The house was a grand old Denver square with a musty treasure-filled basement and fancy rooms like a den and and a pantry. The living room had huge pocket doors at either end which were open every day except Christmas. On those mornings I would creep downstairs to find the tree and stockings and presents barricaded. The hours until the adults woke were spent peering through first one, then the other, keyhole, trying to count and allocate the piles of gifts. Most days, though, I passed directly into the kitchen where I was greeted with wondrous grandparent delicacies like grape juice from the brown ceramic pitcher and raisin toast with butter.
Though my aunts and uncles had moved out, leaving plenty of bedrooms free, my mother and I still stayed in her old room on the third floor. It wasn't an attic at all, the third floor. It was completely finished with a couple of rooms -- two bedrooms, I think, and one sunny library walled by books. There also was funky bathroom whose toilet was on a raised platform about 12 inches high. My mom called it the Throne Room, and sitting up there I could look out over the roofs of Denver like a little queen.
The third floor was hot, far hotter than our home up in the mountains, and it smelled of sun warmed dust and books slowly burning from the inside. I don't remember much furniture up there, except that my bed was in the corner. I do remember the stairs, though.
Sometime in their teens my uncles had painted the walls of the stairwell black. The steps were white, I think, creaky wooden things. But the walls were a deep, flat black. There was a door at the bottom that was kept closed and the only light switch was at the top. Somewhere along the way I'd gotten the idea that there was a vampire who lived in the stairwell. I would say goodnight to my grandparents and mother, then head upstairs, alone. I couldn't tell them about the monster; he couldn't get them if they weren't aware. Each night I had to brave that gauntlet of darkness, racing through the darkness to the switch at the top, then rush into our room. Occasionally the dog would join me, but she made it clear that she was doing so out of a hostess obligation rather than love, and she'd retreat to my grandmother as soon as was polite.
The city was strange to me. At home our little town settled quietly around nine p.m., and aside from an occasional dog it was quiet enough to hear the faint song of moon and stars. Those nights, instead of going to bed or even reading, I would sit at the window overlooking the street. Sirens sounded in the distance. Cars drove quickly by. Sometimes, rarely, people chatted past, unconscious of the child drooping out of the window three stories above. I breathed through my nose, inhaling the scent of cooling asphalt and sun-blasted trees. The night was orange with sodium lights below which insects danced in dizzying circles, and their random impacts mixed with other city sounds to create a symphony of adventure and far away places.