Tuesday, February 4, 2014

HOW I DEVELOPED A FEAR FOR SMALL SPACES

The following is a true story.

I woke up to the sound of whimpering.  At first I thought it might have been someone with a toothache or tummy ache, but when I sat up in bed and looked around the room, no one was stirring. I lay back down and snuggled in the blankets. A quick glance at the clock showed five-thirty am, too early to get up, so I closed my eyes and tried to get back to sleep.  Minutes later I heard more whimpering. I sat up again and listened. It was faint, but yes, it was whimpering. I got up, tiptoed to the kitchen, being careful not to wake anyone, and tried to figure out where it was coming from. I looked all around the small kitchen, living room, and finally the porch. The floor was thinner there and the sound was louder. I pinned my ear to the bare boards and listened.  My eyes grew wide as I realized what it was. Our dog had given birth! There were whimpering puppies under there. I fumbled for a flashlight, slipped on flip flops, and crept outside.

The air outside was damp and misty, but warm. I was glad that it was summer break; it was always so easy to wake up early when you didn’t have to go to school. I really didn’t need the flashlight, the sky was beginning to light up with the rising of the sun, but I turned it on; I would need it to look under the house. I walked along the house focusing on the chipboard which served as a two foot frost wall until I came to the trapdoor. I knelt down, and fumbled for the latch. I opened the door and took a look. At first, I couldn’t see much, and then I heard whimpering again and shone the light in that direction. In the far end of the house, under the porch, I saw the shining eyes of our dog Kelly, and a bundle of moving paws next to her.

I was so excited that I was compelled to get under there just to see how many puppies there were. I didn’t care about how much trouble I would get into, I was a kid and kids didn’t worry about stuff like that. After all, what was the worst that could happen? a slap upside the head, a night without dinner, a sore bottom. Besides, I could probably get under there, count how many puppies there were, and get back into bed before anyone ever knew. As a matter of fact, I was sure of it. I couldn’t fit in the trapdoor, so I headed to the back of the house to where the rotted chipboard had fallen away. I got to my hands and knees, went down on my belly, and squeezed under, all the while thinking about how lucky I was that puberty hadn’t hit me yet cursing me with big hips and boobs, otherwise, I'd never fit.

It smelled bad under the house, like mold and rotting wood. It reminded me of walking through the woods in the fall.  I shone the light around, making sure there wasn’t any broken glass or rats crawling about, and saw nothing but the foundation beams and dirt. When I was sure it was all clear, I started to shimmy like a snake towards Kelly keeping my head low so I wouldn’t get jabbed by a nail jutting out of the floor boards above. I managed to squeeze under each beam by turning my head to the side. Once my head was under, the rest of my body could get under. Each beam was about eight inches wide and they were about four feet apart.

When I finally got to Kelly she was beaming with happiness and proud to show off her babies. All were reddish brown like her except one, I figured that one was male, it was a light brown and fluffy. She had given birth to nine puppies. I pet her for a while, whispering soothing words, and then heard someone above coughing. I froze, listened, and waited, barely breathing. I thought I had better get out of there before someone got up and discovered I was gone. I gave Kelly a farewell pat on the head and turned around. I then noticed light coming from the trapdoor. Oh shoot, I forgot to close the trapdoor, if someone sees that I’m going to be found out. I hurried on.

I had made it halfway when a spider web caught me in the eye. I frantically slapped at my face trying to get it off. After a few minutes of fighting with what seemed like the web of a giant spider, I shimmied on. I got to the next beam and turned my head to one side to get under it. I pushed forward, but my head wouldn’t fit under. I pulled it back out and tried again, this time I got stuck. I couldn’t move my head! One ear was against the beam and the other against the dirt. My heart started racing and it suddenly got very hard to breathe. And then my flashlight went out! That’s when I really started to panic. My legs and arms were flapping like a drowning person, I was pushing and pulling my body trying to get my head loose, freaking out, and was just about to scream when I heard footsteps from above. I froze. Taiko drums replaced the beating of my heart and I thought I was going to faint. I couldn’t hold my breath if I tried. Then I thought about the beating I was going to get if my mother found me under there. There was no way I could get caught under there.

The heavy footsteps from above headed to the porch, paused, and then someone came out and walked to the back of the house toward the outhouse. My head was turned toward the opposite side of the house, away from the trapdoor, so I couldn’t see who it was, but I figured it was my stepdad. I heard more stirring from above and knew right away my brothers were getting up. Thoughts of a sore bottom entered my mind. What was I going to do? I started pulling again, but now the ear that was against the beam hurt. I immediately regretted going under the house and began to cry. I heard my stepdad coming back and go into the house. Now there was shuffling about as one by one everyone made their way to the outhouse. Tea was being made, a small fire was being started, and there was small chatter which was barely audible as both my ears were plugged as if they were filled with water. Then I heard my mother’s voice and my underwear got a little wet.

I stayed stuck under that beam for a long time, sobbing. The morning went on with one of my brothers going fishing, and the other outside fiddling with his bike. My mother and stepdad were conversing above. Then my stepdad left, I didn’t know where or when he would be back as I couldn’t make out what was being said. All I heard was mumbling. Then the washing machine started. This was going to be one long day. I wanted desperately to call out to my brother, but he was too much of a telltale, and the other one was gone.  I didn’t know what to do. My ear ached and Kelly began to fuss. “Shhhhhhhh!” I told her and she quieted. I prayed she didn’t move, as long as the puppies were suckling, no one would hear.

I must have passed out or fell asleep because when I woke up all was quiet. I tried to move and yelled from the pain in my ear. Then I remembered where I was and my heart started racing again. I could see sunlight coming from cracks and holes on the side of the frost wall and gathered that it must have been after noon. The light comforted me a little, just enough to get my bearings and figure out what to do. I felt focused now. Things always seemed better after a nap, even if it was in dirt. I dug into the ground until I was finally able to move my head with ease. I shimmied under the beam and kept moving toward the back of the house and when I got out of there and to my feet, I never felt so free in all my life.