Winter 2012, #18



     by Rusty Barnes

Tom had no idea how he and the monkey had bonded so quickly. He had picked it up while driving around Bradford and Tioga counties looking for a new dog. One SPCA after another, all the ads in the local Pennysaver, even the tips from people he knew had yielded nothing. He knew he couldn’t afford a dog with papers, but he didn’t want just any old mutt, as this dog had to convince Michelle that he could handle the child he desperately wanted her to have.

“Look at this place“ she’d said, waving a hand around the porch of the house they lived in, filled with bundles of old newspaper, a broken grease gun, a desk he’d not yet finished stripping for re-varnishing, and a chest freezer more than half-filled with the head and neck of the 14-point buck he’d intended to have mounted last winter. “Can you imagine a guy who can’t even keep his head on straight long enough to finish a project having a kid? Please.” She’d raised a hand to him and shaken her head, the look of reproach that was normally more than enough to send him off on a rampage. He’d never bitched about her unfinished projects, the half-finished dreamcatchers she’d started weaving, the load of ointments and Wiccan bullshit she’d ordered from head-shop catalogs printed on cheap gray paper. Instead he went out for a dog, figuring kids and dogs would take about the same effort.

He’d driven into towns he’d only seen on the map, though he’d spent his whole life within the two counties-Allis Hollow and Granville Center, Ghent and Merryvale, Sheshequin, Silvara, Fassett-finding empty and leaning barns, hollowed-out cows and clusters of trailers near cricks, and an occasional general store, with the community built around it in the old style, dirt roads branching randomly from the blacktopped county road outward like rivers gone nowhere. Trowbridge and Sopertown, Roseville, Jackson Summit, Millerton. In all of these places, the television got just the two channels that managed to bounce in between Tower Hill and Armenia Mountain. And the county talked about running cable through, but had only done it in the towns where population warranted it. Troy, Lawrenceville, Canton, Wellsboro. Like everything else, the good things came to people in other places.

Tommy stopped in Mosherville for gas at Shepard’s, and then went into Daggett, where he’d argued with one of the Terry boys over a nest of barn-puppies whose origins were rat and woodchuck, as nearly as he could tell from the still-blind and squeaking pups. He’d decided to come back later when the bitch whelped, to see if the fifty bucks Bobby wanted was fair, but it had taken him a half-hour to make that point through the often spectacular gushes of bullshit.

One of Bobby’s kids ran around in the yard, poking at his dad’s boots with a stick. Tom tried to make friends with the boy, kind of as a bargaining chip, but mostly because the kid was cute, a little towheaded boy with big blue eyes. He wondered what kind of eyes his kid would have. Bobby ordered the kid away gruffly, but the kid kept playing around, and Tom didn’t understand what was bothering Bobby. He couldn’t see the kid doing anything other then being a kid.. Finally, when it became clear that Bobby would not part ways with the dog for less than the fifty he’d said at the very beginning of their talk, he went back to his truck defeated. The little blond boy waited by his front tire.

“What can I do for you, kiddo?”

“You gonna take one of those pups?” The kid pushed at his nose with the palm of his hand.

“Riley, you leave Mister Morton alone.” Tom heard Bobby yell, but the kid didn’t seem to want to leave him alone.

“My dad says he’d give them away to good homes.” The boy drilled his ear with one finger.

“He does.” Tom opened the door and sat down. This was a last straw if there was ever one.

“How come he didn’t give one to you?”

“I guess you’re going to have to ask your old man that one.” Tom sighed and ruffled the kid’s hair. ‘You be good to those pups, y’hear?”
Tom wanted to know exactly what it was that made him unfit for a Terry mutt, but didn’t have the heart to pursue such an argument in front of the littlest Terry, so he made a right from Bobby’s house into Job’s Corners. There he ran into Wally Lee-neck-and-shoulders deep in the engine of his ancient CJ5-who might know, if anyone did, where there was a puppy off an old dog to be had for very little or nothing. Wally had worked as a mechanic for him for about a year and a half some time ago, when he’d tried to run a garage out of his barn, and owed him at least the trappings of friendship.

Tom had put out signs and even built a waiting room with a glass window so folks could see him working as they waited. Then he’d forgotten some tax paperwork and the state came in and shut him down. They cut a deal where they’d let him draw unemployment from Weyerhauser in exchange for shutting down and paying his taxes out of the checks, and now the waiting room was his workroom, and Wally had gone back to odd-jobbing his way through life. Tom felt almost as bad for Wally as he did himself.

Wally didn’t have a mutt. He did happen to have a caged Rhesus monkey in his living room next to a Crate amplifier and a spavined-neck Danelectro guitar with only 4 strings, though. Tom had been through his guitar stage already, and he had to remind himself that he had seen worse things in Wally’s living room., like the time he’d been there for coffee and Wally’s dog Sally had pinched a loaf in the middle of the living room floor. Wally had shouted bemusedly at the dog, but left the steaming shit on the floor next to the wood stove. Finally, Sally had nosed at Tom and looked up with doleful eyes, and Tom had picked up the shit and thrown it into the fireplace.

“Take the goddamn thing for a hundred bucks. I got to put in a water pump.” Wally spat into his coffee can, hands black with grease. “You want a beer?”

“Fuck am I gonna do with a monkey?” Tom leaned back against his chair, trying to see what the monkey looked like. It seemed the size of a human, almost, long sandy hair and a bemused look on its face, picking up its plastic water dish and whacking it against the bars of the cage. Wally had tied a blue bandanna around the monkey’s neck. “Why you want to get rid of it for?”

“It shits on the floor of the cage and I can’t stand the smell.” Wally spat again. “Too bad. I always wanted a monkey or something to train to change to the other channel.”

Tom knew Wally thought of himself as a jack-of-all-trades, with penchants for picking up new businesses and friends, a hothouse full of Guinea hens one time, a half-ton of beefalo meat that had eventually been called to the attention of the county, the stink had gotten so bad. Wally kept on, though, making deals and jawing people down and buying their useless oddments. How did Wally do it? All this shit lying about and no brain, yet somehow he’d gotten somebody to give up their monkey, and it could only be divine luck that made him stop when Tom knew Wally and his stuff were mostly useless. Tom needed to prove himself, and here was monkey-proof.
“How’d you get it anyway? Don’t you have to have special licenses and stuff to keep a monkey?”

“Well now.” Wally grinned. “I guess that depends on how you come by it and who helped you come by it. You remember I contracted out to Cornell here awhile back for gravel? It was one hippie group up there that wanted to protect the monkeys from being experimented on. They wanted a way to save old Cornelius here, and I gave them a way to do it.”

“This monkey’s had experiments done on him?” Tom looked at Cornelius more closely. That name would by God have to go. He knew that.

Monkey, Tom thought. A monkey is even more like a kid. I’m going to do it, by God.

“What do you spose the little fucker sposed to eat?” The monkey had stopped beating its water dish against the cage and had taken to picking at its ear like a grandpa on his last licks. It cocked its head just like a human, but Tom wasn’t ready to deal yet.

“I fed him a head of lettuce a couple days ago. I figure monkeys are like snakes, being from the jungle and all.” Wally flicked a cigarette butt at the monkey, who caught it and immediately put it between  his huge front teeth and sat back against the wire mesh of the cage. “See that. The little fucker’s quick to pick up stuff. I bet you could train em.” Wally reached into his pants to scratch, and the monkey scratched too, uncannily like Wally.

“How old is he, you figure? Is there any special monkey disease you have to watch out for?” Tom squatted near the cage and reached a tentative finger in. Its teeth looked sharp enough to tear ass if need be, but it reached out a finger and met his, then chattered suddenly for a few seconds, studying him, tipping his head. Tom reached into his pocket and gave it a stick of Juicy Fruit. Cornelius dropped the cigarette immediately, sniffed at the gum a little, then put it in his mouth and began to chew.

Wally snorted. “He likes you, it looks like. I spose it’s about like anything else you want to keep safe. Don’t let it loose.”

“I’ll give you fifty. I read somewhere that monkeys jerk off all the time.”
“Piss on that. I can sell it to a zoo and get five bills.” Wally stood up and put his coffee can on the amplifier. He winked quickly, which was supposed to tell that there was no bargaining here, but Tom knew better.

“Why ain’t you done it already then?” Tom pulled out his wallet. “I’ll give you forty-five now and thirty more on Friday.” Tom thought Michelle would have a holy bejesused fit, but he thought too that if he kept it in the barn until he had house-trained it, he could give the monkey to her to train to do the household stuff she didn’t like to do, and he could prove that he could raise a kid, too. Hell, eventually kids would talk, and that would make it easier to tell them what to do. Tom figured a monkey was even harder than a kid. Had to be.
“Okay. Don’t think you’re bringing him back and getting your money, either. Can you drive me down to the NAPA, too?”
The monkey looked panicked for a moment, but then Tom gave him a baked apple pie left over from McDonald’s and he hunched over it in the corner and tore at the cardboard package. On the trip to town Tom stopped at a roadside stand and bought it a mush melon and some apples. He wished he could buy it some real food, but that would have to wait until he could wrangle up a reason to leave the house that wouldn’t raise Michelle’s suspicion. It had been nine months since he’d lost his job at Weyerhauser, and his state checks were about to run out, but things were looking up now. She might even believe he was looking for a job. He had a caged monkey in the back, and if all else failed he supposed he could make the drive to New York or Philly and try to sell it at a zoo, but he could see the monkey becoming part of the family, like his old dog Sooner, whom he missed a great deal. And he could prove something to Michelle, that it wasn’t everybody who could find a monkey, let alone take care of it.

Tom put the monkey into the barn with a hubcap full of water and locked the big door, but left the cage door ajar in case the monkey wanted to move around and swing from stuff.. All his tools were padlocked in the work room, the tractor covered with a tarp, and the barn was a quarter-full of somebody else' hay. He had had to rent out the damn barn, his former garage, and it pained him to see hay where somebody’s broken-down car should have been waiting for him to fix come morning. He had a monkey to think of now, though, and he thought it would be warm enough in there until winter set in, and by that time he hoped to have him trained enough for the house. He left it a bunch of bananas, and as he left he heard the thing shit on the floor. He figured that was a good sign, that the animal was comfortable.

Michelle had left a note on the icebox to the effect that she was going to a cancer benefit dinner for Valeeda Wells, and probably to the Tavern afterward, a don’t-wait-up kind of note. He noticed that Michelle had not taken the picture of Sooner down, though he had been dead now for almost a year. He missed the old dog like a missing toe.

Sooner was a beagle-collie mix Tom had owned since he was 16, named by his father, who’d said “That dog would sooner shit than eat.” Sooner’d flushed pheasant, chased rabbits, and would have done the same for coon had Tom dared to take him out. At the end Tom had to drag him outside to crap, had learned to grab the loose skin at his neck and thrust a thick needle in to fill the space between his skin and muscle with saline solution, which helped him hydrate and his kidneys to flush, and only when he couldn’t even raise his head did Tom finally take him out behind the barn to do what needed to be done. Two shots and two lifetimes later Sooner was dead. Then, the bluetick pup they got as a quick and guilty replacement drowned with its paw caught in a number 2 Conibear trap meant for a coon before they even got it named. After that, Tom got laid off and began traipsing the hills and searching through his life for some companion who would mean as much, as opposed to searching for the job he knew wouldn’t be there anyway. It was then he’d first asked Michelle if she wanted kids, and when he heard her snort as she drank her cherry-flavored water he knew the answer without her saying.

Tom came in to the house through the kitchen door and kicked his boots off. Michelle had drawn a diagram on the floor in the shape of his feet to show him where to put them when he got in, but he’d left his toolbox there last night and all he could see were little squiggly toes. He got a bottle of water out of the icebox and sat down in the living room. Michelle had been reading her witch books again, Llewellyn’s Magickal Calendar of Moon Phases, Aleister Crowley and Israel Regardie’s Order of the Golden Dawn. A poet named Yeats. Aleister seemed a good name for a monkey. Nobody would ever mistake it for a dog’s name.  He fell asleep dreaming of having a real kid, one that would sit on his lap and draw faces on his hands the way he had done with his dad. He could imagine these kids, big boys with red hair and gap-toothed grins running around, a little girl with light hair who would ride on the tractor with him. It was a good way to fall to sleep.

“Tom. Tom honey. Wake up. There’s something outside.” Michelle had just come home and smelled of Parliaments and beer. Her keys were still in one hand as the other whaled at his shoulder.
Tom scrubbed at his face. “Jesus. Kind of late, ain’t you.”

“Someone’s stealing your tools. Look outside. If you don’t get them you aren’t going to be able to take a job it if comes to you.” That started him up and he saw the lights were on in his workroom in the barn and he came out the door in his bare feet with a crowbar before he remembered Aleister and swore to himself, and went back to get his boots on.

“What did you bring home, Tom?” Michelle crossed her arms over her breasts.

“A monkey.” Of course the monkey would know enough to break the glass in the window of the room and crawl through. It was a monkey.
“You brought home a monkey.” Michelle shook a cigarette from her pack and lit one. “What the fuck are you going to do with a monkey, for goddess’s sake?”

Tom ignored her, dropped the crowbar , jogged over and unlocked the hook and eye from the barn door, slid it open through the screeching sound of metal-on-metal.

The monkey had made a mess all right, shat on the floor an ungodly mess of rind and seed and grass and brownish liquid. So his hundred-pound monkey was loose, but what worried him more was the broken glass of the workroom window-broken with the hubcap, he saw- and the blood. Aleister was bleeding, had diarrhea, and had broken out of the barn now and was running loose in the woods. Just like a kid.

Tom picked up the barn phone and dialed Wally’s number. His watch said 2 A.M. He hoped Wally would be home.

“Yeah?” Wally sounded awake.

“Damn monkey’s gone.”

“Huh. Best get the hounds. See you in about ten minutes.”

Together they would take the dogs and hunt the monkey up. He hoped it would go well, though he had no idea how a monkey might trail, nor how the hounds might behave, nor how sober Wally would be, nor what he would tell Michelle when he went back to the house, so he decided to avoid that issue entirely by pulling out his spare set of keys and jogging over to the truck to wait for Wally. Behind him, Michelle snapped off the light..

¬†Wally’s bluetick Sally jumped out and spent three seconds sniffing around the barn before she took off yelping toward the woods with Mac Three, another young bluetick in the series named after Wally’s ex-wife, and Pooter, an aged Redbone with a huge hollering bark. Michelle hadn’t even turned the light back on before going to bed, he guessed, and she would be waking up soon with all that dog-racket.
“Shit. This ain’t gonna take long at this rate.” Wally adjusted something in his pocket and grinned at Tom in the headlight lamp, looking dirty as ever and tired besides. “You ready to run?” Wally grabbed a flashlight, Tom pulled one out from behind his truck seat, and an old dog leash left over from Sooner, and together they ran into the trees following Sally and Mac Three and Pooter.

The baying sounded a half-mile off or so to Tom. The monkey looked as if it had gone straight through the swamp, and he hoped the dogs didn’t lose the scent or get side-tracked by a coon.. He hoped the monkey wouldn’t take to the trees. He didn’t know which kind of monkey this was, whether it was the tree-climbing kind or the yard-shitting kind, the ones that stay on the ground and fuck all day long, but he knew that it couldn’t have gotten too far away, as the shit was still warm back at the barn.

“Look there, Tom.” Walt pulled up, huffing. He shined his light at the ground, where they saw some fat drops of blood against the dark-blackish-green of a broad-leaf dock plant. “That fucker’s gonna bleed like hell afore he comes down, ain’t he.”

The dogs sounded closer now, though he could hear only Pooter’s deep burbling tone now, and Mac Three yipping in a high voice. He figured they’d run about two miles in the hour and a half or so since they’d set Sally on the scent. “Probably. Better get em soon, because I can’t catch up.”

Sally must be trying another angle or gone off on another scent, Tom thought. They were in a tall stand of primary-growth maples now. Tom could see the sap-pots nailed into the trees where Beeman’s were draining it for syrup. Mac Three and Pooter were a hundred yards ahead, paws up on a pine, Pooter jumping ferociously into the low branches. Tom could see the branches shaking and the outline of a human-like form.

“Yep. Probably gonna bleed to death.” Wally said.

“I can’t let that happen, Wally. I need that monkey alive.” Tom forced himself ahead of Wally, taking longer strides. When he reached the tree, he looked up and saw Aleister about fifteen feet up, looking scared and ferocious, all huge teeth and shaking hair and jumping up and down, his eyes shining green in the light from the flashlight, his paws holding Sally, or Sally’s body, limply. He set the light down, as he heard Walt puffing up behind him.

“Jesus Christ, I’ll give your money back. If that sumbitch hurt Sally.”

As Tom looked back up he saw Aleister bare his teeth and chatter at him, as if to say, this is what you get for feeding me a mush-melon. Then Aleister threw the dog’s carcass at him and he heard Wally’s roar of rage and soon after, the report of the .38 Wally usually kept under the seat of his Jeep, and then the dog’s body hit him in the face and he fell backwards into a pile of briars, breathing in the smell of blood and shit, Sally dead or dying and his arms tearing at the briars and the sudden weight of dog Wally came over and pulled Sally’s body off him by the collar. “That little sonofabitch got Sally.”

Tom got up and Pooter and Mac Three laid on the ground next to Aleister, who was dead, his entrails ripped out and scattered by the dog’s attack after Wally had shot it. Aleister didn’t look as fierce nor large lying there in his own guts and stench.

Pooter looked up at Tom and nudged his head against his knee, looking as dogs do for the scratch of praise when they’ve done what they were set out to do, culminated their task in the simple way that dogs had-licking a wound, rutting when the time came, fetching a ball, treeing a coon- of doing what they did, without fanfare, and going to sleep guiltless. Tom picked up Aleister’s body, clumsily, feeling the blood soak his shirt. Wally picked up Sally’s, and they began the walk back to the barn, and he tried to think of what he would tell Michelle.

“I never heard of a monkey being chased by coons. Let alone one ending up shot. You figure the game warden will care?” Wally cocked an eye at Tom, who had no ideas to counter him with, and didn’t need another thing to prove Michelle against him. So it came down to this, all his best intentions of having the monkey learn to run the dishwasher or pick up clothes. He couldn’t keep a monkey healthy for one night. Nobody needed to tell him what might happen to a kid in the same space of time.

“Wally. All right.” Tom walked to the edge of the gorge they had followed as they chased the dogs and threw Aleister’s body over the side. He knelt for a moment after the throw, suddenly feeling his arms and legs and the dried blood on his face. He tried to imagine that this wasn’t a big deal, but unlike in his dreams, in his mind’s eye he could see a fat little redheaded boy running in the other direction. Pooter nosed at him, whining, and Tom thought of Sooner, but he didn’t want for comfort. Instead he just felt resigned to it all.