Back To The Cave

A Short Story by Roger Sedarat

            From Igor’s earliest memories his father would give philosophical lectures during dinner time. He’d roll his eyes and pretend not to care, but the truth is he always found them more than just a little interesting.

            On an early Friday night, his mother made his favorite dinner: pork chops with French fries. It was deep autumn, and his father had made a fire. “Look there…see the shadow of the tongs on the wall?” He was referring to the tool he’d use to pick up flaming logs and rearrange them. “I see it,” said Igor, more interested in grabbing another chop from the center of the table.

            “They look like giant rabbit ears, no?”

            “I guess so,” said Igor, shrugging his shoulders and cutting his meat.

            “Do you know if we were in Plato’s cave, we’d believe that was a real bunny.”

         Igor really sort of wished he’d stop talking. He sensed another one of his big lectures coming, and he’d much rather finish dinner then run outside to play with his friends. Workers had dug a giant hole near their apartment complex, the beginning of building some structure that involved burying these concrete cylinders. He’d started to climb into the cylinders after school, when his Mom made him come in to help clean up the house. But as much as he wanted to race outside to the cylinders and the big trucks, he knew he’d have to endure his father’s big lesson; they all would. He decided to get it over with.

          “It’s a shadow. Didn’t they know about shadows where Plato was from?”

          “Greece,” said his father. “Plato was from Greece.”

          “Speaking of grease,” said his mother, “you have a lot of it right now in your beard.” Igor smiled at his mother’s joke, and she smiled back. She was always making these clever jokes, mostly because of all the books she read. He knew his father, a philosophy professor, thought he was the smartest in the house, but often it seemed like his mom was the real intellectual.

         “Of course they knew about shadows,” said his father, wiping his beard roughly, then throwing the napkin on his empty plate. “But he told a story…about people living in a cave, looking at shadows.”

         “Could they come out?” Asked Igor.

         “Never,” explained his father. “That’s the point. They grew up thinking that the shadows of things like a rabbit were the real thing.”

        “That’s sad,” said Igor, rubbing the fries in the grease on his plate.

        “Why? They didn’t know the difference.”

        “What if they could get out?” Asked Igor.

        “Smart boy!” Exclaimed his father, beaming as he lit his pipe. His mother smiled too. “That’s what Plato asks. Suppose one gets out, and for our discussion, let us say he sees a real rabbit. Will he believe it?”

        “No. Somebody would have to teach him.” Said Igor, encouraged by the praise.

        “Exactly,” said his father. “And readers of this allegory, they miss this point.”

        “What’s an allegory?” Asked Igor.

       “It’s a story that has a hidden meaning…telling another story inside of it,” answered his mom.

       “That’s not what’s important here,” said his father, relighting his pipe. “When the teacher comes to show them, they want to kill him. He basically has to take them to the truth by force.”

       With his father’s lesson completed, Igor helped his parents clean the table. Then he washed dishes with his father. When they were done, he asked if he could play with his friends until bedtime.

        “It’s getting cold out. Why don’t you just stay in tonight?” Said his mother, looking a little concerned.

        “It’s the weekend. Let the boy play awhile,” replied his father, now sitting by the fire with his tea.

        “Okay,” agreed his mom, sitting in the chair near his father. “But stay away from all that construction. It’s dangerous….and take your jacket!”

        “Thanks Mom!” Said Igor, grabbing his jacket and racing out the door. Of course he didn’t listen to her warning about the construction. He raced right to the site, where he found his friends waiting in one of the giant concrete cylinders.

         “In here, Igor. Look! We have a flashlight!” One of his friends, Dimitri, was jumping up and down, his voice and his stomping feet echoing through the enclosure. He waved him over with the light.

         They ran in and out of the other cylinders, as well as the trucks, taking turns to pretend they were driving. Then Igor suggested they look at the giant hole.

 “It’s so deep now,” said Valde, “they’ve been digging all week. But my dad says don’t go near it. We could fall in.”

         “Don’t be chicken,” replied Igor. “Here, give me the light.” He grabbed the flashlight without asking, and started to lead the way. Igor had long established himself as ring leader among this pack of neighborhood friends. At school there were others, but here he was usually boss. Valde and Dimitri didn’t seem to mind, since he usually led them to more excitement.

        “Here. Stand on the edge like this and look down,” commanded Igor, shining the light below.

        “It’s scary,” said Dimitri. “It’s so steep.”

        “Don’t be chicken,” said Igor again. “It’s a gradual incline, plus it’s soft dirt.”

        “There could be rocks,” replied Dimitri, backing up.

        “There aren’t any rocks. Do you see rocks?” Igor shined the light left and right.

        “He’s right,” responded Valde. “There are no rocks.”

        “You two should go down there, and report back what you find,” said Igor matter of fact.

        “We could die,” said Dimitri, looking concerned.

        “No chance,” said Valde, trying to sound brave.

        “Look, there’s a little ledge you can land on, and from there you climb down.” Igor shined the light straight down the hole to show them.

        “Where? I don’t see it?” Asked Valde.

        “Come closer to the edge. Dimitri, you too,” Igor motioned with one arm, still holding the light.

“Where?” asked Dimitri and Valde together.

        “There!” yelled Igor, dropping the light and pushing them both forward with all of his might. They screamed as they rolled down the steep slope, the sound of their voices growing more distant before they landed with a thud. It reminded Igor of the road runner cartoon, when the coyote falls to the ground.”

       “Hahahahahahah!” laughed Igor. “You guys fell for it!”

       “What the hell Igor!??? You bastard!” Screamed Valde. “That hurt!”

“Time for your lesson!” shouted Igor, now sounding serious, like a teacher.

       “What lesson? I’m coming back up,” explained Dimitri. He was harder to hear, as if struggling for breath.

       “Me too!” yelled Valde.

Igor listened to them struggling to climb, shining his light before them to check their progress. They grunted and swore. Then, after making it a few meters, they tumbled down.

     “Give up?!!!” Yelled Igor.

     “It’s too steep!” Screamed Dimitri, now finding his voice. It sounded like he was crying. “Go get my father!”

     “I’ll get a rope and throw it down, but only after you two maggots pass the test!” Igor loved that he called them “maggots.” He’d heard the term in an American war movie, from a two-star general.

     “What test?” Asked Valde, sounding angrier and more confident than his fellow captive.

     Dimitri held up two fingers, like a peace sign. He shined the flashlight on them. “See the shadow?!!!” Yelled Igor.

     “What shadow?!!!” Valde yelled back in frustration.

     “We see no shadow!” screamed Dimitri, now really crying.

     “It’s a rabbit! I’m showing you a rabbit!”

     “We don’t see a fucking rabbit! Just get us out of here. It’s cold!” Dimitri was sobbing now.

     “Say it’s a rabbit!” ordered Igor, angry that they couldn’t see the image.

     “Okay. Fuck. It’s a rabbit. Get us out!” Insisted Valde.

     “And this light above you. It’s a star!”

     “The flashlight?!!!” sobbed Dimitri out of frustration.

“Not a flashlight. A star! Say it!”

     “Fine! Fine! It’s a star! Please Igor! Get the rope!” Yelled Valde. He too started to sound frightened.

     “Okay. Wait there.” Igor smiled at his own joke as he went to the shed in the back of his house. He took down the long heavy rope coiled up in the corner, then walked back to his friends at the hole. He walked first to one of the big dump trucks nearby. Looping the rope once around the bumper, he then went close to the hole, and swung the rope down.

      “See the end?” Asked Igor.

      “No!” Dimitri yelled back.

      “Feel for it!” Yelled Igor, shining the flashlight down the length of the rope.

      “Okay, got it! I’m coming first!” Valde yelled up. “Ready?”

     “Sure!” Igor said enthusiastically, setting the light at his feet to hold on with both hands. “And if you get lost don’t worry. Just follow the North Star!!!” Igor laughed so hard at his own joke, he almost dropped the rope.

Roger Sedarat is the author of four poetry collections. His fiction has recently appeared in Book XI: a Journal of Literary Philosophy, Construction Literary Press, and the Nonconformist. He teaches creative writing and literary translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York. 

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