My sister Barb and I were sitting in the kitchen at the big oval wooden table, staring at the television perched in the recessed shelf of the wall opposite. It was the late 1960s and we were still watching a black-and-white portable television; I was 9 years old, and Barb was 5. The world consisted of the nearby community, our farm, and our family—our parents and three older sisters. During summers we swam for long and pleasurable hours with our friends on the next concession road in the large pond on their property. During winters we climbed snowbanks that almost reached the telephone lines.
An episode of Gilligan’s Island had just started when Barb and I heard a piercing scream from the floor above, then the voices of our three older sisters raised in that shrill manner typical of a sudden emergency situation. Then we heard heavy feet pounding down the linoleum-covered wooden stairs. When our mother heard the cacophony from the upper floor, she turned from the kitchen counter where she was making one of her delicious meat-and-vegetable pies for supper. In the same wide-eyed manner as my sister and me, Mom was staring in consternation first at the ceiling above and then at the door at the bottom of the stairs when suddenly my second-eldest sister, Laurie, burst through it with a bang as the door slammed back against the kitchen wall. She had the wild-eyed look of someone pursued, running at a madcap pace for the bathroom on the far side of the kitchen.
My eldest sister, Cheri, appeared moments later at the bottom of the steps and made a beeline for the bathroom, with an expression somewhere between misery and mirth. For a self-satisfying moment, it crossed my mind that my sisters must have been involved in that age-old battle typical of siblings across the world and through the centuries. That thought was banished, however, when my sister Jo Ann, who was next eldest to me, flew through the opened stairway door with feet that barely touched the linoleum of the kitchen floor. As Jo Ann sped across, she managed to turn her head and shriek at our mother the following sentence that remains imprinted even now in my mind and makes me smile at the memory:
“Laurie’s got her period!”
Immediately, my mother, always at her best during times of crises, turned her back on the meal she was preparing and hurried into the bathroom. Barb and I barely had to glance at each other before we went into action: we were of one mind, and ran fast behind our mother. Just as we reached the bathroom door, it slammed in our faces, and we heard the lock click in place. We hammered on the door, asking what all the commotion was about, but we were ignored. We could hear our sister Laurie half-sobbing, and the voices of our other two sisters talking in an animated manner, whilst our mother’s voice was soothing and at a lower pitch. Despite plastering our eager ears to the bathroom door, we could not discern what was actually being said, nor determine what curious calamity had befallen Laurie. I turned to Barb, “Let’s look in the bathroom window!” I ran from the kitchen and through the back kitchen, then around to the rear of the house. Barb was fast on my heels.
Our home was on the family farm that Dad had purchased from his father; at one time the house had wooden siding, but several years earlier my father had arranged for multi-coloured asphalt shingles to cover the two-story house at the front, and the one-story at the back where the kitchen and bathroom were located. As children we joked that the siding looked like something our old asthmatic mother cat, Tinker, had coughed up; in retrospect, although not the most attractive siding for a house, it was at least new and was considered both fashionable and affordable at the time. The rear of the house was on a slight hill, and thus the back wall where the bathroom was located was quite significantly higher than ground level. Behind the house there was a covered shed with steps that led down into the cellar; the shed had wooden walls on three sides, and an old door with an old-fashioned handle at the front. An aluminum eavestrough ran around the front of the house on the underside of the roof on both upper and lower floors; however, at the rear of the house the eavestrough ran in a straight line below the bathroom window. It was just the right level for two children with beady eyes and snoopy ears to perch upon in order to do their sleuthing.
This was not the first time that Barb and I had clambered up onto the roof of the cellar shed: like a pair of tree-dwelling chimps, we were practiced climbers, getting toeholds on the exterior where there were knots in the wood. On that particular day, I was the first to climb on top of the cellar shed and sat on its roof as I waited for my sister to follow.
“We can walk along the eavestrough to the bathroom window,” I whispered to Barb. From what Jo Ann had cried out in the kitchen, we knew that Laurie had got her “period,” but we were not entirely sure what that meant (although we had an idea it had something to do with her body). That said, it was clear to us that a major emergency session was taking place in our family bathroom, and we did not want to miss out on all that anxiety and excitement.
I sat on the edge of the cellar shed’s roof and then stood and began to inch my way across the eavestrough toward the bathroom window, using the wooden trim above from which to cling precariously with my fingers. Barb followed closely behind. It was not far from the shed’s roof to the bathroom window, but it seemed quite a distance when one was moving sideways, one tiny step at a time.
We reached the window and looked in. The bathroom light was not on, and the sun shining on the glass made it difficult for Barb and me to see into the darkened room. When our eyes focused, we were able to distinguish our mother from behind as she busied herself administering to Laurie (who was sitting on the family “throne”), whilst our other two sisters were standing nearby, animatedly talking to each other and to Laurie, albeit in lower voices than previously. In addition to not being able to see sufficiently, Barb and I could not quite make out what was being said.
I had just turned to Barb and said, “I wonder what is going on” when I heard a loud crack. In an instant I felt myself falling the half-story distance to the ground below. I hit the grassy slope with a thud that knocked the breath out of me. I quickly sat up, looked around myself, and saw the eavestrough had broken in two and was lying nearby. But where was Barb? I then looked up at the wall above and saw that she had managed to maintain a hold on the wooden window frame with her two small hands. Her little feet, encased in her familiar pink running shoes, were desperately trying to get a toehold on the wall. I was amazed that my younger sister was still hanging by her fingers on the window ledge. I was just about to jump up to grab or catch her when Barb dropped unceremoniously to the ground beside me. She too had the breath briefly knocked out of her.
After a few moments we looked at each other and had the same idea: we knew that we would be in trouble for snooping and for breaking the eavestrough. Immediately we got to our feet in order to flee from this mishap. As we began to make our great escape, we heard the bathroom window open with a bang and our mother shouted, “Just what are you kids up to now?” Rather than stop to give an explanation or to beg forgiveness, our flying feet beat a path down the long back lawn to the safety of the barn.
John RC Potter is a Canadian who lives in Istanbul. Previously published in (or upcoming): Plenitude Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Fragmented Voices, The Write Launch, Literary Yard, Down in the Dirt, Bosphorus Review of Books, The National Library of Poetry, Jabberwocky, Blank Spaces, and The Stray Branch.