15 comments

Fiction Coming of Age

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I remember as a child my mother chaining me to our apartment’s radiator.  The tiny flat was on the third floor of a crumbling brick building at the end of Celestial Street.  My mom was very concerned that the chain was too tight around my ankle.  She was worried that it would cut off the circulation in my foot, resulting in an amputation which we could not afford.  I reassured her I was fine, and I didn’t mind the restraint.  Chaining me to the radiator became a frequent event and it was ritualized from the start.

After securing the chain’s padlock, my mom would slip the key into her pocket, kiss my forehead, and say, “My beautiful boy” as she ran her fingers through my hair.

Then she would stroll to the fridge and make me a bologna sandwich, just the way I liked it; two slices of white bread, one slice of bologna, mayo spread thin on the underside of the top piece of bread, and a light sprinkling of pepper added before assembling the sandwich and cutting it in half, corner to corner.  She would position the halves on a white paper plate so that they formed an open mouth like Pacman.  She would then set the plate on the floor in front of me, always apologizing for not serving it to me with a pickle.  It was okay—I didn’t like pickles.

  I had only tasted a pickle once before when my mom brought home part of a sandwich from a coworker’s birthday party at the processing plant.  The once cold sandwich was dying a well warmed death by the time she got home.  I separated the two halves of stale wheat bread and revealed a large limp piece of lettuce covering a mass grave of hardened meats.  A single, circular slice of pickle was plastered to the top half of the hoagie bun with an unholy union of mustard and mayo.  I pried the green disc off the bread with my fingers, sniffed at it, and then took a nibble.  Its salty juices made my tongue recoil, taking the saliva with it, and drying my teeth out.  Yuck—a simple bologna sandwich was fine by me.

My pickle aversion worked out well because pickles were a commodity that we could not afford.  We were always desperate for money because my father left us shortly after my mother, age sixteen, gave birth to me.  She never talked about my father much other than revealing he was an older man, a cousin in her family.   She referred to him as “The Scoundrel.”  That name always made me think of a swanky gangster from the 1920s.  It wasn’t until much later in my life that I realized the nature of their taboo relationship and that the moniker was my mom’s polite way of calling him an incestuous rapist.

I knew my mom worked very hard, so when she told me she was going out with a friend and could not afford a babysitter, I was more than willing to be chained to the radiator while she was gone.  She told me that the radiator would keep me warm, and the chain would keep me safe from the busy streets below.  I really didn’t mind; it was my fault anyway.  

A day earlier, I had wandered down to the street after spotting a gathering of playing kids from our window.  The kids didn’t like how I looked, how I dressed, or how I talked, and they quickly rejected me by yelling nasty names and throwing dead branches and rocks.  My mom had to run down and rescue me.  She walked me back to the safety of our apartment, then sang soothing songs in my ear as she cradled me and placated my scratches and bruises with a warm washcloth.  After that—no going outside.  I didn’t mind, I had another way of escaping the apartment, even when chained. 

I had my Tom Swift book.  Tom Swift was the main character of City in the Stars by Victor Appleton.  I found the book under a loose floorboard in our apartment.  The book was water damaged and its pages were stiff, yellowed, and warped, but I would carefully page through each of them as if I were an archeologist tenderly exploring an ancient manuscript.

The most captivating part of the book was the cover.  Pictured was the boy astronaut, Tom Swift, posing in front of a spinning city built on the interior curvature of several massive tube-like structures.  I would spend hours starring at the cover, dreaming of living in and walking through the rotating city drifting through the stars.  I couldn’t understand much beyond the cover because, like my mom, I didn’t know how to read.  But it didn’t keep me from turning each page and evaluating the words.  I would scan each sentence and then imagine what Mr. Appleton might have written.

I would send Tom on my own adventures in the city and beyond.  You see, Tom wasn’t tethered to a radiator.  His future was limitless; he was not even bound by Earth.  It was a future I, myself, longed for.  Someday my mom would be rewarded for her hard work and get a promotion at the plant.  This would give us enough money for me to go to school.  Then, I could join the military, become a pilot, and one day become an astronaut.

That first chaining to the radiator started off okay.  I nibbled on the first half of my bologna sandwich and gently turned the crispy pages of my book.  I unleashed my imagination, dreaming of Tom strolling the streets of the space city, called Heavenly, in search of friends.

#

Tom was very popular, and people flocked to him.  Tom was never lonely.  Tom could stand comfortably in front of a group, telling captivating stories and no one ever laughed at the way he sounded or looked.  His skin was perfect, blank of blemish, his hair golden, and his teeth bright.  Tom always wore an impeccably clean spacesuit.  Space living was dangerous, and Tom always wore the suit because he had to be ready for all emergencies, that is why he carried half of a bologna sandwich in his front spacesuit pocket—just in case.

Tom’s love for bologna sandwiches was about the only similarity we shared.  However, Tom and I were great friends.  I was his faithful sidekick.  We didn’t look like each other at all.  My skin was pigmented dark, my hair was black and curly, and my teeth were yellowed and stained.  Tom always told me that those things didn’t matter.

He would point his gloved finger at my heart and then my head saying, “It is what is in these places that matters.  Once the spacesuit helmet is on and the visor is down, we all look the same.”

We were sitting on a park bench in the tall artificial grass of Heavenly, looking up at the stars swirling in the gaps between the giant tubes.  We talked about everything—no topic was off limits.  Tom got sad when I talked about my mother.  He didn’t understand that the only reason she chained me in the apartment was because she was such a hard worker and needed a break from time to time.  He told me that it wasn’t right and that I needed to escape her.  I told him that I could never leave my mother.

Tom said, “You create your own destiny.  Your mother has made her choices, you must make your own choices too.”

Just then a meteorite whizzed through the darkness and impacted Heavenly.

Tom jumped up and yelled, “Follow me!”

I ran after him.  I copied Tom’s actions as he put his spacesuit helmet on and pulled down the visor.  My breathing filled my helmet and its rapid surging echoed in my ears.

More meteors filtered through the dark gaps, and they were impacting around us, sending concrete and debris soaring through the artificial atmosphere.  Tom turned left and pointed to a sphere sticking halfway out of the ground.

Tom’s voice crackled to life over my helmet’s intercom, “Over there—it’s an escape pod!”

We both ran to the pod.  Tom punched at a keypad and the top hatch opened.

He yelled, “Jump in!”

I climbed in first, buckling my seatbelt and hooking my oxygen to the ship’s life support umbilical.  Tom climbed in behind me, hooked his suit to the umbilical, and then pecked at a keyboard in front of him.  We sank into the seats as a rocket motor fired and propelled us toward one of the openings.  More meteors passed by us as we cleared the giant tubes.

Tom pointed at a computer screen and said, “Look—This isn’t good.”

The screen was a rearward camera’s view now displaying explosions and flames in the heart of Heavenly.

Our spherical escape pod’s rocket began to sputter and then extinguished.

Tom said, “Well that’s that.  The rocket is only designed to get us away from danger.  Now, we are on an unstoppable trajectory.”

Suddenly, the adventure filled stars we had been looking at moments earlier became very small and distant.  The dark expanse between them seemingly became menacing and cold.  Before, I had thought that exploring the unknown would be wonderful, but now I was afraid of it.  My mind raced with questions.  Where were we headed?  Would we survive?  What was out there?  In that moment, all I wanted to do was to return to Heavenly.

I turned to Tom and begged, “Let’s go back.”

Tom replied, “We can’t.  We are out of fuel.”

“I have to go back, it is the only thing I know, Tom.”

“Yes, it is the only thing you know, but look out there—the unknown is waiting for us.  Think of the possibilities.”

“I can’t do it Tom—I’m not brave like you.”

“Yes, you are,” Tom said as he once again pointed his gloved finger at my heart and then my head.”

I began to weep, saying, “I’m sorry Tom, I can’t go with you.”

I yanked a yellow ejection lever on the side of my seat, and I was launched out of the sphere.  The seat had small rocket motors of its own that I could steer.  I did my best to aim myself back toward Heavenly before the motors burned out.

I could see Heavenly in the distance.  Flames had engulfed the interior of the massive tubes.  As I got closer, I could see that most of Heavenly was destroyed or on fire.  I entered through the same space in the tubes we had departed through, and I fell into the charred area that had once been filled with the artificial grass.  I unstrapped from the chair and stood up.

Even though the space city was burning around me, I was glad to be back somewhere familiar—I was safe.  I looked back at the stars and wondered if I would ever see Tom again.  I wondered if he was lonely.  I wondered how he had found the courage to continue into the unknown.

#

The chain’s heavy links scratched at the wooden floor as I closed my book, pulled myself up from my belly, and sat cross-legged on the floor.  I looked over the windowsill at the street below.  A group of children laughed as they ran down the street—destination undetermined.

I muttered the words, “Someday, I will run wild in the street.”

Looking back to the floor of the apartment, I grabbed the second half of the bologna sandwich from the paper plate—raised it to my face—sniffed for pickle—then took a bite.

#

I often reflect on the first time my mother chained me to the radiator;  my adult life exhibiting the scars of the tackle that once restrained me.  Dried fleshy particles sloughing free from my ankle’s scars, their mutinous departure fueled by a lust for the comfortable security once found in the bondage.  Yet, my spacesuit’s helmet is donned—the visor is down—Tom’s spirit tugging at my soul from destinations undetermined—pulling me forward into the heavenly abyss beyond.


April 08, 2022 13:15

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

15 comments

Pariah Scary
01:11 Jun 19, 2022

I've been chained to a radiator too- your unusual story hit home. I've enjoyed both of your stories🌝 excellent writing. Hope to read more in the future

Reply

Ron Davidson
00:28 Jun 20, 2022

PS, I hope only figuratively, but nothing would surprise me in this cruel world. Thanks for reading my stories. I hope to get back at it soon. I’ll read some of your’s too. Thanks, Ron

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Felice Noelle
17:48 Apr 14, 2022

Ron: I chose to read your first story drawn in by the first sentence. So stark and yet mundane. I loved it! My daughter is an attorney for DCF and I'm sure she would find reason to criticize. Single working parents always have such a dichotomy of opposing wants and needs; it's so easy for them to make a wrong decision. And then, again, hurt people hurt people. I liked the way you exposed the inner language the MC was experiencing. We all know that all parents are not necessarily deserving of the love and devotion of their children. ...

Reply

Ron Davidson
19:41 Apr 14, 2022

Felice, Thank you for reading my story. Ha! No need to call in your daughter LOL! The chain was a way to get us thinking about our own tethers, or the ones we have figuratively clapped to the ankles of our children. I didn't want the focus to be on the mother's horrible act, that is why I added some details about her possible hardships. I also tried to minimalize the act with the child's acceptance of it. His acceptance also begs the question: Why do we stay in bad situations and try to normalize the abnormal? Why do we find security in...

Reply

Felice Noelle
20:14 Apr 14, 2022

Ron: You'll have to forgive my kneejerk reaction...I taught truly disturbed, damaged kids years ago and what we view as horrific nowadays was just common every day occurencesl I totally missed the expert symbolism, but that speaks to your writing's ability to relate to a variety of readers...and we all glean our own meaning. Now that's good writing. Just for laughs, but I guess this really isn't funny...I had a girl, with schizophrenia, and she adopted me as a stand in for her inept promiscuous mother. Fifty years later she still comes ...

Reply

Ron Davidson
06:14 Apr 15, 2022

Maureen, No worries... I was just laughing with you. It looks like you have a novel to write about the girl that adopted you! It sounds like a great one. It has a lot of awesome character details already. I saw that you were a teacher. Hats off to you! -Ron

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Spike Uesugi
21:39 Apr 13, 2022

My favorite part of this submission has to be the imaginative sequence in the middle. It's an inventive and engaging way of trying to communicate the character's inner world, especially how they struggle with accepting the hard truth of their situation and protecting their delicate psyche with fantasy. I also like the brief compassion spent on the mother, who showed concern about chaining up her child. No one wants to be a monster; rather, they eventually find themselves as one after making enough bad decisions. I am curious about her motiv...

Reply

Ron Davidson
02:14 Apr 14, 2022

Spike, Thanks for reading my story. I'm so glad that you pulled the things out of it that you did. Thanks for the kind words. -Ron

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Shea West
05:10 Apr 13, 2022

I like the title and how it plays into what we know to be true for the MC- we don't know what will happen to him. You started off right away by creating such an interesting dichotomy, by slapping is right into the abusive confines of his home. Then you tell us how fine he is with all of it, because she's worried it'll hurt him. I think what makes the whole messed up notion work is that the kid continues to say how fine it is(it isn't obviously) and that we never know in true depth why she does it. Is she irritated? Is she mentally unwell? ...

Reply

Ron Davidson
15:14 Apr 13, 2022

Shea, Thanks for reading my story! Yes, I was messing with a lot of emotions here. I was trying to show how we often downplay our horrible situations and minimize them to others. I was also trying to show how we find security and comfort in what we think is normal, no matter how awful that is. The chain is the figurative tether we all have in fearing the unknown. I read your story last night and loved it. Your writing is soooo visual!!! Fantastic! I’ll leave a comment this afternoon. Thanks for the warm welcome. -Ron

Reply

Shea West
17:01 Apr 13, 2022

I know exactly what you mean by normalizing the abnormal. Anyone who has had trauma in their lives can understand this... You see that even in my comment for your story of fiction I'm trying to justify or figure out why she did it. Because, trauma. Your story is on the Recommended list, good luck with last week's contest! Thanks for the kind comments on my story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
22:35 Apr 11, 2022

**It needs a TW and a tag for physical abuse at the top. I believe you can still add it.** “I have to go back, it is the only thing I know, Tom.” What a wonderfully sad and yet inspirational story of this young man. His imagination is captivating. Well done! Makes me think of kids who may grow up "bound or tethered" by their parents in their homes without the physical chain and radiator.

Reply

Ron Davidson
23:48 Apr 11, 2022

Thank you Jeannette. This was my first submission on this site. Sorry I missed the trigger tag. I think I fixed it. Thank you for the kind comments. -Ron

Reply

16:27 Apr 12, 2022

No worries, it's there now. Adding a warning is pretty common, even if it's only a slight mention, I've noticed since joining the site myself. I look forward to reading more of your stories!

Reply

Ron Davidson
19:03 Apr 12, 2022

I read yours last night and really enjoyed it. I'll leave a comment today. Thanks again.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply