these stairs (a Valentine’s Day story)
(originally posted 1/14/2021)
The groaning of the stairs brought back the memory. A memory so old and fuzzy that she wasn’t even sure it was all true.
Her aunt, a large woman, always letting out a long sigh every time she had to go upstairs. “Coooooo these stairs…” she would say under her breath. You could hear her say it plain as day though, proving that she was such an enormous woman that she only needed half her breath to be audible. If she would have said it with all her breath there would have been people three houses down wondering who was complaining about stairs.
She was young and would watch her aunt climb the fourteen stairs and she would think to himself “That’s what lumbering means.” Funny how her aunt made the language come alive. It was also kind of odd that from that point on she always associated the word lumbering with wood, i.e. she would not lumber up a stone staircase. She would merely climb them. Slowly. Like watching a glacier climb stairs (which incidentally is how she learned how mountains become valleys).
By the seventh stair her aunt would have a full sweat going and it was not unusual for her to treat everybody in earshot to another “Coooooo these stairs…” They say men sweat and women glisten. Her aunt dripped.
She was the first of her mother’s family to pass on. You never hear of an obese ninety year old. She often wondered if her aunt had gone up and down the stairs a few more times a day whether or not it might have added a few years to her life. She knew for certain that she took a few years off the stairs. They would always groan as her aunt ascended them.
They never groaned when she or anyone else used them. It was like her aunt’s own little soundtrack. Sometimes the stairs would groan even before she was on them. Just seeing her approach would set them off.
One minute her aunt was complaining about going up stairs and the next she was gone. And the next just a memory, old and fuzzy.
Like her aunt’s husband.
He was a small man and they made an odd pair. He was an interesting mix of gentleman and vagabond. Always dressed impeccably, he typically only shaved once a week. He was a man of mystery insomuch as he would often start a story about his youth only to be cut off by his wife who would glare at him and hiss “Not in front of the children.” She could never get him to explain to her satisfaction why he had two birth certificates or why his first wife had left him.
She was left to fill in the gaps about her uncle and, given her imagination at that tender age, he became sort of a larger-than-life character. Which was ironic given his not-as-large physical stature.
It wasn’t until years later that she imagined what must have been taking place in her aunt’s bedroom. Her uncle must have approached that room the same way a jockey approaches a barn. The bed must have envied the stairs.
Her uncle became the second member of her mother’s family to pass on.
Two days after her aunt.
On Valentine’s Day.
A giant box of chocolates lying unopened next to him.