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News & Features » May 2020 » “Kaboom” by Eileen Vorbach Collins

“Kaboom” by Eileen Vorbach Collins

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, a fifth-grade assignment goes awry.

by Eileen Vorbach Collins
Fifth grader

The homework assignment was simple; make something to do with transportation. Something  a child could fashion out of a toilet paper roll and buttons. Done. Back outdoors making sticks into guns or setting fires with magnifying glasses. 

But no! This project was going to need special little gizmos, gears, and motors, a few pounds of paraffin wax, some Styrofoam, special wire, and batteries. Always, the batteries! We’d already been to RadioShack and a hardware store. Any other essentials would be found in the basement or under a sofa cushion. We’d find something old and rusty but still useful. We were a disorganized but resourceful bunch, low on funds, but rich with imagination. We were the mother and children of invention.

Daniel was busy all Saturday morning. Bits of the project covered the kitchen table. Lovely white blocks of paraffin waiting to be melted. Add a few drop of lavender, and I’ll use the leftovers in a warm, soothing hand treatment. 

I explained that he would need to use a double boiler, throwing in some information about flash point and flames. He seemed to be paying attention. I had to run some errands.

“Do you want to come with me? We can stop at RadioShack.”

“No, Mom, I wanna stay home and keep working on this.”

“Okay, but don’t touch the stove until I get home. I mean it!”

“Yeah, I know Mom.” 

His voice betrayed the less than endearing fact that he was rolling his eyes. He changed his tone to ask that I pick up a few things at Radio Shack. No problem! I love RadioShack. Never one to get excited about jewelry or perfume, I’ll roam for hours, happy as a pig in a tutu. I adore the little gizmos and gears almost as much as he does.

Tiny motors and wires. Clamps and washers and other assorted items—a veritable cornucopia, ripe with possibility. I shopped with unaccustomed abandon. These things, these tiny, shiny, adorable things, would make my boy happy. How excited he would be by what I’d found! What fun he would have using those things to build a wonderful something. What vicarious pleasure I would have when his was the best whatever it was in the entire 5th grade.

So, I may have spent a little more time in that RadioShack then I had planned. Then, traffic was a little heavier than expected. I called to let him know I was on my way home and was surprised when our neighbor, Brian, answered the phone.

“Hi Bri, what’re you doing there?” I asked. He much too hurriedly assured me that everything was fine. He sounded rather anxious for Brian, who usually projected a soft-spoken, easy-going, old hippie sort of vibe. I believe his next words were, “Don’t kill him.”

“What’s wrong?” I screeched. “What’s he done?”

“There was kind of a little fire?” Brian asked meekly, as though it were a question.

I made it home in record time. Although Brian had already scrubbed the ceiling, it remained a soft charcoal color. The cabinets were black. The house reeked of smoke.

Emptying the bag of RadioShack treasures onto the kitchen table, I growled at the child cowering behind our kind neighbor.

“Look at all these neat things. They’re all going back. Find something else to use. Some chewing gum and an old sock. I don’t care.”

In my memory, his eyelashes were singed. He says that didn’t happen. He remembers a loud “whoosh” and a flame shooting out over his head after he’d tried to put it out by throwing water on it.

“I was in fifth grade. They didn’t teach kids how to put out fires. They just told us to stop, drop and roll.”

Years later, he confessed that he’d started melting the paraffin as soon as I was out the door. He did make a double boiler of sorts out of a tin can, then went to watch cartoons while waiting for the wax to melt. 

His description of flames rolling across the ceiling, hitting the bulkhead and rolling back before disappearing, has not changed. I did finally give him the RadioShack stuff. Gizmos like that should not be wasted. We don’t remember what his final project looked like or what grade he earned.

His memory of thinking “Oh damnshiithell she’s gonna kill me, maybe I better go to my dad’s,” makes us laugh.

My memory fills me with gratitude and keeps me buying safety goggles. He has quite a collection.


EILEEN VORBACH COLLINS is a Baltimore native. Her writing has been published in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, Wards, Montana Mouthful, Lunch Ticket, and others. She is the recipient of the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction and the Gabriele Rico Challenge Award. She has written a memoir in essays, some of which may be read at eileenvorbachcollins.com.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: May 29, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , , , ,