HAPLESS MALES (31)

ONE MONKEY

The best thing that happened to my brother Carey that summer was getting shot at by Dingle Ashcroft. He was lurking in the brush next to the Ashcroft property, spying and egging on the dogs when all of a sudden the leaves of the ash tree started shuddering and shredding and falling in bits. Dingle had often threatened to shoot somebody; it was his way of being social, but nobody in town had actually had the privilege of being shot at, and it made Carey into a celebrity among the kids in junior high. He had a posse. He told everyone he’d seen the monkeys, that “the witch” came into the yard and she had a big mama monkey and three or four smaller monkeys about the size of five-gallon buckets running around her. The story had been going around town how besides the fifteen or twenty dogs, Old Lady Ashcroft was keeping monkeys. The mail carrier, Mr. Montgomery, was the only person who got near the Ashcroft house so he was the only person who might have been able to know if she did or didn’t, and he was the only person in town who wouldn’t gossip.

The Ashcroft kids rode the same bus as we did; when Arthur got on we would chant, Fatty fatty, eight by four, can’t get through the outhouse door. His sister was as skinny as he was fat. We had a rhyme for her too, Millie millie, one by six, built of spit and hickory sticks. That wasn’t even her name. It was Lucy. They ignored us and it only made us meaner.

Carey got his posse together after school to throw rocks at the Ashcroft fence and make the dogs go wild. They’d each throw a rock and run back into the woods. My brother loved to tell the story of getting shot at but he didn’t seem anxious to repeat the experience, staying out of shotgun range.He kept saying how he was going to get some rat poison and poison the dogs.

A lot of times I wished Dingle had been a better shot. I didn’t know how anybody could be mean to a dog. My dog was the noblest creature in the universe. “He’s black as Satan,” my mother said when she saw him, so that’s where he got his name.

When Satan and I went roamed the woods we often passed close to the Ashcroft property and three or four dogs would come tearing out to the fence and bark like crazy but Satan wouldn’t get provoked. He knew they were fenced in. One of the dogs I could tell was faking the fangs and fierceness and probably would have given anything to join Satan and me rather than be fenced in a dusty yard without even a blade of grass.

There was a lot of talk among neighbors about the Ashcroft dogs, what if they ever got loose. Mr. Albers also had a shotgun and Mr. Gomez had a .22 that maybe he should take down and oil, he said. The neighbors who had chickens and small babies wondered how worried they should be.

With school out for the summer I spent every day in the woods shooting the bow I had gotten when I was in the hospital my last birthday. It was the bow I had dreamed of my whole life. In the woods I was the last of Tecumseh’s warriors. Satan was my faithful companion.

After a month exploring every inch of the woods I wanted to expand our tribe. I knew Satan would not allow another dog so I thought, who? Nobody from school.

My birthday was coming up in August. I thought I might as well try, but the magic of last year was gone, probably because I wasn’t dying in the hospital like I was last year. My mother said, don’t be an idiot.

I wasn’t being an idiot. I would take care of it. I took care of Satan.

“What do you think, you can order a monkey and Mr. Montgomery will haul it up in his truck?”

My Dad said he was going to smack me if I didn’t let up on the monkey business.

“The witch will sell you one of her baby monkeys for five dollars,” my brother told me one day.

“I don’t have five dollars.” He already knew that.

“Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll give you five dollars for your bow.”

I loved that bow more than anything but I took the five dollars. Bills in hand I walked down the road toward the Ashcrofts. I could hear a machine whining in the garage, some woodworking tool like a lathe or a router. I hoped his job would keep Dingle busy a long time. The dogs snarled but didn’t bark—I was really glad—as I went up path toward the door. I hoped that neither fat Arthur nor skinny Millie would show up at the door. That would have been embarrassing. It was Mrs. Ashcroft who answered the door. I wish I could say what she looked like, but all I remember is a green bandana over her hair and red lipstick. I stammered something about buying one of her monkeys and showed her the bills and she slammed the door in my face.

At home when I told my brother he laughed and laughed.

My parents made him give me the bow back. I kept the five bucks.

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