experienced any doubts about what he intended to do, those words fixed his resolve. He went downstairs, picked up Mr. Duster, and on the way back he placed marbles on each step. He realised that he would have to be careful to avoid them, and would have liked to have a practise run, but he knew that he could not do that; his father would be suspicious about the length of time he was taking. He left the right hand side free from danger and repeated to himself as he went back to his bedroom, ‘go down the left; run away down the left.’ As he went into his room, he took a deep breath for what he knew was going to happen.

As I was going down the stairs,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish that man would go away.

Photo Credit: trazomfreak on Flickr

About the author: Carolyn Belcher is a retired drama lecturer. She is married, has three children and three grandchildren. She is an examiner for A, AS and GCSE drama practical work. She is a story maker, working with children to help them create their own stories. She takes after school clubs in dance and drama at a local primary school. She belongs to Write Now, a creative writing group in Bury St. Edmunds. She loves theatre, reading novels, and gardening.