The Rodeo Monkey was first published in the New Plains Review in the Fall of 2017 issue.
The monkey was dressed like a cowboy. Chaps, vest, and a little hat tied onto his head with a piece of string. He rode a border collie with a specially fitted saddle, a young exuberant dog especially trained not to mind the extra load on its back. The clowns sent the monkey and his dog into the arena between events. The duo had a number of tricks. The dog would herd a group of goats back into a pin or jump over a series of straw bales. The monkey would hang grimly on to the dog’s back, occasionally raking his miniature spurs down the dogs back to get it to go faster. Sometimes the monkey would pull out a little pop gun which he would shoot into the air or at targets held by the clowns who would fall in mock agony with every hit.
Dusty loved the monkey. Every time the monkey would charge out on his canine steed Dusty would give out a little eight year old squeal of delight and tug frantically at his mother’s arm, pointing as he tried to get her attention.
“Mom. Mom. Look at the monkey.”
Each time Linda would smile and hold her son close, pressing her cheek to his for a moment, and watch the running dog with the monkey on his back. Dusty would clap and cheer and the world would fill with so much happiness that for a moment Linda would feel herself be carried away to the unbridled enthusiasm of her own childhood. But such times were fleeting. The monkey would ride back out of the arena and the next event would begin. Dusty would quiet down and watch, bored by the non-monkey related competitions.
Linda didn’t watch the rodeo. She stared down at the beer garden and tried to discern the shape of her husband amongst the convulsing sea of western shirts and cowboy hats. The sweaty heat of the afternoon had given way to the chill of evening. Linda had hoped that the drop in temperature would be enough to force her husband back to the grandstands, at least to get his coat, but there was no such luck. Dave was a man impervious to climate, especially while imbibing. Dave had left them and escaped into his sanctuary as soon as they had arrived in the early afternoon. He preferred the company of drunks and fools to the that of his own son and wife.
Linda thought she saw him for a second, but the man was too thin, his shirt the only thing he had in common with Dave. She looked at her son, intently watching the last round of calf roping, breaking only for an occasional yawn or to pop a candy in his mouth. She could see Dave in her head, laughing and buying drinks for anyone who would claim to be his friend. Spending money they couldn’t afford to spend. Once Linda had been part of that world, and had reveled in it. Now it seemed like those memories belonged to a different woman.
Linda wanted to go home. She had wanted to go home hours ago, but Dave was not so easily roused from his enjoyment. During the second round of barrel racing she had gone down to the beer garden fence and tried to spy her husband through the drunken mass. She would have gone in herself to find him, but the man at the gate wouldn’t let her take Dusty in. She didn’t like the idea of leaving Dusty outside by himself. It would take a while to extract Dave when she found him. Instead she had bought Dusty a hot dog and taken him back to their seats.
The last round of calf roping would soon be over. It would be followed by the final round of bull riding. Then the rodeo would be over. Linda both looked forward to and dreaded the rodeo’s end. Dave would come and find them at least half an hour after the end of the last event, and then only because the beer garden would be closed. He’d come up the grandstand steps, cheerful and laughing, at least until Linda would tell it was time to go home instead of migrating to the nearest bar. His wishes denied, Dave would either respond by becoming angry and verbose, or sullen and pouty. Either way there would be a string of backhanded insults coming her way. Worse would be when they got home and Dusty got put to bed. Then would come the groping, the pleading for his marital rights, until she either gave in or he passed out. At times it seemed easier to just leave him behind. Go home without him. She had done it several times before, but all it had accomplished was a weekend sized dent in their finances instead of just one day.
“Mom. Mom. It’s the monkey again. He’s in a parade.”
The calf roping had come to an end. The monkey rode out leisurely on his dog. Sitting high in the saddle and pumping his little fist in the air. Behind him came a parade of clowns on tiny wagons pulled by teams of miniature horses. One large boxy wagon seemed to get stuck in the middle of the arena and the clowns all gathered around to feign pushing and pulling in an attempt to free it. Fed up one clown kicked at the wagon with all his exaggerated might. The moment his oversized boot connected with the garishly painted side fireworks burst from the top upward into the air, exploding with thunderous booms and bright flashes of color above the arena. The crowd hooted and hollered and Dusty covered his ears.
The dog did not like the fireworks. At the first thunderous boom it ran at full speed towards the arena fence, desperate to escape, the monkey holding on for dear life. The dog jumped through a space between two boards. The monkey tried to crouch lower in his saddle but the gap was too narrow. The monkey’s head kicked back as it hit the top board and he fell from his mount at the edge of the arena. Several clowns were running towards the monkey. Dusty was standing on top of his seat.
“Mom. Mom. What’s wrong with the monkey? Is the monkey going to be all right? Mom. Mom.”
Linda grabbed Dusty and held him close, turning his face away from the chaos in the arena below. The clowns clustered around the fallen rider. One took off his colorful vest and put it over the body to hide it from view. Linda felt the wetness of her son’s tear’s on her cheek. Dusty tried to wiggle around so that he could see again. Linda picked Dusty up and started carrying him down the grandstand steps. Out of the arena. Past the beer garden. Out of the rodeo grounds. Out to the field, once grass, now dust, filled with rows of cars, pickups, and horse trailers. Linda carried Dusty all the way to their pickup truck. She unlocked the doors, buckled him in, and then got into the driver’s seat. She put the key in the ignition.
The engine of the pickup stayed silent. Linda let her hand drop to her lap. She couldn’t leave Dave. Leaving him was more trouble than it was worth. Linda realized she had left Dave’s coat in the stands. For a moment she thought about going back to get it, but didn’t. She sat and stared out at the bright lights of the distant arena where the announcer was declaring it was time to start the final round of bullriding. Compared to the voice over the loudspeakers, Dusty’s voice sounded small and quiet.
“Is the monkey dead Mom?”
A hundred motherly answers went through her head, but not one reached her mouth. “Yeah, Dusty. I’m sorry. The monkey’s dead.”
Dusty started crying, big tears flowing down his cheeks. Linda leaned over and hugged him tightly to her chest. His little hands squeezed her as hard as he could.
“It’s okay baby. It’s going to be okay.”
“But the monkey’s dead.” The little voice was choked with emotion.
Linda didn’t know what to say. Her brain felt like it had frozen, but when she opened her mouth the words flowed out like water. “No honey, don’t cry, it’s okay. He was a bad monkey.”
Dusty lifted his head and stared at her with puffy red eyes. “He was a bad monkey?”
“Yeah, he was a bad monkey.” It felt like someone else was saying the words. “He robbed the rodeo payroll.”
“He did. He was a bad monkey. He was always spending all his money on booze and getting drunk.” Linda wanted to stop the flow of the words, but she couldn’t seem to hold them back. It was as though she was just a spectator. They flooded over the banks in an unstoppable torrent. “He only cared about himself. He never gave a damn about his monkey family, he never spent any time with his monkey kids, and he was a verbally abusive ass to his monkey wife. He was a real bastard.”
Silence filled the cab and Linda wished she could suck back in the words. Dusty sat looking thoughtful, taking deep breaths and snorting the snot back up his nose. His scrunched up face was a mirror image of his fathers.
“If he was that bad it’s probably a good thing he’s dead then, huh?”
Linda took a couple deep breaths and gazed down at her son with unfocused eyes. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Dusty nodded and pulled away from her. He wiped his nose on the back of his hand and pulled a candy from his pocket. The pair sat in the pickup and stared out at the bright lights of the arena, waiting for Dave to show up so they could go home. After a while Linda turned on the engine so they could listen to the radio.