Adam was born in an alcove that sat adjacent to his parent’s bedroom, in a house that was ruled by its children. Adam’s father was an engineer, quietly inventive and methodical, and had rigged the main staircase in the house so that it would at the crank of a lever into a slide for his two children. When the heavy crank, which was located at the top of the stairs on the second floor landing, would turn, each step would fold inward like a giant Jacob’s ladder. Adam and his older sister May would crank the lever together, it was too heavy to do alone, and down they’d go, landing in a laughing heap on the black and white marble foyer floor.
Adam’s father had also hung a sturdy wooden swing in the middle of the second-floor hall, in between Adam and May’s room. It was suspended from an oak beam that ran the length of the fourteen foot ceiling with two heavy, sturdy ropes. When Adam was six and May was eight, May had braided black and pink velvet ribbon around the ropes, so that when they pumped their bruised and scabbed legs to propel the swing skyward the ribbons curled and flapped in the breeze. At the end of the hall, just a foot away from their feet when they swung the swing up high, was a set of French doors that opened to a small balcony that looked out to the sky and the roof of their across the street neighbor. May liked to open the French doors to let the wind and the sky in, and if there were enough clouds and if they opened their eyes up just slightly, it felt like they were flying in the sky and not in their hallway.
The house also had a few hidden passages, and one was in Adam’s closet. Adam had defaced the door several times, creating a collage of glue and newsprint that hid the chaos of toys and books that lived in the closet. Hidden in the floorboards was a trapdoor that opened to a small staircase that led to the basement. The individual steps were only a foot wide, and there was no railing, only bare plaster. No lights illuminated the dusty tight space, people using the steps had to use candles on plates or lanterns. Adam had only used the secret stairs a few times, it spooked him and he figured there were plenty of ghosts and spiders to make use of the stairs…it didn’t need his patronage. His house had been an end-point for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad, and his room had once been one without doors or windows: a hiding, holding room before the slaves could take a final breath of freedom. When Adam’s parents had bought the home in 1915, they hired local contractors to carve a door out of the plaster and wood frame wall as well as to knock out a big hole and adding plane glass to give the formerly windowless corner room a wide, yawning picture window. Adam loved his room and felt like he lived in the treetops. He loved the big window so much that he insisted, once he could insist such things, that his father move his bed to the wall adjacent the big friendly window, and away from the closet wall. His father had once told him the story of the secret passage and why it was in the house and what it meant, that it wasn’t a real steam locomotive that ran beneath the ground but a procession of people escaping enslavement in the south. That their house had been important in helping free men, women, and children. When it was daylight Adam loved the story and thought that his house was a hero-house but when it was nighttime he had to close his eyes super-tight to keep out images of people with haunted eyes and torn clothes marching up and down the steps inside his closet.