(I wrote this years ago, and it’s one of my favorites. It demonstrates how something as simple as a Broken Staircase, which was the original title, can change lives. It’s the story of a man named Alcott and a red-haired woman named Vulpine.
(Though I was not conscious of it at the time I wrote this, I have come to believe there is a wishful autobiographical element to this story.)
* * * *
Five steps rotted and collapsed in the middle of the staircase, and that’s how it all began. Alcott was upstairs. He never left his home again.
He decided to write a history of mankind. It would be thorough, but due to having no reference materials upstairs, it would be fiction by necessity, a history of mankind as it should have been, the perfect people. He liked the idea, and dedicated the rest of his life to writing fictitious history.
. . . which should not be confused with historical fiction. No, he wrote history hidden by a mask, creating a dream world, but really, after all, it was not so different from actual historical writing at times.
But first there was the matter of survival. For that he turned to his old friend Beaman whom he had known since boyhood.
Beaman lived nearby.
There was the question of food.
Beaman tossed up a rope, and that was how Alcott received his daily meals, a basket connected to the rope. Beaman’s wife, Aldyth, simply made a bit more than she and Beaman ate each day, and Beaman took the leftovers to Alcott.
We should mention that Alcott was married too. His wife was Godeleva, but Alcott had not loved — or even liked — Godeleva in many years.
As luck would have it, Godeleva was downstairs when the five steps rotted in the staircase. She noticed the problem even before Alcott. She smiled, walked into the downstairs bedroom, packed two bags, and headed to the beach.
. . . and never returned.
* * * *
Alcott was not a social man, so the upstairs isolation suited him, plus there was lots of time to invent fictional history.
Luckily, there was a bathroom on the second floor of Bockingfold and an antique typewriter.
Bockingfold was the name of the home, which had been in Alcott’s family for generations. Godeleva had always found it dreary there.
About a year after the five steps rotted in the staircase, Alcott awoke one morning thinking of Godeleva whose body was as fine as her personality was foul. That afternoon, during their daily chat through the second-floor window, as warm stew was ascending, he asked Beaman for a woman.
Man does not live by stew alone, he said, or something like that.
There was an obstacle. The rope was medium-weight, and the basket had been bought at a discount outlet that imported from India.
The woman, they concluded, must be lightweight and short, a wisp of a girl.
This was acceptable to Alcott, desirable even, because Godeleva, although quite beautiful, was big-boned. And Alcott was ready for new adventures.
Find a mini-version of womankind, Alcott said to Beaman, but she must be over 21 because Alcott wanted no problems with the police.
One week later, Beaman stood beneath the window with Vulpine, which means like a fox. She said she was 26. And she was quite small, a midget actually, which should not be confused with a dwarf. She was well-formed, firm and fine.
Her hair and full lips were flaming red.
She fit perfectly into the basket, holding the day’s stew in her lap. Alcott, with a bit of extra effort, hoisted both dishes to the window sill and inside the room to which Vulpine hopped effortlessly and looked up at him, smiling.
* * * *
Vulpine did not speak much about her past. There was something about a circus, a prison and horse rides through the mountains with a man named Smoke.
Alcott and Vulpine hit it off immediately. She liked the security, the daily stews, and he liked the look of her, the red lips, the hair blazing like a bonfire.
And that’s how it stayed. The years passed, and Alcott wrote. In time there were 35 volumes of fictional history. He grew old and gray and stooped. But Vulpine never changed a bit.
She was like magic, and that was what he wanted. No one ever repaired the staircase of Bockinfold, and when Alcott died one day, Vulpine kissed his cheek, shimmied down the rope like a child and walked off into a sunny winter afternoon, her hair lit like Christmas candles.