The Dark

“Barbara, can you get a new bottle of ketchup from the basement? I’m pretty sure I have more down there.”

I gave my mother a surly glance and willed myself to my feet without a word.

The basement.

It was an unfinished basement, littered with homeless objects. Tools that rarely got used. Toys that had been outgrown. Broken things that someone was going to fix “someday.”

My mom used the shelves in the basement as overflow pantry space, given the size of her kitchen and number of mouths to feed. I tried not to think of the food down there in the musty dark. The very thought of the thick air made my throat itch and my skin crawl.

I listened to the dull thud of sole against wood as I descended the stairs. I kept my hands to myself, never sure what cobwebs I would encounter if I touched the railing or brushed against the wall. The light from the kitchen grew dim behind me with each step.

I reached the bottom of the stairs and turned the corner to face the food shelves, tugging on the string above my head to cast a warm dusty glow across cans and bottles until I had located the ketchup. I grasped the smooth plastic in my hands and tried to convince myself it wasn’t contaminated by the harsh dust and rich mildew permeating the environment.

Now for the return journey.

I reached for the string above my head once more and pulled until I felt the familiar click.


The darkness of the basement was a special kind of darkness. It seemed to penetrate my very bones and reach into my soul. My eyes could no longer detect the faint glimmer of light emanating from the stairwell and, although I knew it was still there, the fear that I was trapped gripped my heart and set it racing.

Don’t run. If you run, it will know you’re afraid.

I slowly placed one foot in front of the other, treading carefully toward the stairwell that seemed to have disappeared. I made no sudden movements so as not to disturb the darkness and risk getting swallowed whole. I knew if I ran I would feel the icy jolt of fear zip through my entire body rather than sit contained as it was in my chest for the time being.

I took a single slow, deep breath with each step until I reached the middle of the staircase. As I sensed the safety of the light fall upon the top of my head, I raced the remainder of the way up the stairs, taking them two at a time until I was once more bathed in light and the smell of dinner.

Safe until next time.

I still get that feeling now and then. That even though I’m moving forward and I’m moving up and I’m moving toward the light, I might still get swallowed up from behind by that massive darkness.

Don’t run. If you run, it will know you’re afraid.

One deep breath. One step.

Fear is an illusion.

(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.

The Milkshake

Growing up in a big family, I was used to sharing. When you are forced to constantly share, it can do two things: it can make you more generous or it can make you more sneaky.

I fell into the latter category.

The thing is, it was hard for me as an 8 year old to be sneaky at a restaurant with the milkshake I was told to share with my sister. Everyone was around the table watching, I had no way of running off with the milkshake or offering to split it “evenly” with her into another container.

I looked at the tall narrow milkshake-filled glass. It was served with whipped cream and a cherry on top. There was a straw stuck in the center as well as a spoon off to the side.

Ah, there it was. Opportunity.

I looked at the straw and the spoon and thought for a minute. I pictured taking a bite of the ice cream with the spoon and broke the action down into its various steps. First you take a scoop of ice cream. Then you lift the spoon to your mouth. You insert the small portion of ice cream into your mouth. You lower the spoon back to the ice cream. Repeat.

But what about the straw? If the ice cream was the right consistency, it would easily pass through the plastic tube in a delicious continuous stream from source to destination. No need to waste time scooping. No need to portion out small bites. Indeed, using the straw, the entire milkshake became one portion.

“Here Margaret,” I said to my unwitting younger sister, “You can use the spoon I’ll just take the straw.”

It was not until a few hours later that I discovered I was lactose intolerant. My greed was well rewarded.

(C) 2021 Barbara Gray – no content may be used or reproduced without permission of the author.