“I remember you—Opie, right?”
Robbie winced at the nickname, then nodded. Hedges handed Leonard a slip of paper. “Be quick.”
“Thanks. I will.”
They walked to the staff elevator, the empty museum eerie and blue lit. High above them the silent aircraft seemed smaller than they had been in the past, battered and oddly toylike. Robbie noticed a crack in the Gemini VII space capsule, and strands of dust clinging to the Wright Flyer. When they reached the third floor, Leonard led them down the corridor, past the photo lab, past the staff cafeteria, past the library where the Nut Files used to be. Finally he stopped at a door near some open ductwork. He looked at the slip of paper Hedges had given him, punched a series of numbers into the lock, opened it then reached in to switch on the light. Inside was a narrow room with a metal ladder fixed to one wall.
“Where are we going?” asked Robbie.
“The roof,” said Leonard. “If we get caught, Hedges and I are screwed. Actually, we’re all screwed. So we have to make this fast.”
He tucked the cardboard box against his chest, then began to climb the ladder. Emery and Robbie followed him, to a small metal platform and another door. Leonard punched in another code and pushed it open. They stepped out into the night.
It was like being atop an ocean liner. The museum’s roof was flat, nearly a block long. Hot air blasted from huge exhaust vents, and Leonard motioned the others to move away, toward the far end of the building.
The air was cooler here, a breeze that smelled sweet and rainwashed, despite the cloudless sky. Beneath them stretched the Mall, a vast green game board, with the other museums and monuments huge game pieces, ivory and onyx and glass. The spire of the Washington Monument rose in the distance, and beyond that the glittering reaches of Roslyn and Crystal City.
“I’ve never been here,” said Robbie, stepping beside Leonard.
Emery shook his head. “Me neither.”
“I have,” said Leonard, and smiled. “Just once, with Maggie.”
Above the Capitol’s dome hung the full moon, so bright against the starless sky that Robbie could read what was printed on Leonard’s box.
“These are her ashes.” Leonard set the box down and removed the top, revealing a ziplocked bag. He opened the bag, picked up the box again, and stood. “She wanted me to scatter them here. I wanted both of you to be with me.”
He dipped his hand into the bag and withdrew a clenched fist; held the box out to Emery, who nodded silently and did the same; then turned to Robbie.
“You too,” he said.
Robbie hesitated, then put his hand into the box. What was inside felt gritty, more like sand than ash. When he looked up, he saw that Leonard had stepped forward, head thrown back so that he gazed at the moon. He drew his arm back, flung the ashes into the sky, and stooped to grab more.
Emery glanced at Robbie, and the two of them opened their hands.
Robbie watched the ashes stream from between his fingers, like a flight of tiny moths. Then he turned and gathered more, the three of them tossing handful after handful into the sky.
When the box was finally empty, Robbie straightened, breathing hard, and ran a hand across his eyes. He didn’t know if it was some trick of the moonlight or the freshening wind, but everywhere around them, everywhere he looked, the air was filled with wings.
The Devil on the Staircase
by Joe Hill
the child of a
of my birth
nested in the
ridges, high above
Positano, and in the
cold spring the clouds
crawled along the streets
like a procession of ghosts.
It was eight hundred and twenty
steps from Sulle Scale to the world
below. I know. I walked them again and
again with my father, following his tread,
from our home in the sky, and then back again.
After his death I walked them often enough alone.
from brick in some
places, granite in others.
Marble here, limestone there,
clay tiles, or beams of lumber.
When there were stairs to build my
father built them. When the steps were
washed out by spring rains it fell to him
to repair them. For years he had a donkey to
carry his stone. After it fell dead, he had me.
He had his
cats and he
sang to them
and poured them
saucers of milk and
told them foolish stories
and stroked them in his lap
and when one time I kicked one—
I do not remember why—he kicked me to
the floor and said not to touch his babies.
when I should
have been carrying
schoolbooks, but I cannot
pretend I hated him for that.
I had no use for school, hated to
study, hated to read, felt acutely the
stifling heat of the single room schoolhouse,
the only good thing in it my cousin, Lithodora, who
read to the little children, sitting on a stool with her
back erect, chin lifted high, and her white throat showing.
was as cool as
the marble altar
in our church and I
wanted to rest my brow
upon it as I had the altar.
How she read in her low steady
voice, the very voice you dream of
calling to you when you’re sick, saying
you will be healthy again and know only the
sweet fever of her body. I could’ve loved books
if I had her to read them to me, beside me in my bed.
Scale and Positano,
long flights that dropped
through canyons and descended
into tunnels bored in the limestone,
past orchards and the ruins of derelict
paper mills, past waterfalls and green pools.
I walked those stairs when I slept, in my dreams.
and I walked
most often led
past a painted red
gate, barring the way
to a crooked staircase.
I thought those steps led to
a private villa and paid the gate
no mind until the day I paused on the
way down with a load of marble and leaned
on it to rest and it swung open to my touch.
thirty or so