Alea Baker – Dockery

The Monkey Speech

“From now on, call me Harry.”

Holden and I were driving through the industrial district close to the waterfront in my white Ford Aspire. The brakes were going and I had to press my foot to the floor at every stop sign. The terrible squeaking noise that followed turned a lot of heads and made me even more nervous. I had an ounce of mushrooms in the glove box, and I knew Holden had a vial of acid in his front pocket. I had also decided to stop taking my anti-anxiety meds a few days ago, which I blame entirely on Holden.  My heart was pounding, and I was starting to think I should have just stayed in bed.

“I thought your name was Holden, like Holden Caulfield.”

“Holden was a pussy. I’m more like Harry from Steppenwolf.”

“Didn’t he commit suicide?”

“Probably, hence the connection.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist, Holden.”  I didn’t like the name Harry. I knew a really smart kid in grade school named Harry, one of those kids you knew would grow up and have the balls to leave his hometown and stay gone. He went to college on the East Coast to be a freakin’ doctor or something, and died in a car crash a few months later. They buried him back home in the local graveyard with all the other failures.

Holden was snapping his fingers right next to my ear.  “Hey! Space cadet! Do you have to be anywhere soon?”

“I gotta catch the next flight to Mars,” I said.

“You don’t want to go there; way too much dirt and not much else. Where are you

going?  Can I come?  I don’t have anything real to do.”

“You never have anything real to do, and unless you want to get castrated, you don’t want to come.”

“What kind of secret mission is this?” Holden raised an eyebrow.

“It’s not a secret; I’m just visiting my parents.”

“What?  You have parents?”

“What do you think?  Of course I have parents.  I’m not some fucking lab experiment like you.”  I glanced over and saw that Holden looked genuinely hurt by this remark. I immediately felt the cold bowling ball of guilt in my stomach. I’d never met his parents, but by the sound of it, they were lowlife pieces of shit. He told me that when he was ten, his Mom went bat-shit crazy in the car and pushed him out the door. The car was moving, although, truth be told, I’m not sure how fast. But does it really matter?

My palms were starting to sweat. “Where am I taking you anyway?  We’ve been driving around this shitty neighborhood for half an hour.”  I took a sharp turn onto a gravel road behind an antique store. They had a hand-painted sign in front that read “Everything Must Go!” only “everything” had been crossed out with red spray paint and above it read “Chinks.”  I began to feel nauseated and looked for somewhere to pull over.

“I’m trying to remember where I saw that old record shop with a black and white dog hanging out in front.  I want to see that dog again,” Holden said.

“Why do you care about some dog?”

“Never mind.  You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Probably not, but tell me anyway.”  I already knew what he was going to say. Sometimes Holden could talk to animals, just like Dr. Doolittle.  This usually happens after a couple hits of acid, or maybe just a really long night of drinking.  But just try telling him the two might be connected.

“She was telling me that dogs have their own kind of Kama Sutra, different positions and everything.  But they don’t do it like that in front of people, you know?  We only think there’s just ‘doggy style’, but there’s way more.  She was a pretty sick bitch.”

“Christ, shut up Holden.”

“Hey, you fucking asked!  Don’t get mad at me for telling you the truth.”

“You should stop that, you know?  Talking to animals in the middle of the day and freaking people out.  Remember what happened at the zoo? I can’t believe I went with you.” It was a pretty stupid thing to do.  I knew after he finished the flask of vodka he was just going to cause trouble. I didn’t think he would try to get into the wolf exhibit, though.

“You know they banned us both for life, right?  I would’ve liked to go there again without a crazy asshole to look after.”

Holden and I had met a few years ago through a friend I can’t even remember.  It was the first time I had tried ecstasy and it flung me out of this universe. I can recall shuffling around my friend’s house (what was her name?) mumbling about the lights in the kitchen.  My body felt electrified, and I jumped every time someone brushed up against me.  There were a dozen people there drinking, and they didn’t understand the concept of “personal space.”  For whatever reason, Holden showed up alone, completely high on mushrooms.  He said he found me cornered in the kitchen with a few drunken college kids poking me in the side.  I remember looking up to see him waving a butcher knife around, saying that he would remove their prostates if they came near me again.  After that, I always felt a little obligated to help him out. How many people would threaten four guys with a knife in order to defend a complete stranger?  I didn’t realize that he’d just as quickly turn the knife back at me, though.

Last time Holden got released from the mental institution, I was the only one who would go to pick him up.  I was also the only one to visit him during his three-week stay.  He had burnt all his bridges a long time ago, with the drugs, the erratic behavior and the suicide attempts.  That shit can get on people’s nerves, and it got Holden into a lot of trouble.  Now the only people he really talked to weren’t people at all.  He was still fairly charismatic, so he would meet someone here and there.  They were mostly gone within a few months, though.  So that left me and the dogs.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, I’m just on edge today.  And you’ve met my parents.  Well, I guess not really met.  They kind of just yelled at you over the phone.”  That’s the reason my folks hated Holden. I guess I wouldn’t say hate, considering they lack emotional capacity to really hate anyone, but strongly disapprove of. My folks had been paying for this half decent apartment in the north-end of town, trying to be extra supportive without having to physically be there. My dad, the one with the cash, had been calling about once a week to make sure I hadn’t slit my wrists again. So when the phone rang, I knew it was him.

“Don’t answer it!” I tried yelling at Holden over the sounds of the shower.

Holden, the idiot, answered it, “Big Tits Bar, how may I service you?”

“What? Who is this? Is Cassidy there?”

“We have several sexy ladies here by that name. Whom, may I ask, is calling?”

“I’m her father; now put her on the phone.”

“I’m sorry sir, but I don’t believe you.  None of our women have fathers, considering they all emerged from the sludge of the gutters.  Now I can give you a family discount you if can prove some kind of relation, but I must inform you that incest is illegal in all fifty states.”  By the time I had leapt out of the shower and run out of the bathroom dripping wet and half-naked, my father was yelling obscenities and threatening to call the police.

“Look Holden, I got to get going.  My folks pay the bills, right?  I should at least try and pretend that I’m not a complete screw up, so I’m afraid you’re not invited.”

“You’re not a screw up, you’re eccentric. Your folks are just brainwashed by what they consider to be ‘social norms.’ You and me, we’re the real deal. We’re real people, not like those bastards with five fucking kids and six cats and a house they can’t afford. They’ve got jobs that kill them and they talk about inconsequential bullshit all day long.  They’re pathetic, Cass. We’re surrounded by monkeys who fight and fuck with no real purpose.  We live with a higher awareness; don’t let them take it from you with their idiot drugs and pussy talk-therapy.  They’re fucking with your head, Cass!  Come on, let’s go find a nice spot on the beach to relax and watch the sunset.  I bet watching the sunset on acid would be amazing, not your average trip.  I think it would cheer you up.”

I had parked the car behind an old abandoned warehouse in the middle of Holden’s “monkey speech.”  That’s what I call it now, considering he tells me some variation or another every few days.  I knew what he thought of my folks.  I knew what my folks thought of me.  What did I think?  Did I even think?  About my life, my friends, my family, my morals, my motivations, my beliefs?  Did I even have those things?  My head suddenly started pounding in rhythm with my heartbeat, and I pressed my right palm to my temple.

“Not this time, I need to leave.  I’ll meet you back at the apartment tomorrow.”  Holden glared at me with his dark blue eyes that matched the color of the evening sky.  I felt uncomfortable under his stare but tried not to blink.  The only way to get him out quickly was to stand my ground, and, after a few long seconds, he opened the door.  He grabbed the mushrooms from the glove box and slammed it shut.

“Don’t come to my apartment before tomorrow,” I said.  “The landlord threatened to kick me out because you’re there so much.”  Without looking back, he shut the door and walked towards downtown, not the beach.  Looking for another dog, no doubt.

On the way to my parent’s house, I didn’t think about much, except for a fairy tale I had read when I was a kid.  It was about an old witch who lived alone in the woods in a cottage that had a chicken leg.  The cottage actually stood on a chicken leg, and it would lower itself to the ground when she wanted to entice little kids to come inside.  Like, ‘Don’t pay any mind to the chicken leg; just come inside for some tea and cookies.’  Then a girl wandered into the cottage and the witch almost cooked her alive, but some red knight charged in and saved her ass.  Fairy tales are stupid.  They lie to you when you’re young and impressionable, saying someone’s always there to enter at the right moment and catch you before you fall to your death.  That witches can be beaten with a glass of water.  That you’ll always get presents on Christmas.  I thought getting older meant more opportunity for freedom and adventure, but it was just more opportunity to fuck up.  Is everything a disappointment, or is it just me?

I arrived at my parents’ house and took a breath before knocking on the door.

“Oh my Darling!”  Suddenly I was being suffocated by my mother on my parent’s front porch.  “I’m so glad you came; dinner is almost done.”

“You cooked?”  My mother can’t cook.

“Yes! It’s a special occasion, I think,” she smiled.

“I can’t even smell anything burning.”

“Ha! Well, you’re not completely in the house yet; come inside and investigate.”  The kitchen was sparkling clean and smelled like bleach and slightly burnt lasagna.  The living room still looked like it came from a home furniture magazine.  White walls, cozy furniture, pretty carpets.  Nothing out of place to indicate anyone here was out of the ordinary.  Then I saw a painting hung right above the fireplace, just like it belonged in this cozy little house.  But it didn’t.  It was a poorly made acrylic painting of a young girl wandering through the woods.  The trees were black and overbearing, stretching out their sharp branches in hopes of scratching the intruder.  She was young and pale, wore a white dress and looked very frightened.  In the background you could see the shadowy outline of a cottage.  The painting was dark and eerie; it shouldn’t have been anywhere near this house.  But there it was.

“Where did you find that?” I pointed at the painting, my hand shaking.

“The hospital gave it to us after you had left.”  My dad entered the room through the kitchen with a glass of wine in his hand. “They said you had forgotten it.”  He put his glass down on the coffee table without bothering to use a coaster.

“I didn’t. I just didn’t want it.”

“But honey,” my mother said, “it’s beautiful.”

My chest suddenly felt very tight, and it was hard to breath.  I remember painting it in the institution, after my first suicide attempt.  I still have the pale scars neatly crossing both my wrists. I had painted it in art class, after an unsettling session with my therapist.  He thought I was bipolar, and that I should take my medication, and that I had unresolved issues with my parents and blah blah blah.  “He doesn’t give a shit about me,” I had mumbled under my breath with a brush in my hand. “He doesn’t even know me.”  I was so frustrated and had no one to talk to. I’ve never felt as alone as I did in that hospital.  So I had taken it out on my canvas, and I turned my loneliness into a cheap piece of art.  I hated it, and I hated that my parents had it. They were the ones that sent me to that hospital in the first place.

“No it’s not!  It’s hideous!  It’s terrible!”  Tears burst from my eyes. “Why do you have it?” I asked quietly.  I almost couldn’t talk; the air was stuck in my lungs.  My mother came forward and held me in a gentle embrace.

“Because we missed you,” my mother cooed against my head.  My father put his arms around both of us.

“Then why did you send me there?”  I didn’t mean to start yelling, but I was. “Why did you send me away?”  I collapsed into a puddle of tears and raw emotion, shaking with every painful breath.  My parents held me until I could speak again.  “I’m hungry,” I finally managed.

We sat in the comfortably lit dining room at a polished oak table with matching chairs.  My father sat down across from me as my mother served me burnt lasagna.  We ate in silence for a few minutes until my father cleared his throat.

“After your first…incident, we didn’t know what to do. We’d never dealt with something like that.  Your mother and I were nervous wrecks, trying to figure out some way to help you. After the second time, we decided it was best if we sent you to a professional.”  He glanced at my mother, who looked down at the table.

“Sweetheart, we’re sorry if that wasn’t the right decision. But if anything had happened to you,” she took a deep breath, and her voice became strained, “I just don’t know what I would have done.”

“We want you to come home,” my father started.  “We want to try to get things back on track.  We kept your room the way you left it.” He managed a smile, and I looked at my lasagna, hiding the tears that fell from my face.

After dinner, I told them I wanted to be alone for a bit and went to the back porch.  I pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from my pocket and lit one with a match.  I stared out into the dark woods and wasn’t surprised when I saw a large brown dog galloping towards me.

“Hi, Buster,” I said to the goofy Labrador.  He sat in front of my knees and waited.  “You’re a good dog, Buster,” I said and scratched his floppy ears. “You might be seeing more of me from now on.  I think I kind of like it here.”

“Woof,” he said.

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