I had to go to the old building today. My sister calls it a castle because of the brick exterior and the tower. I don't tell her it's a decommissioned school straight out of one of my nightmares. I treat the place with a healthy dose of respect because at any moment I'll have to run like I did in the dream I had so many years ago but still never forgot.
Inside, the bright cream walls, large windows, and countless lights vaporize ghostly images of cracked green paint and near zombie like teachers. A cheery blond woman behind the security desks asks me what I'm there for. I tell her I'm getting my badge, the final step to be a substitute para in the schools...my new job. I match her cheerfulness because the dream is gone like faraway smoke and I'm not late. I'm always late. I pat my pocket because my old paperback is in a ziplock bag just waiting for me to have a long wait time. She assumes I know where to go because I've been there before for orientation and fingerprinting. I don't know where to go because I never know where to go. I smile and repeat her directions in the hopes my brain will hold on to the information and I won't go wandering like the previous times.
Two steps down the hall and I'm taken back to my grandma's house. I take a deep breath, feel the emotion of going from nightmares to one of my favorite places in the world. I fight the last time I saw her house, empty, owned by people who never swing on the best porch swing ever, who let newspapers decorate the old boards in front of the door instead of bright purple and red petunias, her favorites. And I think of a character experiencing this strange smell, this old place. I decide she's 14 and pissy. Those two go together well. "What is that smell?" Not a hint of food, not a whisper of conversation. A cemetery has more life. She wonders if her grandmother saved all the cooking and visiting for the summer when her grandkids came to visit. I decide she cares about this, that she wants her grandmother to have big meals and noise even when no one else is there. She looks at the carpet and thinks hardwood floors are hiding beneath and that's the smell. "Musty? What the fuck is musty anyway?" So my protagonist has a mouth on her. I can live with that.
I reach the stairs with soft feet because my natural inclination is to stomp. These are great stomping steps. I think of the janitor at my old art school. "Robyn, you walk those stairs like you weigh 500lbs." We chatted all the time. I tiptoe now in life, sh, don't see me. I'm just passing through. I can't decide if my character will start where I am and work toward making noise.
All this passes through my mind in the few minutes it takes me to walk from my car to the old building, up three flights of stairs. I don't get to read my book at all because I'm on time. I realize as I sit on the stool in front of the camera "badge" meant picture badge. I sniffle a little and shrug. Bad pictures are cool too.