They called it monkey racing. And it was probably fun for those of us who weren’t the monkeys. You’ve got to give Fat Bobby and his backyard bullies credit though – with an intricate network of clothesline, bungee cords, and duct tape, harnesses, and reins were made, the littlest kids were corralled and a game was born.
Fat Bobby hitched me up in his bungee cord contraption and found just the right sized willow whip to keep me in line. Attaching my tether to a beat up red wagon he fished out of the dumpster, he said, “We better win, Monkey.”
I gently pulled at the hair trapped in the harness, trying to free it. “My name is Scotti, you big creep.”
Fat Bobby lashed my back with the willow branch whip and growled. “Did I give you permission to talk, Monkey?”
I clamped my teeth so I wouldn’t cry. If Fat Bobby saw me cry it would be worse for me. And I couldn’t take worse.
Bobby’s three friends – Lowell the troll, Jerk-face Jerry, and Mozer – lined up their monkey wagons at the starting line. I looked at my fellow monkeys, who cried openly and whined. No matter who won or lost, those poor monkeys would have their dinners taken that night, without a peep of protest from any of them. And if they got to sleep through the night without a round of toilet head, they’d be lucky.
I scanned the yard for my new friend Zelda but she wasn’t around. My heart fell — they probably shipped her off to another home. After she knocked Fat Bobby on his ass, they’d been promising payback and I figured they got it. And besides, God just didn’t like me enough to let me keep a friend.
With two fingers, Topher blew a shrill whistle through his gap-toothed mouth. Fat Bobby lashed my head with the willow branch. “Go monkey! Go!”
I bent and pulled, each step an agony of pain and sweat. The sun burned through my scalp and the harness pulled my hair out by the roots. The finish line was only ten feet away, marked with a couple of beat-up trash cans and a sneering crowd, but it might as well been a hundred feet because I could only move the wagon an inch at time. For cripes sakes I was dragging a whale in a wagon and my little kid muscles weren’t up to the task.
Bobby snapped his willow whip, leaving a fresh welt on my arm. “Go monkey, go!”
I pulled and grunted. “You ever hear of cruelty?”
I got another lash for my backtalk. But the other monkeys were worse off — they all cried like big babies and wasted time begging to be freed. Didn’t they know that once a bully’s got you, you belong to them forever?
I screamed. I grunted. I pulled. Inch by inch. The sweat stung my eyes and swiped with my arm. I muttered, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. Some day Bobby, you’ll get yours.”
And then a miracle happened. The bungee cord snapped. I shot a backward glance to Bobby — he was too busy lapping up the cheers from his pals to notice. I pulled and the other bungee snapped. One more good yank and I was free.
I ran. I ran as fast as I could. Hoping I could get under the house before they caught me. I heard their big nasty feet pounding behind me. And my breath hard. And my pounding heart. I ran harder. The house was only a few feet away. If I dropped and rolled I could get under the house where they couldn’t get to me.
Bobby grunted and yelled, “Come back here, monkey. Oh you’re gonna pay you little runt. You just wait.”
But Bobby was a fat whale and he couldn’t run worth a shit. I could hear his panting and big clown feet stumbling. Three feet from the house, I had to make my move. I dropped and rolled and got under the house. But before my next breath a big beefy hand got hold of my foot.
“I gotcha monkey!”
I saw Bobby’s sweaty pink face scowling at me under the house. I kicked and screamed, “Let go of me!” But I couldn’t kick him loose and I felt myself being pulled from safety. “Stop, you’re hurting me!”
I threw out my arms for anything to hold onto and came up with handfuls of dirt and dog poop. I kicked harder but he grasped my ankle tighter and it felt like he’d crush it into dust. He had me and he wouldn’t let go and I felt him pulling me out, while I choked on dirt and cobwebs along the way.
He had me by the hair and up against the back of the house, while his pals crowded around, leering and lusting for blood.
Red-faced and greasy with sweat Bobby yelled in my face. “Okay monkey, I tried to warn you. But did you listen?”
I glared at him and braced for the blow.
He smiled back at his pals. “Did she listen?”
“No!” the bad boys answered him.
“And what do we do to monkeys who don’t listen?”
“Punish them!” They chanted and stomped their feet.
Bobby turned his nasty mug back to me and cocked back his arm. “You’re one dead monkey.”
As his fist shot toward my face, I went limp — Bobby stumbled and smashed his fist into the wall. He screeched like a little girl and fell back, releasing my hair and landing me on my butt.
Bobby howled. “Son of a bitch!” His buddies gathered round. “She broke my fucking hand!”
On all fours, I scooted away as fast as I could— while they were distracted with their fallen hero. When I got around the other side of the house I jumped to my feet and ran. I was free. I knew it wasn’t for long but for that moment I still had my face and my arms and legs and I ran. And ran. And ran. And then I ran straight into the house mother.
She grabbed me by the wrist and looked down her pointy nose at me. “What are you doing, Scotti?”
I looked up with wide eyes. “Nothing.”
“So all the noise in the back, got nothing to do with you?”
I shook my head slowly. “No, ma’am.”
She sniffed the air. “You been under the house again? You smell like dog shit.”
I shook my head again. “No, ma’am.”
She dug her fingers into my arms and shook me. “You no what we do to lying little girls round here, don’t you?”
Tears fell and streaked my dirty and poop-stained face. “But Bobby started it. He…”
She grabbed my face with her hand and squeezed. “And now you’re gonna sass me?”
“No, ma’am…but…” She squeezed my face so hard, I struggled to breath. “No, ma’am.”
She let go of my face and wiped her hand on her dress. “And see now my hands stink as bad as you.” I looked up at her with pleading eyes, but said nothing. She narrowed her mean blue eyes at me and said, “You know what comes next now, don’t you?”
My shoulders slumped and I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
I followed her inside the house and to the basement door. I stopped and looked up at her hoping she’d changed her mind but she pointed to the door and I opened it.
As she shoved me into the cubby she said, “Maybe if you go hungry tonight it’ll make you think about the consequences of your actions.” She locked the cubby door and I heard the keys jangle as she put them back in her pocket. “You think Miss Scotti, you think long and hard about what you done.”
I sat on the cold concrete floor and covered my face.
“Oh you big cry baby, cut it out.”
I raised my head and turned toward the voice. “Zelda?”
Zelda scooted next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Hey roomie, I was wondering when you’d finally show up.”