Jerry Engler's gang at the Deerhead Tavern works through why there's a danger in saying "nothing ever happens here."
There’s a danger in saying “nothing ever happens here,” especially on days that dawn with a chill, pristine atmosphere, where the sky is that unbroken sheet of soul-pleasing deep blue behind a white sun.
The forces of this dimension must hear such statements because they do things like roll out the storm clouds to stomp the foolishness of the being who said such a thing, or they cause the hearts of men to join in follies like making stupid rules.
Nearly every community, whether a village or a giant city, has on its books a stupid rule, or a rule that sounds stupid, but made perfectly good sense at the time it was created.
Most of them probably were made on those days where the day was so clear the humans couldn’t see beyond the fogs of their minds.
It must have been Johnny Beauregard who first said it, shuffling in his chair with a cup of coffee to his lips, as he looked out the Deerhead Tavern’s front window to the piercing sunshine bathing Main Street. Yes, it was Johnny who first sighed out the words, “You know, nothing ever happens here. This has got to be the deadest town around.”
“You got that right,” said Charmin’ Carmen. “Only, why don’t you put in that nothin’ unusual ever happens here, and that I like it that way in case God is listenin’ in. Makes it easier to just sell a few horses. Then I come in here to sit on my fanny drinkin’ coffee in the mornings while bozos say ‘nothin’ ever happens here.’ Here comes Doc. I heard his door swing shut next door. Now that’s somethin’ happenin’.”
“That ain’t nothin’ happenin’,” said Johnny, as pink swirling fog surrealistically enveloped the folds of his brain.
“Yeah, I don’ know, but I’d guess maybe if I knew somethin’, that is dependin’ on your definitions or some such thing or other for sure, that Johnny’s right. I lived here my whole life, and nothin’ ever really happened except normal stuff,” said Buck Barnsworth, who never had guessed that everybody else hadn’t necessarily lived a life like his, even in the same town. The fog was getting deeper.
“How you doin’, Doc?” asked Charmin Carmen as the stocky veterinarian sat down to stare out the window with the others.
“Oh, OK, Carmen. Beautiful day, isn’t it? I don’t have hardly anything going on today, and I hope nothing happens to spoil it. Every once in a while it’s good to have a laid-back day, isn’t it, fellows?” asked Doc, whose brain usually operated in unusual clarity.
“I don’t know, Doc,” said Buster Noggins. “I guess I’m with the others. I’m kind of bored today. For a winter day, it’s turnin’ out pretty warm, but it was still too frosty this morning even for the fish to be bitin’. Tell you what, I’m goin’ home to check my telephone messages one more time. If there’s nothin’ there, I’ll be back again.”
“You boys are just lucky to be living in a place where there’s fish to bite at any time,” said Doc, taking a big swig of the hot, black liquid.
They sat there for five minutes, just looking out the window. Nobody said a word, and nobody new came in.
Finally Harrison Washington, owner of the Deerhead, sat down to interrupt the silence. “Kind of quiet today, isn’t it, boys? The guys last night didn’t make any big messes, so there wasn’t much to clean up. There’s not many people coming in. It’s nice to have it quiet every once in a while.”
“Nothin’ ever happens here,” said Johnny.
After another five minutes, Mrs. Ava Lagerty came up the sidewalk out front with her Pekinese, Gilifont, on a leash. Gilifont wetted on the utility pole while Mrs. Lagerty tried to appear not to be looking at him, and while all the men looking out the Deerhead window did look at him. “There you go,” said Johnny. “That’s about as good as it gets. Nothin’ else ever happens around here.”
Mrs. Lagerty and Gilifont moved on to be replaced at the pole by Gilbert Wittesage and his Malemute, Fang.
“At least it ain’t cats you got to look at, Doc,” said Carmen. “Everybody knows how Doc hates a darn cat.”
“I don’t hate ‘em, Carmen,” said Doc. “I’m just allergic to them. Most folks can just take their cat business to another veterinarian. It’s good when nothin’ happens if it involves the cat business. It’s a good day for walkin’ dogs, it seems.”
Gilbert Wittesage and Fang had been replaced at the pole by Wilbur Walacant and his fat half-breed Blue Heeler, Jill, named after an old girlfriend of his which he thought nobody else knew, but which everybody did know.
“That old Jill was hell,” said Johnny, “but I guess we’ve talked about her a thousand times before. Nothin’ new ever happens around here.” “Well, this might bring something new,” said Harrison, looking across the street by the hardware store where Gilbert and Fang already had come around the block. Fang was rearing on his hind legs looking back from where they had come while Gilbert was pulling on the leash with all his might to keep the powerful dog from getting away.
Wilbur and Jill had no trouble catching up with and passing Gilbert and Fang. Wilbur walked in his longest stride while Jill puffed and trotted, both of them glancing back down the walk behind them anxiously from time to time. Finally both men and their dogs moved on.
Then Mrs. Lagerty came trotting with Gilifont, pulling on the leash trying to run at a gallop in front of her with his tail tucked between his rear legs. She looked anxiously across the street to the men watching out the front window of the Deerhead, then jerked Gilifont to the side to come trotting across the street, and up the steps to the Deerhead front door.
“Mrs. Lagerty, what’s wrong?” cried Harrison as the lady flopped backwards into a chair, her gray curls bouncing as she breathed a deep heaving sigh.
“It was awful,” she finally gasped out. “It looked at us with those big, yellow eyes, and I thought Gilifont and I were goners. And that stupid, stupid man just kept saying, ‘Don’t worry, I got him. He won’t hurt you,’ as if everyone doesn’t know they are killers.”
“What are killers, Ma’am?” asked Doc even as he looked across the street to see the first appearance of the answer. And there it was, huge and golden with a brown-turning-to-black mane of hair around its head and shoulders.
The chubby little man with the black leash holding the powerful male African lion looked incapable of doing anything if it decided to take off, but bob and bounce across the ground hanging onto the leash as it bounded away.
“That thing,” said the woman. “It looked at us.”
Harrison seated Mrs. Lagerty at another table, and sat listening to her solicitously while the men at the main table, looking out the window at the man leading the lion across the street, sat in silence. When the man disappeared outside the range of the table, the men continued to sit in silence for a moment.
Finally Johnny Beauregard said, “That might have been somethin’ happenin’ here.”
They could see people looking outside windows across the street, and the one new car that drove in there backed out, and left. Then, just like magic, the lion came into view again on their side of the street just outside the window, the pink-skinned chubby man, with the fringe of gray-brown hair below his bald head, behind it as the big cat sniffed at the utility pole. The lion turned his tail to the pole, and bunched its muscles to mark its scent there.
Something caught the man’s attention next to the Deerhead. He pulled a small notebook from his shirt pocket, and stood there writing something down.
“Oh, Good Lord, no,” groaned Doc Frenchie leaning his head down to the table to rest his forehead on his hand.”
“What, Doc, what’s wrong?” asked Johnny.
“It’s the guy with the lion,” said Carmen. “He’s writin’ down the contact information off Doc’s door I betchaya. He needs a veterinarian, I’d guess.”
“If something’s got to happen in this town, why does it have to be the biggest cat possible looking for a veterinarian,” said Doc, still shaking his head.
“Kitty, kitty, kitty,” called Johnny tapping at the window.
“Stop that,” growled Doc.
“I don’ know, I just don’ know for sure if I’m seein’ what I’m seein’ for sure, but it sounds like the rest of you might see it. I think there’s a lion out there,” said Buck.
It was then that the little bald man looked up at them from pin-point blue eyes that seemed too small for his head, and smiled at them through the glass.
At about the same moment, there was a crash from the kitchen that made them all jump as though the lion had come in. But it was Buster Noggins, followed closely by Harrison Washington who was stammering, “What’s the matter with you comin’ in the back door that way, turnin’ over all the stuff we had against it.”
“There’s a lion out there, that’s why,” said Buster. “You didn’t think I’d come in the front way past him, did you?”
The man with the lion outside was beckoning to them with a wiggling finger while he pointed at the front door with the other hand that held the leash loosely in its grip. The lion looked up at them a moment too, its yellow-brown eyes gleaming brightly in the brilliant sunshine. Then it yawned, revealing its huge, pointed teeth.
“Go see what he wants, Johnny,” said Charmin’ Carmen the horse trader.
“Yeah,” said Doc. “And if he’s looking for the veterinarian, tell him that’s an old sign. The veterinarian died two years ago. I’ll buy your coffee for the next two weeks if you tell him that, Johnny.”
“You guys are nuts,” said Johnny. “Look at the teeth on that guy. Think of how much horse meat he must chew down in a night with those teeth.” “Think so, do you?” asked Carmen. “Must take a quarter of a horse to feed him every day, wouldn’t you figger, Doc. Why that might be $100 worth of horse every day of the week. Maybe I ought to go out there with you, Johnny.”
“Think of your reputation, Carmen. How can you tell everybody about your quality horses if you’re buying for horse meat on the side,” said Doc.
Carmen puckered his lips, “I could just say I got a new sideline in the quarter-horse business.”
“Go on, Johnny, get out there,” said Doc. “And remember, I’m not around.” The door closed behind Johnny. The men still inside watched as the short chubby man gestured at Johnny to come on down.
“I’ll go out too,” said Buster Noggins. “Maybe I can give Johnny encouragement from the sideline. After all, I used to be a rodeo clown. Gettin’ pushed around in a barrel by a mad bull probably isn’t much better than facin’ down a lion.”
Johnny took about four steps down. The chubby man was taking him by the hand, and pulling him the rest of the way down. He spoke to the lion, and he spoke to Johnny. Then the lion was rubbing his big body against Johnny like any common house tabby while Johnny froze in place with his arms hanging at his sides.
Buster stayed behind Johnny a couple of steps higher looking over Johnny’s black hair to see the lion.
A police car drove up with flashing lights, and Deputy Owen Reuben got out on the side of his car opposite all of them while he held his firearm in the air talking.
The chubby man was talking quickly to the deputy with hand movements that suggested reassurance. He stuck the lion’s leash in Johnny’s hand, and leaned across the hood of the police car to talk to the deputy who finally holstered his weapon.
Then Johnny was nodding his head to the chubby bald man, who followed Buster Noggins’ lead into the Deerhead.
“Doc, Doc,” said Buster. “It was Johnny that told him you was in here. Johnny’s so scared with the lion and the cop that he would have ratted on his own mother, which come to think of it, he did, which is why his daddy left town. Anyway, this here is Thedro Whadwhipple, the papa of the lion out there.”
“Actually Richard III just thinks of me as his papa since I hand-raised him from a cub,” said Whadwhipple. “I like English history, so I named him Richard III, the Lion-Hearted if you’re an anglophile also. Anyway, Little Ricky, I call him that for pet-name reasons, seems to have a bit of toothache, and I needed a veterinarian to take a look at it.
“Don’t worry about your friend, Johnny, out there. Ricky really is quite friendly although there’s always the cautionary that he is a wild animal, and could become ferocious if pushed too far. That’s why I cautioned your deputy there. Isn’t it funny how all cats like to rub on their prey, but also rub to show affection.
“Now, Dr. Frenchie, I guess the name is. I suggest you help me check Little Ricky before your people get too excited. The good deputy there was warning me that your city council already has your city attorney, O. B. Goodfellow, drawing up an ordinance about the situation. I’ve bought the motel out north of town where Little Ricky and I will live. We just came to town because Main Street looked like such a pleasant place to stroll, and because we needed you.”
“Guess you got me, Whadwhipple,” said Doc. “Let’s get out there, and get your cat into my office before someone makes a stupid mistake.” “You’ll need to give Ricky a tranquilizer, I might as well warn you now, Doctor. Little Ricky doesn’t like injections by needle. I suggest when you stick him that Johnny and I stand on either side of his head since he seems to like both of us. He’ll stay perfectly calm if we do that, and he doesn’t have to watch the needle go in. He’s sensitive that way, you know.
"You’d do well to have the deputy stay away. He’s too frightened and frightening to Ricky. See Ricky drawing his lips back out there. He really doesn’t care for the deputy and his lights. I’d have to be running out there to keep him from going nuts if he didn’t like Johnny so well. I figure we have about 10 minutes before that happens anyway.”
“Oh, I think we got a little time here, Whadwhipple,” said Doc. “I’m allergic to domestic cats, you know, so I might be to a lion. This will cost you extra.”
“I have money. That’s no matter,” said Whadwhipple.
Carmen licked his lips again at the mention of money. “So, do you think you’ll be needin’ quite a bunch of horse meat, Mr. Whadwhipple?”
“No, Little Ricky eats a special balanced dry meal lion food with all the drinking water he needs free choice on the side. It keeps him content so that unfortunate things don’t happen, like perhaps swallowing the pekinese back there.”
“I’ll only ask one more thing, Whadwhipple,” said Doc. “Can you give him some sort of hand signal to get old Richard III to give that loud lion cough once? Then maybe you can get him to roar right after I give the shot, and before I look at the tooth, so that Johnny is still right there by his head?”
“Easily. We have many hand signals,” said Whadwhipple.
Outside, he let Johnny keep the leash, and the two of them stepped out on either side of Little Ricky, with hands on his mane as they walked into Doc Frenchie’s office, the other coffee drinkers stopping to sit in Doc’s waiting room.
When the lion coughed, and roared, they all jumped. The crowd that was beginning to gather out front began to find reasons to go back home or into the Deerhead.
Deputy Reuben Owen got back in his car, and said to nobody in particular that his handgun wouldn’t have had much effect on a lion anyway.
Doc sent Buster Noggins out to go to Johnny’s house. What few people were left asked if anything was wrong, but all Buster told them was that Johnny needed a change of clothes.
Doc pulled a piece of chicken bone out of the gum between Little Ricky’s teeth.
“Richard III, have you been getting into the garbage again?” asked Whadwhipple.
Buster Noggins and Charmin’ Carmen went with Doc and his wife Marcelle to the hospital that night for Doc to get an emergency steroid injection. His eyes had swollen shut from contact with a cat.
The human doctor explained that being exposed to a lion was probably equivalent to exposure to 50 house cats. “Doc to doc, Dr. Frenchie, there’s a lot more cat there.”
Sometimes when travelers stay at the motel out north of town, they tell the girls serving breakfast at the Deerhead in the morning how they could have sworn they heard a great rumbling roar of a large animal from someplace in the night.
The Kaw Town City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal to walk a lion on Main Street, years later agreed upon by the people who rediscovered it as one of the strangest rules they had ever seen in a city. Several months after the incident, the coffee drinkers were sitting on a steamy April morning, looking out the window of the Deerhead, when Johnny Beauregard said, “You know, nothin’ ever happens in this town.” Doc Frenchie had half a cup of chilled down coffee left that he threw in Johnny’s face before getting himself a refill.
“I just didn’t want him to completely lose his memory,” he said.
“Poor Johnny,” said Buck Barnsworth throwing his own cup of coffee on the thin-faced man too. “I think I get it, maybe I do, but I really don’ know for sure.”
That night the Methodist Church steeple got hit three times in a row by lightning.
A farmer had Doc Frenchie come out to see that his cow had triplet calves the next morning.
Johnny Beauregard had three mosquito bites lined up in a perfect row on his nose by evening.
And, none of that’s a lion.
Copyright 2007, Jerry W. Engler
Site: Jerry W. Engler
Reader Reviews for
"We're not lion, somethin's happenin'"
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Membership?
Click here to Join!
|Reviewed by Mr. Ed
|And this is a story that I enjoyed immensely, Jerry. Something truly noteworthy did happen in Kaw Town! And as Jean said, your characters reminded me of a few that I know in my wife's extremely small home town.|
|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|Another excellent story, Jerry. I love the humor and the irony, and living in a small town, I must say you have captured the feel of a small town coffee shop and its "regulars" so perfectly. Sometimes it truly is better when nothing much is happening!