she runs down the stairs, the worn wood of the steps shining in the sunlight coming in through the hallway windows. downstairs, she barely manages to push open the heavy gate that separates the cool darkness of the alley from the heat outside. the smell of dust and cement and hot stone hits her. it’s early morning and the streets are quiet. every so often, the tram screeches as it struggles along its rails cutting through the neighbourhood in an enormous s-shape. the church bells will call for mass soon, even though she has never seen anyone go there or knows what the inside of a church looks like or what it’s good for.
she skips along the street, past the little shop that never sells anything except for bread and apples and onions and beer. it’s so hot, it feels like she is swimming through air, and stepping from shade into sun into shade into sun like crossing countries and like you are a different person depending on which side you’re on. she visits all her favourite places. the salon where her mother gets her hair done, now closed and deserted. the big metal garbage bins lined up in a way so that she can walk behind them and secretly overtake old people that never look at anything but their feet or to see if you are dressed properly anyway. the bakery where she sometimes buys a whole loaf of bread all for herself. the other bakery that sometimes sells cake.
she stops at the main road that separates her neighbourhood from the one where her grandmother lives. she could walk along the railway tracks or zigzag through the apartment blocks past where her school teacher with the parakeet lives. or she could go to the factory where her mother works, the road leading up to it paved in cobble stones so big and uneven that crossing it always feels like wading through a mountain river and that the trucks delivering fabrics and sewing cotton bop around like apples in a bowl.
from the factory, she takes her secret trail through the wood back to the right side of the train tracks. the wood is only three or four rows of trees deep, but if you know how you can walk the length of four or five blocks in it without anyone noticing you. there are empty beer bottles and cigarette butts and a broken chair and her mother says that the people who put them there are bad, but she has never seen anyone who looks bad and she is quicker than them anyways. she passes another church, its doors locked and the windows barred. but the clock at the top of the tower is working and her mother has taught her to see there what time it is so that she doesn’t have to ask anyone and if she does it can only be women.
back home, she pushes the heavy gate open again. it’s too early for lunch. coming from the bright sunlight into the dimness of the hall, everything is suddenly covered in a glossy black and the walls around her seem to move. it smells like coal and wet earth and mouldy stones and she twirls around, letting herself fall from wall to wall until her eyes have adjusted to the darkness and the ground is standing still again. it feels like what being in a spaceship must be like so she runs out again, blinks into the sun for a few seconds and comes back to feel the waves of the glossy blackness another time. the coldness of the alley smells different than the coldness of the cellar and different from the heat of the street, and she wonders what the heat up in the attic will smell like. she is not allowed to go there. the roof beams are rotten and her mother tells her that she will fall through the ceiling if she does, but if you know how you can do it and everything will be fine. there are abandoned storage rooms plastered in old newspapers that you can peel off in long strips, and sometimes she manages to get a whole page off without tearing it to pieces. they are as old as the building and therefore almost as important as things in museums and her grandmother has taught her to read the old font and she sometimes pictures herself reading these newspapers on the tram or at the doctor’s office impressing everyone.
above the storage rooms is the real attic with loose wooden boards that bounce when you step on them. it smells like wood chips and furniture polish and bakelite and walking around there you have to be quiet. she knows that if the old caretaker catches her up here, he’s going to tell her mother. and even though her mother doesn’t like him and says that one shouldn’t feed beer and chocolate to one’s dog, she would still listen to him and agree with him on everything else. and thinking about trouble and because she can’t see the church tower’s clock from the attic and doesn’t want to be late for Sunday lunch, she decides to go home, down the stairs, the worn wood of the steps shining in the sunlight coming in through the hallway windows.