The Wall and the Unleashing
I started my new school on a cloudy day in September. It was hard to fit in. We had a lot less money than the other kids so my mom resorted to sewing all my clothes which made me stand out miserably. In my old neighborhood it was commonplace. The immigrant mothers all knew how to sew, and used this skill to their advantage; saving money by sewing their family’s wardrobe. But in my new neighborhood, if you didn’t dress a certain way, you were instantly ostracized. I longed for a pair of store bought jeans and it was months before my mother actually obliged. So i had few friends in the beginning. But one friend was Malinda. She began sitting with me at lunch and with the Gods in my favor, ironically, she ended up moving into the house next door. Anna’s house.
Malinda’s family was the first African American family on the street. I suspected that she felt outcast as well, and wondered if that was why she had befriended me to begin with. Malinda made my second summer in that house amazing.
The street I lived on consisted of what we called railroad flats. Pre-war I, two family homes, attached on both sides like a can of packed sardines. If you knew a kid who who lived in one of the second floor apartments you could get on the roof and run the entire length of the street safely on roof tops. We’d toss water balloons or shoot spitballs at the the cantankerous older neighbors then duck away down the rooftops like a murder of crows. Giggling over the fact that they could never understand where the attack originated. It was a magical time when kids played manhunt into the night, stick-ball in the street, rode bikes over makeshift ramps in the alley, and watched TV through open windows from our porches while slurping 5 cent ices from the corner deli.
The houses were identical, carbon copes of one another, as if someone had xeroxed one and sprinkled copies down the length of the street. I spent a lot of time in Malinda’s basement where we played hide in seek or board games because her mother worked late and often slept in the day and didn’t want kids upstairs. It was an unfinished cellar, with a cold concrete floor, exposed ceiling pipes and cinder block walls. The walls however were splattered with graffiti . Anna’s grandchildren apparently had decided to decorate it that way. One image, I distinctly remember being a devil, with red horns, long yellow fangs and the letters A- D – G scribbled underneath. When we exited we were always covered in dust and asbestos from the exposed pipes. I got to know that basement well.
The house on the opposite side, was Carina’s house. Carina had an older teenage daughter named Gloria who would often babysit me and it was usually in their basement. She’d give me a coloring book and a cigar box with crayons to keep me busy while she sat on the phone with her friends. But unlike my basement or Malinda’s , Carina’s was finished with creamy linoleum floors, and a makeshift kitchen complete with white tiled walls. There was a small coffee colored couch, with flowery pillows and an aluminum table with two black chairs. A TV sat positioned under a lace lined window but it was hard to watch and displayed no more than snow most of the time.
What became quickly apparent to me, was although Carina’s and Malinda’s basements couldn’t be more different they had one thing that stood out, the back wall.
“I’m telling you. yours is bigger.” I told Malinda.
“No its not.” She insisted as she spit a piece of chewing gum across the bare floor, then kicked some pieces of loose concrete over it.
“Come on.” I grabbed her hand as we emerged from her basement and went into mine. I took her towards the back, and towards the back wall. Unlike the other three walls which were cinder block, this one was made of wooden planks. I had my suspicions, but an open knot hole confirmed it. I stuck my finger inside.
“See, its hollow inside. They boarded up something inside.”
Her large almond shaped eyes squinted, she pushed me aside and put her finger in. Then cautiously withdrew it and stepped backwards. Within minutes we had removed a single board to reveal an opening.
“See its a room!” I squealed. She looked at me quietly,
“You better leave it alone.” she warned.
Within the next few hours I brought the wall to my older brother’s attention. He ripped off the planks and the remainder of the wall to reveal the original cinder block wall and a shoot, which he deduced had once been used to deliver coal to the house. The shoot , about two feet high and three feet wide looked as if it had collapsed into itself. An area about 5 cubic feet gaped open like an decrepit mouth, full of debris, cobwebs, and the stench of mold. It reached out towards me as if whispering,
But I was the only one to hear it. Full disclosure, I had a raging imagination.
“Hmmm.” was all i remember saying.
“I don’t want you down there playing anymore.” Was all my mother could say when we brought it to her attention. She wiped her hands on the dishcloth she was holding and went back to her chores.
Irregardless of what she said, I spent the next few days inspecting the the area. The shoot didn’t contain anything suspicious although I remember telling a neighborhood boy I had found a skull and a pair of baby booties, but when he ran home crying I decided not to lie anymore.
The area around the shoot however, had a number of interesting things in it.
Mr. Mel had emptied out the house when he moved but left a few boxes in the basement which my mother hadn’t had time to dispose of. There was a collection of large frames with formal sepia colored pictures in faded vignette. Men in tall hats with long beards, sitting in chairs with high backs. There was one with an old woman, standing alongside a table with a lace tablecloth and a vase which oddly had no flowers .
Two boxes, however, would become important in my Bronx haunting. One was filled with makeup and large perfume bottles and another was a leather case, filled with lenses and mechanisms which appeared to be for an optometrist. These two boxes gave me a hint, as to what it was, we had uncovered.