Raising his bloated body into a sitting position on the jungle green
sheets, Johnny felt the previous night’s dinner in his large belly
shift uncomfortably. When the leaf-patterned curtains over the open
window at his side suddenly fluttered noisily like rifle shots on the
veldt, he leapt into the air, grabbed onto a vine, and hurled his
massive weight out and over the end of the bed, his gorilla-like feet
skimming the top of the pile of Jane’s stuffed animal collection, moved
there every night from the bed before they got into bed and back onto it
after she made it the next day. He swung through the open bedroom door
out into the hallway and landed ungracefully on his heels, where he
teetered for a moment before righting himself, catching another vine,
and swinging down the hall until he transferred to another vine and
propelled himself into the kitchen.
“Good morning, dear,” Jane said as she cracked an egg large enough to be
from an ostrich into a black iron skillet. “Did you sleep well?” she
asked as the egg began to sizzle in hot grease.
Johnny grunted almost inaudibly as he bent over and tucked himself into
a ball and rolled across the artificial thatch on the floor to his
rickety bamboo chair at the end of the table.
“Johnny Junior and Edgar have already left for school,” Jane said,
sliding a wooden spatula under the egg and flipping it over. The grease
sizzled and popped. “They swung out of here about ten minutes ago.”
Johnny raised his flat, brutish face and sniffed the air and scowled.
The window above the sink was open and the breeze was carrying in the
repellent scents of the waste disposal plant next door. “Not good,” he
complained gruffly, pointing at the open window.
Jane threw the spatula across the room hitting a wall decorated with
tribal masks. “All you do is complain, Johnny. Not even a greeting from
you first thing in the morning.” She grabbed onto a vine and swung out
of the kitchen doing somersaults in the air and landing on her feet in
the living room.
Johnny sat at the table for several minutes, perplexed as always by his
wife’s behavior. Frustrated with his inability to understand women, he
beat his flabby chest with his ape-like hands and let out a yell.
“Shut up over there,” his neighbor on the other side yelled from an open
Standing on his hands and trying not to smother himself from his stomach
hanging over his face, Johnny watched the morning news and hooted and
growled as the newscaster said the economy was improving and that the
job market was on the rebound. Juggling a coconut on the tips of his
hairy toes, he heard Jane in the kitchen at the sink scraping the pan.
He was about to go in and find a way to apologize for being such an
animal, but there was a knock on the front door. He pitched the coconut
from his toes onto a heap of bananas and lowered his arthritic shoulder
onto the palm leaf patterned carpet and rolled on his shoulders with his
head tucked into his double chins to the door. He peered through the
peep hole and saw the top of the head of his AA sponsor, Mr. Bwana. He
ducked down into a crouched position and began picking at the frayed
ends of the carpet.
Mr. Bwana knocked on the door, waited a few moments, then knocked again,
but louder. Still not getting an answer Mr. Bwana shouted, “I know
you’re in there Johnny. Your jeep is in the driveway and I know you
haven’t found a job yet. I just hope you haven’t fallen off the vine.”
“Who’s yelling at the door?” Jane asked coming into the living room
holding a bent spatula.
“Hush,” Johnny said in a hissed near-whisper as he dove across the room
and onto Jane, sending them onto some banana peels left on the kitchen
floor that morning by Johnny Junior and Edgar. “Mr. Bwana at door. Him a
“Get off of me you fat slob,” Jane said hitting him with the spatula.
“He just wants to make sure you’re not drinking.”
“Johnny no drink,” he said, rolling off of his wife and onto his back on
the floor, his feet up in the air. “Not much, anyway,” he added while
playing with his toes.
At noon Johnny stood in the backyard overgrown with brush and peered
into the algae green water of the above-ground swimming pool. Johnny
Junior’s inflatable plastic alligator was floating on the top between
two lily pads. Johnny grabbed onto the edge of the pool and did a
standing back flip dive into the water, his large body sending a huge
wave over the edges of the pool. Rolling and twisting beneath the
surface of the water, Johnny wrestled the alligator until it deflated,
then stood up holding the alligator above his head. “Me lord of jungle,”
“Get a job you fathead,” his neighbor yelled from an upstairs window.
Johnny adjusted his tiger striped swimming trunks that were about to
slip down and shook the water from his balding head. As the noxious
smells of the waste disposal plant wafted by, Johnny ducked back under
the water and did several somersaults on the bottom of the pool stirring
up the algae. Choking, he rose to the top again and bounced out of the
pool into a clump of poison ivy.
“I told you a week ago that the poison ivy was there,” Jane said as he
came in the house and told her what had happened.
“Johnny allergic to poison ivy,” he said, already beginning to break out
in a rash.
“You’re sleeping on the floor tonight,” she told him, catching the end
of a vine and swinging from the kitchen to the living room and landing
on the sofa in front of the television. She flipped through the channels
on the remote until she found a Maureen O’Sullivan movie playing on the
movie classics channel.
Johnny Jr. came in through the front door, circled his mouth with his
hands and called out, “I’m home.” He threw his books in a woven grass
basket by the door and grabbed a vine and swung into the living room
where his father was lying on the sofa. Johnny had dabs of calamine
lotion all over his body.
“What happened Pops?” Johnny Jr. asked him.
“Me land in poison ivy,” his dad answered. “How school?”
“Not so good, Pops,” his son answered. “I had to see the principal
because I was running in the halls.”
“Running good,” Johnny said. “Help you get away.”
“Get away from what?” Johnny Jr. asked standing on his hands.
Jane rolled into the living room and stood up with her hands on her
lips. “Did I just hear you got caught running in school again?” she said
to Johnny Jr.
“Yes, Jane, but Pops says running is a good thing,” Johnny Jr. said.
“Your father is a baboon,” she said. “You need to be punished. Now go to
your room until I tell you that you can come out.”
“Aw, Jane, you’re mean,” Johnny Jr. said as he cartwheeled out of the
living room and went to his bedroom.
“You hard on boy,” Johnny said scratching the sole of his left foot.
“It’s a jungle out there,” Jane said, “and he needs to learn how to get
along in it. Sometimes I don’t think you know anything about being a
parent.” She then did handsprings back into the kitchen.
Johnny reached under the sofa and pulled out a half empty bottle of
whiskey, unscrewed the top and took a long drink, gurgling happily as it
went down his throat.
At the dinner table Edgar was busily writing on a sheet of lined paper
lying next to his plate of zebra steak and mango.
“Put the pen and paper away and eat your dinner,” Jane told him. “I
don’t want to send you to your bedroom with your brother.”
The blades of a wood fan circulated slowly above the table, drawing in
through the open window the appetite-killing aromas of the waste
“I have a book report due tomorrow,” Edgar said, continuing to write
while chewing on a bit of the stringy meat.
“You’re always writing something,” Jane said. “Now put that pen and
“No,” Edgar said, still writing.
“Johnny, tell Edgar to stop writing this very minute and eat his
dinner,” Jane said to her husband.
“Stop . . .” Johnny said, not finishing before leaning forward, his face
falling into his plate full of mashed mango.
On the back steps as night fell Johnny looked up at the emerging moon
and took another swig of whiskey from the bottle. The coolness of the
oncoming night had done nothing to reduce the odors of the waste brewed
into a nightmarish stew during the heat of the day at the waste disposal
plant. Johnny read the want ads listed in the newspaper, and finding
nothing to suit an up-and-climber, he crumbled the pages into a ball and
tossed it over the fence and into the neighbor’s yard. With one hand
around the neck of the whiskey bottle and the other hand grasping a
vine, he swung out over the swimming pool looking for alligators but
only saw his son’s deflated one. He swung back toward the house,
downing the last drops of whiskey that had been in the bottle. Landing
on his back on the top step he put the bottle on the bottom of his
poison ivy covered feet and propelled it into his neighbor’s yard. It
crashed into the neighbor’s garbage cans, the noise bringing the
neighbor to an open window.
“I’ll get you for that you big ape,” his neighbor called out.
Johnny put his hands to his mouth and let out a loud belch-filled yell,
then fell down the steps, landing on his calamine lotion covered stomach
on a pile of discarded zebra bones. He reached under the bottom step and
pulled out a bottle of vodka, unscrewed the top, and drank.
Unable to grasp onto a vine, Johnny stumbled down the hallway and into
the bedroom. Jane was sitting up in the bed sewing a loin cloth. She
stopped stitching with the porcupine quills and looked at him.
“I see you’re still drunk,” she said. “Should I call Mr. Bwana so that
he can come take you to an AA meeting?”
Johnny collapsed onto the foot of the bed on his back. “Yes Jane, call
him. I need to do something. I feel like I’m living someone else’s
“You are dear,” Jane said. “Now get off the bed.”
Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 430 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.