Short Story: A Science Experiment in Naïveté

I suppose we could start at the beginning.

I had one of those miraculous childhoods that went weirdly out of style after the 60s when everything became granola and people got all paranoid about their children dying and whatnot.

My parents separated when I was five, plucking me out of my progressive kindergarten and into the hands of my three neurotic cousins in a large mansion left to my mother’s sister in a heated divorce. Between my siblings and I we numbered seven, ages 4-13; neither of our mothers had the luxury of staying home to make sure we were ok, so they just requested we never fill them in on our after-school activities. Ignorance is bliss, and whatnot. As far as they knew, we ran a book club.

We had the run of the neighborhood and no real adults to question our authority outside of the mother of the girl across the street, so we stopped inviting that girl over to play.

This led to sledding down the ravine on the lid of garbage cans, diving off the dock into the river at low tide to catch crabs in two feet of water, lengthy soap-opera-style home videos in which my cousin pushed us down the hill in a broken-down Barbie jeep for the dramatic crash conclusion. We scaled trees taller than our quickly wearing mansion. We spent our afternoons hiding from developers in partially constructed houses, throwing my four-year-old brother out of the second story window so my cousins could catch him and munching boxes of cheez-its under the brand-new floorboards while inspections took place just above our heads, the dust from their shoes littering down on us as they stepped across the floor above us, us trying desperately not to giggle. We rolled down three flights of stairs on beanbag chairs. We choreographed elaborate dances in the discarded costumes from my aunts failed monogramming business that we’d filched from the attic. We called into radio stations, endlessly requesting songs. We held three or four day monopoly games. We played Mortal Combat and beat Super Mario Brothers over the course of a month. We watched endless marathons of Chuckie, the demon doll horror flicks, every Halloween. We chased each other through the darkened crevices of my aunts walk-through closet, the unlucky victim to be chosen by my eldest cousin and his skater-punk friend.

We had no assigned beds. Every night we all scattered across the house and settled our tired bodies on the softest piece of furniture we could find. The last to bed was stuck on the leather couch in the formal living room, where the glow of the ginormous fish tank and the slippery fabric of the leather led to a zombie-like presence all throughout the next day. Worse, still, was to resign yourself to being wedged between my mother and aunt in their king-sized bed. My aunt snored like a train.

We never called our mothers over broken bones, scratches, fights, lost lunches. We climbed onto the counter to use the microwave and learned to run our raging oven burns under the sink rather than ice down. Our major concern when my sister sent a rusty nail through her foot at our favorite construction site was that mom might find out.
Our fragile child-kingdom was glorious. We were the masters of our domain. There were no rules. There were no time-outs. We learned our own way. We settled disputes on our terms.

My oldest cousin became the patriarch of the family, his slightly younger sister the matriarch. We’d all waited patiently for Ben to turn 16 and get a car so we could wedge in and get around–widen our berth of authority. Really, though, it was quickly becoming apparent that Ben didn’t care much for letting us follow him around like mother-less ducklings and he began to sneak off to the gas station to buy wine coolers from a few high schoolers he knew and share them with Molly. This left us all the more parentless.

Molly and Ben outgrowing us felt like the greatest betrayal of my young life. Molly had taught me how to ride a bike. Ben had played the gleeful villain in all of our favorite games, chasing us around with his bare butt, leaving a particularly reverent ass-print on our glass oven for months on end.

We all kind of grew up. Mom started signing us up for after-school care everyday, holding us hostage in that planned-activity, parent waiting room. We hated aftercare. Women with moles all over their bodies lectured us about sharing and made sure we let other kids in on our four-square games, preventing us from making up rules that guaranteed outsiders would lose. We’d had unlimited TV and freedom, now we had knitting lessons.

I couldn’t entirely blame Mom for putting us in aftercare, even though my younger brother and I took the brunt of it, being the youngest of the gang. Ben had taken to nailing random objects to the roof of his bedroom (the most coveted of all the sleeping spaces being as he kept it mostly off-limits to everyone but my brother and I; the fact that it was the only room on the top floor, had its own living room-attachment that held our treasured Nintendo, and was a whopping five staircases away from my aunts bedroom, where parents never had much reason to wander). I caught him hammering up his recently-deceased yellow lab’s leash to the ceiling and plopped myself down unthinkingly on his extra bed (where only my little brother was ever allowed to sleep) underneath his Weezer Green Album poster.

He and Molly were in a fight. I didn’t know what had happened (I was a first, possibly second grader, but my guess would be that he was caught smoking weed), but I knew Molly had ratted him out to his father about something and his father (you knew it was big if someone involved one of our fathers) had subsequently refused to buy him a car. Ben was thereafter grounded and hadn’t spoken to Molly since.

I’d gone to Ben on an errand from Molly to offer some sort of peace offering, to which he’d shrugged and finally sent me away with his prolonged silence. Molly had questioned me extensively about his reply. I’d shrugged. “He didn’t say anything. He’s busy doing something.”

“What?”

I’d shrugged again.

“Well, go back and find out.”

I went. I stood beneath him, looking up at him, standing on a chair, hammering that leash into the ceiling. It was green. It was a green leash.

“Molly wants to know what you’re doing.”

He hadn’t even looked down at me. He just kept hammering. “Science experiment.”

“Okay.” I left satisfied by that answer, Molly less so.

“Did he say what the science experiment was?”

“No.”

“Well…?”

I returned. “Exactly what kind of science experiment?”

“Gravity.”

“Gravity,” I reported to Molly.

“What is he doing exactly?”

I told her. She still seemed concerned. “What’s wrong? It’s just a science experiment.”

She went with me this time. The two of us climbed to his lair, she stayed in the doorway, examining the situation; Ben up on that chair hammering his dead dog’s leash into the ceiling.

“Molly wants to know what you’re going to hang from the leash.”

“Molly can mind her own fucking business.”

The police showed up within fifteen minutes. Ben got sent away for a while and thereafter lived with his father until he went to college.

I only remember being very worried about how our mothers would feel when they saw the police there and very mad at Molly for breaking our sacred vow of law-less silence. I was seven, maybe six, maybe even eight. How was I supposed to know that Molly had saved his life that day?

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