Sam knew she had heard the toilet flush and she now expected to hear him washing his hands. Skip that step, he knew, and he’d be in for discipline. He always tried to avoid Mother’s discipline; tried as hard as he could. He flipped both taps on, the water rushing into the ancient metal basin with a sound like hard rain on a tin roof, and grabbed the bar from the soap dish.
“I said time! You get out here now, Sam!”
Startled by the sudden tone in his mother’s voice, Sam quickly rinsed his hands, grabbing a threadbare towel as a fist began pounding on the rickety door.
“Now Sam! Right now!”
The time-limit was new. She’d announced that he had 30 seconds in the bathroom this morning as he’d shuffled down the hall, then taken up her usual position outside the door, listening to make sure he didn’t skip any steps: pee, lid down, flush, wash. This time, though, she’d had Grandpa’s old pocket-watch in her hand, big and shiny as one of the hubcaps on the mayor’s fancy new car. Sam was used to Mother listening; it wasn’t like he was pee-shy or anything. But the idea that he was being timed, well, he’d kept picturing that ticking watch and he hadn’t been able to go.
He snatched the door open to find Mother filling the tiny hall on the other side, a mountain of a woman, a head and shoulders taller than Sam and broad to boot, pointing to the dangling pocket watch with a with a finger like a ballpark frank.
“More than a minute! I gave you thirty seconds and you took more than a minute! And you didn’t pee! You flushed, but you didn’t pee!”
The huge finger swung away from the watch to point at the tip of his nose, cutting off his words. Mother glared over the finger.
“You don’t think I know what’s going on?”
Sam was bewildered, and more than a little frightened. “Why, what do—”
“You washed your sheets last night.”
Now embarrassment warred with fear in his heart. He wanted to deny it, but there was no lying to Mother — he knew that from experience. He nodded, eyes downcast.
The finger left his face as Mother took hold of him, her huge middle finger and thumb overlapping to form a meaty cuff completely encircling his spindly bicep. She started down the hall, worn slippers scuffing along the cheap carpet, effortlessly towing the now crying Sam in her wake.
“A little boy washing his sheets in the night means a bed wetter, remember? Remember?”
“Yes, Mother, but I—”
“And I had the cure for bed wetting, didn’t I?”
Sam, sobbing, could not answer. She gave his arm a vicious shake.
“Yes,” he managed.
“Well, when a fourteen year old boy starts washing his sheets in the night, it means he’s started having those ‘man-dreams’. Don’t even try to lie, I know!”
She stopped before her bedroom door, wheeling about to look him in the eye, brows knit into one fierce line.
“You’re growing up, Sam. Changing. You’re having ‘urges’. When a boy starts having those ‘man-urges’, there’s only one reason he’s spending time in the bathroom without peeing.”
The finger was in his face again.
“Don’t even try to lie!”
“No, Mother,” Sam said through his sobs. “I didn’t do anything, anything at all, I just flushed and washed and—”
Mother’s huge hand, callused from a lifetime of hard work, cracked across his face with stunning force.
“Liar! Soiling the sheets, self-abuse and now lying to your own mother?” She looked incredulous, then her expression hardened She shook her head.
“I thank God I have a cure!”
The word ‘cure’ turned Sam’s heart to ice, and he began to struggle in Mother’s grip, but the woman was so strong she didn’t even seem to notice. She flung the door open and dragged Sam through, saying “Is everything ready?”
Sam saw Mother’s bed; ropes knotted to each bedpost, Father standing next to the bed… and the Machine.
At the sight of the Machine, Sam redoubled his efforts to get away, wishing he had the courage to strike out at Mother but knowing he did not.
“No! Mother, No! Please! Please!”
Sam was flung upon the bed, Mother taking hold of his wrists and spreading his arms, pressing his wrists to the bedposts.
Sam screamed, struggled, threw himself about for all he was worth, but he was no match for Mother’s strength. Father looped the ropes around his wrists as Mother’s great bulk pressed down on him, squeezing the breath from his body. He felt his pajama pants whisked away, then the rope bit each ankle. Mother released him and rose, leaving him spread on the bed like a starfish, crying and gasping for breath, naked from the waist down.
“Now, this is for your own good,” Mother said, taking up a pair of metal leads from the Machine, like little drumsticks, and shaking out the wires. “Once you were born, this treatment got rid of your father’s urges. It’ll get rid of yours.”
Sam looked to his father, a man only slightly larger than Sam himself, but Father couldn’t meet his eyes.
Mother sat on the edge of the bed, a lead in each hand. Sam cried out as one of them pressed up hard into the skin between his legs, beneath his scrotum.
“Just a few treatments and you won’t be spending any ‘alone time’ in the bathroom any more, don’t you worry,” said Mother.
“But why this?” begged Sam. “Mother, why do this? Why?”
“Because,” she said, touching the other lead to the tip of his penis. “We can’t afford glasses.”
She turned to Father.
“Do it. Now!”
Sobbing, Father reached a trembling finger toward the Machine, and the switch marked “CHARGE”.