Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Short Story Time: "Any Monkey"

The following is a short story about a match made in hell. It’s kind of long to read entirely on the monitor, so you might want to click on the story link under “Recent Conversations” and print it out. I hope you enjoy it.

You would have thought Aunt Meryl was an Academy Award-winning actress the way she pranced around last Thanksgiving morning. She must have tried on 15 different outfits before settling on what she called her “high class lounging pajamas,” which consisted of a leopard-print, satin jumpsuit with bell-bottom pants and a black satin sash around the waist. Her in-laws were coming over for dinner, and I knew by the way she was “performing” her “wardrobing” session that we were in for some drama when everybody got there.

Let her tell it, and Aunt Meryl was a superstar. Let anybody with common sense tell it, and she did a few big-named commercials and some guest appearances on a couple of popular sit-coms. You would think she was a box office favorite by the way she carried on, but in reality, she hadn’t even been an extra in one of the previews. In other words, she was a Hollywood siren wannabe who wanted the fame, but didn’t want to put in the work. She just figured that everybody should treat her like she was famous. That’s why her career didn’t go any further.

However, she was, without a doubt, an extremely beautiful woman. Her skin was the color of butterscotch and her jet-black hair flowed almost as far as her waist. Her eyes were dark and captivating. And for a woman in her late 30s, she could probably make the average 20-year-old a bit jealous with her flawless physique. She walked like royalty, and dressed to the nines whether she was at a New York soiree or shopping at a grocery store. But her attitude was a tad funky…and that’s an extremely kind, undeserved understatement.

But acting was probably the best profession she could’ve chosen, since reality was not her forte. In her world, everybody answered to her. Everybody thought she was beautiful. Everybody wanted to talk to her, and her only, all the time. Everybody thought she walked on water. In her world, she was second only to Christ himself. It was sad…but that was Aunt Meryl.

My sister and I had been living with Aunt Meryl and Uncle Jarrod since our parents died at the beginning of last year. Uncle Jarrod, my father’s best friend, was our godfather. I always loved him more than life itself, but I could never figure out why he married Aunt Meryl…other than the fact that she was drop dead gorgeous.

The two of them couldn’t be more opposite. Uncle Jarrod was a moderately-handsome, mild-mannered, generous man whom everybody loved. He was the kind of person who never met a stranger, and always did his best to make everybody else happy. He was tall and bulky in a muscular way, and you always felt like nothing bad in the world could happen to you as long as he was around. The women loved him, and so did the men.

Aunt Meryl, on the other hand, was just downright mean. Her selfish nature ranked with that of Ebenezer Scrooge, and she rarely had anything nice to say about anybody other than herself. I hate to say it, but the world is a better place thanks to the fact that they didn’t have any children. I’d hate to have to deal with a cousin like Aunt Meryl.

In the 10+ months that we lived with them, Aunt Meryl acted like a tyrant and treated Uncle Jarrod horribly. She spent the balance of everyday trying to dramatically manipulate people. Case in point was the day during the fall when we were moving into a new house after Uncle Jarrod got his new job. During the days leading up to the move, she had outlined all of our duties on moving day—and she seemed willing to share in the load. However, on the morning of, she woke up about 5am with this dramatic song and dance about how she had cramps and just “could not move.” With her hand limply propped across her forehead, she laid across her bed like death was at her door. She ended up laying on her behind the entire day, barking orders about how we should move stuff and where we should put it. You would’ve thought she was the Queen of Sheba.

“Carla, you and your sister had better make sure you turn those glasses down. I don’t want to open up any cabinets and see them turned face up. If I find them that way, I’ll make the two of you wash out each one by hand!

“And Jarrod, you and your trifling friends better not drop any of those boxes. I told you I didn’t want those fools going through my things. You better make sure they don’t steal anything.” All this was said within earshot of his friends, too.

“Jarrod, why did you hire those stupid movers? I told them to put the couch against the East wall, not the West wall! Can you do anything right?”

But Uncle Jarrod never said a word. He just did everything he could to keep the move in progress while he catered to her every need.

But that was Uncle Jarrod. Always thinking about everybody else. Constantly catering to Aunt Meryl. He literally worshiped the woman. She was everything to him. It’s really sad considering all the crap she put him through.

One time, before my parents died, I remember hearing them talk to Uncle Jarrod about why he was with Aunt Meryl. I heard them say something about him coming home on a couple of occasions only to find her in their bed with other men. One time, there were two other men there!

Dad said something that makes me believe that she was using cocaine regularly, suggesting this to be the reason why their finances were so bad.

Uncle Jarrod just said that he loved her, and that there were things about her that my parents and his family just couldn’t see. He was right about that one!


Uncle Jarrod’s family arrived around 4p that Thanksgiving evening and Aunt Meryl already had an attitude because she told everybody to be there at 3:30p. The caterers (oh yes, she used caterers because she couldn’t cook) brought the side dishes and set everything up at 2:30p, and the jalapeno-smoked turkey she ordered from Bloomingdales came the day before. The plan was to get everybody there at 3:30p for appetizers and drinks, and dinner would be served at 5:30p. I guess the half hour setback was a bit much for her, because she seemed pissed.

And when Aunt Meryl was pissed, she had a way of making sure everybody was aware of it, and could be cut down by her anger at the drop of a dime. Her stares would be cold. Her voice disturbingly calm. Her words dangerously sharp. Their meaning always poisonous.

The best way to avoid this side of her, was to keep all eyes and attention focused her way.

The appetizers were all spread out in the living room, and everybody found their respective places on the couch and chairs throughout. Our guests included Aunt Millie and Uncle Paul, Uncle Jarrod’s parents; Aunt Katie and Uncle Spence, Uncle Jarrod’s sister and brother-in-law; and Kelly, Shawn and Shannon, Aunt Katie and Uncle Spence’s kids. My sister and I got along with them well, since we were all so close in age.

Aunt Katie and Uncle Spence started asking Uncle Jarrod about his new job at Filtered Solutions. He had just been hired as the new supervisor of one of the assembly lines. It was a good paying job, as far as I could tell. Because as soon as he got it, he bought me and my sister a whole new wardrobe (Aunt Meryl was pissed about that too) and he bought Aunt Meryl the house she wanted.

Uncle Jarrod took the floor, and we all marveled in his tales about the assembly line and the guys he supervised. He told us that, in his first few weeks on the job, his line had exceeded their production goals by more than 1,000 units. There was already talk about his “long and promising career with the company.” He had already had lunch with the president of the company.

You could tell that Uncle Jarrod was really proud of what he’d been up to. He got this job after several months of unemployment. He and Aunt Meryl made ends meet off of the acting jobs she had here and there, and the royalties she was getting from her commercials. But those times were rough for Uncle Jarrod, because Aunt Meryl never let him forget that she was the breadwinner. But he just accepted her insults and returned back a smile. That’s just how Uncle Jarrod was.

His family was extremely proud of him too. His parents just kept looking at him with a glow in their eyes the entire time he was talking. He spoke with so much enthusiasm. Everybody was having a great time. Uncle Jarrod continued with funny stories about his crew. Mike “Nephew” Gilligan—everybody called him “Nephew” because he was older than everybody, but he acted like a little kid. And there was “Rat Pockets.” The crew members swear he reached in his pocket to get quarter for a soda, and pulled out a rat instead. And I can’t forget “Crackhead Joe” who never could seem to find a pair of pants that could fully conceal the crack of his ass.

Not long into Uncle Jarrod’s tales, Aunt Meryl retreated to the kitchen. You could hear her in there being extra loud by slamming pots against the counter and moving about the kitchen like the world needed to know exactly where she was every single moment. My sister and I gave each other a look to see if either of us was going to get the bright idea to go in there, like dutiful adopted daughters, and help Mommy Dearest out. We were relieved to see that neither of us was intending to play Super Daughter that day, so we ignored her just like everybody else. A couple of times, you could see Uncle Jarrod glimpse at the kitchen with a look that showed how embarrassed he was. But he just kept on talking.

Aunt Meryl called us to the table at 5:30pm as scheduled. The dining room table sat all of us comfortably, and Aunt Meryl and Uncle Jarrod took their respective places at the head of each side. We each passed our plates around, with everybody filling each one with scoops from the dishes they were sitting closest to.

After saying the blessing, the conversation picked right back up where it left off, while we ate some surprisingly good, home-style catered food. Even the turkey, which I thought would be disgusting, was a delightful surprise. With mouths full, we continued our conversation. It was truly refreshing not having to talk about Aunt Meryl for once.

“So man, tell me about what you’re making on the line. What kind of high-powered stuff ya’ll got goin on over there?” Uncle Spence was from down south and had a funny way of talking slow, so it took him what seemed like a full minute to ask that question.

“Aw man, it ain’t that high tech,” Uncle Jarrod said, sitting up straight as he prepared to talk about the technical aspects of his job. “We make these air filter machines. You probably see them in restaurants and a lot of office buildings use them. They filter pollutants out of the air…”

I happened to glance down at Aunt Meryl who was obviously more than just a little perturbed that the guests had been seated in her house for more than two hours, seated at her table for more than 20 minutes, and not a single somebody had asked her about her Hollywood exploits yet. She mostly stared down at her plate, slowly eating the food and playing with it the rest of the time. Every now and then, she would look at Uncle Jarrod, giving him a look like she wanted to spill his blood and serve it for dessert.

After a while, she just stopped eating altogether, turning her full attention to the conversation at hand. When everybody laughed, she awkwardly tried to appear like she got the joke, but there was still an evil distance to her…like she was secretly plotting his death or something. A couple of times, she tried to redirect the conversation her way, but everybody was still focused on Uncle Jarrod. He was so captivating.

“Jarrod, tell me what your boss said, again, about you moving up,” Aunt Millie said, truly proud and happy for her son. She hated seeing him go through all the abuse Aunt Meryl put him through over the years. And her relationship with Aunt Meryl is more strained now than ever. My cousins told me the only reason they all came was because Aunt Millie knew that, without them, Uncle Jarrod would have a miserable Thanksgiving, and he would never leave Aunt Meryl to come to their place for dinner. This was the first Thanksgiving they had spent with Uncle Jarrod in six years because Aunt Meryl would always come up with a last minute reason not to go over to Aunt Millie’s.

“Well Mama, in about six months, you may be looking at the Floor Manager. I won’t have any problems making sure these girls get into college or…”

Just then, Aunt Meryl rose to her feet.

“Oh goddamit, Jarrod, shut the fuck up! I’m so tired of hearing you speak about that dammed job. Any monkey could do what you do! You don’t have any special skills and there’s nothing special about you. In my profession, I meet people with more class than you’ll ever have! So why don’t you just shut the fuck up! You’ve ruined everybody’s Thanksgiving with all your goddamned bragging, you son-of-a-bitch!”

As if on cue, the tears started rolling down her face, and she hurled herself away from the table, through the kitchen and up the stairs. We could hear her sobbing from upstairs in her bedroom.

The rest of us just sat there stunned, not sure what to do. I felt sorry for my uncle. He had to feel crazy that she acted this way in front of his family. She had just driven a blade right through his manhood, and he had done nothing to deserve it.

Aunt Millie and Uncle Paul looked like they wanted to strangle Aunt Meryl for speaking like that about their son. Uncle Jarrod just kept his head lowered with a look that was half embarrassment and half frustration. His jaw was twitching, and his fists were clinched. He looked defeated.

I realized the full extent of Aunt Meryl’s cruelty that day, and will never be able to forgive her for what she said to Uncle Jarrod. She was much more insane than I ever thought she was. Her mental state must have been entirely outside the boundaries of this universe for her to have turned an otherwise perfect holiday dinner into a disaster because nobody was talking about her. This grown-ass, 30-something-year-old woman.

Aunt Meryl never came back downstairs, and after a few minutes, Aunt Millie broke the silence with a bluntly comedic, “good riddance, heifer!” We all laughed and went right back on listening to Uncle Jarrod talk—thankful for the ice breaker. We finished our dinner without Aunt Meryl and then retreated back to the living room for more cool stories from Uncle Jarrod.

His family didn’t leave until sometime after midnight.


Aunt Meryl and Uncle Jarrod startled me and my sister out of our sleep with loud shouts and what sounded like them throwing things at each other and hitting the wall. We crept to the door of our room to see what was going on.

“Meryl I’m sick of your shit, do you hear me! I can’t take it anymore. I haven’t done anything except be good to you. What do you want from me, woman?”

Uncle Jarrod was packing a suitcase, while dodging items Aunt Meryl was throwing at him from around the room.

“You keep it up, woman, and I’m gonna call the police. Why are you acting like this with those girls across the hall? Are you crazy? You need to go to sleep!”

“Oh to hell with those girls,” Aunt Meryl screamed. She was pacing around the room like a mad woman, searching for things to throw at Uncle Jarrod. “You know I didn’t want them to come here in the first place. You wanted them, not me! Those girls are exactly like their mother was, and I hated that bitch! She was nothing but a trifling whore and she deserved to die…”

Smack! Uncle Jarrod slapped the crap out of Aunt Meryl, spinning her head around damn near 360 degrees. Her body went airborne before flopping down across the bed with a bounce. He stood over her, glaring down with a look I had never seen on his face before. His nostrils were flaring, his fists balled, and he reached down and grabbed her by her shoulders—lifting her back up until her bloody face was inches from his.

“Woman, I will kill you if you ever talk about my friend that way again. You could never be a fraction of the woman she was. She was my best friend’s wife! And you are a nothing more than a disgusting, miserable, ugly woman. Your face, the one that I used to love so much, is repulsive to me now. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to crush it under the weight of my fist. So, I’m warning you. Don’t let another word part from your lips. If you want to continue breathing, leave this room, and don’t speak to me again until I get back. I need some days to calm down and get these girls settled at my sister’s. Then I’m coming back to deal with you and us.”

Aunt Meryl must not have believed him, because instead of shutting up, she spat in his face, and then scratched claw marks across his cheek with her way-too-long Hollywood nails. Her arms started swirling like a windmill as she hit Uncle Jarrod with blow after blow. “You bastard! You faggot! You stupid nigger! Nobody in your family amounted to a goddamned thing and I never should have married you. Do you know how many men want to be with me? Tons! And I let them, sometimes, because I know they can handle me better than you ever could. You’re pathetic and I hate you. I hate your Mama and I hate those girls across the hall…”

She continued spewing the most horrible words at Uncle Jarrod. My sister and I expected to see him lunge at her like a madman, but instead, he was actually quite calm. He slowly walked across the room and opened the top drawer of his dresser. He reached inside and calmly pulled out his pistol. In the most eerie and nonchalant way possible, he cocked the gun, took two steps toward Aunt Meryl, aimed it at her face, and fired five times—spattering the white walls and bed linens with blood and brain fragments.

And just as coolly, he placed the gun beside her and walked over to our room. We had moved from peeking through the doorway to silently crying on our beds.

“Baby-girls, I’m sorry ya’ll had to see that. You know I love you both, and I’m sorry I couldn’t give you girls the home you deserved and the one I promised your daddy I would give you. I know you don’t understand this now, and maybe you never will. I just couldn’t live with your aunt anymore. Your Aunt Katie will be here soon to pick you up. I’m gonna pack up some clothes for you both. I promise you’ll understand more about this over time. And I hope you can forgive me one day. I’m so sorry this happened in front of you.”

Neither of us was sure about what was happening and what we had seen. We made our way downstairs and turned on the television and let it watch us.

Aunt Katie got there about 20 minutes later, and Uncle Jarrod brought our bags downstairs. Their interaction spooked my sister and I even more. But I guess they were just thinking about the fact that Uncle Jarrod was going to have to go to jail.

I’ll never forget the look in my uncle’s eyes as we pulled out of the driveway and he waved us goodbye…

The next day, Aunt Katie told us our uncle was gone. He had shot himself through the mouth with one hand while he held Aunt Meryl’s body with the other. He once said he couldn’t live without her, but I never realized this was what he meant.

We buried Uncle Jarrod on a Saturday next to his wife. We hated to see him eternally linked to the woman that had caused his demise, but we all knew that this was where he would want to be.

It’s been nearly a year since that happened, and as Thanksgiving approaches again, my sister and I are doing as well as we can considering the circumstances. We’re thankful that Aunt Katie and Uncle Spence chose to fulfill Uncle Jarrod’s promise to our father by taking us in, but we desperately want our uncle back.

We never speak about what Uncle Jarrod did to Aunt Meryl. We talk about Uncle Jarrod, but it’s only about the wonderful man we all remember and miss. No one ever talks about Aunt Meryl, and we’ll only say that Uncle Jarrod “died,” not that he killed himself.

I often wonder why God would have allowed the two of them to get together. What could have made Him sit by and watch a marriage occur between a man who was an angel and a woman who never understood what love was all about?

And what are my sister and I supposed to learn from all this? Perhaps one day, we’ll have the answers we need. But for right now, we just miss Uncle Jarrod.


At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like it would be a "goooood" book. Your characters sound like so many families. We all have an Aunt Meryl or someone like her. With further character development these characters would make a wonderful book. Don't get me wrong, you have done wonderful with the limited amount of development, I just would like to hear some more!!!

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