The Cage Beneath the Stairs

September 1, 2010

As I walk to and from work each day, I pass through a number of outlying facilities of Oregon State University. Behind one of these old concrete buildings, underneath a red stairway, is a cage.

The cage under the stairway

I have passed by this cage for months and always wondered what sort of creature the cage was meant to hold. I have never seen it occupied. It is big enough to easily house a dog, but there is a layer of wood chips on the cage floor, which a dog wouldn’t need. The wood chips never seem to be spoiled. Also in the cage is a tub of water that is almost always full.

A closer view of the cage

One day last week as I was walking to work, I noticed that there was a giant yellow squash resting on top of the cage (see picture above). It seemed an odd place to leave a squash.

Several days came and went, and the squash remained on top of the cage. I began to look forward to the times in the morning and late afternoon when I would walk by the cage, hoping to be given some clue as to the nature of its existence and the meaning of the squash. Some days the water would be refreshed, a new layer of wood chips added, the squash resting at a slightly different angle. I found myself feeling angry if the cage and squash were exactly as I had left them the day before.

Yesterday, finally, a compulsion gripped me, and in the evening I found a spot behind a nearby cardboard recycling bin and crouched behind it, waiting and watching the cage.

It began to grow dark. The night was unusually warm. I listened to the Blue Nile on my iPod. From a late night train…reflected in the water…when all the rainy pavement…leads to you. Two college girls bicycled by in jean shorts. It had rained the day before, and I sat on the ground behind the recycling bin breathing in the faint odor of wet cardboard. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. The cigarettes, the magazines, all stacked up in the rain. Slowly, I began to be overcome by an inexplicable fear that I was rapidly growing old, that if I could look into a mirror I’d see my skin begin to loosen and sag and my hair turn white. It’s over now…I know it’s over now…but I can’t let go… I turned the music off and tried to shake the disturbing thoughts from my head.

The night had long taken on its full darkness when finally I saw a movement near the cage. The door at the top of the red stairway opened slowly, and a man emerged. He was middle-aged, with long unkempt hair and a round gut filling out a white t-shirt. He was holding a pitcher of water. I remained perfectly still as he glanced around before descending the stairs.

When he reached the cage, he unlocked the door and filled the tub inside with water from his pitcher. Then he took the squash and set it inside the cage, closed the door, and sat down on the ground. He was about twenty feet away, and I could hear him talking quietly, although a slight wind kept me from understanding the words. I got the sense that he was speaking gently to something he thought was in the cage.

He sat there for almost half an hour, and I sat behind him and watched him watch the cage. Eventually, he stood up, took the squash from the cage and put it back on top, locked the door, and climbed the stairs and entered the building. I sat for a few more minutes in case he returned, and then I rose to my feet and walked forward to examine the empty cage. Clean wood chips, fresh water, and an untouched squash resting on top.

That night, I dreamed I was walking down an alley that never came to an end. Crumbling brick walls as far as I could see. Slowly, though no desire of my own, I began walking faster. Before I knew it I was running, splashing through puddles and hurtling past garbage dumpsters, careening down a narrow and squalid path with no end in sight.

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4 Responses to “The Cage Beneath the Stairs”

  1. Jon Boisvert said

    A massive step up in quality from the weight-loss hippo, Lyndon. I like it. What made it blog-worthy, though, as opposed to submission-worthy?

  2. Robert said

    Weight-loss Hippo does not appreciate your comment, Jon Boisvert, but thank you. This is a blog entry because it was an experience I wanted to share, and also because I wanted to include the photos as corroborating evidence.

  3. nickfoxx said

    nice detective work

  4. Heather Sazama said

    I like this piece. I assume that it is a work of fiction, but the pictures……

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