tales


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Houdini

The playhouse was luxurious, as far as playhouses go. It was insulated, wired for electricity, contained an antique stove that young me half-suspected was hooked up and functional (it wasn't), a rack of old Owl magazines, a few pieces of castoff furniture. The thick wooden door had a small hook on the inside to keep the building shut against inclement weather while in use, and the outside latch couldn't be accessed from inside. For many years, one of the panes in the kitchen window was missing, leaving an opening the size of a sheet of paper.

Close to the backside of the building was a high wooden corral fence. If you climbed the fence, careful to avoid splinters, you could step onto one of the posts, tall and broad, and leap onto the playhouse roof. Up on the shingles under the full sun, I set trays of mud to dry into cakes, which I then stored in the little kitchen inside. Who knows why.

Sometimes cats would hide their clutches of kittens inside and pass through the missing window at will. Or, the kittens would grow up in the space beneath the building between the skids, gamboling in the warm grass in front of the door and retreating underneath at anyone's approach.

Over time, the wooden walls weathered, and one of the slats fell off entirely after I picked out the underlining with some irrational faith that it would grow back. A hive of bees took over the hollow wall using the opening I had so obligingly created, and for many years using the playhouse in the summer meant edging cautiously through the door trying to leave the bees unprovoked. The little building has now been tinned over and its interior painted, little resembling the image in my memories.

One summer day, many of my relatives were visiting the farm for some celebration or other. Several of my siblings and I, and perhaps a couple cousins, were gathered in the playhouse at some point. One of the cousins—the same age as my sister and about five years older than me—got upset about something; I didn't know what at the time, and still don't. To our horror, he closed the heavy door and locked us inside, walking off in a huff.

No matter how long you might elect to stay in a confined space, the very instant you're robbed of choice the situation becomes immediately unbearable. Suddenly you're suffocating, your muscles are cramping, the very air is oppressive and you notice you're dehydrated to the brink of death.

The obvious tactic was to shout for help, but nobody was in earshot (except our jailor, rapidly dwindling into the distance). Being the youngest and smallest of the bunch, I was tasked with escaping through the only available route. I'm not sure how old I was at the time, but I was young enough to squirm through the empty windowpane on that occasion. Using my beanpole physique to great advantage, I slithered headfirst through the paper-sized opening, squeezing my shoulders through and stretching my hands toward the ground to break my fall, my siblings helping to maneuver me from inside. Kicking my feet free at last, I ran to unbolt the door.

I remember little from that incident; but the images of the closed door, the uncertainty of my siblings, the back of our cousin as he walked away, and the scrape of the window's pastel-blue edge as I wrenched myself through—these are perfect images in my inner photo album.

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