I hated it when my dad sent me to the basement. My hands would grow clammy and I’d shake uncontrollably. I ducked as plates and kitchen utensils were thrown at me.
“You horrible child!” my mother screamed.
Petrified, I ran down the stairs. The boards creaked underneath my feet, like little screams of unseen demons.
The boxes were around five feet long, a foot and a half high and two foot wide. They were fashioned from oak, thick boards as strong as they looked.
“Get in,” my dad said hysterically.
“I don’t want to.”
Mother shrieked from above.
“Do as I say!” he shouted.
I hated it when he shouted at me. It made me feel alone, that no-one loved me.
The cacophony from above continued. I could hear furniture scrape along the floor, as if the place was being barricaded.
Dad lifted the lid of the box.
“Where’s Debbie?” I asked, putting one foot inside.
“I don’t know where your sister is.”
Dad placed the blindfold around my eyes and pulled it taut.
“It hurts,” I said.
“I don’t care, get in.”
“Please no,” I begged as I slowly laid down.
From the top of the stairs I heard my sister shout, “No! I’m not going back down there.”
The basement door banged.
The box slammed shut making my ears ring. I recognised the sound of the key in the lock, click. That always made me jump. I knew better than to panic now. Doing that wouldn’t help me. I’d done that plenty of times before. The longest I had been in there was a day. I’d pissed and shit myself and my dad didn’t come. My mother showered me, though I could still smell the human waste for a week.
I placed my hands on the sides of the box, feeling for the indentations that had become a comfort to me. Five smooth groves on each side, made from hours of nervous movement.
The sounds were muffled, but I could hear voices argue. I wondered if they caught my sister. She was always down here with me, in her box.
She was sixteen, five years older than me. She’d comfort me when my father would send us down here. She would calmly place the blindfold on me and lock the box so gently. She’d tell our dad we didn’t deserve this. She looked out for me. But she wasn’t here.
Hours passed and my bladder was full to bursting point. I could feel tears rise up, and I did my best to hold them back. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. The way my mother stared at me last time, it was as if she was looking at an orphan boy you see on those charity TV programs.
The grooves in the wood were now wet from condensation, and so was the rest of the box. Small droplets of water dripped onto my face and the blindfold. It was quiet. I heard the door to the basement open.
The boards creaked as someone descended the stairs. My heart began to race with excitement. A key was clumsily inserted into the lock. The lid rose, air rushed in cooling on my face.
I stood up and went to undo the blindfold.
“Leave it on,” my sister said in a hushed tone.
“Debbie? Where’s dad?”
She took my hand, helping me out.
“Debbie?” I asked again.
I heard her sniff.
“Watch out for the stairs,” she said.
I stumbled. She took my weight and we ascended.
“Can I take it off yet?” I asked.
“No, let me sit you down.”
“I need to pee,” I said.
“In a bit.”
My feet crunched over broken things that I guessed were the plates and bowls that had been thrown. She sat me at the dining room table. I placed my hands on top, feeling more broken items.
“Stay here,” she said.
“Where are you going?”
I heard her footsteps disappear into the distance.
“Mom? Dad?” I shouted out.
I felt fingers brush mine.
They crawled up my hand until it was fully on top, then squeezed, I squeezed back.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” I said, “I’m scared.”
“It’ll be okay,” I heard my mother say in a voice so soft I wasn’t sure if it was even real.
I heard talking from behind me, my sister and a man. Moments later, Debbie put her hands on my shoulders.
“Let go of mom’s hand,” she said, “that’s a good boy.”
“Can I take the blindfold off now?”
“Not yet,” Debbie said, there was a waver in her voice.
Two men began talking.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“They’re here to help us.”
There were some clicks and cracks of metal, like the sound of opening a camping chair, followed by wheels that squeaked.
“Careful,” one man said.
“On two. One, two.”
I felt my mother’s hand slip away.
“Could you wait outside?” the first man said.
“Sure. Come on,” Debbie said to me, grasping my hand.
I hopped down from the table, my bladder screaming at me to empty.
“I need to pee,” I said again.
“Won’t be long now.”
Debbie led me through the house, awkwardly zigging and zagging around the furniture. I knew when I was outside when I felt the cold wind on my skin.
“There you are,” I head a voice announce. It was my aunt.
She hugged me, ripping off my blindfold. I squinted at the light from the streetlamp.
“You’re coming to stay with us tonight.”
“What’s happened?” I asked again.
“Everything’s going to be okay. It’s not your fault.”
I heard the squeaky wheels and turned. I let go, when I saw my mother’s bloody body get wheeled out and into the waiting ambulance.
My aunt looked down.
“Stay with your sister, I’ll go and get you some clean clothes.”
It’s hard to explain to a young child why they need to do some things. It’s bad enough teaching them manners and understanding morals. At least there is always Aesop’s Fables for the latter.
I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. I knew it would though. When my son was born he’d cry so loud you’d think a banshee was residing inside. You’d believe the house was shaking.
He was four at the time, thank God, at least he could listen to me, even if he didn’t understand what I was saying.
“No! I don’t want anymore,” he said.
“Son, you need to finish your vegetables if you want your ice cream.”
And with that, the plastic plate flew off the table and landed on the floor, sending the mush of food onto the vinyl. I really wished I missed it, that his hands were too quick for me. But they had been no where near the plate. They were down at his sides, his small hands clenched into tiny fists. He pouted and I prayed that was going to be it.
“Son, I’m afraid you can’t have your ice cream now.”
“NO!!” he screamed.
Almost in rhythm with his breathing, the cabinets began to open and slam shut.
I knew he was too young to understand, just like I had been. I felt a sympathy for my dad I never had before. I wished I could tell him that. How I wished, that day, Debbie got in her box as she was told, then he’d still be here.
I didn’t explain. I picked him up, he thrashed and thrashed, sending more plastic plates and cups out of the cupboards. I covered him the best I could. They hit my head and back, smashing into the walls as I made my way down into the basement.
“This is for your own good, I promise. As soon as you calm down, I’ll let you out.”
I placed him in the wooden box. He tried to get out. I quickly blindfolded him.
“I need you to lie down and be calm.”
I felt myself begin to cry. No father should have to do this to their son. But needs must.
Gently I closed the lid and locked him in.
I remembered how long it was until I learned to be quiet in there. It was going to be a long nine years. I really hope he never has a sister.