I was honoured to have on of my short stories published in the summer, 2018 edition of the Island Writer Magazine, The Literary Journal of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. I was further honoured to be asked to and read the story at the June 6 meeting of the Victoria Writer’s Society.
The Missing Rung is a work of reflective creative non-fiction that captures the lighter side of an early childhood predicament. It’s humorous, and a quick read. Enjoy!
The Missing Rung
John R. Paterson
After breakfast Dad and I stood back while Mom cleared the kitchen table for the last time. Dishes removed, she dampened a cloth and wiped it down. The varnished surface glistened, except for a dull patch in the centre where countless serving dishes had worn through.
“Hurry up Chrissie! Eaton’s’ will be here soon with the new table and chairs,” Dad said. She ignored his urging and carefully dried it with a clean tea towel. Finally, she stood back.
“All right – take it.”
We lowered the drop-leafs and shuffled the table across the kitchen floor, pausing at the top of the basement stairs. Dad took the downward slope, shouldering the weight while descending backwards, while I lifted the upper end.
“Be careful – don’t fall,” Mom cautioned us, as we moved the table down the steep and narrow stairs one awkward step at a time. At the last step before the sharp turn near the bottom, Dad called a halt.
“There’s not enough room to get it around the corner,” he said. “Let’s stand it on end.”
The tactic worked, but the tabletop scraped against a rough edge on the concrete wall, with a rasping sound, that brought a cry from Mom watching from the top of the stairs.
“It couldn’t be helped,” Dad said.
We carried the table across the basement to its new home in the laundry room where it would serve as a folding table. That task completed, we went back for the chairs. From the top of the stairs, Mom passed the chairs down. She didn’t need them in the laundry room, and she directed that they be stored in a dim corner of the basement. There they would join a growing collection of other unused household items.
There were four chairs, and I took each in turn, shuffled down a few steps, and handed it off to Dad. The chairs were of the same pine wood construction as the table, the set purchased from Eaton’s long before my debut into the world fourteen years earlier. The seats were flat slabs with shallow depressions on each side, intended to provide some modest degree of comfort. Narrow spindles supported the arched backs. Two rungs on each side, spaced about six inches apart joined the legs. The chair with a missing rung came last. Dad saw me looking at it.
“Do you remember why that rung is missing?” he said with a chuckle.
“Yeah. I remember,” I mumbled, passing him the chair.
When it happened, I was only three or four, but it was one of those recollections that can’t be denied, forever etched in a deep crevice of the mind, just waiting for the right trigger to dredge it up from the pool of ‘I’d like to forget’ memories.
On that day, I was on the floor; playing with a toy and provoking Tibby. She was an old tabby who’d been around the block many times – and delivered progeny on regular occasions to prove it. She positioned herself by Mom’s chair and would take a swipe at me if I ventured too close. I turned it into a kind of game. The scratch marks on my hands and arms were witness to the fact that while Tibby was old, she was quick. As she lashed out and raked her claws across my hand, she’d let out a yowl, as if I’d murdered her. Without even looking down to see the beads of blood forming on my shredded flesh, Mom would say,
“John, stop tormenting Tibby.” Tibby would lick her lips, tilt her grizzled ears, and flick the tip of her tail, daring me to try again.
On this particular day, I was up for a new challenge. Sitting under a table doesn’t present many opportunities, but I thought of one. For some inexplicable reason, I decided to see if I could get my head between the rungs of the chair. It was a tight fit, and I had to turn my head sideways. My ears were squeezed hard, but with a determined push, they slid past the smooth, round rung surfaces. I had succeeded. I was in. I couldn’t really move much, but I turned enough to see Tibby giving me an evil, suspicious eye.
For some endeavours in a child’s life, an occasional failure is the better teacher. This would have been one of those occasions. I quickly found that kneeling on the floor, twisted sideways with my head between the rungs wasn’t at all comfortable.
Going in had been relatively easy; my ears had pushed flat against my head. Trying to back out, my ears jammed against the rungs. My panic grew as my frantic efforts to free myself proved futile. I let out a panicked wail. I could only turn my head a few inches in each direction, but I glimpsed Tibby witnessing my struggles in glee. Chair legs scraped the floor as my parents pushed them back to discover the cause of the wailing beneath the table.
“Oh, no! His heads’ stuck in the chair,” Mom gasped, her flustered reaction doing nothing to assuage my fears. My parents tried to ease my head out by turning the chair; and then by turning me; and then by a combination of the two. Nothing worked.
“What are we going to do?” Mom whispered it to Dad, but I heard the panic in her voice.
“It’s his ears,” Dad, whispered back. “They’re too big. I’ll get the saw.” My desperation turned to terror as he got up and headed to the basement. With Mom trying to keep us both calm, it seemed like a long while before Dad returned. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed the jagged teeth and gleaming steel blade close to my ear. I wailed in mortal dread, arms flapping in a desperate, last ditch effort to free myself.
“Hold still, John,” Dad said, and then said quietly to Mom. “We’ll only have to cut one off.”
I howled and pressed as far away from the saw as I could. My eyes bulged in horror as the blade moved. I heard the saw’s rasping voice and felt the vibrations as sharp teeth parted soft wood. Moments later, the saw completed its task. I was free. My hands flew to my ear. It was still there.
Tibby slunk away with an unmistakably disappointed gait. To this day, I still believe that she was the reincarnation of some ancient demon.