I walk up the stairs to the 2nd story of a three-story Chicago apartment building again. I cannot recall how many times I have climbed those stairs. The apartment on some visits is the peeling paint version from the 1980s with the storefront church located on the 1st floor. Tonight, it is the gentrified edition with glass entry doors. The old church is now a performance arts space. Inside is always the same. Slightly splintered bare wood floors with a thick coat of brown paint to protect bare feet.
I walk down the hall and peer into the door that leads to the room she shares with her preacher husband. It is empty. I walk in and the floral bedspread has been neatly drawn across the mattress. I sit on the stool in front of the wooden dresser with the attached mirror. I am still fascinated by the collection of perfume bottles arranged on a mirrored plate. I pick up an ornate glass bottle filled with pink fragrance and squeeze the atomizer. A floral aroma fills my nostrils with her presence. I spin my head around, but the room is still empty.
I leave the bedroom and turn down the hall. I see one of her living daughters sitting at the kitchen table. She is an adult like me. The chairs don’t match. I sit with her and feel her sadness.
There is yellow paint on the walls and white paint on the baseboards. The metal pipes are exposed under the sink. My memories are fractured like a broken mirrored plate. Nothing quite fits but pick up a shard and you will see a piece of the past clearly.
I stand up from the table and walk toward the backdoor. There is a large two by four wooden plank across the door held up by two metal brackets. I have since learned that contraption is called a drop bar. I lift the drop bar and turn the lock handle.
The porch is concrete with thick gray paint. The paint is always thick here. It is the years of coats, layer upon layer, to make the old appear new. It is fun to pick at it when bored. The stairs lead to the 3rd floor. I was stung by a bee sitting on those stairs. My nanny had made us kids cheese toasts in the oven. She had drizzled honey over the top of mine. I was sitting on the 2nd stair with the sun warming my left side and swinging the toast with my right hand when I felt a sharp pain on the inner flesh of my right forearm. The toast hit that gray paint honey side down. There is a cost to happiness when it is at the expense of others even if the other is a bee.
Nanny has been dead since 2008. Tonight, I am back to 1987 or so. I feel present in the past, more solid than I feel in 2022. It is where unconditional love exists, where memories never age. This ephemeral delight is always interrupted by a stinging awareness that this isn’t real life. Not real physical life in the present, I mean.
What is life anyway if not a dream?