None of us know who said it first, but there’s a rumor going round about basement girls.
The basement girls are coming is how the rumor goes.
Some of us don’t believe in basement girls, or even in basements. What’s below the steps? they say. There’s nothing.
Some of us say how dreary it would be to be a basement girl, how bleak, there in the dark, there in the ground. Some of us remember when we were children, and tiptoed into basements in our own homes, the smell of dirt there, the smell, we thought, of decay.
The smell is the only thing we can remember about basements. Some of us say I remember the basement was dark. Others say I remember there was one bulb that came on when you tugged a chain.
That’s not really remembering, though, just pretending, the way we pretend to remember the sky.
It was blue, we say, so very blue.
We have seen the sky in your photo albums, tucked in chests beside ivory wedding dresses smelling of mothballs, crinkled lettermen’s jackets. Pieces of the sky peeking out from behind your smiling faces.
That’s it, we say. That’s the sky we remember.
Our fingers trace the clouds, and the brown things beside you.
Trees, some of us say. Those are trees.
We take turns putting on the wedding dress and lettermen’s jackets. Celeste, especially, looks like a real bride, like you do in the photographs you have forgotten, smiling, smiling, smiling at us wearing the lettermen’s jackets.
When we dance, our footsteps are light. You think birds are nesting on the rooftop, our footsteps their fluttering wings. Our whispers are what send you into sleep at night, what give you dreams. When you wake remembering someone you had long ago forgotten, that’s us, telling you the photographs in your old albums.
When you wake breathing heavy with fear at the creaking of the stairs, that’s us too, coming down from out of the attic.
And perhaps the sound we hear is you turning over in your bed, falling back into sleep, and perhaps it is the basement girls coming up the stairs, whispering in their basement voices, seeking us too.
Cathy Ulrich doesn’t really like attics or basements, but crawl spaces are the absolute worst. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Burnt Pine, Corium and Noble/Gas Quarterly.