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Book I: Thumper
Chapter Five: Rain On Glass
Reprinted from the South Shore Puzzle Journal,
No. 60, March 2011
I stay awake all night until the birds start singing. Suddenly I find myself in a storybook-colored Little Black Sambo jungle, being chased up a banana tree by four gigantic. golden tigers. They chase each other around and around the tree, inches below my toes, faster and faster, yowling and growling. The problem is they're not melting into pools of butter like they're supposed to. The yowling is what scares me most, what wakes me up. I can still hear it. It's just Blackie on the back porch wanting to get down cellar.|
I shuffle across the kitchen floor to the screen door. On the other side, Blackie's pacing black and forth at the cellar door like a panther. She looks different.
"Thumper," yells Gram from the cellar. "Don't let the cat down cellar! I'm busy down here and I don't want her in my way. Or you either."
Clowny and I begin our daily inspection. White lace curtains have replaced the blackout shades.
We pass the sewing room, where Gram sleeps. A giant pincushion, made by Gram to look like a bloated strawberry, squats like a prickly red toad on a hand-made (by Gram) lace doily centered upon the dresser.
Next is the seldom-used living room. Two chairs and a sofa, all with doilies pinned to their backs and arms, surround a brown and yellow braided rug. My bronzed baby shoes are on display on a shelf above the radio, which is even bigger than the radio in my room.
We wait quietly in the doorway of my parents' darkened bedroom, watching my mother's sleeping form long enough to be sure her shoulder still rises and falls. Tiptoeing back down the hall, we pass through the sunny dining room - now full of doilied furniture - and arrive at the room-within-a-room, the Butler's Pantry.
Hopping up the two stairs and through the screen door - there, says my father, to keep flies off the food as it sat waiting to be served - we inspect the sentinels. They still stand guard, ever vigilant, strategically concealed in shadowy niches, shelves and cupboards, exactly where they sere stationed. Other than these sentries, and the lonely rock in the potato bin pretending to be a lonely potato, there are only a few old pots and pans in the pantry's many compartments. I like it here, invisible in milky light through whitewashed windows. I used to hide here from my father, but it soon became the first place he looked. I have a better hiding place now. Donna showed it to me.
Remember when we were playing hide and seek and you never found me?" she asked me with that serious little smile.
"C'mon," she whispered, taking my hand. "I'll show you." She crawled into a small opening in the corner of the hedgerow. I had once hidden there but had been quickly discovered. But then she squirmed between two thick stalks into the thicket's deepest heart, and disappeared. Following, I found myself in a dark clearing, barely big enough for two seven-year-olds to huddle together in. She held onto my arm and we quietly snickered. My mother called my name over and over. My father came within five feet and never saw us.
The Butler's Pantry is a dumb place to hide anyway, because there's no way out.
Or is there? I wonder if I could fit down that laundry chute.
I open it and peer down into the cellar at the top of Gram's balding head and stooped shoulders as she kneels over the washtub on the cellar floor. But she's not scrubbing anything - her wood-and-corrugated glass washboard lies nearby, next to the hose and a cardboard box. She appears to be doing nothing, hunched over the washtub, motionless.
"Hi, Gram," I say. "What are you doing?"
She jumps, looks around the cellar and then up at me. "You scared the BeJesus out of me!" she says. "You almost gave me a heart attack." Her hands, submerged in the half-filled tub, are holding two very small rag-like things, one black and one gray.
"What are you doing? What are those things?"
She tosses the two limp little rag-things into the box, wipes her hands on her embroidered apron and sighs. "Blackie had babies last night," she says. "We can't keep them, nobody else wants them, and we can't just let them go. That would be cruel."
"So what are you doing?" I repeat, hoping I don't understand.
"You weren't supposed to see this but you'll have to learn some time," she says, reaching into the box and lifting out a squirming newborn kitten. It's high-pitched meowing is almost too soft to hear. "This is the last one," she says, her jaw grimly set. She lowers it into the water.
"No!" I yell, grabbing Clowny, racing through the kitchen and down the cellar stairs, just in time to see Gram lift the lifeless little thing from the washtub and toss it into the box with a "plop." Horrified, I run back up to my room, but realize I don't want to be in this house at all. I run outside again, slamming the screen door behind me as hard as I can.
Curled up in the secret hiding place, I hold Clowny close and softly cry. That "plop" keeps echoing in my mind - the sound a small wet rag that once was a kitten makes as it reunites with its wet rag brothers and sisters. How is setting them free crueler than that?
Gram's voice calls, "Thumper!" She's standing on the sidewalk, so close I could poke her with a stick. "Thumper!" I breathe very quietly, not moving at all. She gives up and goes back inside.
I don't know how long I've been curled up in here, but the sky has turned gray and I can smell rain coming. My father's truck pulls up. He trots into the house and almost immediately comes back out with the cardboard box. He steps into the truck with it and drives away.
Spot by spot, a light rain begins to darken the sidewalk. It patters on shiny leaves above and softly hisses all around, but I am snug and dry. I fall asleep.
A raindrop falls right into my ear. Sitting up, I feel two more drops, then four more, then ten. The ground is getting wet. By stomach is growling loudly enough to be heard over the rain, which suddenly gets even harder. The shiny green canopy finally lets its burden drop at once, turning the ground to mud and soaking me to the skin. Shivering, I pull myself out of the bushes and run inside.
My mother and grandmother are silently seated at the kichen table.
"Come here. Where have you been?" asks my mother, drying me off with a towel she happens to have on her lep.
"Hiding," I reply, wondering where my father has taken the dead kittens but unwilling to talk about it.
"Where were you hiding?" prods my grandmother, snickering and winking at my mother.
Ignoring her, I say to my mother, "I'm hungry. Can I listen to the radio while I eat?"
My mother rises to prepare my oatmeal and toast while I put on dry clothes, set up the TV table and turn on the radio. It's Helen Trent, my mother's favorite show. That means I'm eating breakfast at lunchtime. I don't care for Helen Trent, but I'm not really listening anyway. I just don't want to talk to anyone.
My father comes home a few minutes after the radio has been turned off and the table has been folded up and leaned against the wall behind the door. I'm sitting on the esge of the bed watching two raindrops race down the windowpane. They suddenly merge into one, ruining the race.
Reflected in the window, my mother and father appear in the doorway behind me. The only sound is rain on glass. I speak first.
"Where did you take the . . . kittens?" I ask, almost choking.
"What do you mean?" my father says. "Gram buried the kittens."
"I saw you take the box out to the truck and drive away."
"That wasn't the kittens, Thumper. That was Blackie. Gram buried the kittens."
"Where did you take Blackie?"
"To the vet. I thought you knew," he says, looking at Mom with hands raised.
"He was 'hiding' all morning," she explains.
"What happened was, she tried to come into the house as you were running out, and you - and the door slammed on her and broke her hip."
Trying not to cry, I say, "I didn't mean to do it! I didn't even see her! I didn't know . . ." But the tears come anyway, pouring down my cheeks like rain on glass. "Is she gonna be all right?"
His reflection shakes its head in the window. "I'm sorry, Thumper," he says. "There was nothing he could do. He had to put her to sleep. I'm sorry, but don't blame yourself. It wasn't your fault."
But it was.
Copyright by Stephen Benjamin Martin
All Rights Reserved
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