Closet Biker, by Aliki Papavgeris
The peace of the house was shattered by Josh opening the front door too vigorously and it smashing into the wall. As if he felt that weren’t enough to announce his return home, he kicked the door closed behind him with an almighty bang. He slipped his shoes off without untying them and left them where they were, in the middle of the hallway and at the end of a trail of mud that he’d trodden into the carpet on his way in. He opened the door into the kitchen and was immediately hit in the face by bright lights and the intoxicating smell of a rich stew bubbling away on the stove. The kitchen, as always, was spotless, with every surface, every appliance and every visible utensil polished until it was gleaming. His mom was stood at the sink with her back towards the door, busily scrubbing a pan as clouds of steam floated around her. The contrast between the warmth of the room and the cold, wintry evening outside made Josh’s nose run. He wiped it on the back of his hand, dumped his backpack on the floor and sat at the table.
His mom looked over her shoulder at him. ‘Hi, sweetie. How was the game?’
Josh seethed with embarrassment and resentment. He was seventeen now, a full grown man. How could she still talk to him like a child? He knew she was intentionally doing it to annoy him. Either that or she was just plain crazy. He slipped his phone out of his pocket and started playing with it so he wouldn’t have to engage in conversation with her.
She turned to face him, smiling warmly. ‘Did you have fun?’
He kept his head down and shrugged weakly, eyes fixed on the on the screen of his phone.
‘Good to hear,’ she said resignedly as she turned her attention back to the pan in the sink.
For a minute or so the only sounds were the gentle simmering of the stew and the ineffectual wheeze of the extractor fan. Josh’s stomach rumbled. ‘When’s dinner?’ he asked.
‘Oh, so you can speak when it’s got something to do with food, then,’ his mom laughed, causing Josh to seethe a little bit more. ‘It’ll be ready in ten.’
He rolled his eyes at the inconvenience of having to wait that long. He suddenly felt his dad’s hand slap him affectionately on the shoulder. He hoped that no one noticed that it had made him jump.
‘Hey, how was the game?’ his dad said as he walked past. His parents pecked each other on the cheek in greeting. The tweeness of it made Josh cringe. It was like they weren’t even real people, just walking, talking stereotypes from the fifties.
His dad leaned on the counter next to the sink and looked at him. ‘Did you win?’
Josh gave a non-committal grunt.
‘What was that?’
Josh sighed theatrically. ‘No, we lost, OK?’
‘That’s too bad,’ his dad said cheerfully. ‘Well, there’s always next time. That smells so good, Sarah.’
His mom smiled and wiped her hands on a dishcloth. ‘Thanks, honey, it’s almost ready.’ She nodded towards the pan in the sink. ‘Would you mind drying this and putting it away?’
‘No problemo,’ his dad said as he took the dishcloth out of her hands. Josh tried to block them out and focused on texting his friend.
His mom opened the door to the utility room and emerged with an armful of shirts on hangers.
‘Joshy, I’ve ironed your work shirts. Could you take them up to your room, please?’
Josh’s blood boiled at this term of endearment which was so patently chosen to humiliate him. He glared at her openly but made no move to take the shirts she was proffering.
‘Come on,’ his dad chipped in, ‘Take them up to your room and then come down and we can have some dinner.’
He mumbled a frustrated, ‘God!’ and snatched the hangers out of his mom’s hands before storming out of the kitchen. He was already marching up the stairs when he heard his dad say, ‘Hey!’ behind him, and his mom say, ‘Leave it, Mark.’ Rather than being thankful that his mom had prevented him from being reprimanded, he was outraged at the incessant bossiness of the woman – she was always telling him and his dad what to do. He picked his way through the pieces of clothing and magazines and empty soda cans strewn across his bedroom floor, ruminating on the way his parents treated him and the sheer injustice of it all. It was like they were stuck in the past and couldn’t accept that he was no longer a baby. As he stuffed the shirts into his closet one by one, he reflected that his parents had effectively built their whole lives around him – being an only child, he was their one and only focus – and that meant that they just couldn’t deal with the fact that he was becoming his own person and didn’t need them anymore. Good, he thought. If him growing up totally destroyed their world and they weren’t able to move on then that served them right for being so boring and not going out and having fun and making the most of their lives. He was about to hang the last shirt up when he realized that it was one of his dad’s. He snorted in frustration. He considered going downstairs and handing the shirt back to his mom for her to deal with but then decided it would be quicker and involve less interaction with her if he put it away himself. He went into their room and was struck, as he always was, by how beige it was. Beige carpet, beige bedcovers, beige lampshades, walls and ceiling a slightly lighter shade of beige. No personality whatsoever. He didn’t know how they could cope with it – the blandness of it all would drive him crazy. He felt it was a testament to just how boring his parents were. He turned on the nearest bedside lamp and opened the door to their closet. At least here there was a hint that they had once had a life outside of him – right at the end of the closet, hung up so that it resembled a headless man, was a bulky, full body leather biker suit. At its feet was a large, shiny helmet with a tinted visor and a pair of heavy-duty knee-high boots. He didn’t know why his dad kept all this stuff – he hadn’t been on a motorbike since before Josh was born. Josh vaguely wondered if he would have a midlife crisis and get back into biking. The thought of his dad all dressed up in this gear made him laugh.
He hung the shirt up and was about to close the door when something glinted in the light and caught his eye. There was something shiny spilling out over the top of his dad’s biking boots. He couldn’t quite make out what it was so he bent down to get a better look. He thought it looked a bit like a pair of handcuffs draped across the edge of a boot, but he didn’t actually believe that that was what it was until he reached out and touched it. The surface was cold and smooth. He squeezed a cuff shut and it made a deep clicking sound which sent a chill down his spine. They were definitely what they looked like. There was only one real reason why his parents would have a pair of handcuffs in their bedroom but he really didn’t want to admit it to himself. A thought occurred to him – perhaps they were actually part of the biker suit that had somehow fallen off? It was a long shot but he was willing to try and believe it. Handcuffs in hand, he stood up to inspect the suit. There was no obvious way that they could have been part of it. He noticed that there was also something draped across the neck of the suit. It was quite hard to see as it was black leather on black leather, but on closer inspection it appeared to be some sort of riding crop. Josh was quite certain that neither of his parents had ever mentioned having been into horse riding at any point in their lives.
His stomach clenched and he felt sick. There was no way he could marry the actions that these items insinuated with his mom and dad. He decided to run away and forget he had ever seen them. He bent down to put the handcuffs back where he found them and his hand brushed against the helmet. Something at the back of his mind told him that there were things under the helmet that he really didn’t want to know about and this was precisely why, after a moment’s hesitation, his trembling hands lifted the helmet up. A tangled pile of metal and leather came tumbling out. With mounting horror, he picked out various items from it. There was a skimpy studded leather corset that when worn would leave very little to the imagination. There were more handcuffs, much chunkier than the others he’d seen and with a solid piece of metal between them to further restrict movement. There were lengths of chain with thick links that tinkled when he touched them and a number of sturdy, mean-looking padlocks. He picked up what at first appeared to be a collection of leather straps, but when he held it out in front of him correctly he realized it was in fact a pair of crotchless panties. Automatically his eyes squeezed shut and his face creased up in a grimace of disgust. He dropped them back into the pile. He wanted to stop but he couldn’t help himself. With his eyes still shut, he delved further into the depths of the pile. In his mind he screamed at his hand to retreat but it paid him no attention, as if it were being controlled by someone else. His fingers closed around something yielding but firm, like a rubber ball but longer.
His mom’s voice froze him to the spot. His eyes opened wide and his mind went totally blank. He had no idea what to do and didn’t have the ability to think. He stayed in this impasse for several seconds before his mom called, ‘Joshy!’ again and roused him into action. He hurriedly stuffed everything back under the helmet, slammed the closet door shut and sat with his back against it, as if the things he’d just seen would escape if he didn’t contain them. He felt at the same time completely numb and flooded with terror. He shakily got to his feet and walked out of the room in a trance. He knew that if he went downstairs he would have to deal with his parents – the people who liked to call him their ‘special little guy’ and who also liked restraining and whipping each other while clad to varying degrees in leather – and yet his feet seemed to be propelling him onwards. The thought of his dad all dressed up in his biking gear no longer made him laugh. He opened the kitchen door and found his parents in much the same position as they had been a few moments ago, with his mom bustling around the stove and his dad setting the table. It was a scene of typical domesticity and there was a comforting familiarity to it. Reassured, Josh took a few more steps into the room. Perhaps things were, as they appeared to be, absolutely normal.
His dad sat at the table and his mom placed a bowl of stew in front of him. A look passed between them. There was a fiery glint in their eyes that Josh had never seen before. He wondered if it had always been there and he had just not noticed it. Again he tried to stop himself from delving further into the matter but failed miserably, and a question planted itself in his mind that he was unable to dislodge – who did what to who, exactly? He felt dizzy.
His mom put two more bowls of stew on the table, a small one for her and one full to the brim for him. She stood up tall with her hands on the back of her chair and trained her deep, piercing stare on him. ‘Sit down,’ she ordered. He thought she sounded more authoritative than she had ever done before.
‘You better do what she says,’ his dad said in what Josh felt was a distinctly conspiratorial manner.
Josh was known in the family for never leaving food on his plate and for constantly complaining about being hungry, so it was with utter astonishment that his parents watched him leave his bowl of stew untouched and back out of the room without a word. He just about made it to the bathroom before he started puking. He spent the next twenty minutes staring into the toilet bowl and wondering how he would ever be able to look at them in the eye again.
Aliki Papavgeris was born in Greece and grew up in the Netherlands. She studied Psychology and now lives and works in a town just outside of London. Her main focus is short stories and in her spare time she reads anything and everything she can get her hands on.
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Tags: Aliki Papavgeris, family, relationships, secrets, sex