Tuesday, October 10, 2006



In this night as the storms rage above and below and I climb the boxes and then the shelf in the closet and slip through the hatch into the attic, my own passage through the wardrobe I find myself believing, and push the blankets and pillow I have dragged up as far into the eaves as I can fit – I could not have been more than seven and so I needed very, very little space – then I know that the fear from downstairs might begin to soften.


Wrapped in this nest I absorb the rhythm of the wind-driven rain on slate roof shingles so ancient they have been thinned visibly by centuries of Atlantic precipitation. The air is sharp and cold but inside the blankets my body warms and relaxes. In the full-dark I fumble for my secret box, a tin that once held chocolates brought by a cousin from London but now holds votives secreted from the cathedral, matches from the pub, and all of the postcards received from cousin Michael in America. With blind dexterity born of too much experience I set out the candles, and strike the fire.


The trinity of flames create more shadow than light but I hold the postcards. There is New York, and the dome of the Capitol in Washington, and a fold-out set from Cape Kennedy, a boat on the Mississippi by New Orleans, even the Astrodome. But the one I always hold is just from a hotel in a place called "Arizona." The building is so new. Palm trees stand in front. The cars are like spaceships to a lad who knows no one who even owns one of the tiny boring cars people have here. And the sky. Oh the sky. It is bigger than any I have seen and a kind of blue I have never imagined.

ar maidin

That postcard is in my hand as I fall asleep. It is still clutched there when the first ray of dawn cuts under deep gray clouds and throws itself through the dusty attic window and for just one moment makes my world absolutely my own.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
image from James Lileks amazing Motel Postcard website


Anonymous said...

Y'ever been to Arizona? It's not hard to get to.

Brenda said...

That had me chuckling, see how absolutely really believable your stories can be? You are a small Irish child in an attic with postcards of America, an Amercica you dream of, and which we, as readers, know is in your future...

The only way I knew it was Ireland was that one significant detail, the worn slate shingles, centuries old, the precipitation of the Atlantic ocean... oh, the votives from the Cathedral and matches from the pub sort of give it away too.

But other than those tiny but significant details, this story could take place anywhere... a child surviving domestic violence, the 'storm raging below' by hiding in the attic, creating a sacred space in which to safely dream, sleep, be awakened by the dawn that "for just one moment makes my world absolutely my own."

I like the three parts, like vignettes, like interlacing poems, like small parts of a children's story. And I love how you have written this story from the vantage of innocence, this is just what happens, this is where I crawl to safety, this is how I spiritually survive, without the anger or judgment of the adult who must feel, well, whatever.

It's a story of survival, especially survival of a sense of self, of the imagination, a belief in a wondrous future. In such few lines about postcards in such a setting you've so caught the American Dream.

I can see that little 7 year old boy; I want to hug him. You bring out the compassion in your readers...

narrator said...

anon- Arizona seems like a different planet from some places... the whole American west can... so much space...

Brenda - thank you thank you. Trying to get adult judgement out of stories of childhood is a struggle, and I think it takes time. It is one reason that I am so often disappointed in those "confessional" tales of growing up written by twenty-somethings - they are filled with a bitterness and anger that doesn't work. I could not have written this at 25.

MB said...

I like how emotionally palpable and real this is and yet how it's sketchy enough that, despite the details given that do anchor it in place, it "could be" anywhere. You've achieved a balance between specificity and looseness that allows for a certain universality. Very nicely done.