On a highway called A1A, the one you’ve heard about in Jimmy Buffet songs, that ribbon of road that hugs the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast, somewhere between Little Torch Key and Key West, in that 24 mile stretch of road, there is a stairway that climbs into sky.
I remember that stairway, emerging into open air, from open wooden walls, sand brown, by the water’s blue-green edge. As you came over a bridge headed west, there it was on the left bank – a stairway to heaven. I don’t know if there were other houses around, or if it was really alone there. It stands alone in my memory. A house with a stairway through its middle, but without a roof or second story walls to cage it. Had the house been destroyed by a hurricane, or had the construction crew from Key West gotten drunk and stopped working on it ten years ago? There was no soot, it did not burn, I remember that.
We drove over the bridge, my parents and I, on our way to brunch, and the morning sun behind us shone peach on the house walls. The stairwell, with its two by four banisters, glowed apricot with turquoise Gulf of Mexico water in front of it, a wisp of white clouds behind it, and the sky a deep blue in the pre-noon slant of light.
I wanted to climb that stair, to start at the bottom, enclosed by walls where no one could see, then wind my way up, where the walls dropped away, and I emerged into sunlight. I’d look out over the moppy heads of palm trees, listen to coconuts drop, lean against the banister and look for shadows in the water – a sea turtle, or a manta ray, or a manatee beneath the surface. The sun would warm my crown, and my arm hairs would glisten gold, and I would smell salt and sea.
At night, the air would be different. Cooler. The glare, the heat, the intensity of sun and sizzle would soften, and there would be a scent of sweet floral beneath warmth rising from sand. Music would drift from a nearby rooftop. Wavelets would lap gently at the shore.
At night, I would turn my eyes upward into the sky instead of down into the sea, and I’d climb the stairs into the stars.