The Unwatchables

It was quiet but not silent. My room was dark but I could hear my mother puttering with pots and pans in the kitchen, and the low murmur of the television show my father was watching. It waqs just after ten pm on a school night, and I was supposed to have been asleep an hour ago. Instead I had read comic books under the covers with a flashlight. The comic was about Popeye the Sailor finding uranium and the flashlight was my Genuine Boy Scout lamp. It was made of brown Bakelite and the batteries were perpendicular to the lens. It was as if it was designed specifically for little boys to read comics in the night. I had read the comic twice over, having to work to sound out some of the words. I made such a mess of ‘uranium’ that in my head I said it as ‘uralem.’ It would be five years before one day a lightbulb would come on inside my head and cause me to snap my fingers and yell “It was uranium!” to no one in particular. I’d been recalling the comic and as a 15 year old, realized uralem couldn’t be right.

But the comic was read and I could, if I strained, make out the theme for Gunsmoke. I slunk from the bed and snake crawled to my door in silence. Carefully twisting the knob, I pulled the door open a crack and was greeted by the sound of a commercial singing the praises of Pepsodent. I knew what was coming and desperately wanted to watch. Even as I pushed my head out the door of my room and into the hallway, the announcer said “Stay tuned for The Untouchables.” It’s next.” Creeping like a cat, not a graceful cat, but like a cat I made my way to the door of the den. It wasn’t fully closed, it was open a couple of inches. I maneuvered myself so that I could peer through and immediately saw my father’s face. I felt a rush of adrenaline, but he wasn’t looking my way and didn’t see me at the door. I changed positions stealthily and soon had the screen in my view.  I could only see the right hand side of the screen, and for the next few moments watched gangsters seemingly talking to themselves. I changed position again and this time got a few people standing around and listening to a disembodied voice rant about those lousy G-men.

The first commercial came on, signifying that I had been watching for fifteen minutes. I was congratulating myself on my cleverness when my peripheral vision so the kitchen lights go off and I heard my mother making her way in my direction. I scrambled to my room, banging my head into the door with a loud ‘thunk.’ It didn’t slow me down, I scrambled in, closed the door and dove into my bed where I did my best sleeping angel imitation. I was making stereotypical snoring noises –including the whistle– when my father, having heard my head hit the door had come to investigate. My mom brushed past him and came to sit at the side of my bed. “Listen to him, Kirk.” she stage-whispered to my father. “He sounds awful. We should take him to the hospital so they can give him some shots to make him better.”

“By God, I think you’re right, Jade.” he replied. “It sounds like a severe case of tonsilitis to me.” My snoring immitation ended instantly. I could still recall having my tonsils removed at age 6, and I had no desire to do it again. (It didn’t occur to me that what was removed could not be removed again.) I changed to a quiet fluttering of the lips. “My gosh, would you look at that. I guess he wasn’t sick after all.”

“Yes, but we should be careful and take him in for shots just the same.”

“NO!” I yelled. My parents both started laughing. As soon as I joined in to their chortling, they stopped, now suddenly stern.

“What were you doing in the hallway?” asked my dad. I told him that I was pretty sure I’d heard a wolf and was checking on its whereabouts. “Well, a loose wolf is a scary thing, so here’s what we’re going to do. Tomorrow, right after school, you come home and stay in your room. You’ll be nice and safe, and proud of your accomplishment.”

“My accomplishment?”

“Yes, you’re going to write out the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree. You’ll do such a good job, I know you’ll be proud.”

“Do I have to?” I whined. My father just looked at me, his face without expression. Then he and my mother left the room, closing the door on the way out. To me it sounded like prison bars.

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