The All-The Way House – Gabriel Hart

The room assumed me.

The only way to return to the All-The Way House was from the top floor. The third story. Though a dread fills my mind that there may be an attic as well.

I’m not going to lie – I know the attic is there. I knew the whole time. But you don’t ever, ever enter the attic – not through its window from the outside or the floor hatch from the ceiling of the third floor. We are better off just forgetting about it, like the fourth story of the Congress Hotel in Tuscon where they burnt out John Dillinger’s gang after that big fatal shootout. They’re probably all still up there, their foreverbones. But it belongs to no one, nothing but an unspeakable denial now, and not even those splintering stairs can sustain our curiosity.

It’s none of our business, whatever happened up there.

But there I was, on the third floor of the big house, in the blue room you had to walk through in order to get to all the other bedrooms. It was as if the architect designed it specifically for voyeurism, the object of it bereft of privacy, as we knew someone would have to end up living in there.

We all lived in there. The room was squared off, framed by two squishy, spineless L-shaped couches, their color dark but indiscriminate by its telltale large stains, like whole continents before they begin to split and drift apart. The couches flush against walls painted sky blue, so it appeared you were free-falling – that is, during that one hour of mid-afternoon when the sun was placed just so, that it was able to ricochet and penetrate the cracks of endless hallways through the jambs of closed doors. There were no windows in the blue room, so you never knew what time of day or night was since, the room’s dimmer seemed stuck on the faintest setting. Was it that it was beyond repair, or that this dimness made it easier to get away with living this way, where couldn’t quite focus on anything or notice the rising tides of neglect?

We’ll never learn.

Though I have no memory of being outside, my daytime vision began to come into focus with this strained lighting.
I see her.
Ensconced in the angle of the sofa, her denim legs tucked under her. Her hair is an unkempt short black bob, her general essence boasting a tomboyish quality in a thin black t-shirt with gauzy holes, possibly moth-eaten. I am instantly in love with her relaxed, approachable disposition until I realize she is staring right at me, in paralytic judgment.

We share an eternity of a moment, locking eyes.
Mine: Curious and willing to surrender.
Hers: Disappointment with one wish that she could change me already.

She speaks.

“So, where have you been?” she asks, already with a condescending tone that lets me know that no answer I give would suffice.
“Well, I’ve been out there, trying to do some good?” I was already so nervous that I answered her question with another question, to show her I was immediately willing to change my response. I pointed to out there, at the periwinkle wall.

“Yeah, well that’s hilarious,” she said, shaking her head. “Why do you always think you’re better than all of us?”

Suddenly, I realize the blue room is full of others, taking up every inch of both sofas. It’s everyone I have ever known, cuddling somehow apathetically, aggregated from their counterpart as an archetype’s spokesperson. But they also, are too disinterested to speak, each somehow able to glare at me with their heads downcast. They too, disappointed I am no longer one of them, therefore I am not to be trusted. Some of them smirk, shaking their heads in pity towards me, before turning to the girl as if to say, “Why are we wasting our time?”

And with that, they have disappeared again. Not a vaporous poof nor a mystified fade, just no longer there, leaving the girl to continue mind-fucking me in grating slow-strokes, where everything I do or say is the wrong thing to keep her,
or I,
or this story further from climax.

Frustration achieved the best of her.

“SEE? You made them all leave again! They all went back to their rooms! They’re too sad to even hang out now! You know how bad it gets when they’re alone! You better hope they don’t see you again on your way out.”
“You… don’t remember how to even get out of here, do you?”

Before I can respond, she reassures me:

“Well, you can’t go upstairs, cause, well… we don’t even talk about upstairs. You can’t go out that door, ’cause that will just lead to all our bedrooms and now if anyone sees you, you’re going to pray to God you could just turn back time. I can already hear you scream, ‘if only I never left the blue room!’ And you have to pass their bedrooms to get downstairs, but you can’t get downstairs ’cause some of them are in the kitchen. Everyone always ends up in the kitchen, crowded up as if there’s nowhere else in this fucking big house to go! But they think that just cause that’s where the booze is, that something will eventually happen there. BUT NOTHING EVER REALLY FUCKING HAPPENS THERE!” she said, shaking her head in disbelief of her own words, our own lives.

“Okay, well… what if I…”

“Oh FUCK YOU! You wanna get down to the basement, don’t you? You know that room has been flooded for years, right? You CAN’T. EVEN. TOUCH. THE. BOTTOM. I mean, be my guest, but you’re not going get to the bottom of anything! You want to be some kind of hero, don’t you? Is that what this is all about, you showing up here again when we were just getting used to you being gone?”

I didn’t want to go to the basement until the moment she forbade me to, before she turned it into a backhanded dare. Suddenly it was all I wanted – a cold-seeking lust, a magnetic pull into its dark waters she promised. In my mind’s eye I could see the black mold forming on its shitty stucco ceiling, stinking murk perspiring onto the walls then dripping into the opaque soup again. I wanted to dive into the bottomless, dissolve with it, acquire secrets I would never be able to share with anyone because there was a good chance I would no longer be alive.

I didn’t say another word. I just stared right at her. I noticed a sound – not a sound I heard, but a sound I felt. A droning static of obscene dog-whistle frequency that would render words meaningless anyway, she and I both paralyzed by one another’s fixation, a contest of intimate endurance that our pores slowly suffocated from.

Suddenly, a moment of apparent mercy:

“Okay, listen… There’s one way out of here. Right there.”
She pointed to the fuse box.
“You were always too much of a coward to deal with blackouts we had when it would storm, otherwise you would have known what was really on the inside of there. Go ahead, look!”

The hinged-shut fuse box was the size of a wall calendar. I walked over, my mind muzzled by trepidation, unable to trust such an erratic 180 in her mood, fearing it could be another trap of faith and limit, of desire and denial. I unhooked the latch, cautiously pulling it open. It revealed a window to the residential night. I peered closer to focus on the view of the whole world with its lights off, not even a single porch bulb to welcome anyone home. A suburban abyss, a world evacuated. I looked down at the backyard – once a driveway, now overgrown with weeds as tall as adulthood, swaying with no spine in the sad, struggling wind trying to make anything move, to prove there was still life, a signal to itself to how far gone things had gotten. I saw a latch to open the screen-less glass, opened it slightly to make sure it worked, then looked back at her behind me.

“If this is a window, where’s your electricity?” I asked.

“My electricity?!? OUR electricity. Guess what? We never fucking had any!” she barked, leaning her head past her knees. “Just… a lot of chemicals, I guess.”
Her unfounded scorn humbled to melancholy faster than I could process. She began to sob, staring right at me, attempting to trigger our paralysis again. I swung open the window and threw my arms around the pane, using all of my strength to pull myself up through a frame that seemed almost too small. But as I got my waist up and sat on it, my backside facing the strange freedom of a seemingly uninviting world, I realized it was made for me.
My hands on top of the windowpane’s exterior now, I looked down to the three-story drop. If I grabbed on to the bottom of the frame, and hung myself down, I knew it would be just under a two level fall. This in mind, I forbade myself to look down as it might distract my adrenaline. Slowly I lowered to a hang as I heard her cries increase in volume, discord like a mist weaving through the blue room and out the window, trying to finally touch me, for once – her last ditch effort when once we had all the time in the world.

I let go.

I landed in a forced squat, my ass nearly hitting the ground had it not been for some last minute spring in my spine. I took a knee to lift myself up, but before I began the curious walk through the towering invasive grasses out the back gate, I turned around once again, towards the big craftsman house I had just escaped, all its residual ennui appearing to grab me by my collar. My head downcast with the weight of its negative radiation, I eyed the stairs that led from outside into the basement, half-exposed from the swamp murk, still slowly filling from years of oversight, delinquency, the utter fear of what they created. I looked through the small window, noticing couch cushions floating on the surface like lily pads, slightly turning and colliding then repelling, mimicking all the deceptive paths we chose through time.
I felt that pull to the bottom again, this time with confidence, knowing that I was going where only they were afraid to tread, therefore it was no longer off limits. I walked down the submerged stairs like a starlet’s first baptismal entrance onto the screen, though finally rid of an audience, as this scene was mine and mine only with no eyes on the other side. Now, neck deep, I opened the paint-chipped door against the resistance of the elements, dunking my head under. As I felt the playful buoyancy lift my heels back to the surface, I opened my eyes to the richness of obscurity ahead of me. I began to wipe it all away to propel myself deeper, faster, each stroke more determined than the last.
Instead of reaching the bottom, I felt the fluid euphoria of the Neverdone pass through me, in defiance of neglect, and in perpetuity.