Evolutionary Amnesia

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

"Evolutionary Amnesia" is about life without the opportunity for furthering education and what it feels like to come from places that are not easy to find.

I came from the apes. My heritage includes fur in the wrong places, dominance by chest beating, and brute strength that knows how to gently peel a banana. At four years of age, my mother left me by gently placing me in a cradle and rocking me to sleep. I do not remember her. 

My father raised me. “Boy, fetch me some water,” he said every evening when he arrived home from work hot, sweaty and tired. He never thought it wrong to leave me on my own all day. I figured it out. Forage for food in the refrigerator; be my own best friend; worry if Dad did not come home.

My father left books and he showed me how to read in the evenings when he was not too tired. When I turned ten, my father sent me to school. Kids I had never met laughed and pointed at my patched blue jeans and my over-sized, hand-me-down work shirts. I could not afford study guides or tutors, but my grades were always okay. No one ever picked me on the playground for tag or kickball, but I usually made someone’s team in gym class because I could run faster than most.

Mr. Hort taught sixth grade science my second year and he talked to me after class. “What did you think of the assignment today, Jim?” he would ask. At first I was shy about answering. Then one day, he passed out a book called The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin. Mr. Hort said, “We have a right to know where we come from and how we arrived to our position on the planet in today’s world.”

After class I said, “Mr. Hort, I don’t know where I came from- I just know who I am.”

He laughed at me quietly and I felt my cheeks beginning to burn red in embarrassment. “We all came from somewhere, Jim.” He finally said. “Perhaps you need to do some research as an extra credit project.” I smiled politely and turned and ran from the room.

I did my homework at the kitchen table most nights. Dad would not disturb me, although I missed our reading lessons. One day he came home, while I was eating my bologna sandwich for dinner, and said, “I need you to stay home from school tomorrow.”

I frowned at him. “Why?” I asked.

“Just do as I say,” he said.

I scratched my head and turned back to my homework, but then I slammed a text book shut and jumped two feet in the air when my Dad’s large hand came down heavy on the back of my chair.

“I’m going to teach you some things around the place tomorrow,” my Dad said. “I have a day off.” I looked up at his dirty beard straggling across his chin and I smiled. I was tired of books and mean-spirited children anyway. He put a hand under my chin and ran his thumb with a torn fingernail across my jaw. “You’re a good boy,” he said. He turned and walked across the floor to the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. I sighed, ran my hands through my hair, and decided to slip outside before the sun disappeared completely.

The back porch sagged in the middle and the steps had disintegrated into two boards that barely held my weight any longer. I bounced out into the yard where the weeds had grown taller than my knees. We had a shed out back that held the push lawnmower and some old paint that had once been used on the house. The roof of the shed was tin and the walls were made of gray, splintered wood. I had a favorite tree in the yard that was good for climbing and I headed up the bark with my shoes off to settle in the branches until the stars came out.  Two hours later, I opened my eyes. I had fallen asleep with my feet propped over my head on the tree’s largest branch. I shimmied carefully down the tree, now that it was dark, and went back inside. The screen door from the porch closed loudly behind me as I ran back into the kitchen. I stopped for a moment, waiting to see if my Dad would wake up, and looked at the dishes in the sink and the towels lying on the old, scratched metal countertop. The work could probably wait until tomorrow. I was tired. There were no noises from my Dad upstairs, so I made my pull out bed on the couch quickly, rolled up in a slightly worn flannel blanket, and nodded off.

The next morning I woke up early and started on the dishes in the kitchen sink while I cooked my eggs for breakfast. I heard Dad coming down the stairs with the slow thump of his boots hitting the edges of the steps. “Morning,” I said as he sat down at the table. He rubbed his hand across his chin and did not say anything for a few minutes. 

I finished cooking the eggs and split them into two plates. Putting one of the plates in front of my Dad, I sat down in the only other chair at the table and reached for the glass saltshaker standing off to the side. “We’ll start with the porch,” my Dad said. 

“Something has to be done about the steps. I think we can tear them boards out and make a plywood ramp.”

I shrugged and ate a fork full of my eggs.

“You should say something when I talk to you, boy,” my Dad said.

“The porch is okay,” I responded.

Lightening fast my Dad’s flat-palmed hand connected with my cheek in a blow that hit hard enough to make me drop my fork. “What did you say?” he asked.
I sat there for a second. “I meant we can, too, start with the porch,” I said looking only at my empty plate.

“Good,” he said and took another bite of the eggs on his own plate.

I pushed back from the table and carried my empty plate to the counter. My Dad stood up and brought his plate over, placing it beside mine. “You go get started,” he said. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.” I left the kitchen through the screen door and walked down the step-boards and then I went to the shed to look for a hammer to use to take the steps apart. The door on the shed was large and difficult to open. It had a chain across it with an unlocked padlock because there was not a key. As I rummaged through the rags around the paint cans, I heard my Dad come out onto the porch. “Boy!” he yelled. 

“I’m in the shed,” I yelled back, poking my head out of the shed door.

“I need to run into town to get the plywood,” said my Dad. “You have these boards cleared away by the time I get back.”

“Yes, sir,” I responded.

My Dad spit off the side of the porch and went back inside through the kitchen backdoor. I heaved a sigh of relief and returned to the paint can rubbish determined to find at least a screwdriver to pry the step boards loose.  Without a light in the shed, I got down on my hands and knees to feel up into the shed corners where tools had been known to hide. I was not paying much else attention. All of a sudden the sunlight coming in from the open door behind me began to fade. I turned around in panic just in time to see the shed door swing shut. I heard the rattle of the chain on the shed door and my heart dropped. Groping my way along the shed wall in the sudden total darkness, I found the door and pushed on it. Someone had locked it from the outside and the door would not give. My mind started racing and all I could think about was that my Dad would come home and I would be in trouble for not starting the work he had left me. I pushed my shoulder into the door, straining for strength I did not have. The old boards gave a little, and a crack of light appeared around the edges, but the chain locked around the outside held fast. I sank to the floor holding my head in my hands. I knew there might be a tool in the shed that I could use as a wedge or lever to try to snap the locked chain. The chain was old and rusty, even though the links were large, heavy duty metal. I did not want to think past getting out of the shed. Someone obviously had done this and if they were still lurking around the property, I was certain that my Dad would take care of the issue when he came back from town. On the other hand, my own failure of finding myself trapped in the shed like a raccoon was not going to be easy to explain. 

I remembered a lecture from Mr. Hort on the species of mankind beginning as cave dwellers and I tried to imagine what skills a cave man might have passed down to me that would be useful in a dark confined space. The apes used to bang stones against stones to break things and the old paint cans in the corner might possibly be used to break through the rusted chain and padlock. I felt along the wall until I reached the two half-full paint buckets and a pile of what used to be rags piled around them. I could almost see well enough by now to lift the cans up by the handles. My eyes were certainly still capable of adapting to the needs of the environment.  I picked up a paint can in either hand, twirled around in a circle for momentum, and then swung one can closely followed by the other can at the shed door. The old metal of the cans met the rotting wood on the door and some of the first board in the door flew off leaving a fairly sizeable hole. The hole was big enough for my fist and now I could yank on the rusted chain from underneath by sticking my hand out through the hole.  I pulled on the chain and nothing happened. Trying to feel for the weakest link in the chain, my clumsy palm passed over the padlock twice. For a minute, I thought I was trapped for good and the panic of an animal caught in a corner rose up in my throat. “Help me!” I yelled loudly. No one answered. I stuck my hand through the hole in the door again, wrapped my fingers around the padlock, and pulled down with as much strength as I could put into one arm. I heard a snap. Letting go of the padlock, I pushed on the door. The door would not give, so I pushed harder. I heard the metal of the chain rattle hard and then the door broke free. I whooped at the success and walked out into the backyard. There was no one around. I ran up the step boards still in place onto the back porch and into the kitchen for a glass of water. My Dad was seated at the kitchen table. I stopped with a terrified look on my face. “Dad?” I said.

“Boy, if you are smart enough to get yourself free, then you don’t need school any longer. I need you to take care of our place here so I can work and we can eat. I was hoping you were stupid. Then I could have asked the school for some help,” my Dad said.

I closed my eyes for a long minute and the ordeal of being locked in the dark shed flew through my mind. I was more than an animal. I was a human animal. The problem with knowing that was that I wanted to prove it. I took a deep breath. “Yes, sir,” I replied. “Are we going to tell the school? It will look funny if I just disappear.”

“Told them yesterday,” my Dad said. “Now go repair the porch and fix what you did to the shed.”

I hung my head and looked down at the floor. “Yes, sir,” I said quietly and let myself back out onto the porch. I walked across the yard to the shed and pulled the broken door shut behind me. We did not have extra wood and I had no idea how to fix the shed. The door was still on its hinges and the musty smell of old paint rags was still coming from the corner. I grabbed up the rags and stuffed them in the hole I had made in the door. There were enough rags for a fit in the shed door when they were all wrapped into a ball and that would keep small creatures out well enough that I would not have to destroy nests in the shed later. I sat down on the shed floor and pulled my knees up to my chest. Cavemen had lived in caves because they did not have houses and houses were prisons that no decent caveman would respect. I let myself cry two tears and then got up to go pry at the step boards. Dad would want dinner by this evening.

 


Submitted: September 22, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Kimberly A McKenzie. All rights reserved.

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