Some Things Never Change

Rat

Al crawled up the inside of the drain pipe, hurried along the gutter and made his way into the hole beneath a loose asphalt shingle above aluminum flashing.  The bar was busy tonight.  A Walkman blared tinny music from ear-buds suspended in the rafters and several rats gyrated in synchronized rhythm on the make-shift dance floor.  Al looked to the bar where Tony sat hunched over a thimble full of stale beer, slouching on his stool, his long leathery tail drooping to the floor.  He made his way over to the laminated popsicle-stick bar-top and took a thread spool beside his friend.

“How’s it wigglin?” he inquired with a good natured grin and gentle slap on Tony’s back.

“Eh…,” Tony responded without much enthusiasm.

“Oh, oh.” Al had seen Tony in this kind of mood before.  “What’s up buddy, Agnes again?” Al ordered a beer for himself.

His companion looked up.  Tony’s nose twitched sending his long whiskers into a frenzy. “I swear to God Al, I just can’t please her. If it’s not one thing it’s another.  She’s always busting my balls.”

“He heh…,” sniggered Al. “…and that ain’t easy. You got some pretty hefty balls.”

Tony chuckled half heartedly and repositioned himself on his spool.

The gerbil behind the counter handed Al his order.  After a long slow draught, Al wiped his paw across his muzzle and asked with some resignation, “Well, what is it this time?”

Tony paused, looked at Al, and turned to stare once more into his beer.  “I ate two of the kids.” he responded somewhat sheepishly.

Al’s beer spewed from his mouth, spraying the gerbil full in the face. “Sorry Mac.” Al apologized.  The bartender toweled his face dry, all the while complaining mightily under his breath.

“Geez Tone, not again!”

Tony groaned.  “I know, I know,” he complained.  “But, yah know…,” he struggled for the words.  “I’m out here every night, scurrying around in sewers for any moldy morsel I can find, scouring back alleys and dumpsters for a lousy piece of cheese, and then I come home to a rat-hole full of 75 kids and Agnes…”

“Seventy-three kids!” Al corrected him,

“Yah! Now!” Tony admitted reluctantly. “I swear, all I want at the end of a hard night is to sit back, put my paws up, have a God damn beer and relax for five minutes without six dozen rug-rats crawlin’ all over me.” Tony’s arms fell to his side as he threw back his head and exclaimed, “And now I find out, there’s another litter on the way!”  Tony slumped forward again and returned to whatever comfort he hoped to find at the bottom of his beer.

At that exact moment, Paul Anka’s “Having my Baby” crackled onto the over head speakers.

Ignoring the ironic musical interlude, Al placed a sympathetic paw on Tony’s shoulder. “C’mon Tone, cheer up.  Aggie will forgive you.  What’s two rats outta …” he did a silent calculation relative to current progeny and average litter size, “…eighty plus kids?”

Tony shrugged.

“Agnes loves you, no matter how many kids you eat.”

Tony was not to be consoled.

Al continued in an effort to comfort his friend. “You know Big Carl… you know him…. the big dock-rat that comes into O’Malley’s?”  Tony nodded weakly as Al continued.  “I heard he ate a whole litter of his kids after he got off the boat from his last cruise, and in a matter of weeks he and his old lady were knockin’ out a brand new brood.”  Al’s two sharp front teeth glistened in the neon bar-light as he attempted to smile away Tony’s sour mood.

Tony turned to Al, brightened by the thought of Big Carl’s more serious infraction.  “Yah know, Agnes and I’ve been together for over eight months, the best months of our lives.  We’ve been through a lot.”

Al took another drink, nodding in agreement. “That’s the ticket. You guys were made for each other”

“She’ll get over it.” Tony’s disposition was definitely improving. “I know she loves me.  And I love her too.”

“Sure you do.” offered Al.  “Let’s have another beer to celebrate your renewed dedication to each other.”

Tony thought about it for a moment,”Nah…The sun’s coming up and I’m going home to tell Agnes I love her.  She’ll take me back.”

Tony and Al shared a glance and Al winked. “She always does Tone.  She always does.”

Tony smiled his best rat smile.  “It’s been a long night.  I’m going home grab a bite then crawling into the mattress with Agnes.”

“A bite?” asked a genuinely concerned Al.

Tony tipped his cap and made his way to the hole in the shingle, “Don’t worry buddy, only cheese for me tonight… nothing but cheese.”

Identical Sins

Detective Abernathy perched on the edge of the leather ottoman, staring in amazement at the most perfectly identical twins he had ever seen in his life.  Attractive brunettes in their mid-forties, they sat close on an expensive sofa, holding hands, exchanging nervous glances and stealing occasional brief looks at the portly middle aged man, dead in the doorway.

13im0196pa-_four_headstones-_drumsnatt

“Now… let me get this straight,” the detective questioned, “You’re saying you’re both Mrs. Roberts?”  His head inclined only the slightest degree, indicating the deceased.

“Well, technically…” began the sister on the left, “… Millie’s married to Carl, but we both, eh…that is, we… took turns… playing the part of wife!”

“But Margaret never had sex with Carl.”  The sister on the right added quickly, as if this detail somehow made the arrangement more appropriate. “Isn’t that right dear?”

“That’s right Millie.” replied the twin.  “Just as we agreed.”

The Detective eyed them curiously.  “And how exactly, did this…” he struggled for the precise word, “…relationship, work?

“Well…” Margaret continued, “…we’ve been swapping places for years, even as children.”  She straightened her blouse nervously. “Whenever Millie or I got tired, or bored with a situation, we would swap.  I’d take her place and she’d take mine.”  Millie sat silently but nodded in agreement. “It was always really quite easy, only mother could tell us apart.”

Abernathy stared at them in wonder.  Their similarities were amazing.  As he sat before the sisters, finding it impossible to distinguish any difference between them at all.

“So you would periodically swap places, taking turns at being the deceased’s spouse?  Living together for weeks or months, then just exchange your lives”

Millie spoke up. “Yes, it worked out wonderfully for us. Whenever we wanted a change, we’d just meet up and… exchange.”

“But surely, your… eh…husband…” Abernathy took quick turns looking from one sister to the other. “Surely, he noticed some incongruities in behavior.  I mean your physical similarities are incredible, but your daily interactions, your on-going conversations, your unique personalities, there must have been inconsistencies… your husband would notice?”

“Oh yes,” Margaret resumed, “…it was an endless source of frustration for Carl.  He never could figure it out.  I like roses while Millie prefers orchids.  Millie loves the Opera, while I detest it.  There were a thousand different little things that left him confused.” Margaret looked to her sister for support. “But I believe we treated him wonderfully, despite our little deception.”

The detective adjusted his tie slowly before proceeding. “And tonight?”

“It all happened so quickly.” Millie interjected.  “Carl returned home early.  We weren’t expecting him until tomorrow.  We didn’t even hear him come in.  We were just sitting here talking and then heard a gasp from the doorway, there.”  Millie pointed to the deceased and buried her face in her hands.

“He just grabbed his chest and fell over.” Margaret finished.

Abernathy struggled to comprehend the twin’s casual attitude towards the whole situation.  “I can see how it would be a tremendous shock for a man to discover that his wife was literally two different people.  He gathered his composure, trying to recover his professional disposition.  “Relationships are difficult under normal circumstances, but surely you can understand how seeing you both together would be a shock!”  The sisters tightened their grip on each other.

Abernathy continued.  “Of course I’m no doctor or psychiatrist, but it’s not hard for me to see how your husband may have had a physical or psychological reaction to this…this… discovery!  It’s enough to drive a person insane.”

“Yes, we know.” cried Millie.  “That’s what happened to poor Randolph.”

“Randolph!  You mean you’ve carried out this deception on another man?” Abernathy was incredulous.

“Well four to be precise!” exclaimed Margaret. “Randolph in the State Sanatorium.  Malcolm – suicide.  And Vernon ran off with a Hawaiian girl.”

“Polynesian!” Millie corrected.

Abernathy sat stunned, taking it all in.  His cell phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Excuse me.” he apologized, glancing at his phone.  “It’s downtown.  I won’t be a moment.”

“How’s it going out there?” questioned the Police Chief on the other end of the call.

Abernathy walked to the far end of the room.  “I’m not sure if there’s been a crime.  But I have a lot of questions about what’s going on at my house.”

 

The Salt Life

Dear Buffy,

I hope you are well recovered from the debilitating anxiety you suffered over the recent Presidential Election.  The potential loss of your domestic help must have left you frantic.  I’m so happy you were able to recruit suitable Canadian replacements. Do keep in mind they will require less food and they will bruise ever so easily. Any-who, I ‘m just dropping a line informing you of the tremendous success of my recent boating adventure.

sea-ray

Although nothing like the yachts in our native Kennebunkport; I found passage on the most adorable little dingy, crewed by authentic locals. You would have been thrilled.  There was a former Sommelier and his operatic wife, a television personality and her photographer, a wonderfully ethic Italian restaurateur and his spouse, and an old man and his younger companion whom, I can only assume was his daughter.  The entire outing was a farcical charade if ever there were such a thing.

The crew arrived toting their belongings like the porters on our Nairobi safari.  Apparently their supplies consisted of inexpensive cheesy comestibles and cheap domestic sparkly because the entire group were either opening bottles of bubbly or spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom.  They were as giddy as orphans on Charity Day at the country club pool.

We were barely under way when a group of them (to the dismay of the First Mate and completely against previous instructions) were swilling beer and congregating on the swim deck to smoke something the locals call “cigareets”.  Eventually the Sommelier became so inebriated, he fell over-board.  The poor fellow was much distraught and had to be restrained, tied to a paddle board and floated several yards behind us on a tether.

The afternoon was waning and so we headed back to dock with the paddle board in tow.  Now that I think of it, it did greatly resemble a piece of bait tied to a lure.  I suppose then not too surprising that the board and its occupant were attacked by what was later determined to be either a pod of deranged dolphins or the most effeminate swarm of sharks I have ever seen. At any rate, the poor drunken Sommelier was lost.  His wife, upon waking from her nap, was inconsolable until an unopened bottle of champagne was discovered.  All in all, the day was a ripping good bash about.

Please give my love to Grand Papa and inquire about an advance on my allowance.  It seems the television is out in the Bentley, so the purchase of new transport is an unexpected expense.  Cheers to you and the gang.  I’ll be home in time for the Spring Regatta.

Best wishes,

Skippers.

How Not to Succeed in Business

My wife still believes anything can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance, poor naive soul. Many years my junior, she has not yet come face to face with age discrimination.   I on the other hand, have come to terms with some very harsh realities indeed.  But over time I realized I needed a different perspective.  Although achieving success is usually a product of determination, it occurred to me, advancement could also be accomplished through the process of elimination.  If there is only one horse in the race, it’s much easier to pick the winner.

office

At this point, I would like to disavow any implication of mental instability.  I have been tested several times with only inconclusive results. Sure there is a history of mass-murder on my mother’s side, but since the execution of the mentally disabled is a violation of the Geneva Convention, I can only assume a state of complete lucidity at the time of her demise. But, I digress.

Having been passed over for promotion several times by clearly inferior co-workers, I decided to thin the field of competition.  My sights first fell on my cube-mate Ron.  Ron named me Professor Evil since discovering my penchant for writing hate mail to the kids I support through Children International.  Who was he to judge?  He doesn’t know me!  But I knew him. Yes, I knew Ron alright.  I knew about his love for handguns and Bowie knives.  I had just finalized plans for an overly elaborate clown-suited home invasion and disemboweling when Ron accepted a position at a different company.  I wasn’t disappointed to see him go, one down. Two days later, I decided I had expended too much effort on my plan to simply let it go to waste, so I went ahead with it anyway.

Rex was the next to fall prey to my cunning machinations.  He was the office manager, an honorific title at best.  His position on the organization chart fell somewhere between supervisor and lackey.  In addition to a name common to Labradors, he also shared their fascination for tennis balls.  He kept a bright yellow one on his desk for strengthening his grip. He had the habit of bouncing it on the floor as he emerged from his office periodically throughout the day like a deranged cuckoo with his ludicrous announcements.  I dispatched him by taking his ball and throwing it out into the parking lot.  He immediately ran out to retrieve it and was promptly run over by a UPS truck.  It was almost too easy.

Bill I eliminated with African ear mites placed into his headphones.  The deadly parasites, purchased from a leather fetish nun (whom I know strictly on a professional level and recently returned from Botswana), burrowed deep into his brain and eviscerated his frontal lobe.  He went unnoticed for three days, sitting at his desk cursing at himself and asking, “Where the hell am I?”  It was only when he fell from his chair that anyone realized his pathetic condition.  The parasites went completely undetected during his autopsy and his death was ruled as stress related to a recent Volkswagen rebuild gone horribly awry.

Tom went with an arsenic laced Beef on Weck.  Jim starved himself to death as I methodically and subliminally convinced him, the only safe consumables were frozen prunes and water biscuits.  Mike, my final competitor, succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to add yet another cargo attachment to his already over-burdened motorcycle.  I swear I had nothing to do with this one.  The investigating officer could find no good reason as to why the engine was running with the garage door down.  Mike’s wife eventually informed him, in a suspiciously fake British accent, “He just liked the smell of it, Gov’ner”

At last, I was at the top of the promotion list.  At the peak of my potential, where my years of experience in employee relations and dedication to my craft marginally suggested I should be.  Unfortunately, the recent lack of manpower had resulted in the loss of several lucrative contracts resulting in a terrible third quarter revenue report.  The remainder of my group, namely me, was laid off.  Furthermore, I have recently been denied employment at several establishments due to lack of current references.

Monkey Love

monkey-treeYungpin, of the Juju clan, clung to a thin branch at the top of the Home Tree. The young Macaque looked out over the tribe’s territory, running from the big water by the mangroves, to the rocky outcroppings where the hills began. On one side ran the wide river, swift and murky in the rainy season, and on the other, the territory of the Bobo tribe.  Yungpin was Muladee; three summers from his birthing.  Tonight he and all his siblings, those born in the same year, would stand still beneath the half-moon, in the clearing below, and become full members of the clan. All but two.

There were twelve in Yungpin’s season.  They had come to know each other, clinging each to their mother during grooming sessions, or jumping madly from branch to branch, playing tag in the dry billowy summer dirt, flinging mud and rain-soaked leaves in the fall, tumbling, chasing, and biting, in rituals of dominance and hierarchy. They were twelve, but there was only one of any real interest to Yungpin.  Her name was Juputin.

Yungpin longed to pair with her.  But union was forbidden for Muladee.  Pairing was a privilege reserved only for full members of the clan.  The bloodline must be protected.  Tonight, as he and the other initiates stood still in the clearing, two of them would be chosen, donated to the strengthening of the bloodline. The pair would be given to the Bobo tribe, taken from the home of the Juju, passing into the unknown.

Dewal, the dominant male, had conveyed the tradition. The bloodline grows weak without donation.  Each summer, beneath the half-moon, two Muladee are selected from each clan.  Before dawn they are exchanged at the boundary of our range.  The half-moon, the demi-light of the night sky, is the brightness of the bloodline and the darkness of the failure to honor the ways of the ancestors. Yungpin hoped he and Juputin would not be chosen.

The afternoon passed slowly. The clan lounged lazily in the shaded branches, seeking shelter from the hot summer sun beneath the broad leaves of their sanctuary.  Yungpin lay across a high limb, his long spidery legs dangling on either side, tail twitching nervously.  Juputin sat with her family unit, nimble fingers combing through her mother’s hair, searching the briefly visible skin beneath for unwelcome parasites. The two young Macaques exchanged occasional brief glances, but neither moved to engage the other.  The moment that would decide the future of their lives was fast approaching.

In the evening the clan crowded into the clearing beneath Home Tree. Through gaps in the canopy the cloudless sky was pierced with uncountable points of light outshone only by the semi-luminescence of the half-moon.  Bright future – faded past. Dewal stood in the center of the gathering and called the Muladee before him. Stand still.

Welcome, new blood of the Juju, strength of the clan.  Within you flows life or death for all the tribes. Tonight you will be Muladee no longer.  Beneath the half-moon you will join a clan and be allowed to pair and keep the bloodline strong.  But this night also, our bloodline is shared with that of the Bobo.  We both donate our strength so each of our tribes does not grow weak and die. Through donation we live forever.

Dewal rose to his full height and threw wide his arms, showing his face to the half-mooned sky. The clan waited without chatter, surrounded only by the sound of rustling leaves above, swaying gently in the warm breeze brushing the forest canopy

It was decided.

Dewal lowered his arms and extended one towards the line of Muladee before him.  A flick of his wrist indicated Juputin and a male, Jameet.

Come! Dewal turned from the gathering, away from Home Tree, toward the Bobo. The chosen two fell in behind.

Yungpin couldn’t breathe.  He had thought he had been prepared, and he had been.  But now the moment had come and he was unable to contain himself.  He couldn’t lose her.  He had waited four seasons. Without clear intention to protest, Yungpin began swaying from side to side.  Small chirps of alarm emanated from his mouth.  His lips pursed as his frustration grew and found voice.  Soon he was hopping in place and slapping the ground with open palms.

Dewal stopped, turning slowly to face Yungpin, astonished. What was this new thing? He was more amazed than annoyed.

Explain yourself.

Yungpin raised his arms to the night sky where the half-moon hung silently mocking him and his altered destiny.  He pointed to the chosen and back to himself.

Dewal frowned.  Juputin is not for you.  She has been chosen.  Jameet has been chosen.  They are for the Bobo.  They are chosen together, they are Bobo now.

Yungpin would not be consoled. He was still Muladee, still young, he didn’t care about tradition or blood lines or even the future, not a future without Juputin.  He didn’t care what they did with the other but he couldn’t lose the one he loved.  The only one he had ever loved.

Dewal made his way back into the center of the gathering and stood before the one who had challenged the way of the clan.

They are the chosen.  These are one. He gestured to the two timid and bewildered Muladee beside him. Together they are our donation, to the future of the clan, to the strength of the bloodline. It is our way. They are together for the Bobo, for the Bobo to decide…not you!

Yungpin was not cowered.   Juputin is for me.  She is mine.  Do what you will with Jameet.

Dewal flew into a rage. His hair bristled and the dominant male puffed his chest and raised himself threateningly over Yungpin, screaming, his yellow teeth bared.

Stand still Muladee. How can you have Juputin if you donate Jameet?

Yungpin fell to the ground in the face of Dewal’s onslaught, limp, numb, uncomfortably so.  Submissively, he turned away and stared up at the dark side of the moon.