I read a short story today, here, by the talented Eilish Niamh. In it an attic appears as a creepy space. This is hardly unexpected and, indeed, I have never found attics anything other than intimidating.
Possibly this stems from childhood when dad put his foot through the ceiling of the bathroom. At bath time, I had to sit under this dark forbidding hole while the Archaeologist told me about all the monsters that lurked up there. If this wasn’t bad enough, he made me sit at the plug hole end of the bath and told me how easily I might get sucked down the drain, where I would confront yet another ghastly group of ghoulish and gremlins. Bath times, necessarily, were not the comforting times one is led to assume.
My mother had a different take on loft spaces. For her an attic was a place of hidden treasures, somewhere to find an unexpected gem. If she saw a box or a dusty case she’d think of the pictures it might hold, the stories it might reveal. I’d imagine body parts.
A new house, and an unknown attic for her were like a historian’s sweetshop. For me it was a pathologist’s nightmare.
They are never lit properly. Shadows lurk deep in corners. Dust hides everything. Somewhere at the back there is something locked and clearly intended to be hidden. The dust itself has a life of its own; given that you just know comprises more than 50 percent human flesh scales, that really shouldn’t be a surprise. And when you venture inside, the boards are never fixed properly so a careless moment and you can crash through a ceiling much like dad.
My mother wasn’t given to flights of fancy; a very practical and logical woman, she had little truck with superstitions of any kind (though she never spilt salt without tossing a pinch over her left shoulder). That probably explains her lack of a frisson.
Eilish’s story also contains a basement. In a contrast with the attic, I love a good basement. There’s something cosy about these underground spaces, with their musty earthy smells. Of course they can have strange shadows and creepy sounds but they don’t give me the heebee jeebees like attics do.
What does this say about me? I love Mother Earth but can’t take heights? I was traumatised by my early bathing memories? Or my overactive imagination flourishes at a point above Ordnance Datum? Who knows. But if you need to find my Orwellian Room 101, just point me towards the roof. Perhaps that’s why I write in a space we’ve carved out of the garage loft. A little terror keeps the scribe scribbling, maybe.