Bedtime Stories . One Man's World . The Mispronouncer . Downloads . Support
HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer


             When Daisy’s Grandma Leah died, her family was again free to visit Great Aunt Maureen in Dalcette. Because of a feud that dated to Daisy’s childhood, Grandma Leah had not only refused to interact with Maureen, but had also shunned anyone in the family who interacted with Maureen. Daisy did not know what had started the feud, but it would have been 10 years old in September. Instead, Grandma Leah took it with her into the grave.

Daisy’s parents had chosen Grandma Leah over Great Aunt Maureen even though Maureen was an objectively nicer person. Daisy’s dad couldn’t choose his aunt over his mother. Daisy understood that. But as a child, Daisy had often wished that Maureen was her grandma instead of Grandma Leah, although she had only ever expressed this wish to her older brother Keith in strict, whispered confidence. To Daisy’s knowledge, Keith had never told anyone, or if he had, it had never reached their grandma. Daisy would have known if it had reached Grandma Leah. Everyone would have, including strangers at the salon where her grandma got her hair done.

               But now, with Grandma Leah dead and buried, Daisy’s family had come to Great Aunt Maureen’s house for dinner.

It was only a short drive from Multioak, but Daisy felt like trips to Dalcette were journeys into the past. This sensation was based on some combination of the fact that her family had visited Dalcette more often when Daisy was little and the fact that Dalcette did not expand, did not renovate, did not change much at all. Most of the businesses in Dalcette’s small downtown were the same that ones that had been there in Daisy’s earliest memories, their signs faded, certainly, but never more than they had been ten, fifteen years ago.

Great Aunt Maureen’s house was on the edge of Dalcette, only a few blocks from where the corn fields began. It was a modest one-story home with white siding and a large, flat yard. There were trees here and there along the perimeter of the lawn, but none near the house, so it sat cooking in the afternoon sun, accepting the inevitable warping of its bones at the humidity’s clammy hands. Somewhere around back of the house, an air conditioner labored day and night until autumn found the motivation to clock in.

               “You’ve all gotten so tall!” said Maureen when she answered the door. She hugged Keith, then Daisy.

               “Well, the kids have,” said Daisy’s dad. “Pretty sure Priscilla and I are the same height as last time you saw us.” He chuckled.

               “No, no,” insisted Maureen. “You two have gotten taller too. All of you have. And I know you’re going to say that I’ve shrunk, but I absolutely have not, and you have all absolutely gotten taller.”

               “I hope you’re right,” said Daisy’s mom. “I always wanted to be a little taller.”

               “You’re a lot taller, Priscilla,” said Maureen as she grabbed Daisy’s mom by the shoulder. “You’ve grown the most of everyone. But come in! Come in off of the porch!”

               For Maureen’s part, she looked about how Daisy remembered her. She was a thin woman with a plump face and thick, curly, iron-gray hair. She wore the kind of old-lady pants that Daisy had never seen for sale in any store. Her blouse had paw prints printed on it, but they didn’t look like cat or dog prints. Her thick eyeglasses magnified her kindly eyes’ kindliness.

               The inside of Great Aunt Maureen’s house was also about how Daisy remembered it. Or rather, while she would not have been able to describe the inside of the house before entering it again, everything Daisy saw – the heavy green curtains, the sunken gray sofa, the photos of Great Uncle Troy arranged chronologically until shortly before his death, the dish of peanuts on the coffee table – prompted flares of recognition. The only major difference Daisy noticed was that Great Aunt Maureen’s TV had been updated, probably at the urging of her grandchildren, Daisy’s second cousins.

               “Dinner will be ready in a while,” said Maureen once she’d gotten everyone into a seat in her living room. “It’ll probably be another 45 minutes or so. I hope it isn’t an hour! Would you kids like to go down to the basement? I remember you and your cousins used to love it down there. It’s still got the dartboard, and there’s another TV and some video tapes, although you might be too old for them. And there’s a fridge with cans of pop. You can help yourself.”

               Keith and Daisy looked at each other. “A cold drink sounds good,” said Keith.

               “I have drinks up here too,” said Maureen. “But maybe you’d like not having to hang out with us old people.”

               “We came here to spend time with you, Aunt Maureen,” said Daisy’s dad.

               “Oh, they’ll see plenty of me during dinner,” said Maureen. “Kids don’t want to sit and listen to the family gossip.”

               “They’re not really kids anymore,” said Daisy’s mom. “They’re starting college this year. They’re going to be freshmen.”

               Maureen looked confused. “Both of them?”

               “I took a couple of years off after I graduated,” said Keith. Daisy admired how he was able to explain this to people over and over without any sense of embarrassment. She knew she would be embarrassed if their roles were reversed and she was going to be a college freshman at the same time and at the same school as a sibling two years younger than her. Keith’s lack of embarrassment was even more remarkable considering his stated reason for taking two years off had been his intention to “travel around helping people.” This had been a bust. His lack of practical skills or knowledge had resulted in much more traveling around and needing help.

               “Daisy does love basements,” said Daisy’s dad. “She’s always wished we’d finished ours.” Maureen’s mention of family gossip seemed to have shifted his opinion on where Daisy and Keith should spend their pre-dinner time. He probably didn’t want them to hear unflattering discussion of their grandmother.

               “I have good memories of your basement, Great Aunt Maureen,” said Daisy. “Watching cartoons down there in the summer when I was little. Playing with Christmas gifts with the cousins. Turning off the lights and playing hide-and-seek.”

               “It probably hasn’t changed one bit since you were last down there,” said Maureen.

               Daisy hoped Great Aunt Maureen was right. She wanted the basement to make her feel how it used to make her feel. She wanted to feel the basement how she used to feel it.


               At the top of the basement stairs, Daisy flipped the light switch. It took two whole seconds of flickering before the lights settled. The steps were covered in worn brown carpet stained by years of dropped snacks and shoes defiantly unshed. Reminded by the carpet of Great Aunt Maureen’s no-shoes-in-the-basement rule, Daisy kicked her sneakers off and left them in the hallway outside the basement door. Keith followed her example, then followed her down the stairs.

               The basement was inviting; the air cooled around Daisy with each step. At the bottom of the stairs, she paused to acclimate. She felt de-aged. Her usual aversion to fluorescent light did not apply in this basement. She looked at the drop ceiling, the tiles water-stained intermittently brown in patterns she had once known well. At one end of the main room was a pool table, and a cue rack hung on the wall next to it. As kids, Daisy and Keith had never used the pool cues, preferring to use their hands to roll the balls around the table, thrilled by the potential for smashed fingers, flesh bluing and blackening beneath their nails. The other end of the basement was dominated by a large box-like TV wearing a VCR like a cap. Next to the TV was a cabinet which Daisy remembered was filled with VHS tapes. Next to the cabinet was a mini fridge. Next to the fridge was a sink. An L-shaped sectional sofa was arranged so that TV-watchers could sprawl across it at a variety of angles without having their view of the screen obstructed.

               “Didn’t Great Aunt Maureen say there was a dart board down here?” asked Keith. “Where is it? All I see is the pool table.”

               “Was there a dart board down here when we were kids?” asked Daisy. “I don’t remember one.”

               “I don’t either,” said Keith. “Maybe it’s in the guest room?” He headed for the short, dark hallway between the pool table and the sofa.

               “I don’t think so,” said Daisy, but she followed her brother. Her uneasy feelings about the guest room were resurfacing. As children, she and Keith and their cousins had used the guest room only as a source for a few non-conventional hide-and-seek hiding spots. These spots were especially effective when the younger kids were the seekers because they were all at least a little scared of the guest room’s stillness, the way it felt as if no guest had ever stayed there. It had been Daisy’s dad’s cousin Rod’s room during his legendarily troubled teenage years, and each item that remained in the room – the bed, the dresser, the lamp, the book shelf, the books, the posters – retained some of Rod’s unrest.

               The guest room was at the end of the hall on the left side. The bathroom was on the right. But straight ahead, between the guest room and the bathroom, was a door that did not figure in Daisy’s basement memories.

               Keith had opened the guest room door, stepped inside, and turned on the light. “I don’t see a dart board,” he said.

               “Keith,” said Daisy. “What’s this door? A closet, right?”

               “Sure, yeah,” said Keith as he returned to the hallway. “Why? Do you think the dart board is in there?”

               “I don’t actually care about the dart board,” said Daisy. “I’m not good at darts. I don’t think it’s a fun game.”

               “Then what are we doing?” asked Keith.

               “Looking around,” said Daisy. “For nostalgia’s sake.”

               “I’m not nostalgic about the closet,” said Keith. “Let’s go watch TV or something. I’m thirsty.”

               “But do you remember this closet at all?” asked Daisy.

               “Not really,” said Keith. “I don’t know. It’s a closet.”

               “Wouldn’t one of us have hidden in here during hide-and-seek?” asked Daisy.

               “Maybe Great Aunt Maureen told us not to,” said Keith. It was not an answer to the question, it was a dismissal of the question.

               “I’m going to look inside,” said Daisy.

               “Oooo,” said Keith, waggling his fingers next to his face, doing so spookily.

               And Daisy did feel intimidated as she touched her hand to the closet door, gripped the knob, turned it. She was surprised when the door swung inward instead of outward. She was even more surprised when she saw a flight of stairs leading down into further basement darkness. There was a switch on the wall at the top of the stairs, not-exactly-but-almost like the switch at the top of the stairs leading down to the basement she was currently in. Daisy flipped the switch. Below, lights came on. The carpet on these stairs was gray, the carpet on the patch of deeper basement floor visible from where Daisy stood was mint green.

               Daisy turned to Keith. “Another basement?” she asked.

               “A sub-basement,” said Keith. “Should we go down?”

               Daisy didn’t say anything, she just went down.


               The sub-basement had a lot in common with the basement. The structural layout was the same, but it was furnished and decorated differently, though not drastically so. The big change was the absence of a pool table and the presence of a dart board.

               “There it is,” said Keith, pointing at the dart board.

               Daisy walked to the TV. This one was set into a low entertainment center with built-in drawers. Daisy opened one of the drawers and saw that it was filled with VHS tapes. She turned to survey the basement seating options: an old recliner, an old love seat, a futon. And the sub-basement had wood-paneled walls. Had the basement had wood-paneled walls? Either the one they’d just come from or the one from their childhood?

               “Keith,” said Daisy. “Is this the basement we used to play in?”

               Keith looked at his feet as if the extent to which the carpet nap encroached around the edges of his socks would answer the question. “I think so,” he said.

               “But what about the pool table?” asked Daisy. “Didn’t we used to play with the pool table? Didn’t we used to roll the balls around with our hands and get our fingers smashed?”

               “Maybe that was somewhere else,” said Keith. “Maybe that was in Grandma’s basement. Didn’t we play darts here?”

               Daisy crossed the room to stand facing the dart board from ten feet away. It did feel right, standing right here, facing this dart board like this, standing on this carpet in this quality of light. “We did play darts,” said Daisy. “Didn’t we? It is a fun game. Isn’t it?”

               Keith nodded, shrugged, headed for the mini fridge as if answering a summons.

               “This is the basement we remember,” said Daisy. “This is Great Aunt Maureen’s basement.”

               “Sub-basement,” said Keith. He opened the door of the mini fridge and selected a can of pop, cracking it open, slurping it.

               “But that’s why we didn’t remember the other door,” said Daisy. “The one between the guest room and the bathroom. Because we were in the wrong basement.”

               “Are you sure this one doesn’t have a door there?” asked Keith. He picked up the TV remote and flopped down on the love seat, which made a sound that suggested Keith’s flop had inflicted structural damage, or structural strain, at least.

               “It doesn’t,” said Daisy. “I remember this basement. There’s no door there.”

               Keith flipped channels. “You must not remember this basement that well if you don’t remember having to pass through another basement to get to it.”

               “Do you remember that?” asked Daisy.

               “No,” said Keith. “But I’m not the one claiming to remember that there’s no third door in the hallway.”

               “Come on,” said Daisy. “I’ll prove it to you.”

               “I just got settled here,” said Keith. “Why do I need to get up? Just take three steps to your right and look down the hall.”

               “I want you to see it too,” said Daisy. “So you can’t accuse me of making it up.”

               “First tell me what you see,” said Keith. “Then I’ll decide if I believe you or not.”

               “What if it’s too dark in the hall for me to see from here?” asked Daisy, fully aware of how pathetic her own excuse-making sounded.

               “You can turn on the hall light,” said Keith. His finger hesitated on the TV remote so he could watch a slow-motion replay of a punch thrown in the stands at a baseball game from the previous night.

               “Maybe we should go see if dinner’s ready,” said Daisy. She was so embarrassed by this utterance that she looked at the floor, walked to the hall, felt for the light switch, and turned it on. Then she looked up. At the end of the hall was a door exactly where she had hoped there would not be. It was not the same kind of door as its counterpart in the higher basement, but it was similar.

               From the main room, Daisy heard Keith compulsively adjusting the TV volume, up then down then up then muted when he encountered an annoying commercial beyond his capacity for tolerance. Daisy would not call Keith yet. She would check the door. Why call him if this one was a simple closet? But then she thought about how she would feel if she tried the knob and the door swung open to reveal another flight of stairs leading down to another basement. She thought about how she would feel if she had to face that new flight of stairs alone.

               “Keith!” called Daisy. “There’s another door.”

               Keith left the TV on, but brought his can of pop with him. He looked a little more freaked out than he sounded when he said, “Did you look inside yet?”

               “No,” said Daisy. “Will you open it?”

               Keith hesitated. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ll open it.”

               “What if it’s another basement?” asked Daisy.

               “A sub-sub-basement?” asked Keith.

               “Yes,” said Daisy.

               “We won’t have to go down into it,” said Keith. “We can just stay here where we’re comfortable.”

               “OK,” said Daisy. “That sounds good.”

               Keith turned the door knob and pushed. The door did not open. “It opens out,” said Keith, his smile no doubt more relieved than he knew. Daisy stepped back, Keith turned the knob and pulled, and the door swung open to reveal the top few steps of a flight of stairs leading downward into darkness.

               Daisy and Keith took a moment to contemplate this yet deeper darkness. Not a darker darkness – not necessarily – but deeper as in physically deeper in the earth, lower, farther down.

               “Should I turn on the light?” asked Keith.

               “No,” said Daisy, then a handful of silent moments passed.

               Then Keith turned on the light.

               The carpet on the stairs and on the basement floor at the bottom of the stairs was a uniform gray, newer and cleaner than the carpet in either of the preceding basements.

               “I remember when she got this carpet,” said Daisy. “It was right before the last time we visited. Right before whatever happened between her and Grandma. Remember, Keith?”

               “Yes,” said Keith. “Now that you mention it, I do.” He took three steps down the stairs, then turned to look back at Daisy. “You coming?”

               Daisy nodded. “Hey,” she said on the way down. “These stairs have a handrail. Great Aunt Maureen’s stairs always had a handrail, right?”

               “I definitely think that’s possible,” said Keith. When he got to the bottom of the stairs he said, “Daisy, you’re not going to believe this.”

               “What?” she asked, hurrying down the remaining steps.

               “Look,” said Keith, using both hands to point in two directions. “A pool table and a dart board.”

               “Aha!” said Daisy. “We’ve solved it! Now we’re in the right basement.” She turned to observe the TV, its accompanying seating options, and the mini fridge. They all looked right, or almost right, but any “almost” could be chalked up to the vagaries of memory.

               “There’s no sink, though,” said Keith. “There wasn’t one in the sub-basement either. Only in the basement. The first basement.”

               “The sink isn’t important,” said Daisy.

               Keith nodded. “Agreed,” he said. “Just as long as there’s not another basement door.”

               “Oh, Keith,” said Daisy, clutching her brother’s arm. “Why do we have to look? I don’t need to use the bathroom. I don’t like the guest room anyway. There’s no reason to go into the hallway. This is the basement we were looking for. We’re sure of that. So there won’t be a door there anyway. Not even a closet door.”

               “But we thought the last two basements were right,” said Keith. “The basement and the sub-basement. They felt right, didn’t they? But we were wrong both times. Maybe we’re wrong again?”

               Daisy didn’t want to say so, but she felt that this attitude probably played a big role in Keith’s lack of success as a guy who spends two years trying to “travel around helping people.”

               “You were the one who insisted on looking for a door last time,” said Keith.

               “I was looking to make sure it wasn’t there,” said Daisy. “And now look what happened. I learned my lesson.”

               “I’m going to look,” said Keith. “Otherwise I won’t be able to enjoy this sub-sub-basement. I’ll just keep wondering if there’s a sub-sub-sub-basement.”

               “Please don’t,” said Daisy, but it was too late. Keith was already striding to the hallway, turning on the light.

               “There’s a door,” called Keith. “Right where the others were.”

               Daisy’s heart sagged in her chest. She wanted to tell Keith to pay the door no attention, but she knew it wouldn’t do any good. By the time she’d arrived at the near end of the hallway, Keith had opened the door at the far end and was part way down another newly revealed flight of stairs. Only his head and shoulders were visible above the lip of the top step as he turned to wave Daisy forward.

               “I’m staying here,” said Daisy. “Dinner will be ready soon. How will we hear them call us up if we go farther down?”

               Keith scoffed, then disappeared.

               Daisy walked back to the foot of the stairs leading up to the sub-basement from which she’d just come. She mounted one step, then another, and stopped. She looked up at the door standing open at the top of the stairs, the light from the hall mingling with the stairway light, the strip of white drop ceiling tile. She was afraid of following Keith to the next basement down, but returning on her own to basements now rendered unsatisfying by the revelation of further basements did not appeal to her either. And going down was always easier than going up. Less taxing, less tiring. Because of gravity. Of course, the farther down they went, the farther they would eventually have to go back up. Going farther did not simply delay the return ascent, it lengthened it too, intensified it.

               “Daisy!” Keith’s voice was distant. “Daisy, there’s a ping pong table!”

               Ping pong! Daisy’s dad called it “table tennis,” a trait inherited by neither of his offspring. She remembered playing ping pong with Keith and their cousins, three kids on each side of the table, accidentally whacking teammates with their paddles as often as the errant ball. Daisy pivoted on the second-to-bottom step, stepped down to the bottom step, stepped down to the sub-sub-basement floor, and directed her steps toward the sub-sub-sub-basement door.


               But the sub-sub-sub-basement was not the ultimate destination. It was not what Daisy and Keith sought. The ping pong table, the lighter wood paneling on the walls, the reappearance of a sink, the largest TV thus far: these were not enough to keep Daisy and Keith. Daisy barely had time to notice them before Keith and, admittedly, something within herself urged her to the next basement door, through it, and down.

               This next basement – the sub-sub-sub-sub-basement – was a notable departure from the pattern set by the basements above. For one thing, the TV area and the recreation area had flipped locations. Each was now on the wrong side. Furthermore, the recreation area featured a foosball table, which figured in exactly none of Daisy or Keith’s memories of a basement in which they’d ever spent regular time. Even furthermore, the TV was hooked up to a DVD player instead of a VCR. This detail struck Daisy as especially wrong.

               Keith checked the mini fridge. It was filled with cans of diet pop.

               “I guess this is the end,” said Daisy.

               “The end?” asked Keith. He walked to the hall and turned on the light. “No, look, there’s another door.”

               “The end for us, I mean,” said Daisy. “The TV is on the wrong side, plus it’s got a DVD player. Diet pop. Look at the lights on the ceiling. Not even fluorescent bulbs. They’re the other kind.”

               “Incandescent,” said Keith.

               “Yeah, exactly,” said Daisy. “It seems like whichever basement we knew from when we were kids was one of the ones we’ve already been through. Or maybe it was all of them, or pieces of all of them.”

               “A composite,” said Keith.

               “Exactly, yeah,” said Daisy. “But this one’s all wrong. They’re probably just going to get worse and worse from here on. More and more different.”

               “Who’s to say that’s worse, though?” asked Keith. “Maybe we’re realizing that the basement experience we’re used to – the basement experience we’re searching for – doesn’t exist. And maybe that means we should be open to new basement experiences. Better basements.”

               “But I like basements because they make me feel secure,” said Daisy. “They remind me of being a kid, and I felt secure when I was a kid. Basements protect you from tornados. They’re well insulated. You’re down below all your problems, moving around beneath the surface where they can’t find you. And you can always sleep soundly in basements because they can be dark at any time of day. You can take a nap in a basement even if you aren’t tired.”

               “Those things are nice,” said Keith. “You know I love a mini fridge full of pop and no one to monitor how many I’ve had. But what if that’s a narrow idea of what a basement can be, Daisy? We’re going to college soon. Shouldn’t we be open to different basement ideas?”

               Daisy did not want to be out-colleged by her brother just because he was two years older than her. They were both going to be college freshmen and the age gap did not mean Keith was going to be more ready for the next stage of their lives than Daisy was. “I’ll go a little bit farther,” said Daisy. “Out of curiosity. But there can’t be many more, right? It doesn’t seem possible to go much deeper.”

               “Maybe, maybe not,” said Keith. “The government has underground facilities that go down for miles.”

               Daisy didn’t know if this was true, but she doubted the suitability of a comparison between Great Aunt Maureen’s house and a secret underground government facility.


               The next basement – Daisy had finally lost track of how many “sub” prefixes were needed – was indeed more divergent from Daisy’s idealized vision for Great Aunt Maureen’s basement than the one before. The hallway was in the far corner instead of leading back from the midpoint of the main room. The floor was tiled instead of carpeted. The ceiling was not a drop ceiling, it was textured drywall. The portion of the room that should have been reserved for recreation had been converted into some kind of amateur art studio.

               Daisy checked the mini fridge on Keith’s behalf. “Bottled water,” she announced.

               Keith made a sour face before remembering that he was supposed to be seeking and accepting different kinds of basement experiences. “Hmm,” he said, strolling around the basement and noting variations, nodding open-mindedly.

               Daisy couldn’t muster interest in this basement. It wasn’t enough like the basement her heart desired to comfort her, but it wasn’t different enough to stimulate her. It was a nice, normal basement in an abstract sense; the kind of basement in which boys she didn’t know might play video games of which she’d never heard, the kind of basement in which girls she didn’t know might tell ghost stories that Daisy would not believe if she ever heard them, which she wouldn’t. Daisy caught Keith’s eye. “Down?”

               “Down,” he nodded.

               Neither expressed any doubt that the door leading to the next basement would be there, and it was.

               Daisy wanted to reclaim some share of the leadership in this venture, as much as she could. It was she who opened the door, and she who padded in stocking feet down into a basement that, again, did not do much for her.

               Close on her heels, Keith continued his attempts to glean something of value from these basements, but Daisy felt it was mostly for show, a performance of intellectual curiosity. Well, she would not participate. She would not feign interest in any basement that did not genuinely interest her. Daisy did not hesitate to make straight for the hall and the next basement door.


In the next basement, the hall had only one door, and it was at the far end on the left: the guest room door. That was it. No door leading to a lower basement, not even a bathroom door.

               “Keith!” shouted Daisy, her hand still resting on the light switch as she contemplated the mutant hall from the near end. “This is the last one. It’s over.”

               Keith checked the door situation from over Daisy’s shoulder, then backed out of the hall and looked around. “There,” he said. “It’s in a different spot.” He pointed to a door just to the left of an entertainment center bearing two TVs, one of which looked broken. He crossed the room and opened it. “The bathroom’s here,” he said, wrinkling his nose as he turned and noted its proximity to a collection of mismatched chairs arranged in a horseshoe shape around the televisions.

               “So that’s it,” said Daisy. She was surprised to discover that a part of her was disappointed that the basements had never strayed from within a certain modest range of possibility. Now that they had reached the end of the line, where were the mind-expanding, consciousness-altering basements? Where were the disturbing basements? Where the basements that were catalysts for personal change, for personal growth?

               “What if the guest room door is the next basement door?” asked Keith. “We should check, don’t you think?”

               Daisy furrowed her brow, pulling the strands of her thoughts together into a loose bundle. “Shouldn’t we eat?”

               “Eat what?” asked Keith.

               “Isn’t there a…meal?” asked Daisy. She looked in the direction of the upward-leading staircase. From the angle from which she viewed it, Daisy could only see the bottom step.

               “There could be a meal down, too,” said Keith. “Some basements have kitchenettes. Even full kitchens, sometimes. Snack pantries. Deep freezes with popsicles in them.”

               “Popsicles aren’t a meal,” said Daisy. “But they do sound good. Since it’s such a…a hot…uh…”

               Keith nodded. “It must be,” he said. “The air conditioning is on.” He led the way down the hall to the guest room door, if that’s what it actually was.

               As Daisy trailed after her brother, she thought about temperature. Would the basements’ air conditioning hold out as they got closer and closer to the molten core of the Earth, closer to Hell? Which Daisy knew wasn’t actually underground, although it was a difficult impression to shake, reinforced as it was by a lot of those old cartoons Great Aunt Maureen had recorded on the VHS tapes scattered throughout the whole basement chain. Or were they? It had been a few basements since Daisy had perused the tape options.

               When Daisy got to the guest room door, Keith had already opened it and entered, had already confirmed that it was a guest room. It was such a guest room, in fact, that it had a guest. There, lying on the bed with his head propped on a double stack of pillows, with his boots and grimy cap still on in addition to the rest of his clothes, was Great Uncle Troy.

               “Hey, kids,” said Troy, scooting himself into a marginally more upright position. “Maureen didn’t tell me you were coming. Boy oh boy, you’ve both gotten tall. I bet your parents have too!”

               Daisy did not realize how disordered her thinking had become until she felt her brain scrambling back into formation at the sight of Great Uncle Troy. Who she’d thought was dead. Whose funeral she’d gone to. “We thought you were dead,” said Daisy. “We went to your funeral.”

               Keith blinked at Troy, then at Daisy. One blink a piece. “So there’s no more doors? This is the last basement?”

               “Not sure,” said Troy. “I’m just resting here until dinner.” As casually as he said it, the words pierced Daisy’s stomach like a lance.

               Keith began to make his way around the perimeter of the room, feeling for seams in the walls. Daisy noticed for the first time that the guest room was not decorated like her dad’s cousin Rod’s room. It was a typical guest room, bland and clean except for the dirt that Great Uncle Troy’s boots had tracked onto the bedspread.

               “Didn’t you die?” asked Daisy.

               “Die?” asked Troy. “How would I die? Other than starvation if Maureen doesn’t call me for dinner soon! Have you heard that joke? The one that’s like ‘you can call me anything except late for dinner?’ Well, how about this one: ‘you can call me anything except never for dinner.’ Because we are far past ‘late’ at this point.”

               “Our parents told us you died,” said Daisy. “They said you were driving and you noticed your boots were untied, so you pulled over to the shoulder so you could get out and tie your laces, and while you were crouched down tying them, a truck hit you and killed you.”

               Troy shook his head and pointed at his boots. “Do those look untied to you?”

               Daisy looked at the boots. She could see the black leather flexing as Troy wriggled his toes inside. “No,” she finally said.

               Keith had opened the closet, which was empty but for a few hangers, and was inside on his hands and knees.

               Daisy thought about burial, underground crypts, Great Uncle Troy’s closed casket at the funeral parlor, the casket being lowered into the ground at the cemetery as Great Aunt Maureen cried and Grandma Leah did not. Somewhere above, in a house on the surface, Daisy’s parents and her great aunt exchanged secrets, alluded to the interred and entombed in hushed tones without turning a single spade of earth. They declined to descend. “Great Uncle Troy,” said Daisy. “Does Great Aunt Maureen know you’re down here?”

               “Of course,” said Troy. “Unless she’s forgotten about me.” He chuckled at the improbability.

               “What if you’re so far down that you can’t hear her?” asked Daisy. “What if she called you to dinner over and over and you never heard her because there’s too many basements between you?”

               Troy did not seem concerned. “Those basements don’t count,” he said. “I’ll hear her. If she ever calls me!” He grinned.

               “Keith,” said Daisy, turning toward the closet. “What if we didn’t hear her call us?”

               The only response was a tearing sound from within the closet.

               “What are you doing in there?” asked Daisy.

               “It’s under the carpet,” said Keith, panting from relatively minor exertion. If ripping up carpet could wear him out, was he even ready for a trek back up all those stairs? He turned and flashed a grin at Daisy eerily similar to Great Uncle Troy’s. “The door is under the carpet, Daisy!”

               “The door to the next basement?” asked Daisy.

               “Yes,” said Keith. “The door to the sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-”

               “Now, don’t get caught up in all that,” said Troy. “That’s a fool’s errand. At the end of the day, they’re all basements. That’s what matters.”

               Keith resumed his carpet-ripping until he’d cleared it all away from the door in the closet floor.

               “It’s more of a hatch,” said Daisy.

               “Semantics,” said Keith. “It leads to the next basement down. That’s what matters.”

               “Don’t go, Keith,” said Daisy. “We’re supposed to start college in a month. We’re supposed to start it together. How many siblings two years apart have that opportunity?”

               Keith opened the hatch. He reached down inside, fumbled around, and clicked something. Up through the hatch came a beam of classic basement light, pure and perfect. Keith sat at the edge and let his legs dangle, his heels bumping against the rungs of a ladder which was entirely wood-paneled, somehow. Tears formed in Keith’s eyes. “How could I choose college over this?” he asked. “Daisy, we’ve only been in the antechamber so far. In the entryway. The foyer. This door is the opening to the true basement realm. Imagine, Daisy, a series of basements linked by organizing principles, mystical ratios, conceived and calculated and constructed. Connected by more than stairs or ladders or even elevators, spiritually connected. Imagine each successive basement as the TVs get larger and the fridges get smaller. Basements with planet-sized TVs and microscopic fridges.”

               “You aren’t equipped to handle this,” said Daisy. “Dad and Mom didn’t raise you with the necessary skills. It’s going to be just like before, Keith. You’re going to get stuck. Who knows how long it’ll take you to get back? And then how old of a freshman will you be?”

               Keith scoffed. “I won’t need to know about oil changes in the basements beneath basements, Daisy. I won’t need to know how credit cards work. I won’t need to know which food expiration dates you need to worry about and which you don’t.”

               “Did you hear that?” asked Daisy. She cocked her ear toward the guest room door. “Do you hear that?”

               “Hear what?” asked Troy.

               “Great Aunt Maureen’s calling us for dinner,” said Daisy. She almost believed it herself.

               “Boy oh boy,” said Troy, hopping off of the bed and lifting his cap to smooth his hair with one hand. “It’s about time!”

               “I don’t need food,” said Keith, and he sank through the hatch rung by rung until only his aura of staggering naiveté remained. He did not close the door – the hatch, whatever – behind him, but Daisy would not let herself look through it.

               Instead, she took Great Uncle Troy by the elbow and said, “It’s a long way, but I’ll help you. Some of the stairs have handrails. And we can take breaks on the way as long as we don’t get too settled.”

               “I’ll be fine,” said Troy. “But help me remember to turn all the lights off on the way up.”

               “Shouldn’t we leave them on for Keith?” asked Daisy. “For when he decides to come back?”

               “Nah,” said Troy. “Where he’s at, the basements are probably built to code.”

               “What do you mean?” asked Daisy.

               “I mean they’ve got egress windows,” said Troy. “That way they can count the basement bedrooms when it’s time to sell. These old basements like this one are death traps. One way in, one way out.”

               “But I always felt so secure in Great Aunt Maureen’s basement,” said Daisy. “In your basement.”

               “Well, you were a little kid,” said Troy. He walked to the closet on stiff legs and closed the hatch. Then he led Daisy out of the guest room, turned off the light, and closed the door. “You didn’t know any better.” 

Discussion Questions

  • Does the garden level of the 2-story apartment I lived in during my last year in Chicago count as a basement? Whatever your judgment, explain the criteria on which it was based.

  • Give an example of reverence for basements (or for one particular basement) going too far.

  • Make a case for the unfinished basement.

  • Do you believe that we are currently living through the decline of the American basement? Why or why not?

  • What’s the most important experience you ever had in a basement? What’s the least important experience you ever had in a basement that is somehow still memorable because it occurred in a basement?

  • Rank your top 5 most influential basements.