A kid playing a banjo to a dog Bullying A limit A life in danger
Nancy Taylor Rosenberg Bracket
Maureen Larter, Michael Cottle, Bobby Salomons, Dani J. Caile
The Double Act
Dani J Caile
I’d never come out of that front door so fast in my life. I thought someone was dying with the amount of hollering I heard. But they weren’t. I looked around, and there he was, my little brother Johnny sitting on the porch, playing Grandpa’s old banjo badly and singing along to it – if that was singing, the only similarity being that it came from his mouth – while Timbo the dog tied up on his chain, normally a vicious little creature, barked and whined next to him.
“Johnny! What the hell are you doing?” I’d been left in charge for the afternoon but I must’ve dozed off in the heat.
“Playing to Timbo,” said Johnny, messing up notes and timing as he went along. His hands didn’t walk along the fingerboard, more like stumbled.
“That’s Grandpa’s banjo! You can’t play that!” I moved closer but the noise only got louder.
“That’s what you think. Timbo likes my playing.” Timbo barked and growled in agreement.
“No, you’re not allowed to play it, Johnny, it’s a family heirloom!” I went to reach for it but Timbo almost snapped my hand off. His saliva dripped from my sleeve.
“It’s not a hair loon, it’s a banjo! See!” He concentrated hard with his tongue hanging from his mouth, and he scratched at the instrument as best he could.
“Johnny! You’ll ruin it! What will Ma and Pa say when they get back?” There was no hiding place from the din.
“They will say what a great banjo player I am!” My little brother and the family’s guard dog. A great double act.
“Please, Johnny, stop!” I was sure my ears had started bleeding.
“I will never stop! I will play forever and ever! I will play this banjo everywhere!”
“Oh, come on! They…they won’t let you play it in school!”
“Oh yes, they will! They will call me ‘Johnny Banjo’!”
“It’s more likely that your life will be in danger, Johnny! You’re gonna suffer a lot of bullying when you get to school! Banjos aren’t cool, bro, trust me! It’ll make you look like some redneck, or even worse, like that mountain hillbilly kid in ‘Deliverance’,” I said, pressing my hands over my ears as he hit some bum notes in whatever song he thought he was singing.
“Who? Is that a place?” smiled Johnny. He continued to twang along as the dog accompanied him with moans and yelps.
“No, it’s a movie!”
“I don’t like movies. I like the banjo!” he replied, plucking away. The noise was excruciating!
“Oh man, there’s a limit to what I can take!” I screamed. With one quick thought, I took Timbo’s chain off. Realising he was free, he took one look at the banjo and ripped it from Johnny’s hands. The strings were the first to go, followed by the neck and finally the head. Good boy!
“You’re in for it now,” I said to Johnny. He ran into the house crying at full volume. Plus one.
Short and Sweet
“I’m ashamed of you, son.” his father said gruffly. “Standing out there in the street, jiggling about to the music.”
“But I love performing – it gives me a sense of belonging. I really enjoy the sound of the banjo – it makes me happy.”
“I don’t care,” his father growled. “There’s a limit to what we should do to please the crowd.”
“It’s only a front, you know,” Billy nodded to his Dad a wise knowing in his eyes. “I do it so I’m there when the bullying starts.”
His father frowned. “What bullying?”
Billy cleared his throat and stood tall. “The other kids treat my human as if he’s a freak, and it isn’t fair.”
“Stop whining,” His father shook his head. Spittle and hair scattered across Billy’s face.
“But Daaaad,” Billy rolled onto his back and pawed the air. “My human is a happy little chap, and if those bullies get to him his life might be in danger.”
“Oh for goodness sake, Billy,” his father howled. “You keep this ‘performing’ up and I’ll let the cat know – and then it will be YOUR life that’ll be in danger!”
A Glimmer of Hope
There was something soothing about the absurdity of a young boy playing banjo to a dog. To him a friend was a friend. There was no separation, no judgement, no prejudice to who and what he was – just the simple given of a friendship. Surely the dog knew not what was played to him but he listened intently, as to him the friendship was just as dear.
I reminisced on the meaning of friendship in a small town like this. Though I grew up here, friendship I never knew. There was a strange tradition of bullying, one founded on old principles and targets picked by careful choice. It mattered little what effort would be made, once you were picked on, you’d get picked on again. And word spread like wild fire, who was to be ignored, it knew not a limit to a school or a playground and it grew with you over time. Like a social cancer, without warning and without treatment.
The threshold of being picked on was set by simple principles. Wrong of color, wrong church, parents falling out of grace after a divorce or simple rumors of. Conditions easy to reach with no intent or control of your own. Still they were enough to haunt you.
The chords of the banjo returned me to the present as I had wallowed in self grief. The dog raised its head towards the sky and stretched its chest like a great tenor worthy. From its throat yodelled the ugliest of sounds that hurt the ears like needles. But the young boy smiled with intense delight. They were performing now, together. And that was all they needed.
I sat and watched the two till my ears could no longer give. I grabbed the lid from the hood of the vehicle and placed it onto the lukewarm Styrofoam cup. Before it closed well, I could see how my pigments matched the caffeinated innards of the cup. Bullied for that simple reason. But as the dog wailed once more, I could not press back the smile that formed from ear to ear. Those days were behind me.
The muffled noise of radio chatter slipping through a window crack. A life in danger.
As I opened the door to step into my vehicle, the light struck my badge and a golden glimmer blinkered across the street. They met the eyes of the young boy – blinding momentarily. He looked at me and smiled. A small hand raised to greet me as I drove passed to answer my duty. To protect and serve – free of the limitations of separation, without judgement and prejudice.
Chip found a spot under a large pecan tree where he settled down upon the sidewalk. He traveled light with a peanut butter sandwich in a sack and a banjo strapped around his neck. Sure enough, Buster came up and sat right down beside him. He looked at Chip and turned his head sideways as he made a small whining sound.
“Buster, you already had your breakfast” Chip said. “This is mine boy.”
Buster whined again and turned his head to the other side.
“Alright boy” Chip said. “Here, take half of this. There’s only one sandwich though, so that half is for you and this half for me. That’s all I got. Ok?”
Buster grabbed his half, and chewed on it until the peanut butter coated his mouth. Buster was still working on the peanut butter when Chip finished his sandwich and washed it down with a thermos of milk.
“It’s really sticky” Chip said. “Here you go.”
Chip raised the last little bit of milk in his thermos and poured it into Buster’s mouth.
“That’ll help a bit boy” Chip said.
Chip put away his lunchbox and turned to his banjo. He began to play a bit of “Turkey in the Straw” as Buster finally stopped licking. Buster rested his face on his paws, and there they sat awhile just like that. Chip played every song he knew a couple of times over.
There may have been many more afternoons to pass like this, except for a kid named Bobby. He rode up on his bicycle popping wheelies and generally showing out a bit. Chip stopped playing and looked away. He never cared much for Bobby. Bobby was never too nice towards Chip, or anyone else that Chip knew for that matter.
“Watcha doin’ there Chip?” Bobby asked as he stopped his bicycle. “Are you playing your geetar?”
“It’s a banjo” Chip said.
“You wouldn’t know how to play a real geetar anyway. Would ya? I’ll bet your old man couldn’t ford a real geetar. And that’s why you play that stupid banjo. It sounds like a drunk chicken with its head cutoff. You hear me Chip?”
Chip wouldn’t look at Bobby. He wanted him to go away, but he wouldn’t. Bobby threw his bicycle on the ground, and grabbed Chip by his shirt collar.
“Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya’ boy!”
Bobby shook Chip, and Chip swallowed hard. Chip could hardly speak when Buster let go a low growl. Bobby wadded up Chips’ shirt, and that was more than enough for Buster. Buster jumped up and clamped on Bobby’s wrist. Bobby fell backwards and begin to holler in a panic. Finally, Chip recovered just in time to pull Buster off of Bobby before he done much more damage.
Bobby took a few stitches in his left wrist, but he never messed with Chip again. Chip never really got over Buster being put to sleep. Chip lost his audience, and gave up the banjo. Most folks in town said that bulldogs are just like that. They said that you couldn’t really trust them anyway.