It was still a basement. They could put up all the cheap imitation paneling they wanted on the walls but that didn't change what it really was. Over the weekend, his mother and Joe covered the floor with thick carpeting, but those fuzzy blue knots did little to disguise it. All the carpet did was absorb the cold from the cement floor hiding underneath. It was still the basement, only dressed nicer.
Raymond hesitated at the top of the stairs just off the kitchen. He switched the cellar light on and peered down the long, rickety stairwell. There was no light beyond the last step. When he reached bottom, he'd still have to slide his vulnerable hand around the corner into blackness, feeling along the cool paneling for the switch.
Come to Grandma
The spit in Raymond's mouth turned to dust. He teetered on the top step, thinking back to his Grandma's funeral the previous fall. Even though he overheard his mom tell Uncle Jud that he was too young then to ever recall it, she was wrong. He remembered every detail as he stared down the chilly throat of the cellar. His Grandmothers body, how it looked in the artificial wood grain casket he helped pick out. Grandma all dressed up her favorite blue, long-sleeved dress; how her skin felt under that material, especially when mother made him kiss her.
Mom had been holding him up and over the casket when his fingers accidentally scraped along Grammy's chest. It was so hard and cold, playing dress up to disguise what she really was. Playing make believe, just like the basement.
Raymond descended into the cellar. He didn't want to go down there, but mother said he had to. Basements were cement boxes under the ground, buried over with soil much like other things. He dragged his hand along the wall as he went down, allowing his fingers to soak in the coolness of it. Mom had cleaned the basement again but as he slunk down the stairwell, it still accosted him with that moldy, lemony breath. Some smells would always remain. Some odors could never be masked.
"Perfumed candles and bright flower baskets, lemon scented cleaners and shiny wood caskets." Raymond mumbled, agonizing down every step. The stairs sagged under his weight, creaking as he stepped on each one; creaked like a lid being shut, sagging stiffly like the skin piled under her neck.
Kiss 'yer Grandma
Raymond paused when he reached the last step and then slipped his hand around the corner and into the dark. Dragging his fingers across the smooth paneling he found and flicked on the master switch.
The bulb was too dim now and created an army of shadows in the room. Puddles of deeper shadows made the area around his bed look hollow and empty as if there was no floor suspending it. From where he stood, his bed floated. Mom and Joe had positioned it away from the stairs, against the far wall, and there it levitated, directly under the basement window.
Since his old room upstairs now belonged to Teddy, mother tried to cheer him up by buying new sheets for him. "He's just a baby and you're not, Ray. It's too cold for him, so be a good boy, a BIG boy and take the room downstairs."
Room downstairs? So that's what she called it now. Dress up a basement with some carpeting and cheap wood paneling and call it a room like the rest of the house. (Put a blue cotton dress on a corpse in a box and call it your Grandma.) What she really said was, "Sleep in the ground in your cold cement box like a dead thing." She was putting him away in a new place, just like she did to Grandma.
He looked at his sheets. A dozen or more race cars rushed nowhere all over the fabric. Some cars were red and some were blue, but they were still just race cars racing nowhere. There were no drivers inside of them although he wished that there were. He would hop into one of those fast cars and speed away from the basement. But Raymond knew those little prints on his sheets weren't going anywhere; they were trapped in the cellar now, frozen there on his bed. Things without drivers went nowhere, just like Grandma.
Raymond crossed the floor quickly, bare toes snagging the material that now covered cement. The pads of his feet absorbed the chill and it crept steadily up until his knees ached with every step. Nothing could keep the cold out of that cellar, not imitation wood paneling, not a fuzzy blue carpet. The cold was there to stay, much like other things.
Raymond pounced on the edge of his bed and drew his knees into his chest. He looked up at the tiny, rectangular window above him. A pile of dead leaves rustled in the dirt packed window well, licking at the glass like desiccated tongues. If there was any moonlight outside those dead things hid it well.
Let Grammy kisssss you
Mother had also put Grandma's picture on his nightstand and now, she was looking right at him. "I'll put this here so you can always have your Grammy next to you." Mom said, the day she moved him down there. Raymond glanced at the photo. Grandma was smiling, sitting upright on their mattress (his mattress now) in her favorite blue dress. The periwinkle sleeves swaddled her loose skin, which when bare, dripped off her arms like huge strips of raw bacon fat.
If that wide toothless grin she wore was intended to soothe him, it didn't. Grandma had a big empty mouth that always smelled like something rotten. "Come and kiss yer Grammy!" she'd bellow when no one was around, poised in the deep depression of the mattress and reaching out to Raymond with her flabby white arms. She'd laugh when he didn't go to her, laugh and stomp her huge rhinoceros legs on the floor. "Don't you love me boy?" She'd whine when he started crying. "Don't you love yer' Grammy?" swatting raggedy claws through the air as if catching his fear.
He had been so terrified of that gummy mouth. When she wanted to kiss him, it formed into a giant fleshy 'O' which looked wide enough to swallow his face.
Raymond gulped. Grammy's plasticine smile ogled him from the picture. But it wasn't a real smile was it? No, it was a horrible leer, the same tight-lipped grimace she was wearing the morning he woke up with her frigid arms strewn across his chest. The smile then looked sinister and empty, (like the stairwell into the basement) almost jealous, but now it looked even worse.
The light on the ceiling buzzed then grew faint. Raymond flipped the picture frame down on the nightstand so he wouldn't have to see her anymore; her memory being down there with him was torture enough.
Raymond lay back on the mattress and pulled his race car sheets up over his mouth. If he wanted to shut the light off, which he absolutely did not, he'd have to cross the room, hit the switch and then run all the way back across the dark cellar to the bed, their bed. Grammy would be waiting for him just like she used to. She'd be sitting there on the saggy side hiding under his new race car sheets. Raymond shivered. Grandma, with screamy giggles leaking out from those stitched up lips.
If he wanted to go upstairs and sleep with his mother, Joe the boyfriend, with the pock marked face and scraggly brown mullet would just make him go back down. "He's such a baby!" He'd shout. Then Joe would laugh at him, laugh and laugh and laugh.
The smell of new sheets barely filtered out the smell of his casket; the stench of lemon cleaner and hidden moldy walls and baby powder that only fat old ladies wore. His heart began to thud as the light lessened. Shadows bloomed into menacing pockets of darkness and once it got dark enough, she would come back again. She always did. Jealous old walrus still wanted her bed.
There was an outlet to the left of the oak nightstand on the other side of the room, her nightstand, the one that held all of her big dressing gowns. He remembered his Mom putting a night light in there the morning Grandma died. She refolded all of her stuff and then placed it in the top drawer right next to the old lady's panties.
Raymond scooted to the edge of the mattress, his bare feet hovering just above the carpet. The dresser was a mile away.
If her bloated arms came jiggling out from under the bed, he could run; if those jagged yellow nails sunk into his ankles, he still might be able, but if the bulb fizzled out while he was in bed then she would have him alone under the sheets like before. Only this time, she'd be dead.
The light buzzed then flickered and Raymond's feet hit the floor hard. He dashed towards the dresser, his little toes catching pieces of carpet fiber as he ran. 'Gotta get it, gotta get it now'.
The nightlight would afford him some light and even if he had to sleep on the cold floor next to the stairwell again, he would. Going upstairs was not an option. He was supposed to be a big boy and big boys weren't scared of cellars or caskets or of dead Grandma's. Raymond leapt over a ravine of shadow then crashed into the dresser just as the bulb began hissing. He flung the top drawer open. The room darkened even more.
Raymond didn't want to go sleep in Teddy's room either. He had spent all nine years of his life up there, pinned in the bed underneath his powdery, jelly-skinned Grandma.
Touching the contents of the drawer made him gag. Dead Granny things smelled like dead grannies. He dug through mountains of cold cottony nightmares, pushing at them roughly and piling them up on either side. As his hands skated through the drawer, some fluttered out, landing across the tops of his feet like deflated balloons. Raymond kicked them off. He felt around the drawer but found nothing other than tattered flaps of contact paper and the smooth wood bottom. No nightlight.
Give Grammy a hug
The buzzing grew louder. Raymond turned just as the bulb seemed to swell. An eruption of white light filled the cellar. Red and blue race cars got brighter. The window well peered into the cellar like a rotten lidless eye.
I seeeee youuuu .
The second drawer, it had to be in the second! He tugged hard on the knobs and when the drawer stuck on its track, his nerves ignited. Grandma is dead! She's dead and buried and all sewn up! She isn't down here! She can't scare me anymore!
Dear God the drawer was stuck. Raymond pulled as hard as he could, all the while trying to push the images out of his head. She was behind him in his bed right now, he just knew it. If he turned around he'd see her bulky lump sitting up on the mattress with his sheets over her head; see swollen, puckered feet, as cold and blue as the carpet, dangling over the edge of the mattress and race cars would be driving all over her rotten body. Raymond gave a sturdy enough yank just as the light extinguished with a loud pop.
Darkness; silky things slipped over his hands as he rummaged around inside the drawer. He was touching parts of her, parts that should have died along with her like thick cotton night gowns, fluffy underpants and horribly stiff compression stockings.
What a rotten little boy, touchin' my things, still sleeping in my bed still being alive.
He fished around the drawer, tears rolling down his face. The cold stabbed the undersides of his feet like needles. What did she want from him? It wasn't his fault that she died. Why was she scaring him? He helped pick a nice casket. The inside was silky soft and he even urged mother to order the extra seal in the lid to keep 'things' out. Grammy would stay dry.
Boy in my bed while I'm down here, damp and stinking of must.
Like the basement, he thought. Then something inside the drawer pressed against his palm. He snatched the nightlight out and slammed down to the floor. It had only been dark for a minute, long enough for her to get him, but she hadn't. Crying, Raymond skid the nightlight over the paneling trying to locate the outlet. Something slithered in the sheets behind him.
"Please God let me find it." It would be just enough light to get out of the cellar and safely up the stairs. Joe could call him a baby all he wanted to, but Joe didn't have to sleep in a bed with his dead Grandma.
The nightlight hit something hard on the wall. The outlet! Raymond pushed it into the socket and flipped the tiny plastic switch.
An ounce of light glowed off the wall and as he turned to run, the face pressing through the dimness stopped Raymond dead. As the mouth worked to loosen the sutures clamping those wormy lips tight, a muffled squeal leaked out. When the sutures burst, a shriveled black hole appeared; a hole large enough to swallow his face.
"Come and kissss yer Grandma " It belched.
Then it dragged him across the basement in its mouth,
back to cuddle in their damp, saggy bed.