The Excitable Whipping Boy
Simon Cunningham, according to his neighbours, was an excitable boy prone to acting on the urges that frequently popped into his large head. His mother, Vanessa, insisted she was doing her best to raise the feisty lad on her own. The neighbours, however, had a different opinion.
The boy had been the bane of the housing scheme ever since he could propel himself forth. When asked, several of the Cunningham’s neighbours gladly related their experiences with Simon.
Elderly Olivia Deacon recalled, ten years earlier, when the barefoot, dirty-faced toddler waddled on chubby legs to her patio area in the open courtyard. He grabbed her wrought-iron table for support and toppled her glass of red wine onto her knitting. “That youngster has the face of an angel, but the devil must have beat him with a cloven hoof,” she lamented, sipping her Chablis.
Walter Natyshyn often related the story, to whoever would listen, of washing his cherry-red Mustang in the parking lot out front of the row housing. He knew the youngster was about on account of the scent of shitty diapers was in the air. He spotted two ragged scratches down the quarter panel and door of his treasure and there was Simon close by, clutching a jagged stone in each hand.
Several neighbours told Vanessa she should take the boy to the doctor and have him looked at. Perhaps there was a pill or salve or suppository that could help set Simon straight.
“Nonsense! The lad’s a wee bit precocious, is all,” she exclaimed. “In fact he’s much like his father was at that age…and look at how he turned out.”
Simon’s father, William Cunningham, hadn’t been seen about the complex since the boy was a baby. He was serving time in a minimum security prison for white-collar crime involving an intricate pyramid scheme, a few million dollars and a dozen gullible investors. Vanessa was often heard to say, “Simon’s dad will be back home soon. The boy is just needin’ a male influence to set him to rights.”
The most regular male influence in the boy’s life was Vanessa’s brother, Dudley. When he wasn’t river rafting in the Canadian wilds or seeking spiritual guidance at an ashram in India he was staying with his sister and Simon. A man full of life and high spirits, Dudley would stay out at the local pub until closing and then sleep until 3 or 4 the following afternoon. During summer break, while his mother worked at the Discount Food store, Simon had unlimited freedom until his uncle finally arose.
Simon thought, one afternoon, it would be a grand adventure to remove the hand-knotted leather, whip from his uncle’s footlocker in the basement. He easily found it lying on top a stack of magazines with naked lady pictures. He put on his uncle’s brown fedora, canvas satchel and leather belt. The hat smelled like cigarettes and old sick but that didn’t bother Simon in the least. He carried the whip to the back courtyard to play with for a while.
Simon swung the whip at the willows; the leaves shimmered to the browning lawn. He also whipped the cherry tree; blossoms rained to the ground in pink tears. He eventually chased after a cat to protect the birds, and then tried to whip the birds just to see if he could hit one. Eventually, though, the birds and cats stayed away and Simon began to whip the fence at the far end of the field that lay beyond the courtyard. He couldn’t see the dog in the yard but heard it barking at him and scratching and bouncing off the fence in frustration.
The lady in the yard shouted at him to leave the dog alone. “I’m Indiana Jones. Don’t fuck with me!” Simon shouted as loud as he could. He laughed at the woman and continued to whip the fence.
There was a loud ‘snick’ and a gate in the fence silently swung inwards a few yards away from him. A wiry, brown terrier trotted into the open field. The dog slowly crept in his direction, showing its teeth and trembling in anger.
Simon tried to whip the dog but it continued towards him, the hair on its neck standing on end. He tried hitting it in an arcing motion only to have the long whip wrap about his left leg with a stinging slap. Tears fell from his eyes and he started to run back to the courtyard. Simon tripped over the whip and fell into a mud puddle. The dog ripped at the back of his pants, tearing away material to expose white briefs and eventually whiter butt cheek. The boy screamed in terror and embarrassment and neighbours emerged from their back porches to investigate the ruckus. There was some amused conversation between the gathering crowd when it became evident that Simon was the victim of the dog’s wrath. Some openly cheered for the dog.
The terrier eventually tired of the game and lifted his leg and peed on the muddy boy. It then turned its back to the boy and kicked tufts of grass on to his back before trotting to his home through the open gate.
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