Monday, November 1, 2010
Bobby kept his word. He did not return to the barn to check on the monkey. He, however, did badger his grandmother all evening to take him to it.
“Monkeys are nasty animals!” Mrs. Twinny replied to Bobby, now flat on his stomach in front of the TV. “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear one could pick up all sorts of diseases from them.”
“It is, I mean, she is so cute, Grandma. You don’t have to touch her, just look at―”
“Bobby,” his grandmother interrupted, “did you wash your hands before eating?” He dipped his chin in answer and laughed at something on TV.
“Hear that? It’s Rex.” The eight-year-old jumped to his feet to let the dog in.
The porch was as far inside the house as his grandmother would allow the dog, and even that concession kept her upset. It was true, Rex did track mud onto the porch and his “area” was not at all tidy.
Later, tucked in bed, Bobby listened to the wild sounds of the country night. A leafy tree limb scraped his window. He was accustomed to its sound and was not afraid. He was thinking, of course, about their little guest, suffering in the barn. And he was positive she was lonely. But he’d promised his mother he wouldn’t go to her, until she returned home.
When his mother worked swing-shift, she arrived home around eleven-thirty. Bobby set his clock alarm
to ring at twelve and reluctantly allowed himself to drift off into dream-filled sleep, where wild monkeys loudly chattered and swung from leafy tree branches.
Before sleep, he was thinking that he had only five measly days left of spring-break to enjoy. He sure hoped the baby monkey stayed alive. He’d like to hold it, pet it. It was so tiny and so cute.
Twelve and the alarm blasted him awake. Earlier in the evening, after his grandmother tucked him in, he’d put his clothes back on so he’d be ready to go to the barn.
Full of anticipation, the boy jumped up and peered out the window. The yard light atop the electric pole did not illuminate his mother’s car. She wasn’t home. He waited.
It was two o’clock now, and his mother was still not at home. Something was wrong. A clattering noise came from the kitchen. It was his grandmother placing her empty teacup in the metal sink.
“Where’s Mom, Grandma?” Bobby asked, padding barefoot into the room.
“Oh!” Mrs. Twinny said with a start, and bunched in a fist the fuzzy material of her robe over her heart. “You scared the daylights out of me! You’re dressed. You haven’t been to the barn have you?”
“Nope! But, I’m waiting for Mom so I can,” said he in cheerful voice. He was awkwardly pouring chocolate milk from a gallon jug, when he glanced up at his grandmother’s face. He set the jug down. She had not moved and her hand was still to her heart. “Grandma?”
She forced a smile and turned the burner on under the kettle. “I didn’t think I’d have to have this conversation until the morning. Sit yourself.” She’d pulled out Bobby’s blue-painted chair from the kitchen table, meaning him to sit on it. The water in the kettle, still hot from her first cup, whistled almost immediately. They both jumped at the piercing noise.
“Your father has been in an accident. He’s okay. Your mother has gone to him. She took a flight straight from work. I just heard a few minutes ago that he’ll be okay, just be in the hospital awhile. A tree limb fell on him, broke a bone or two. But he’ll be fine.” A pine cone fell onto the roof and slowly rolled off.
She held her arms up for him to come to her. She squeezed him tight. After the tea and chocolate milk they both went back to bed. Bobby slept with Rex on the porch. His grandmother, of course, didn’t know.
Next morning the monkey was still breathing, but just barely. Bobby changed the wet diaper and gave her warm milk. He pleaded with his grandmother to walk the few feet to the barn to see the little thing, but she wouldn’t do it.
She complained of a headache and said she’d stay in until the sun warmed up things. Bobby could tell his grandmother was worried about his father.
By late afternoon both grandmother and grandson were exhibiting symptoms of a cold or flu.
“Look Grandma, this looks like our monkey. Do you think so?” He’d forgotten she hadn’t seen the animal.
“Bring it here. I can’t focus that far.” She raised her eye glasses and looked closely at the picture in the
encyclopedia, he’d brought her. “A chimpanzee, you think that’s what it is?”
“Of all those monkeys, what … I was going to ask you what you thought, but you haven’t seen it,” he said, remembering she had no way to know. He sneezed in three quick bursts, mingled with chuckles.
“No, and I’m not likely to either, dirty things! We should call Animal Control to come get it.”
“It’s not a wild animal, Grandma. It shouldn’t be against the law to keep it.”
“Now, who said anything about keeping it? I know your mother told you we don’t have money to spend on a sick animal, when people need us more,” she added, knowing full well her grandson knew the drill―that is the drill of “people first.”
“I know. She told me.” Bobby took the encyclopedia from her. He glanced again at the chimpanzee in the book. His grandmother patted the sofa for him to sit. She was on her side, full out on it. “It could be almost like having a baby sister,” the boy said, hoping for an encouraging response.
“What nonsense!… Don’t you feel like a nap? Lean over here. Are you feverish? For goodness sakes, what’s that racket?”
“Rex, be quiet!” Bobby yelled from the sofa. He popped up, and at the kitchen doorway, he clapped his hands at the small black dog, clawing at the outside door to get out. “Come here, guy. What’s the matter, huh?”
“Bobby let him out, please. He’ll stop barking then. My head’s pounding.”
Two days had passed and Bobby had spoken several times to his father and mother by phone. They were still in the Gulf, where the limb had fallen on his father. When Bobby mentioned the baby monkey to his mother, she seemed to have forgotten what he was talking about. When it did become clear to her that he was talking about the monkey, she reminded him they should phone someone to come and get it. It was then, that Bobby said he thought it was a chimpanzee and so they didn’t need to worry; they were not breaking any laws.
“I’d still feel better if you’d have Mom, call someone.”
Bobby could tell she wasn’t much interested in the animal. But, when he said he’d thought of a great name for her, his mother went berserk.
“Get rid of that animal, right now.… Do you hear me?” she screeched. “Robert, put Mom on!”
He went to the barn while his grandmother and mother finished their conversation. He was sure that next his grandmother would be demanding he load the animal in the truck and they’d be off to town with it.
Bobby kicked the gravel, stomped a boot in a rain puddle and jammed both fists deep into his pockets. Next thing, Rex bolted from his side, barking crazily. Something, a movement caught Bobby’s attention. The dog barked then whined piteously as it rolled from behind the truck. A black smudge was all Bobby saw on the far side of the truck. “Could of been an ole tomcat,” he thought out loud. Cats liked to sit on the hood of his grandmother’s old Ford truck. But Rex had never been knocked rolling by an ordinary cat. Cougar next came to his mind. The boy stopped, slowly backed up a few feet and then sprinted toward the house. He knew he shouldn’t run, but he couldn’t help it.
Bobby was relieved that his grandmother was putting clothes into the dryer at the far end of the house and didn’t hear him slam the screen door. He stood watching through the silvery mesh, at the ground near the truck tires for signs of a cougar. Rex limped across the space between the truck and house. Bobby opened the door for him.
Unusual noises were coming from the barn. Heart thumping wildly, the boy thought of the baby animal in its carrier. She should be safe enough. Rex finished licking his scratches and got to his feet, shook himself and begged to be let out.
“No you don’t. I’d be in a load of trouble if you got really hurt and needed a vet.” Again, a black object streaked on the far side of the barn, across the fenced pasture and behind a thicket of blackberry bushes. Of all things, he’d just seen himself a bear!
A black smudge was all Bobby saw on the far side of the truck.
To be continued next Monday. Chapters 1 and 2 can be found by strolling down the page and clicking older posts.