When I first began to fall through the floor, I wasn't sure what
was happening. The kitchen seemed oddly distorted. The stripes of
the wallpaper slanted a little to the left; the orange light of sunset
lay over them like a flare of panic. My parents noticed nothing. My
mother was eating a fish sandwich, the McDonald's wrapper neatly
folded in front of her as she dabbed on mayonnaise. My father
scraped the pickles and onions off his hamburger with his
forefinger, which was streaked with the thick red of ketchup. Only
my brother saw and looked at me as the chair's back legs pierced the
linoleum beneath my swinging feet and I tilted back with agonizing
I didn't want to say anything at first. We usually didn't talk
much at the dinner table. Most of the time we didn't eat at the table
at all. My father brought home paper bags of food and set them on
the counter so we could each take our share and vanish. Sometimes
sat on the grille of the heating vent. Warm air blew around my
My brother crouched near me, both of us reading.
My father would take a glass of wine and his food and sit in
front of the television. We could hear him twisting the dial back and
forth to avoid the commercials. My mother sat in the living room
near us, reading one of the romances which she devoured like french
fries. We read science fiction and fantasy.
"Catherine's falling," my brother said.
My mother looked up. The chair angled more abruptly and I
on the floor. The chair was sprawled in front of me. Its back legs
had nearly disappeared. I could see the ragged edges of the holes,
like mouths forced open by stiff wooden rods.
My mother picked me up. I was crying now. My father
his chair back and looked at the floor. He continued to chew.
"That linoleum's rotten," he said. "I'll have to fix it some time
Perhaps that makes him sound like a handyman, a fixer,
someone who put things together. He wasn't. Our house was broken
hinges, stuck doors, worn carpets. Rather than take out a broken
basement window, he piled dirt on the outside. To insulate it, he
said. It made the basement a little darker, but that added to the
I liked to play there. Behind the furnace, there was a little
space like a room. It smelled of house dust, dry air, and whiskey. I
found a marble in a corner, amber colored glass. It was scratched in
places where it had rolled across the cement floor. It would have
been beautiful when it was new. When you held it up to your eye
looked through, everything was different, everything curved and
I took a half burned white candle from our dining room table
down there. It was this which led to the basement being declared
off-limits. My mother found the candle and thought I had been
I liked having the candle there, in case there was a disaster, a
tornado, an explosion, a nuclear bomb. Sometimes it was frightening
in the basement. There were holes in the walls that led out in little
tunnels and you couldn't be sure something wasn't watching you
when your back was turned. I stuck the candle in a bottle. There
were a lot of bottles down there, piled behind the furnace.
I could see the holes in the ceiling, between two smoke black
beams, where the chair legs had gone through. The light from the
kitchen came into the basement.
A month went by before the holes were repaired. We avoided
the dent in the floor with its two accusing circles. Sometimes I
imagined I felt the floor soften beneath my feet elsewhere in the
kitchen and quickly stepped sideways. My brother and I watched
each other when we were in the same room, as though afraid one
might disappear and leave the other here alone.
Finally my father called a man in a blue hat, who came and
tapped mysteriously in the basement. My brother and I sat up
crosslegged on the floor, and watched the linoleum smooth itself out
as he replaced the boards. The holes remained.
In the other room, my father watched a golf tournament. We
could hear his breathing and sharp grunts whenever a putt rolled
smoothly across the grass, heading into the hole like a ball with a
purpose. When the man came up, my father offered him a beer and
had my mother write out a check.
We went out to Happytime Pizza that night. The restaurant
was clean; there were no holes in the floor. The windows were
diamonds of colored glass, lead running like angry veins between
them. The sunlight came through them and painted my father's face
with red and dark blue.
I reached my hand into a patch of green lying on the table's
surface and then took it out. No one was watching me. My mother
and father held the menu between them. There was a wet ring on
wood of the table from my father's beer glass. I put my hand into
the color again and moved it back and forth, letting the light paint
my hand as though smoothing it with color.
My brother kicked me gently under the table and moved his
into the green too. We held our hands on either side of it, letting the
very edge of the color bleed onto our hands, not daring to move in.
© Copyright 1999 Cat Francis.
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