The row of marble stairs rose before him, a stairway that went up and up, then disappeared in the puffs of gleaming white clouds. He stood where the stairs seemed to begin, on a carpet of soft brown soil that housed a few vibrant spouts of green grass. Those tender blades had found the sunlight, and he smiled for them, for their unyielding push towards the sun.
The stairs seemed to begin where he stood, but as he imagined his place on the green and blue sphere, he wondered if perhaps the stairs began much further away. He closed his eyes and imagined buried steps of marble, submerged in the earth, worms using the flat surface for a bed. Or perhaps the stairs continued even further, emerging on the other side of the earth, where men in purple robes stared at the same staircase, wondering if they too, could find its end.
But the words confused him. Where was the “end” and what could be the “beginning?” It was just as likely that the staircase began in the clouds…the words merely indicated the direction of the voyage, not the truth. What would be the beginning for him could be the middle for another, and the end for another man. Or maybe there was no end…it could just be a long staircase that spiraled through the earth in both directions, moving into the black space beyond the atmosphere where both ends linked.
He opened his eyes and looked. The stairs were so smooth, and not just plain white as he had originally saw them. Each step was a subtle swirl of color. Tiny lines of yellow and tan and cream and white, they all moved and tumbled on the flat surface, a painting of color. And he wanted to begin, he wanted to know how far it went and how far he could go. But the question remained, how would he begin?
Of course it seemed easy, one step at a time, a simple movement of the muscles in his legs, one after the other, up and up. But he could see it went on for miles, miles and miles, and then disappeared in the thick cover of gray and blue clouds that had formed. The clouds looked heavy and thick and held the promise of heavy rain. Maybe now was not the best time to set out climbing a slick staircase.
And there was the other matter of food. He would have to carry his provisions with him, maybe water too. How much could he possibly carry on his back? How far could he go before he lay exhausted and thirsty on the marble steps, dying from his own curiosity?
He sat there, at the foot of the steps, on the soil that felt forgiving beneath the weight of his body. He sat with his legs folded beneath him and thought of all the things he would need, of all the problems that he could envision, and he sat and thought and kept looking up to the staircase, the huge marble steps that went on as far as he could see, up and up, a beautiful spire that twisted with strength and the promise of something, something he could not hold between his tongue.
But the same thought kept emerging…where did it go? Was there an end? Or would he find a beginning? Or would he climb for years before emerging stained with soil in the same spot he now sat?
He wanted to start running up the slippery steps, but part of him held back. There was planning that needed to be mapped out, provisions and equipment to buy. But he sat and stared while his mind jumped from thought to thought. His body wanted nothing more than to move. But then he thought about his muscles, was he really prepared for such a feat? Would it be better to work out for a couple of months, to build up the strength in his body for such a climb?
He felt his body pulling, “come,” it seemed to say, “come, and let the mind follow if it wants.” But he continued to sit there, while the light of afternoon began to fade into darkness. And he closed his eyes, imagining himself on the staircase, pursuing the one thing that seemed important, and perhaps it was, and perhaps it wasn’t, but it did seem that way.
He felt a sudden chill and opened his eyes, and the staircase was gone.