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Chaper Eighteen: JJ helps with the fire drill

May 1st, 2007

BY CATE GARRISON

Despite the drama occasioned by our dog JJ’s consumption of our Mercedes’ innards, it wasn’t long before most of my nearest and dearest settled back into their old ways. That is to say, my husband began to spend most of his time away from home again, apparently at work. My sons continued their lives of school, friends, homework, and video games, and, increasingly, inhaled the contents of the fridge, which due to JJ’s unwillingness to remain alone were increasingly difficult to replace. Handy Jack, therefore, continued to provide his regular services of odd-job man, dog sitter and walker, and general family companion. True, after falling into his arms over the car-eating fiasco (an experience that had provoked the odd dormant emotion), I had wondered about sacking him. But he was literally our meal ticket. Though my husband’s salary provided the funds, Handy Jack’s presence enabled me to go out and buy groceries. All in all, he was too useful, too affable, too necessary to us all for me to make the break.

Besides, he was good with the kids. Despite what I considered my feminist reservations, I had to admit there were times it was useful to have a man around. When we first took up residence in America, my then recently acquired husband had sworn he would love my boys as his own. As he had no previous offspring, so far as he knew, he and I were sadly lacking in living behavior models. During the first year or so, he’d adopted a not unpleasant “Hail fellow, well met!” kind of attitude, which often included a teasing conspiracy towards “your mum.” He had, for instance, at least in my memory of the event, conspired with them in the acquisition of JJ.

But he’d never shown much interest in attending rainsoaked Little League soccer matches or baseball games. After the first few months of family dinners with their attendant uplifting conversations (“Mum, do I have to eat my cabbage?” “Mum, Mum, I’ve eaten mine, look, look!”), he tended to come home by the time the boys were nearly ready for bed. And if their play got too loud while he and I were eating together (late), he’d advise them, not always gently, to “get their asses downstairs and watch TV.” As work, or fishing, or other outside pursuits began to resume an importance in his life that I presumed they had occupied before our marriage, he was simply around less and less. As I was around more and more, it scarcely seemed to matter. But as I say, there were times.

Just recently, for example, the older of my two sons had joined the Cub Scouts. At first I was dead set against it. Too much strip poker in the scout hut, organized by the scout master himself, with his troop and my Girl Guide pack as participants, had left me feeling sour about anything connected with Baden Powell and his child-subverting organizations. Here, however, I was persuaded things were different. The Cub Scout leader was one of the kids’ teachers and seemed like a nice chap. And he and his merry band went on well-chaperoned hikes for days at a time, sometimes even for whole weekends. What on earth could be wrong with that?

What was wrong, I soon discovered, was the preocccupation with acquiring merit badges. I spent one hideous week forcing down “dessert burritos” (ingredients: tortillas, pie filling, chocolate chips, mini-marshmallows, peanut butter) or “Mexican macaroni” (three boxes of instant macaroni and cheese, one pound ground beef, two cans whole kernel corn, one package dry taco seasoning, water) while being regaled with the symptoms of salmonella and botulism (“Botulism gives you spots on your bot, ha ha!”) in pursuit of the cooking trophy. Then there were “Reptiles and Amphibians” (“Mum, I think I rolled over in bed and squashed my frog again”), “Plumbing” (“Mum, the washer won’t go back on the faucet… the bathroom’s flooded”), and for one month of migraines, “Bugling.”

But the worst badge of all for my son to acquire was the one the scout leader deemed compulsory for all, namely “Fire Safety.” For this, among other things, my son was required to produce a fire escape plan for all family members, including himself, and conduct a fire drill.

To accomplish this with relative ease, I purchased several sets of roll-up metal ladders for the various upstairs rooms. The master bedroom was a piece of cake. We could open a door onto a balcony, sling the ladder over the side and reach the ground unscathed. My younger son’s bedroom had a similar arrangement. For the Cub Scout himself, however, matters were more complicated. Given the slope of our actual lot, his bedroom window, at the back of the house, was a mere seven or eight feet from the ground. His ladder was therefore too long to be useful. In other words, all he had to do was to open the window, remove the screen, climb out, turn around and, holding the window ledge, let himself gently down. And this, especially given a long-standing fear of heights (or in this case, lows) was what he was afraid to do.

“Please, mum, please! Just sign my form and say I’ve done it!” he’d wheedle.

But for once I felt this was a challenge he ought to face. “No,” I’d say. “What if there really was a fire? You really should practice.” But nothing I could say prevailed.

We were engaged in tearful negotiation one day when Handy Jack appeared.

“Come on, buddy!” he said. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”

Up we all trooped to the bedroom, my son, his brother, me, HJ, and JJ, following his best friend like a shadow.

True to his word, HJ opened the bedroom window, removed the bug screen, climbed out, turned round, and let himself lightly down.

“Come on, bud!” he said again. “It’s easy.”

“No fair,” said my son. “You’re taller than me.”

“I’ll go next, I’ll go next,” said his younger brother.

And go he did, sliding gently down the wall to fall the last foot or so with an easy plop.

“No fair,” said my son. “He’s more flexible than I am.”

“OK,” I said grimly. “I’ll show you inflexible.”

I climbed out the window, turned, and slid myself down. I only snagged my trousers a little.

I turned and looked up. The open window frame was empty. I felt a tug of maternal sympathy for my scared little lad.

“Come on, little boy,” I said. “I’m here to catch you.”

There was a moment’s silence. Then suddenly a small brown body came hurtling like a torpedo through the window and landed, splat, on his tummy, all four legs splayed out to the sides.

We looked in wonder. The dog sat up gingerly, shook out his ears, and began to lick his privates as though nothing had happened. I could tell he was embarrassed.

“Good dog,” said HJ. “You’ll be OK.”

Suddenly a little voice above us said, “Well, I guess if even JJ can do it…” And before I could say “flying hound dogs,” my son had climbed through the window, turned, slid, and landed safely on the ground.

For once, JJ’s exploits seemed to have had a happy ending. My son not only acquired his merit badge, he gained some mastery of his fear of heights. And I knew that all of us, except perhaps my infrequently present husband, could escape the flames of a real conflagration.

Alas, however, the end of the tale still remained to be told. A mere week or so later, Handy Jack was called upon to fix a slight leak in a water pipe that led below the back deck of the house, and to which access was gained via a trap door just below my son’s bedroom window. He’d been scratching away down there for a while, much to the consternation of JJ, who knew he was there, but couldn’t see him, and who was therefore following me around the house in hopes I’d lead him to his treasure. I was fishing around in my son’s dirty laundry basket when Jack, or rather his torso, emerged through the trapdoor outside and below with a triumphant cry of “Got it!”

Before I could stop him, JJ darted from my side and sprang. Fortunately for him, the window was open. I don’t think he even felt the screen as it ripped and buckled. Unfortunately for Handy Jack, the window was open. I’m sure he felt the weight, force, and energy of the dog as he landed squarely on his head. The crack of his ribs against the trapdoor edge was unmistakable.

The good news was, I was doubly sure that even the dog could get out in case of fire.

“JJ broke Handy Jack’s ribs today,” I said to my husband as he slid between the sheets around eleven.

“Shit,” said my husband. “He’ll probably sue.”

I knew that HJ and I had too much on each other for either of us ever to take legal action.

“You never know,” I said. No harm in keeping him in suspense.

And that’s how JJ helped with a fire drill and broke Handy Jack’s ribs. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Garrison, JJ Chronicles | Link to this Entry

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