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The Attic

David McPherson

In December of 2004 I bought a house that needed a total rehab. The previous owner had been mother to a varying number of foster children over the years and the place had been neglected. There were a few strange things about the house. All the bedrooms had heavy exterior doors installed in them with keyed dead bolt locks. There was also a keyed lock on the door to the small pantry in the kitchen. One of the bedrooms had been painted pink but the walls were stained a dingy brown. The stain patterns were like shadows in a fireplace, sweeping up the walls. At some point, something had burned in there.

The attic was finished but it had been built badly and partitioned into several very small rooms. I ripped everything out. Sheet rock, paneling, insulation, carpet, and all the interior walls. I tore it down to the bricks and the beams. It took a few days to clean up all the debris and haul it down to the dumpster. I was sweeping up a pile of insulation and plaster dust when I noticed something in the corner of the room. The chimney came up through the floor near the corner. In the space behind the chimney, where the slanting ceiling joined the floorboards, there was a small cushion with a thin blanket laid over it.

I crawled across the floor on my hands and knees. The cushion was just like a little bed, with the blanket spread over and tucked underneath it. The bed was probably about two feet long and a foot wide. There was even a small pillow on top of it. At first I thought this must have been some child's toy, a place to lay her dolls down and tuck them in at night. But then I saw the metal chain bolted into the bricks of the chimney.

Welded to the chain was a shiny steel band, two half circles with a bolt holding them together. The opening could not have been more than an inch across. It hung there open now, but it was easy enough to imagine it clamped around a skinny wrist or ankle.

I got up and walked out of the house. I walked around the block once, then I walked around the block again. The house was ugly and half wrecked. It held some horrible memory of burning, of torture and starvation. Eventually I went back in. Now, a year later, the rehab job is nearly finished. None of the new interior doors have locks on them. I didn't touch the little bed in the corner of the attic or the chain beside it. They're locked away behind the new walls.

posted: 1/10/2006

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