BEASTS & Heroes

When I was a little kid, my family lived in Los Angeles just across the street from Queen of the Angels Hospital, where my mom worked as a Registered Nurse. My best friend was a mexican gal named, Carla. Most days, after school, Carla and I would pal around the neighborhood exploring the avenue for amusement and adventure. To one side of my home and catty-cornered to the hospital’s main entrance was an open field with mounds of earth and lots of intriguing tunnels. A parking lot was destined to occupy that space. But well before any construction or paving, my friend and I would play Cowboys and Indians there. “Zorro” was Carla’s favorite program. But I usually convinced her that Bernardo was the real hero of that legendary story. Of course, I graciously agreed to allow Carla to assume the character of the star. A good sport, I would play the part of the less important, Zorro.

Anyway, like most children, Carla and I populated our adventures with secondary characters, background cast and when other friends and relatives would visit, guest stars. Naturally, we also had the obligatory villain. Wesley, who lived a few houses away from my apartment building in the opposite direction of the field, always claimed the part of the villain. He had a natural flair for the role. Since Wesley, or “Beastly” as we usually referred to him, was a few years older, several inches taller and quite a few pounds heavier than Carla, who was my big buddy, we never disputed Wesley’s casting choice.

Forturnately, Beastly was often unavailable to contribute his authentic characterization to our afternoon dramas. So, Carla and I were compelled to invent less realistic villains for our pieces. Like all good directors, we were resourceful in the use of our surroundings. But one day in particular, Carla and I were hard put to devise a suitably menacing antagonist. Carla, as Bernardo, was flinging her arms about in what could only be described as gifted mute gestures. I was frankly so impressed by how well Carla had captured Bernardo’s essence that I didn’t notice the increasingly frantic intensity to her hand waving. It really wasn’t until Carla broke character, grabbed me, yelling something unintelligible, and began hustling me off in the direction of my home that I realized Carla was no longer Bernardo.

As we bounded over the uneven dirt, I couldn’t resist stealing a glance at our pursuer. Anticipating Beastly’s unwelcome appearance, I was startled to discover something else altogether; Jasper. Around 75 pounds of matted fur, glinting teeth and an imposing head the size of a Buick, Jasper looked like Central Casting’s choice for The Hound of the Baskervilles. Zorro, I can tell you, was well motivated to spring onto the back of his trusty servant, Bernardo, and escape Jasper’s enormous jaws.

It took only a few steps to realize that our fate would be upon us well before we could reach the outskirts of safety. Taking our direction from Zorro himself, Carla and I ducked into our own secret hideaway; actually, a hole in the ground with a small dug out tunnel that we dubbed, “The Cave.” Unfortunately, life was not imitating art that day. Jasper leaped right in after us. Between Jasper’s foul breath and Carla’s unmistakable smell of fear, I don’t believe I immediately noticed my own liquid contribution to the odor in our hideaway.

Not quite resigned to meet the face of our monstrous adversary, Carla and I sought further refuge in the even more limited recesses of our etched out “cave.”  As secret hideaways go, ours was something of a disappointment. It became quickly and abundantly evident that it was neither secret, nor safe. Trembling there in our hole, contemplating the cruel contrast between film and reality, I gradually began to notice something. Our villain’s tail was wagging. A devoted fan of adventure stories replete with richly drawn heroes and villains, I recognized tail-wagging as a serious flaw in Jasper’s otherwise baleful character.

As the moments dragged on, I had the opportunity to more carefully inspect our foe. Amongst all those decidedly long, sharp teeth was an enormous wet, pink tongue. Moreover, as my shaking subsided, I realized that there was a secondary source of moisture on my body. Jasper was licking my leg with obvious relish. Now while this might have been a tenderizing process preparatory to sinking his teeth into my flesh, I did not get that impression. In fact, as time went on, I suspected that our drama would not end in tragedy after all. Inspired by a growing confidence, I encouraged Carla to open her tightly shut eyes and to suspend her recitation of “Hail Mary’s.”

In my very best simulation of hero-like courage, I reached out and patted our “villain” on his formidable brow. Emboldened by the creature’s willingness to accept my offer of friendship, I moved my hand around his head until I found the back of his ear, which I scratched with a satisfying feeling of safety. I don’t remember how long the three of us crouched there in our secret hideaway. Whether it was the approaching dusk or the distinctly unpleasant evidence of my no longer pressing bladder, we eventually crawled out onto the surface of the field. It was at approximately that moment that I noticed Jasper’s initial fascination with my leg had matured into a concentrated affection.

Wrapping his outsized paws around my knee, Jasper initiated what appeared to be a kind of rhythmic clutching movement against my shin. Carla, whom I came to appreciate as a woman of exceptional worldliness and experience, instantly identified Jasper’s energetic rocking as something that needed to cease.

Fortunately for me, before Jasper could achieve further sensation, I was able to free my limb from his excited embrace. Despite our newfound companionship, I thought it best to cut short farewells and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of home, a bath and supper. Before slipping into the house, I turned around to see Carla. She was on a dead run halfway to her own home, again swinging her arms about wildly. She WAS Bernardo. Jasper was a step or two behind.

I had many adventures after that with Carla and Jasper. But I learned a valuable lesson that day. It may be true that any leg will do. But a friend redeems our dreams.

Rick
 

WraithSword WraithSword
56-60, M
2 Responses Mar 13, 2009

this is fantastic writing!!

OH, my! What an entertaining account. You are a great writer. I am looking forward to reading more of your prose. Thanks a bunch!<br />
jj