054. The Cellar. Paul Iasevoli

The stairs to the cellar of our farmhouse are crooked and uneven. They lead to the  bowels of water pipes, gas lines, and sewer traps expelling nauseating fumes. Nothing good could emerge from those depths underground.

Underground is a place my mother calls Hell. A place our priest says burns hot. But our cellar is cool on summer afternoons. So cool, in fact, I go there to pick at salt crystals oozing through the cinder blocks and imagine they’re ice.

So cool, I sit there on winter days and let my breath congeal into a fog and visualize a sleigh ride through the snow, or a Polar bear, or the Christ child asleep on a mound of lamb’s wool—such are my boyhood dreams.

Dreams of joy, next to nightmares of beatings with a belt—swearing I didn’t intentionally break the bean stalks so I wouldn’t have to climb a ladder to pick them through July.

Swearing I didn’t play with my mother’s sewing machine to try my hand at a girl’s craft.

Giving an oath, between cracks of leather across my back, that I would never again try on my sister’s lipstick, but act like the man I was intended to be.

But all my promises make no difference to the man striking the strap across my back. And my anguished pleas for mercy make no difference as the cellar door locks.


Sunrise. Is it sunrise? In the cellar there’s no day, no night—only twilight.

There must be a way out.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I spy a pile of twigs and recall a school experiment. A day our science teacher brought our class outside to collect sticks to build a fire.

Yes, sticks to rub together to make fire.

I select the two driest of the twigs and rub them together fast and hard…faster…harder—until a puff of smoke wiggles out between them. A spark, then an orange glint in the wood. I puff. The smoke nearly chokes me, but soon a flame shoots up red and glowing. I hold it to the floor beam above my head. Scents of burning creosote and belt leather fill my nostrils. Heat singes my face and eyes, and I let myself drift into deoxygenated space.

14 thoughts on “054. The Cellar. Paul Iasevoli

  1. I love the telling details of the steps being crooked and uneven. Does he consider his family that way or himself? Perhaps both. I also enjoyed the visual of the salt crystals, little bits of beauty interspersed with the scent of leather and the consuming darkness. Great piece, Paul!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice parallelism between the line at the beginning about how nothing good could emerge from the depths underground to the line at the end about drifting in the deoxygenated space. Our main character perishes and so he could never emerge. And then the lines about Hell and ending with fire. Clever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also picked up on the words describing how nothing good could emerge… I inferred it meant an esteem issue of the boy, because he had been told he was no good… and he knew he would never emerge.

      This piece is short but powerful. I was reminded of Alan Turing’s story… He died because he was persecuted for being different than society demanded, committing suicide after years of government-required shock therapy, etc ordered to ‘fix’ his gayness.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love how you packed so much into so few words – emotions, family background, imagery! That is one tight little story! Every word has a purpose and you convey so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A poignant story of a boy dealing with his family’s refusal to accept that he is different, like the crooked and uneven stairs leading to the basement. Great details–mother’s sewing machine, sister’s lipstick, leather across the back–and great compression.

    Liked by 1 person

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