The oven (a short story)
(North St. Paul, Minnesota, 1951-52)
Who can remember when you are four or five years old the many things that made you who you are today? It’s hard, when you’re ten, you have layers and layers of sketches to write about, or at least I do. But you can remember some scary elements, sure, and, as the years go by, piece the pieces together if you want to get the full story of the experience. And that’s how this story was born. My brother and Steve were the culprits, and we were staying during the week at what was called a guest farm, “Kiddy Corner,” in North St. Paul, our mother, she would pick me and my brother up on the weekends, until in 1952, my grandfather asked my mother to come live with him and bring the children. So we left the farm forever, and the apartment in the city, in Igelheart, in St. Paul, and we moved to 109 East Arch Street, with Grandpa.
But that’s really getting ahead of the story, and it’s just background.
My brother and Steve came downstairs to the upper level of the farmhouse, where everyone was sleeping (there were about twenty kids during the day, about five or six at night), they walked me downstairs, I was half awake. . Janet, the owner, was sleeping in the bedroom down the hall, across from our bedroom, we all slept in from 1:00pm to 2:30pm every day, usually; Steve was the son of the owner, and he and Mike got along well, Steve being a year older than Mike and Mike two years older than me.
“Do you want to play a game with us?” asked Mike and Steve.
“Oh yeah.” I said, wanting to be with the older boys.
Mike and Steve looked at each other for another moment, as if they were deciding whether or not they should do what they planned to do. I looked at them wondering when the game started, and they walked me to the kitchen oven, put me inside, and closed the door. I remember being in the tight space, not knowing exactly what the game entailed, just being gullible and following the blind, but I was there, it was dark and I saw nothing, I heard their voices fade away.
There must be air in there because I’m writing this, but the boys left and played somewhere else. When Janet got up, she asked me where she was: the kiss of death was coming.
Mike and Steve looked at each other, now at the bottom of the stairs, they had been outside, “We woke up early,” Steve expressed to his mother.
“But where is your brother Mike?” Janet asked.
They were next to the kitchen, and Mike and Steve must have been wide-eyed, looking at Janet and the stove, which you couldn’t really see, but looking in the direction of the stove, in the kitchen, and the kitchen. it was being somewhat divided into a room for cooking and another for eating, there was a long table and around the corner was the stove.
“We’ll go find him, Mom,” Steve said, and Mike repeated what Steve said, now Janet was thinking, and the kids waited for Janet to go looking, and they ran to the oven, they let little Dennis out, but Janet knew something was up bad, very bad, good intuition.
“Where is!” cried Janet, in a frenzy.
“I think in the oven,” Mike said, and Janet ran to the oven, and Mike muttered, “We forgot…”
He saw me sleeping, pulled me out, hugged me tight, I was breathing, but shallow, and he yelled something like “What happened to you two, get on your beds and stay there, and don’t let me hear?” you speak.”
Janet was so scared my mom would find out, and all hell would break loose, maybe she would even lose her license to have kids stay over, the county was always trying to take her to court over that. In fact, it may have been the first overnight nursery in the US (it was a farm of sorts, though). Anyway, she paid a lot of attention to me, and the children were scolded for a week. And it all became a faded fairy tale, and my mother never found out until I was in my late twenties. My brother would bring it up a few times and I would laugh about it. But I suppose it was no laughing matter for Janet, especially when she saw me immobile, almost bewildered, my face sad and melancholy and inscrutable.
I guess he told me that I wanted to be with those around me, at any cost, and that price I might have had to pay for it. You know what I mean; it starts at four and doesn’t stop until forty sometimes, trying to be like the big boys, accepted in their presence, or like the Joneses. And many times the culprits know it. Of course now I go to another level, I don’t hold a grudge against Steve or Mike, I never have, it was all in the game, but the game could have been a very expensive thing for me, my mother and my cranky brother. I would never have forgiven him. I’m glad the guys didn’t decide to cook me like a turkey.
Written on 5-26-2008