Music for Monkeys

music for monkeys

They gave up trying to teach a monkey to type the next Shakespeare play. But since music supposedly calms the savage, they taught him to play a tiny guitar instead. It made sense after all – he could play tunes to calm himself down, rather than a researcher having to do it. Once he had access to the guitar and finally understood that it was for making music and not for hitting people or other monkeys over the head, he calmed down dramatically. Just being able to express himself had the desired effect.

They’d tried to teach Abe how to sign but he wasn’t having it. It didn’t make sense to him – this gesture meant what? It was too abstract for him. Why make a sign with his hand, when he could grunt or scream at them? They eventually figured out what he wanted. Meanwhile, he enjoyed screaming. It was fun and made his keepers (his jailers) so anxious. It was funny to watch, to see how he could make them so upset and nervous.

But then they brought the guitar to him. The jailer played it at first and the tones were different, weren’t like their voices. The jailer even sang – and his voice was different, was kinder. If only they could always speak to him like that!

Abe thought  that maybe they could learn how to talk with music, so these dimwits could finally get him what he wanted faster. The amusement of their confusion was wearing off. He wanted to deal with them as little as possible. Even fighting was getting old.

Finally, after nearly a year of practice, he was ready for his first public performance. He was no longer in his cage – the audience would be shocked to think of how he been imprisoned. Most thought of it as a zoo, and either forgot or overlooked the fact that he didn’t choose to be there. He wasn’t asked when he was taken from his home. It wasn’t voluntary. He didn’t want to be an example of his kind.

Many thought of the zoo as an educational opportunity, a chance for people to learn about animals in a safe and clean environment. They also thought they were doing the animals a favor. The same “safe and clean environment” was so much better than a wilderness home, the people told themselves. They pointed out how the animals lived so much longer in captivity. They didn’t understand that quantity wasn’t the same as quality. Longer wasn’t necessarily better.

Abe was supposed to play a nursery song, one that was easy and would show off his talents. Nothing too complicated or he’d fumble and the audience would stare or laugh. It was important to get this right.

The audience wasn’t just any old audience. They were benefactors, donors, patrons of the arts. It was their generosity that made the “Music for Monkeys” program possible. If this failed, the whole program would end. It was all riding on Abe, but he had not been told this.

Yet he played better than expected, and more. He played flawlessly, with real feeling, for the first 20 minutes. Perhaps something took over then, some deep down part of him, because that feeling came up and out and over and suddenly he was playing a new song, a sad song. A song sadder than standing on the platform as the last train leaves for the evening. A song sadder than the end of summer break. A song so sad that the audience caught the feeling tied up inside it without words, and they understood the pain of imprisonment in the name of “education” or “rescue”. They heard within the notes his longing for a home he would never see again, a family he would never again embrace. It didn’t matter if they might no longer be alive because of disease or poachers. They had lived as monkeys, not as exhibits, as specimens, as one-off examples of their kind, meant to be on display to any and all, young and old, as the epitome of “monkey” to these rubes, these ticket holding members of this permanent circus that is a zoo (sometimes euphemistically termed a “wildlife park” for much the same reason cemeteries are now memorial gardens).

The audience felt through Abe’s new music the joy of waking up with the sunrise, embraced by the arms of a tree, with leaves as a blanket. It felt the joy of wandering every day to see new places and other animals, every night a new bed in a new tree. Every day was the first day for Abe’s kind – a new adventure and excuse to discover. No worries about a car or mortgage or clothes, so no worries about a job or reputation either.

The people thought they were safe because of all they owned but now they understood that it owned them. They had become chained themselves, slowly, but surely. They had put themselves into a zoo of their own making. They had forgotten their own wildness, their own true nature, in their striving to be civilized. Abe, with his monkey music, reminded them of who they really were, and who they could become again.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. When the music finally stopped, when the guitar strings stilled, they all sat in silence for what seemed like forever. Finally a child spoke, and asked Abe what his real name was, the one before his capture. What was the sound his family, blood and otherwise, called him? And he didn’t know. It was lost to him, trained out of him for so many years. So the child gave him a new name, a snippet of that song that awoke them all, as a reminder of who he truly was.

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Monkey boy

monkey boy

Phil loved his monkey mask. Maybe he loved it more than his big clunky shoes. It was hard to tell. Just to be sure he never wore them separately. Why ruin a good thing?

It didn’t take long for him to settle on this routine. Every day after school he put on his mask and boots and sat on the front stoop. It made the rest of the evening go better. Otherwise he was out of sorts and not really worth being around. If he forgot, his Mom reminded him. She was the one who was most affected by his behavior if he forgot.

All day long at school he thought about being able to wear the mask and the boots, and it made the day tolerable. Sometimes he would hold his hand up showing three fingers to his teacher, meaning “is it 3 o’clock yet?” – meaning “is it time to go home yet?”

Class was unbearable most days. It was too bright, or too noisy, or the food was too rich. Life was too much for Phil, but he didn’t know it. Every day at school his shoulders were tense and his head ached. Only by sitting on the steps with his mask and boots on could he begin to feel somewhat normal again.

He’d asked if he could wear them to school but the teacher said no, said that it would be too distracting to the other children. So the pain of one little boy wasn’t important, but the discomfort of 28 other kids was, apparently. It didn’t make sense. How did she know how they would feel?

Maybe they would like his mask. Maybe they would want one too. Maybe they all felt the same way and all were overwhelmed by the noise, the clutter, the all-too-much-ness of it all. Maybe they were being loud to compensate, to hide their terror.

In the meantime, Phil would continue to sit on the stoop staring at the cars that whizzed by. His Mom could tell what kind of day he’d had by how long he sat outside. Sometimes it was an hour. Rarely was it less than 20 minutes. One day he sat outside like that for nearly 3 hours. When it had become dark his Mom insisted he come in. Sometimes the day was so bad that no length of time outside would fix it. Then it was best to just come in and try again another day.

His mother was unsure if she should teach him better coping techniques since this one seemed to work so well. He was in seventh grade when she realized he’d stopped doing it, and assumed this meant he’d outgrown the need. She couldn’t be further from the truth.

A schoolmate had seen him in his mask on the front porch and told his friends. He’d been walking by on the way to the ballpark and noticed. Enough shrubbery was in the way that he’d not been spotted, but he had no reason to worry. Phil couldn’t see anything anyway in that mask, and that was part of its appeal. But the damage was done. The next day it seemed like the whole school was calling him “monkey boy” and that was it.

The dog-sitter

monkey baby

It was hard to get good help those days. The Brown family had a bear, a young one, mind you, to tend the children. The Nelsons, however, had a dog. You might say having a dog to keep the children company was to be expected, and it was, but not in this way.

Simon was a spaniel mix of some sort. They weren’t sure. It wasn’t like they got him from a kennel. He was found along with his littermates under their back shed one spring day, all mewling and trembling. All of them were cute, but only Simon was attuned to them.

They’d gone to check on the litter several times, admiring the way the mother was caring for them. This was probably her first litter, but she was doing great, like this was her favorite thing to do. The Nelsons had heard of animal mothers instinctually knowing what to do, and this one sure did. They wondered how it was possible that some “lesser” animal could know more about tending an infant than humans did. Maybe humans did know, they’d just forgotten in the race to be “civilized”. Maybe they still knew, very deep down.

They found homes for the rest of the puppies, but Simon they had to keep. He was too perfect to give away. They’d only briefly considered giving him a dog name like King or Spot, but no such name fit him. He really was like a human in dog form, so they gave him a human name. He was a full-fledged member of the family then, albeit one who slept in the garage.

That was until they had their third child. There was no time for taking off from work, no money for daycare. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson’s parents had died long before they got married, so there were no free babysitters to be had. So Simon would have to do.

He was normally a very serious and sober dog, but he became even more so when they put his uniform on. It was as if he knew he was on duty once they dressed him in his apron and cap.

Simon was the best babysitter they could have ever hoped for. He was alert to every cry and always made sure the baby was warm enough. He’d either drag a blanket over her or just lay down next to her.

There was only one problem. The baby thought Simon was her mother, and refused to even recognize her real mother when she returned home from work. It was as if her own mother was a piece of furniture that moved. She didn’t hate her mother – she didn’t even know her to hate her. Simon was all she’d ever needed and not even known it.

Them Bones

How long was she supposed to wait? How long was long enough to know that she’d been cured of her phobia of death?

He could wait all day. He could wait forever, in fact. Well, forever meaning until his bones finally crumbled apart, became just calcium and not bones, in the way that boulders became pebbles over time. It all decays, after all – all that is physical – and that was exactly why she was here for this treatment.

Mary Frances’ fear of death was pervasive. She wasn’t simply afraid of her own death or of the deaths of her parents or spouse. She was afraid of all death, of all change. Any evidence of time passing rendered her inert, full-stop. She no longer could go to doctor’s appointments downtown because of all the change happening there. Too many new apartments! Too many new parking garages! All of her landmarks were gone, well, all save for the Krispy Kreme and Sitar, the Indian buffet. They thankfully never changed and still had actual parking lots right next to their buildings. She wondered how long it would be before some developer snatched them away.

Even the season’s change through her for a loop. She dressed for the weather she wanted and not what was forecast. Her friends were always listening to her complaints about how hot or cold it was, and their efforts to get her to dress more appropriately fell on deaf ears.

Her friend Theresa heard about a new treatment for people who were afraid of change. It was based on something that young Buddhist monks had to undergo as part of their novitiate. They had to spend several days with a corpse to learn non-attachment. She talked Mary Frances into the program by saying it was a fashion show. She was told she’d take all off her clothes and be measured as precisely as possible, and then bespoke clothes would be produced for her. Everything would finally fit perfectly for a change. This sound like a grand idea even though it involved an alteration of her rigid routine. Even though going to this appointment was a change, in the end it would mean no more change – no more having to go to the shop to buy clothes, then to the tailor to have them altered…it was a great trade-off.

But things hadn’t ended up as she had planned. She was welcomed into the office, with its stiff high-back old-fashioned sofa. Mary Frances finally identified it as a camelback and not a Chesterfield as she had first suspected. It was a bit drab but serviceable. She noted that the window was high over her head, like at the gynecologist’s office.

After she removed her clothes in the attached bathroom, she was instructed to return to the room with the sofa. She was disconcerted to notice that there was then someone else in the room – or at least the remains of someone else. By the time she recovered herself the door had been locked. She was stuck with the skeleton. She beat upon the door with her fists but to no avail. All the therapist would say was “It is for your own good”. Over and over she repeated this, regardless of the question from Mary Frances.

After an hour of pacing the room, Mary Frances needed to sit. However, the only option was that couch. There was no way she was sitting with a skeleton! And propriety also demanded she not sit on fabric while naked. That just wasn’t hygienic, and certainly not ladylike. It was two hours later when she finally sat, after a small tray of food was pushed through a low slot in the door. She’d not noticed that before. Why would she? She hadn’t suspected she’d be trapped here.

The therapist made sure she wanted for nothing. The temperature was a pleasant 74° and there was a half-bath attached to the room. Mary Frances considered hiding out in there initially but thought twice about that idea. The room was cold with its porcelain tile and really just too small for staying in very long.

She finally decided to sit on the sofa anyway. If they didn’t care enough about her to provide her with an alternative, they deserved what they got. But there was still the matter of the skeleton.

Something shifted in her after she finally got settled. The skeleton started to look less intimidating. Her years of making art became the way out of her fear. She started to observe the skeleton, not as a reminder of death but as a sculpture, a collection of lines and shadows. She started to look at it – really look at it – and see how beautiful it was. She became an observer, no longer possessed by her fears, but now able to be objective and present.

When the therapist finally opened the door she found her client contentedly gazing at the skeleton, instead of recoiled, huddling in the corner. The treatment was a success.

The Pickers

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Charlie and Rex played together every day, but not like most. Little boys and mutts were usually fast friends, playing tag or chase or tug-of-war. But not these two. Charlie’s dad got him the banjo the same time he got him the dog. Sure, the banjo wasn’t child-sized. Mr. Jason Reinsch didn’t have enough money to buy something that Charlie would outgrow soon enough. So he got him an adult one at a used musical instrument store. He got Rex from what he liked to think of as the used dog store.

There were a lot of choices of instruments there – all castoffs from the hundreds of hopeful people who came to their city every month, trying to become the next big star. Trouble was that very few of them had much talent, and even fewer had the discipline to make anything of it. There were instruments in there that had been bought and sold a half-dozen times, all at a small profit to Zeke, the owner. He didn’t want to charge too much, but he had bills to pay the same as anybody else, so he did what he had to do.

Charlie had never met Zeke or anybody else in the music business before then, but things changed. Once word got out about his act with Rex, he met nearly everybody who was attached to the music business. It seemed like that was most of the town in one way or another. If they weren’t actual musicians, they were songwriters, or producers, or agents, or roadies, or fans. Everybody wanted to see Charlie and Rex play. It hadn’t been like that at the beginning.

Charlie first learned bluegrass songs because that was what his dad knew. Why try to pretend to be an expert in something you know nothing about? That was a sure path to ruin. No, best to stick with what you know and build up on that. It wasn’t long before he was picking out a passable rendition of such classics as “Muddy Road to Ducktown” and “Dream of a Miner’s Child”. The latter was especially well-received because he hammed it up with a little soot on his cheeks to play the part.

He wasn’t a miner’s child, of course, but there were some similarities. His dad, Jason, dug out precious gems in a way – he was a picker. He never could see a way to having a full-time job, even when he had a wife and five children to support. He was too independent for that. He wasn’t one to submit to a boss, especially one who thought he could tell Jason how to complete the task he’d never even personally tried. Why did so many businesses think it was a good idea to have a supervisor who was a stranger to the task at hand? He had bosses try to tell him what to do in his first couple of jobs, thought better of it, and decided that as soon as he could, he’d never have anybody above him

Times were sure lean when he was married with children. All those mouths to feed and backs to clothe! A few years ago his wife and the children had wanted a dog and he put his foot down. He couldn’t see clear to how that would even be possible. It was hard enough making do with the earnings he made from up-selling his finds to antique malls and consignment shops. Did they expect him to rent a booth at the flea market as well to pay for the dog’s needs? That was too much like what he was trying to avoid.

Spring left him and took four of the kids one afternoon to her sister’s house and never came back. Jason had taken Charlie to the hardware store to get some chicken wire. He had the idea that raising his own chickens would save a lot of money in the long run, what with not having to buy eggs or meat ever again. He didn’t know anything about raising chickens, but he hadn’t known anything about raising children either and hadn’t done too bad. Or so he thought.

Spring was fed up with his get-rich-quick schemes that always turned out to be get-poor-slow ones instead. He never gave up, which in some situations is an admirable trait. But sometimes it is good to know when the time has come to move on and let go.

Like now. Spring was through with his promises that never work fulfilled, his dreams that seemed more like nightmares. Without even leaving a note, she left. Sure, she missed Charlie, but four other children were plenty enough to keep up with, and Charlie had been Jason’s favorite after all.

Jason noticed the quiet first when he got home. It seemed so peaceful. He couldn’t ever remember a time when the house didn’t have at least some noise from some child banging on something or his wife complaining about something else. He then noticed why it was so quiet. It was just him and Charlie there. This was unusual for his wife to leave without saying anything.

He was so grateful for the quiet that he decided to take a nap right then and there in the middle of the day. The last time he’d done that he’d been in kindergarten. It was just as delicious and just as needed now. Jason decided he’d take a nap every day from now on out. This was yet another reason not having to work for “the man” was a great idea. He could nap anytime he felt like it.

What did Spring know anyway? Always whining at him about how he needed to grow up and be a man. What did she know about being a man? She wasn’t one. She had no idea how hard it was to carry all this responsibility. It was a miracle he hadn’t snapped like some guys did and started killing people. Mass murder and road rage came from the same root after all – unexpressed anger. Jason figured it was best to not get angry in the first place, so he avoided everything and everyone that made him angry. Well, except for his wife of course. He meant it when he said his vows. Divorce wasn’t an option in his mind, no matter how hard it got.

Things were easier now that it was just him and Charlie. Less to keep up with. Sure it was harder without Mary to keep on top of the household things, but he could manage. He did before he met her, didn’t he? If the dishes didn’t get washed for a week, who would it bother? It seemed a waste of time to have to do it so often. She was always nagging about every little thing. He was better off with her elsewhere. He kind of missed the other kids, but Charlie really was his favorite. This meant they got to spend more time together, undisturbed by everyone else.

Of course, with Mary gone, he had to keep up with Charlie all the time now. He was too young to leave alone at home, like you could with a dog. That was how Jason came up with the idea of getting a dog and teaching them both to sing for their supper. This way he could set them outside on the curb to perform while he was doing the grocery shopping. The home farm hadn’t yet taken off like he thought, so there were still carrots and broccoli and potatoes to buy. Even when his crop did come in, he’d still have to go get milk and fruit. No way was he going to raise a cow or fruit trees. Too much work, and Jason was all about putting in the least amount of effort. If he could get someone else to do the work for him, all the better.

Charlie took to the banjo like a duck takes to water, and Rex was happy to howl along. Jason hadn’t figured having him as part of the act but it was sure funny to see him crooning in more or less in the right pitch. His timing was a little off but practice would fix that. Plus, he soon realized, people weren’t as likely to call the authorities when they saw them together. It was as if they thought the dog was a suitable guardian for Charlie, little as he was. Alone, they thought he was abandoned or had wandered off and tended to call the police to check up on things. But the dog there? That was okay somehow and they let them be.

Jason was through trying to figure out why people thought and acted the way they did, so as long as things worked out in his favor. His wife leaving him was certainly working out, better than he’d ever expected. Not like he’d even imagine she’d leave. But he certainly wasn’t one to pass up a good thing that came his way. That was part of the picker mentality, after all.

The wooden dolly

doll2

 

Maybelle was a bad doll, but she couldn’t help it. The wood that she’d been carved from was terribly damaged. Only one person knew that, and he wasn’t telling. He couldn’t. He was dead. The act of creating her had been the last thing he did. He hadn’t planned it that way.

Drogon was the village doctor – medical and otherwise. If you were out of sorts, you went to Drogon. Before that you’d have gone to Drogon’s father, and now you’d have to go to Drogon’s son, even though he was only seven. These kinds of doctors didn’t get trained in schools, or even by their parents. There was no apprenticeship. The moment the father breathed his last, his spirit and everything he’d learned traveled into the son. It had gone on so long that everybody in the village accepted it as normal, just like how flowers came out in the spring and leaves went away in the fall. The village was many miles from any other so the residents had no way of knowing this was unusual. It was only in the past decade that they’d even learned they weren’t the only people in this country, or even on the planet.

They’d never ventured any further than a few feet from “the edge of the world” as they called it. Why would they? Everything they needed was here. Exploration comes from want and need. If you have everything you want or need, you don’t tend to go exploring. Art was created for the same reason – out of a sense of lack and loss. Folks who felt content weren’t artists. Artists were forever plagued to create even more art, because what they made never felt quite right to them. The fact that they had a sense of something missing in the world caused them to make art – but then still feel incomplete.

Drogon was an artist as well as a doctor – never satisfied with his work. He was certain he could do better with his healing. This was unlikely, since he’d inherited 16 generations worth of healing knowledge when his father died. Everything his father had learned had passed on to him, as it had happened to himself when Drogon’s grandfather had died. It was an amazing process. One day you were yourself, the next you had all these voices in your head giving you unsolicited advice on what to do. It was a little like a family reunion but only one person heard the jokes, and thankfully nobody brought the green bean casserole.

Not many years after their first visit from the outside (as everything other than the village was called), Drogon had a visitor from very far away. He was told that everyone there spoke a different language than him and thought differently, acted differently, dressed differently. He was told that they weren’t as clever as the villagers, because they couldn’t make up stories to entertain themselves in the evenings. He was shocked to learn that hundreds of people would even pay to sit and listen to a person entertain them, to tell them stories, even hearing stories through the air on something called television, rather than in person.  Drogon thought that there must be a huge drought on stories there to have to go to that extreme.

This visitor wanted Drogon to make her a very special doll – one that could tell stories to her people. She’d had a successful career as a ventriloquist, but this would be different. This would be special. This would be so amazing that she could retire early, at the top of her game. She wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of having to do ads for life insurance or hearing aids in her later years, as so many of her fellow performers did. She wouldn’t have to hawk (or hock) anything. She’d be set, if only he would make this new dummy with some of his magic. She told him nothing of her own needs – only that he would be helping her people with their story-sickness.

Drogon had assured her that he had no such skill, no ability to make wood talk, but she was persistent, and he soon felt sorry for these people so far away who had to pay someone to do something they could do for themselves. He promised nothing, but said he would try. That night, he did something he’d never done before – he called a family conference.

That night, he called together all 16 generations of healers from his family. Never before had Drogon even attempted to rouse them. Normally they were just there in his head when he needed them. But this was different. This was a sickness as sure as malaria, as certain as cholera. To be without stories was a sickness of the soul, a certain death. Sure, you could live without stories, but it would only be half-life, a sorry existence. He told his ancestors, all those healers before him, that they would be giving the greatest gift of healing they could ever give if they would do this one thing for him.

It took them eight days to agree to try, and another ten to figure out how. Three more days and the performer from the faraway country was leaving. Drogon had to act soon on their suggestion. He wasn’t sure if it would work but he had to try. Early the next morning, before the sun had risen but after the birds have begun to sing, he went to the center of the village to the story tree. This was the tree where they all met every evening for stories and at least once a week for council. It was the center of the village. As far as anyone knew, it was the reason the village was there.

The tree at the center of the village was older than memory and bigger than dreams. A dozen grown men could stand around it with arms outstretched and embrace it in a circle. Its branches stretched out 40 feet all around and were thick enough to provide shade on the hottest of days and protection on the wettest ones too. Drogon looked at it, this member of the village he’d known the longest, and told it his tale. He asked it for its permission to do what must be done to cure the people he’d never seen, would never see. He told the tree that they would sing songs about it for years in the future, to honor its sacrifice of itself. There was no answer back. He hadn’t expected one, but he had tried all the same. He’d tried because to not try would have meant the guilt of what he was about to do would be on him and his descendants forever.

He assumed all must be well with the tree’s silence. “In silence it went to the slaughter, a willing sacrifice, the cure for their disease.” The lines of a half-forgotten prophecy came to him then and he felt better. Surely it was about this time, and this event? He felt the odd tingle of power that always happened when a prophecy came true, when to be became now.

With spirit ghosts from all of his ancestors helping, he had the tree chopped down in less than an hour, and quietly enough that none of the villagers awoke.

He had selected one log to use for the doll.  It was from the heart of the tree, and was a warm sepia, the color of dry autumn leaves, the color of coffee with a hint of cream, the color of the people it had loved for so long.  He had planned to carve it himself afterwards to complete the ritual, but first he had to call the spirit of the tree into it.

Right now it was like any other spirit after a trauma – floating around in the air, hovering close to its body.  Car accident victims were the same. The spirit gets pushed out before it has a chance to realize that the body is no longer a safe vehicle for it. Meanwhile, it hasn’t prepared itself for the journey it must now embark upon to return to the All-spirit.

Many souls think they have years before them to prepare for that mapless and solitary trip. Some are surprised at a sudden death and they linger around the body longer than they ought. There was a danger to living humans in these places – the spirit might try to take over, to evict the living soul, or to try to double-up. This led to what the villagers called “possession”, and what Westerners called “mental illness”.  Some spirits stayed in the area of the accident for weeks afterwards, the body buried elsewhere. This meant that it was possible to cross paths with a homeless spirit without even realizing it. Perhaps this was why some people in America had started putting up roadside memorials at the site of a fatal car crash – to subtly warn others of the risk of contamination. Perhaps they knew this truth deep down, on a subconscious level.

Drogon meant to call the spirit into the wood but it was harder than he’d imagined. None of his ancestors had ever been through anything this immense, so they couldn’t offer anything useful in the way of advice or warning.  They were all winging it.  They knew it was in their best interest, as a group, to be as careful as possible.  This much energy in one place could possibly make all of them wink out of existence.

There was a reason that tree had been so big – it had held the hopes of the village for thousands of years. It had fed them with stories the same as a mother feeds her babies with milk from herself.  It had sheltered them as a mother hen shelters her chicks.  All of that spirit was too much to try to condense into one tiny log, but it tried.  Perhaps the tree wanted to help out those nameless people who were so far away. Perhaps it trusted the village doctor, who had sat under its branches in the cool of the evening, just like his father and his father on back into the mists of time. He wouldn’t bring harm, no, not him.  So the tree sacrificed itself, went easily, almost willingly.  And yet it still was too much spirit to distill down into one log meant for one little doll.  The energy poured in, but once the log was full (over-full, actually, in the same way you can cram more sugar into tea if you pour it in while it is hot), it spilled out, and up, and over Drogon, and in a flash of blue-violet light, embraced him, and erased him.

The sound that was created in that moment was like the sound of a waterfall swollen by spring rains, or that of a thousand bees swarming to find a new nest.  It was sudden and sure and scary, like a lion before it charges upon a hyena foolish enough to prey upon his family.  It was then that the rest of the villagers awoke to discover the remains of Drogon next to the felled tree.  They ran to find Drogon’s son, knowing that he would now be able to explain what happened. The only reason they knew it was Drogon was from his clothes and the beaded jewelry he always wore.  His body had been reduced to ash.

Drogon’s son, only seven years old but now the village doctor, took it upon himself to complete the doll.  It had to be done.  Otherwise, the death of the tree would have been in vain.  He also had to atone for the actions of his father, as well as the ancestors who had agreed to this disastrous plan.

Out of a sense of guilt, the lady from the faraway land offered the villagers ten times the amount of money for the doll than she had originally agreed to. They wanted nothing – no money, no school, no hospital.  Nothing could repay them for the loss of their tree.  To accept payment would be to cheapen its sacrifice.  They gave her the completed doll, hoping to never see it or her ever again.

The lady went on to become famous for her ventriloquist act, retiring earlier than she’d hoped. Her fans were amazed at how much better she had become. The skits were sharper, wittier, if a little edgy these days.  They marveled at how adept she had become at throwing her voice without apparently having her mouth open.

She kept the doll with her all the time to keep her secret.  She lived alone for the same reason.  When she had first returned from her trip, she was living in an apartment, but soon made enough to move to a large home, far away from people.  This was good, because otherwise they would have heard the wooden dolly arguing with her owner.

It all came to an end one humid summer night when the home went up in flames, reducing both the lady and the doll to ashes.  Arson investigators scoured the ruined property shaking their heads.   They agreed that the fire looked like it was set on purpose by the doll, but since this made no sense, they quietly agreed to officially state that the performer had dropped a cigarette while smoking in bed.

Lost and found penguin

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Sara thought Petey was her brother, and nobody had the heart to tell her otherwise. They’d grown up together, after all. Sarah and her mom had found him hopping on the shoreline near their home in Athenree, New Zealand. Rockhoppers were all over the coast, but it was rare for one to venture into Shelly Bay.

They left him where he was, and her mom promised that they would check on him the very next day. The toddler wanted to take him home right then but her mom said they didn’t have anything for him to eat. Sara didn’t think that was a good enough reason because she knew the Four Square market was open. Mama had to admit she was worried that he might be lost and looking for his family. She hadn’t wanted to say that, not knowing how Sara would take it. Would she feel for him, be sad that he was alone, and then insist on adopting him right away? This was not a situation she wanted to deal with on a Tuesday afternoon. She just wanted to go on a wander with her daughter and then come home to afternoon tea and a nap, preferably in that order.

Sara was concerned, but not overly so, and Mama again assured her they’d come back tomorrow and check on him. She hoped that he’d be gone and forgotten by then. Children have such short memories, and sometimes that was a blessing.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Mama had forgotten about the little lone penguin by the next afternoon. But he hadn’t forgotten about them. As soon as she opened the garage door to leave for their daily walk, he was standing there in the side yard. Sara shrieked with delight and started to run towards him. She hadn’t forgotten about him at all. Mama called to her to stay away but it was too late. She was already embracing him in a full-on hug as only a toddler can. It was a hug that was a bit like a tackle and a lot like a reunion after a wartime deployment. Fortunately the penguin seemed to be just as enthusiastic, flapping his stubby wings and chirruping in high-pitched squeals. You would have thought they were long-lost friends if they were of the same species.

Mama stood there in amazement, taking in the scene. Maybe he had followed them home? They lived not far from the shoreline, and there weren’t any roads he (Mama assumed it was a he – how do you to tell?) would have had to cross. How long had he been there? Sara’s voice broke through her musings.

“Mama he’s here! Our Petey!” she exclaimed in delight, her face lighting up like the sun.

“Sara, sweetheart, we can’t keep him, he’s a wild animal. There are laws about this.” She wasn’t certain about this but it sounded very parental to say. “And Petey? Is that his name?” – knowing that naming a pet meant it was harder to get rid of it. Name it and keep it. Anonymous animals came and went, but named ones stayed. How did she come up with Petey? They didn’t have any friends or relations named that. It wasn’t out of any picture book they’d gotten from the library to read at bedtime.

“He told me his name was Petey!” Sara beamed, and she hugged him all the more. He seemed a little overwhelmed and on the verge of being smothered by this point, but overall still quite happy to be found. Mama wondered if Sara could translate his squeaks and chitters. “How did he tell you, baby?” She used her most reasonable voice now. This wasn’t in her plans. Daniel would be upset when he came back from his business trip tomorrow to discover they had adopted a penguin. Or a penguin had adopted them. She wasn’t sure.

“He told me in my heart,” Sara said, and letting go of her newfound best friend with one hand, she placed it over her heart to show her mom. Sometimes she had to point things out to her mom to make sure she understood. Even toddlers know that parents can be a little dense sometimes.

Sara’s mom wasn’t sure how to take this. Was her daughter making things up again? Or was this a sign of a mental illness? It was hard to separate the two sometimes. Was this why so many artists and writers went off the deep end? This wasn’t going so well. She was supposed to be the adult, after all, supposed to be in charge. Toddlers weren’t supposed to run the show, although they often did. Adults just thought they were in control. Meanwhile, toddlers determined when and if they slept, and where and how they ate. The fact that Sara was an only child amplified her power over her parents.

It was not long before Petey became a member of the family. He lived outside, however, so he wasn’t a full member. Mama thought it was safer all around to not bring him inside, and the weather was always mild where they lived. She was concerned that if they brought him in they’d have to notify the animal control department. But if he lived outside, they could still think of him as “wild” and he could come and go as he wished. If they brought him in there might be shots and laws to be considered. Plus, there was always the thought that it wasn’t fair to keep him in. Daniel, once he got home and was consulted, remembered a roommate he’d had in college who’d kept a bird in a cage as a pet. He’d always thought there was something cruel and vain about that, because birds aren’t meant to live inside like dogs or cats. They are meant to be free. Penguins were birds too, after all.

Sara’s parents started to think of Petey as their second child, and while they never said that out loud to friends or coworkers, they were never so bizarre as to refer to him as their “featherbaby”. He was an animal, a quasi-pet. They loved him, but he wasn’t human.

Except to Sara. She remained the only child that Mr. and Mrs. Fullerton had, so she didn’t know any different. To her, Petey was her younger brother. It didn’t matter to her that he never learned how to speak English and never went to school. She understood that he was a little different than her friend’s siblings, and she was OK with that. All of her childhood she looked forward to going home after school and getting to see her best friend, who still waddled about in the back yard, still pleased as punch to see her.