I’ve mentioned several times in this blog that my novels and short stories are fiction in name only. All of them are based on real happenings. The same is true with my most recent novel, Secretocracy. The house where the protagonist lives is a real place. Years ago, I, like my character, rented the attic of the house because it was the best I could afford. I had left a marriage but had to go on paying for my family’s home and had little money left over for food and rent for myself.
The house is in the northern peak of the District of Columbia on Holly Street that borders Rock Creek Park. When I lived there, it was already an ancient mansion four stories high (including the attic) built on a hill overlooking the park. The lowest level, a party room complete with bar, opened out onto terraces above a hillside lawn below which were trails that led into the park. When my children would come to visit, they would scamper down into the park to their favorite spot, a knoll overlooking the creek.
The floor above that was the street level. The double front door, on the street side of the house, opened into a grand foyer with a broad stairs that stretched from wall to wall leading to the vestibule with rounded staircases on both sides. Doors at that level led to the living room, dining room, lounge, and library—used as the bedroom of the couple who owned the house.
The third floor up was all bedrooms rented by single men. The top floor, the attic where I lived, had once been occupied by the house servants. Besides the living area, it offered ample storage space. Two stairways joined the attic with the rest of the house, one from the hallway on the third floor and one at the back of the house, called the servants’ stairs, that led to the kitchen on the main floor.
My living space was anything but luxurious. It had no ceiling—above me were bare rafters holding up the roof. It had three small windows, one at the back looking out at Rock Creek Park, one over the stairs on the right side, and one in the bedroom on the left. The attic was not heated or cooled. Heat rising from the lower floors kept the room above freezing in the winter, but summers were hard to get through. I depended on an electric fan to survive the heat.
My memories of the years I lived in that attic are happy, despite the lack of physical comfort. My five fellow housemates were men like me, down on their luck and barely getting by. We boosted each other and found ways to go on living.