Ray Carns



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Use the Monkey

A work in progress, Use the Monkey is about human trafficking, a father's revenge, and a monkey.

Excerpt from Use the Monkey:

1. The Crazy World of Arty B

Sherry always disliked Francois. More than she disliked Arty, which was quite a lot after the divorce. Actually, quite a lot before the divorce, too, although there was a time she seemed to love him. Francois, she disliked from the start. It didn’t help that he bared his teeth and screamed every time she came near. Or that he kept stealing her watch. Arty opened the door at the sound of the bell, letting the Jeffersons, Margaret and Joe, into the house.

“Sorry for your loss, Arty,” said Joe. He squeezed Arty’s shoulder.

Arty nodded to Joe.

Margaret flashed a smile, the kind where only the corners of the mouth move up just past parallel, the eyes scrunch and the forehead wrinkles.

“You can put the cake on the dining room table, Margaret.”

He followed the Jeffersons into his living room. It was filled with people and food. The people would leave in a few hours, but the food would remain–the sweets and salads, the cheese and meat platters and main dishes. It would take weeks to empty, clean and return all the left behind dishes and Tupperware.

“I see Sherry brought her lasagna,” said Joe.

“I tried to talk her out of it, but she hasn’t listened to me for years.”

“How can you ruin lasagna?” asked Margaret as she placed the angel food cake in an open spot on the table.

The two men shrugged.

“Help yourselves to the food. Drinks are on the patio.”

The doorbell rang and Arty headed back to the front door.

“I don’t know how it happened. Maybe if I hadn’t gone to New York for three months. Maybe if I’d taken her with me, instead of leaving her with him. It’s all his fault.”

“Sherry, you can’t blame Arty.”

“The hell I can’t. He was supposed to be watching her. He was supposed to take care of her.” She pointed her glass at Arty. “You fucking shit. She’s dead because of you.”

Conversations in the room quieted. Debussy’s La Mer emanating from the speakers in the room filled the silence.

“Why don’t we put the wine down. Step outside for some air.” Joe’s fingers reached for Sherry’s elbow.

“Don’t you touch me. Don’t you touch me. Hear?” She set her glass on the table. “Don’t you touch me.” Sherry jerked away from Joe, bumping into the table. A cheese knife clattered off the plate onto the table. Her wine glass slipped from her hand as she grabbed for the edge of the table to steady herself. The lip of the glass struck the handle of the cheese knife, a fracture ran from lip to stem, but the glass held its form. A red stain spread across the white tablecloth.

Joe looked at Margaret for help.

“Nobody’s touching you, dear,” said Margaret, moving between Sherry and Joe. “Nobody’s touching you. Come on. Let’s go outside for a minute.” She stretched her arm toward Sherry.

Sherry turned, walked around the end of the table toward the open patio door. Margaret followed.

“Must have eaten some of her own lasagna,” someone said. There were a few chuckles and everyone started talking again.

Arty stood by the front door, staring at the tile.

Joe approached him. “It’s not your fault, Arty. You did everything you’re supposed to as a parent. You can’t control them when they’re that age. They’re going to do what they want.”

“I know, Joey. But I wish there was something I could have done.” He shook as he cried. “I miss Veronica. So much.”

“I know. I know.” Joe stepped forward and hugged Arty.

Arty sat in the gloam of the living room; a glass of Doer’s on ice occupied a pool of condensation developing a watermark on the end table next to his chair. Francois sat on Arty’s lap eating a tangerine. Thrown peels lay scattered on the carpet in an arc around the chair. Francois finished the tangerine, crawled across Arty’s lap, sniffed at the scotch and wrinkled his nose.

“That’s not for you, buddy.” Arthur lifted the glass out of the pool of water and swallowed the drink until the ice clinked against the side of the empty tumbler. Francois shook off drops of water as they fell from the bottom of the glass onto his back. He jumped down from Arty’s lap and scurried across the darkened room, jumped onto the dining table and snatched a cluster of red grapes from a bowl of fruit. He ran back and jumped into Arty’s lap again.

“You didn’t happen to bring any more scotch along with those grapes, did you?”

Francois turned his face up toward Arty and flashed a contorted smile.

“No. I guess you didn’t think about that, did you?” Arty shifted in the chair. “Come on. Get up. Your old buddy Arty needs more juice.”

Francois chattered, annoyed at having to move, jumped to the floor and then back to the chair as soon as Arty got up.

Arty poured another scotch. The doorbell rang and he stumbled toward the front door, turning on lights as he weaved from dining room to entry—two steps forward, one step back, scotch sloshed in the glass, drops and splashes marking his trail through the house. He looked through the peep hole as he switched on the outside light. Joe and Margaret squinted and covered their eyes in the flood of brightness.

“Come on in, Joey.” Arty swung the door open and careened back to his chair in the living room. “You, too, Margaret.”

“Jesus, Arty. It stinks like hell in here. You and that damn monkey need to shower and clean up. At least open a window. Jeez.” Joe crossed the rooms to the patio door and slid it open.

“Make sure the screen’s closed so Francois doesn’t get out.”

Margaret gave the dining and living rooms a studied look, taking in the plates of food still on the table from the wake three days earlier, the bits of food and garbage scattered over the floor. Her hands moved to her hips. She shook her head. “Arty. You can’t live like this. It’s not good for you.”

“Hey. What does it matter? Veronica’s gone and everyone blames me because of what happened.”

“Nobody blames you, Arty, except Sherry, and we all know how crazy she’s been lately.”

Margaret shot a look at Joe, skewed her mouth shut and snorted.

“Don’t start, Margaret. Sherry’s crazy and you know it. Just because you’re friends is no reason to turn a blind eye on Crazytown.”

“Before you get me started, why don’t you take care of Mr. B and Cheetah and I’ll start cleaning up this mess.” She turned to Arty. “You got trash bags? Lots of trash bags?”

Joe held his hand out to Arty. “Come on, man. Put that glass down and get in the shower, get some clean clothes on. You smell awful ripe. And you, monkey, quit spitting seeds on the floor.”

Arty put the glass back in its puddle, gave Francois a gentle shove off his lap and got up. Joe grabbed his arm and helped steady him on the way to the bathroom. Francois jumped back in the chair and spit a grape seed at Joe.


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