by Francis Scudellari
Jacob’s lips spread slowly, smugly, in a grin. A gleam. A glint. A glimmer flashed in his eyes. The wood, with warped moan, received his weight. A crack. A sharp creak. Shrill cries echoed up the staircase -- musty trumpet blasts to herald Jacob’s arrival.
The beige walls swelled inward to embrace him, to welcome him, as he prepared to mount the knobby spine. The three-story pile of yellow brick whispered to him, promised him shelter, offered him winter-suffocating warmth, summer-shading cool. It longed to nurture him, to rear him through his writer’s infancy.
Jacob’s foot rested on the first step, his ladder’s first rung, anticipating. He trembled, anxious to run ahead, to leap forward into the so certain future. He daydreamed. He saw, thought of a time when college students, tourists, the idle curious, would mimic his journey. He thought, saw the bodies stream up the weed-choked pathway, feed the pool of well-mannered admirers paused at the crumbled, time-neglected, concrete steps.
The front door squeals open; it snaps shut. The hallway spits out one cherubic youth; it ingests another. One by one, they ascend, descend, in perfect balance.
Presiding over it all, a scholar, a guardian, with white bristled chin and all-knowing eyes. His gray, aged voice thunders down through the timbered bowels, it rattles up the fragile bone planks.
“Jacob Bethel scaled this very staircase each day, the images of the street dancing in his head. The faces of beggars, prostitutes, hustlers; the sounds of sirens, gun shots, screeching tires; the smell of urine, vomit and spilled whiskey; all spinning franticly, pounding violently, waiting anxiously for him to give them life -- the eternal life of the written page.
“This railing, this sad ribbon of wood that you use for support, undeserving, felt his firm hand clutch it, rub against it, caress it. Those very hands that hammered out such vivid tales of the city, such passionate portraits of modern pain and isolation, grasped this loose railing.”