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Small Cruel Party
Above Our Ceiling

Part One

When we were very young and by ourselves in the room we shared, sometimes we could hear the creaking floorboards above us. Sometimes we could hear the triple thump of a pair of heavy heeled boots and a wooden cane. Late at night we might hear a strange shuffle or a slow creaking door. If it were before bedtime we might look up with curious eyes and try to see through the plaster ceiling of our blue and white room. When we turned those same curious eyes towards each other, they had grown wide and dark. If those strange noises fell on our ears after the bedcovers were tucked beneath our round chins we would close our eyes tightly and think of Mommy in her church dress, or Daddy sitting in his chair next to the big fireplace in the parlor.

When we were very young and alone and we heard the creaking sound just above us, just out of reach of our pale arms and wide eyes, we would whisper to each other in the darkness, voices barely above an exhaled breath. We said once we heard rats upstairs and Daddy frowned at us and shook his head, and then went back to the morning newspaper. A couple of days later he showed us a pair of empty spring traps and said that there were no rats upstairs and we had nothing to worry about. The scratching came back that same night, and the shuffle. We knew we'd get in trouble and a spanking if Mommy and Daddy came in to check on us and saw that we were still awake, and in the same bed, but when the floorboards creaked again we curled into each other and looked up at the ceiling with wide black eyes.
"What is it?" I can still hear your high whisper, can still feel your hot breath on my forehead.
"It's not rats." I can still remember trying to be brave for you, can still remember trying to swallow my own fear. "Daddy said there were no rats in the house."
"But what is it?"
"Maybe… I don't know… what do you think it is?"
"I don't know. I'm scared."
"Me too."
"Stay here?"
"But we'll get in trouble if Mommy comes in."
"For a little while, I guess. But I can't all night. Mommy would be mad at us."

Sometimes, for days at a time, we didn't hear anything above us. And after a couple of nights of breathless anticipation we forgot all about it. We played in the backyard, or read our books and did our exercises, and we went to sleep at night holding our stuffed animals and we slept all night long. Those mornings we woke up when mommy came in the room and went over to the big wooden dresser and began to lay out the clothes we'd wear after we had our baths. On mornings like that Mommy wore her dark hair down over her lace shoulders, and sometimes she hummed little songs to herself. She would see us awake, and smile and come over and give us a big hug and kiss our foreheads, and tell us good morning I love you and then she'd say get out of bed and come have your breakfast, angels. I've made you pancakes with strawberries and we have fresh milk. Out of bed, sleepyheads, the sun is shining today.
The sun that streamed down from its blue cradle was warm when Mommy woke us on those days. The cooking smells from the kitchen downstairs were fresh and rich as the first taste of the honeyed pancakes steaming on their clean white plates. On those days we ran through the house playing tag before lunchtime sandwiches before running out to the woods behind our house to walk through the sun dappled paths to the stream. On those days we smiled and laughed, children and godlike, innocent and safe and shining eyes. Those were the days that I want to remember when I think of you and I as children.