I feel for the carpeted edge of the stairs with socked toes and make sure not to spill the steaming coffee on my way down. The house is still. It’s too early for the heater to kick in. A sliver of moon presses past the pines and mature oaks and reaches through the egress window onto my basement desk. I sit. But before flipping the switch to the desk lamp, before opening the lid to my laptop, I stare up for a few seconds, try to fathom the dimensions of darkness in the night-sky. How can my words possibly make a difference?
I pull a small remote from my drawer and with a push of the tiniest button, I fight the darkness of an unfathomable universe with my own magic light. Four battery operated candles will do the trick. They are tucked into four lanterns which sit on the steps outside. They are awaiting my command. Voila! A soft, adjustable LED glow spreads across the well and up the stairs.
I begin typing.
Here, in the belly of my home, in this catacomb of sleeping stories, my mind slowly comes alive with sips of coffee. Thoughts try to find their way out. Every morning, they attempt to crawl up toward the ground, until the sun eventually swallows up electronic candle light.
I suddenly hear a single, faint rustle in the well. I stop typing. As if driven by an invisible undercurrent, dried oak leaves gently move up and down. I look closely and see, illuminated by the faint light of illusionary candles, a tiny shrew. His delicate, padded feet press against my window. His pointy needle-nose nervously sniffs in zigzagging motion.
“Let me out,” I think I hear him say.
How many times have I tried to rescue these little fellas? I don’t want to see him dying of starvation, find his tiny body decayed, look at his decomposed shrew skeleton. He needs a way out – and so do all the others who fall into their demise after him.
Donkey Kong and Mario. How my parents hated it when we played arcade games, when we spent mindless hours moving Mario up those stairs and past the giant ape looming at the top holding a damsel captive. My rebellious mind wanders. I wait for the sun to rise and head toward the garden where I gather landscaping rocks and material to build an escape route. I have a birdcage ladder somewhere. It will come in handy, too.
With freezing hands and a hot will to succeed, I meticulously build a system of tinier stairs for the shrew to climb up the insurmountable larger steps.
I get back inside and watch while I take my seat at the desk. He made the first step. I quietly cheer and move closer to the window as he is making his way to the second step. He pauses at the birdcage ladder, which promises the highest ground just past the last rung.
He climbs the first few crossbars and falls down. The bars are too smooth for him; He can’t seem to get a grip. He tries again – and again – and again.
Then, after groping the slippery wood over and over, after taking one little rung at a time, he finally skips to the top and jumps to freedom. I see his short tail disappear in the grass above.
Oh, how I desire for my words to climb toward heights like this, to reach freedom, not to get stuck in window wells, not rot. Buried deep, I sense a calling. It is warring with survival and resignation, yet driven by the need to find the light. I look up, as if from an open grave, I see the ground, morning sun slowly stretching between the oaks.
I begin typing again.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
Essay and pictures, Heidi Viars, December 20121