“Don’t be stupid, Brucey, everybody knows you are.”
“Well, I ain’t!”
Kip rolled his eyes. Brucey had moved so close in the dark Kip could feel him shaking. “Git off me, then!” Kip elbowed his brother aside, but there wasn’t much space and Brucey just shifted back onto his arm. “You’re such a baby.”
“I am not!”
Kip sighed. He was hot. Well, it was late summer, they’d been hiding practically forever, and what did he expect? Brucey was hot too, and two hot bodies in a small space was just darned uncomfortable. He swiped at the sweat on his brow and tried again to straighten his legs out against the door. It didn’t budge.
“You think they’ll find us?” Brucey whispered.
“Never,” Kip laughed. “We’re safe in here.”
Brucey swatted at a sweat droplet. The Big Boys were after them again, but this time Brucey and Kip had found the best hiding place ever. If only it wasn’t so darned hot.
“I hate the Big Boys,” Brucey declared hotly. “Why they always wanna beat us up, anyway?”
“Dunno. Just ‘cause they can, I guess.”
“They’re just bullies –“
“Sh! I hear something -”
Outside, they could hear faint laughter. Kip and Brucey held their breaths. Last time the Big Boys had got hold of them, Kip had nearly been drowned in the creek and Brucey got farted in the face. They were never going to get beat up again. Ever.
The laughter eventually faded, and Kip felt pretty sure they could get out now. It must be near dinnertime. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He was awful thirsty, and it was prob’ly safe to open the door. At least, he hoped it was.
“C’mon, Brucey,” he whispered, “help me push the door open.”
“Ok.” Brucey was tired and his legs were cramping up anyway. “I’ll help,” he said.
“Ow! That was my foot –“
“Sorry Kip –“
“Right. Let’s push. One… two… ”
Brucey yawned. “I’m so tired, Kip –“
“That don’t matter! Just help me push! On three, then. One… two…. THREE!”
His little brother straightened his chubby legs out and they boys commenced pushing. They pushed hard. So, so hard. But not so much as a crack of light showed around the door. Kip mopped his forehead again and leaned back, panting.
It was black as a pocket, and he discovered that Brucey had slumped over into his space again.
“Git over!” he moaned. He would have shouted, but couldn’t seem to catch his breath after all that pushing. He elbowed His brother again and Brucey pulled himself upright.
“You’re s’posed to be… helping!”
Brucey was silent for a long moment, dragging in breaths rattly with snot. “I’m wore out,” he finally whispered. “Must be ‘bout midnight now…”
“It is not!” It just couldn’t be! Kip took one deep breath after another after another and saw shooting stars spinning in the darkness. “Look, Bruce,” he whispered, “stars…”
Brucey opened his eyes and searched the blackness for Kip’s stars. He couldn’t see any and wanted to say so, but then he lost his train of thought. Closing his eyes, Brucey slumped against his brother’s shoulder. “I wish momma was here…”
Kip wished so too. But wishing wouldn’t get them out of there. So, between the stars and the breathlessness, Kip was formulating a plan. “We gotta… we… we gotta make noise, Brucey.”
“Mm hmm,” was Brucey’s only reply. He rolled his head away from his brother’s shoulder until gravity took it back.
Kip kicked at the door again and again – THUMP… THUMP… THUMP… but the effort only brought on more stars and a pain that knifed its way through his temples. He shifted to his knees and beat on the door with his fists until they bled and his entire body was wracked with cramp. Kip began to howl in pain and frustration. He wanted his momma. He wanted to cry. It was late and dark, and he didn’t feel at all brave. And he had to pee so bad he hurt.
The howling revived Brucey, who rose to his knees and wrapped his sweaty arms around his brother. “Kipper! Kipper… Kip – don’t – don’t cry!”
Gasping, Kip slung his arm around his brother and unleashed a rush of dry sobs into the top of Brucey’s head. “I’m not crying,” he said. “It’s just… it’s just I got a Charley horse…” And a headache. And I can’t breathe…
But Kip was crying, He was really crying, coughing and gasping into his brother’s wet mop of dirty hair.
“I want momma,” Brucey whimpered, holding his brother tighter still. “Momma… momma… momma…” his words trailed off into a high, keening wail that sank into the vacuum of darkness.
“She’ll come,” Kip sniffled. “She’ll come, Brucey. She’ll come. Here… let’s sit down and wait for her.”
“K,” whispered Brucey, and the boys collapsed back against the wall.
“She’ll come,” whispered Kip, settling his brother within the bony circle of his arms. “She’ll come…”
Kip closed his eyes and watched the stars fade on the inside of his eyelids, listened to the hot buzzing in his ears and drifted off. She’ll come. She’ll come, and she’ll skin us alive for worrying her…
He pictured his mother in her pleated Sunday dress, standing on the front porch. She shaded her eyes against the setting sun and called to her boys. Kipper! Brucey! His mother was calling their names over and over, a frown pleating her pretty brow. Now, she was walking down to the barn, running, holding a heavy, silver flashlight… Kipper…
“I gotta pee,” slurred Brucey into the darkness.
“You can’t pee in here, buddy…” As he spoke, Kip he felt the stinging rush of urine pooling around his legs. He wasn’t even sure whose it was. “You’re such a baby…” His words were little more than a sleepy whisper, but they wouldn’t matter.
Brucey couldn’t hear him anyway.
NOTE: As a child growing up in the 1960s, I recall my mother telling me to never, EVER play in or around old refrigerators or freezers. When prompted for a “why,” Mom reported that a friend (or relative?) had discovered her two little boys, wrapped in each other’s arms, dead inside an abandoned fridge. It is a story that has always haunted me. Prior to 1958, “Refrigerator deaths” were apparently so common that a law was eventually passed in the US to enforce a change in the design of refrigerators and freezers to magnet latches, able to be opened from the inside. And Amen to that, I say.
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