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128 Oakview
Jen Girdish

My aunt and uncle bought their three bedroom, one bath Edgewood home in 1989. It is pre-WWII, circa 1930. My uncle has taken over the third-floor attic, turning the small, oblong space into a miniature reconstruction of the interstate railroad of his hometown in Appalachia, an ongoing project since 1989.

The kitchen has been restored; new molding and appliances, fireplace converted to a cookbook shelf—everything but the cupboards, half of which do not fully close. The carpet has been taken up in the dinning room, and oak planks lay in its place. If I put a marble at the north end of the room it would roll with a patient cadence to the south end due to the slight slant. The stained glass section of the south window has long ago been pushed and pulled by the wind, so that it concaves a bit. It is almost as if a giant came along and poked it.

The idea of adapting to the quirks of an old house has been essentially Pittsburgh to me. The drafts become dramatic scenery; the imperfections become trademarks; the constant construction develops into a favorite complaint and a standard for measuring progress. I don't think I ever feel quite at home as I do with the clamor of the wooden staircase or the steam radiators at 128 Oakview Avenue.

The radiator circles the guest room from the closet to the far corner from the bed. It complains with sharp moaning that passes from the corner to the closet every half hour. The muffled din from the parkway, at harmony with the wind, lulls me to sleep, only to be woken by the heater knocking from inside the closet. Sleeping in the next room, my aunt makes my uncle take the side of the bed closest to the door because she often wakes up and thinks someone is walking outside the room.

Their bathroom is rectangular and drafty; I can almost sit on the toilet and wash my hands at once. The bathtub is deep enough to have the bath water up to my chin. The drafts produce the necessity of having a space heater in the bathroom. My aunt has the heater on a timer from early October to late February so that the checker tiling is tolerable for bare feet in the morning.

From the house to the sidewalk, I pass what seem to be the most treacherous steps in southwestern Pa. Three flights of stone and slippery railings zig-zag across the front lawn, which is more accurately described as a hill. The last step before I turn onto the sidewalk is shorter than the rest. It's difficult to make out after dusk—the streetlight falls short of its path. Despite this, nothing has been done physically to alter the step; brighter lights have been added, salt is spread at any chance of snow, someone always escorts my grandmother down, but no one has thought to extend the step or to rebuild. To alter the step is to somehow alter the city.

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