Duke

27 January 2002

Copyright 2002 Dianne Skoll. All Rights Reserved.

Joey was playing under the palm tree. The palm tree was not the stereotypical Southern California variety, with a thin bare trunk and small canopy at the top. Instead, it was a South African type, with a trunk at least six feet in diameter, and a mass of huge fronds which curved down to within three or four feet of the ground. No grass grew in the shade of the tree, and Joey liked to dig complicated systems of canals and dams, and then flood them with water.

Joey usually used his father's garden tools to dig the dams, but today he decided to use more powerful tools. Although fire crackers had been banned in South Africa for a couple of years, Joey knew a seven-year-old with connections who could get them. Joey had buried a cracker about three inches long and half an inch in diameter in the soil. He lit the fuse and stood back.

There was a muffled crack and a plume of dirt. Joey ran forward to inspect the work. How disappointing---the hole was only about four inches in diameter. He fished out two more firecrackers from his pocket and began digging.

Duke, the family dog, was abruptly woken by the sounds of firecrackers exploding. Duke was a heavy, fierce-looking bulldog. His face scared away little children, but he was in truth a gentle and protective dog. Duke had a few idiosyncrasies, however, and one of the oddest was an intense hatred for the palm tree. Duke glowered at the tree when he passed it, and every once in a while, would attack.

Duke came charging towards Joey, growling fiercely. Joey ignored him, knowing he wasn't the target of Duke's wrath. With snapping jaws, Duke leaped off the ground and chomped down hard on a palm frond. He growled and shook his head from side to side. Duke was so intent on his mission he remained suspended in the air, shaking the frond viciously.

Joey's sister, Alice, was waiting anxiously inside the house. She was going on a first date with a boy she'd long had a crush on. She was dressed up to go to a school dance, in a long white dress and with a flower in her hair. She saw Duke battling the tree, glanced at her watch, and did some calculations. It would take Duke at least ten minutes to snap the frond and declare victory, and her date was due in five minutes. It would not do to have him arrive at a house with a snarling bulldog suspended from a palm tree, blood and spittle dripping from its mouth.

Alice went out to call Duke. "Duke! Duke! Come on boy, come have some treats!"

Nothing doing. Duke was not moving until the tree cried Uncle.

Groaning with frustration, Alice walked to the tree. "Come on, Duke! Come inside."

Joey watched this drama from the garden tap. Having completed his dam, he was ready to flood it and watch the water flow. He was standing with the hose pipe in his hand, watching his sister plead with Duke. Alice looked more grown-up than Joey had ever seen her. It was obvious she'd spent hours getting ready.

Joey looked at the hose pipe. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was the conjunction of planets. It was hitting the jackpot.

In most people, rational thought suppresses the evil impulse. Consideration of consequences, as well as simple human empathy, make us treat one another well. Seven-year-old Joey did not yet possess a good grasp of cause and effect or the consequences of actions. And no seven-year-old boy has a full-sized helping of empathy.

Joey aimed the hose pipe and opened the tap. Alice's eyes grew large as she stared in horror. "Joooooeeeyyyy!!!!!"

The water gushed out. It hit Alice full in the face. Joey played the pipe up and down, soaking her thoroughly. Outraged, Alice roared and lunged towards Joey. He probably could have outrun her---she was wearing three-inch heels---but he was fascinated, mesmerized by her emotions. She grabbed the hose pipe away from him, grabbed him by the arms, and pulled him towards the house, hitting him constantly. Joey curled into a ball and howled, first with laughter and then with pain as Alice landed blows on him.

Sputtering, only partially from anger, Alice dragged Joey up to her room in order to hit him in earnest.

Outside, Duke heard Joey's screams and dropped the frond. He'd deal with that enemy another day. Today, he must save Joey. Duke barrelled into the house and upstairs, only to crash into Alice's room's closed door. He barked mightily outside, to no avail. Joey was thoroughly thrashed. But unabashed.