The Burglar Step

Friends around the dinner table, the conversation flowing like wine, or maybe it was the other way around. Someone had to go upstairs to do what can only be done upstairs in our little house. “Watch out for the burglar step!” someone called out.

“The what?” I said.

And that was the first time I ever heard about the burglar step: one step in a stairway where the riser is a bit higher or the tread a bit more narrow than all the others, presumably installed to trip up a burglar about to do what burglars are wont to do upstairs. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: an old-fashioned built-in alarm system that literally trips up an unsuspecting burglar and thwarts the best-laid plans of mouse or man or even a burglar.

But as is my wont, I began to ponder another dimension of my newly discovered burglar step. First, I had to see it for myself, and guess what: it actually does exist. One tread, one riser, slightly different from all the others in our humble-yet-steep staircase. We’ve lived in this house for ten years now, and I imagine that over that span of time, I’ve made thousands of trips up or down the staircase without once, well, tripping. (Not that kind of tripping, Eggman.) The same holds true for my wife; she’s never stumbled either. Which makes me wonder: if neither my wife nor I have ever tripped on the burglar step, why would I suppose an actual burglar would fall prey to such a quirky little trap?

And in the wake of that thought, along came another: I wondered what else—what other wondrous small details—have gone unnoticed, either in our little house or in my life, ‘lo these many years. What else is there—something so tiny and unapparent, something simply taken for granted, some architect’s folly or builder’s little joke or act of divine providence that I literally walk on every day, that I’ve failed to notice? I wasn’t particularly concerned about the fact that the burglar step on our staircase hadn’t done me in yet, let alone surprised a burglar, as I was gobsmacked about all the other little safety devices that have surely been built into the staircase of my life that I’ve failed to notice over the years. What fickle finger of fate or unseen hand has guided me over most of the pitfalls or traps that have lain in wait, ready to trip me up at the most unsuspecting of moments? We all know how life can change in a heartbeat, yet somehow, I’ve managed to make it this far without tumbling headfirst down a flight of stairs in the night or waking some brave homeowner who happens to keeps a baseball bat next to his bed, just in case…

I try to practice gratitude every day. Now that I’m aware of the burglar step in our staircase, maybe I’ll be more aware of, and grateful for, the other built-ins that have kept me (for the most part) safe through the years. Maybe I’ll try and be a bit more observant and appreciative of all the little details carpentered into the stairway of my life, especially the ones designed to keep me and mine safe and secure.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon.

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