Buddy & the Marimba
by Mary Ann Smyth

'What! What did you say? You want to play the marimba? Where did that come from?'

'I've wanted to play the marimba', said Buddy, 'ever since we took that cruise to South America.' His normally sad eyes took on a dreamy look as he contemplated his desire.

'I knew I shouldn't have let you talk me into that trip. Where are you going to find a marimba teacher?' Jim lowered his chin to his chest and his head slowly swung back and forth - a common occurrence when Buddy got a new idea.

'Ha! Already done that. The Penn Glade Marimba School for Young Boys. In West Chester.'

'How come I've never heard of it?'

'It's brand new. I would be the first student.'

'How do you expect to pay for it? I'm not going to finance a harebrained scheme.'

'I'm to have free tuition because the owner and principal teacher Juan Paolo wants to get the school going. He figures if he has a really successful marimba player, then more students will want to learn.'

 'Just one little thing here, Bud. Does the man know you're a Springer Spaniel?'

'Well, sure. How do you think I could hide that? Well, actually, at first, I told him I was a little kid in a fur coat. He didn't believe me. Told me to take off the coat. When I told him the zipper was stuck and I couldn't get it off, he caught on. But then he mulled it over. He thinks it's pretty cool; that once he teaches me to play, we can start a whole mariachi band.'

'This I have got to see.'

'I'll make sure you get tickets for the first performance,' Buddy promised. 'There's just one other little bitty thing.' Buddy sat back on his haunches and held his front paws a short distance apart.

'Buddy,' Jim said, 'don't push me. You're at the limit already.'

'Well, it's not for me.' Buddy strolled over to where Jim sat in his recliner and placed his head on Jim's knee. 'See, it's like this. When I was making the call to Juan, Chessie overheard me and now she wants to be in the band too.'

He placed one brown and white furry paw on Jim's hand and turned his head to one side, silently pleading for his companion Chessie, a calico cat.

'This has gone far enough. No. What on earth could Chessie do in a band? It's out of the question. No.'

'Will you hear me out before you say no?'

'I've already said no.' Jim rose from his chair and muttered that he had to cut the grass.

'Wait. Wait.'

When Jim started through the door to the garage, Buddy barked and twirled in circles.

'What now? Do you need to go out? You were out just ten minutes ago.'

'No, I don't have to go outside. I just want you to hear me out. Chessie could play the flute. Juan says he could teach her. She could go to lessons at the same time I go. She really wants to do this. She doesn't ask for much. Just a little food and fresh water. She's loving and sits on your lap and purrs.'

'Yeah. And walks over my head when I'm trying to sleep.'

'Just a little transgression. Surely you can forgive her that. She has senior moments. Remember she's not young anymore. This may be the last thing you can do for her.'

Jim raised both hands in the air in surrender. 'All right. All right. She can take lessons. Now I don't want to hear any more about it. And you have to practice when I'm at work.'

Buddy sat back and lifted one paw in the air. 'High five?'

Jim raised his eyes to the ceiling. 'Good Lord,' he said under his breath, 'I'm high fiving with a dog!!'

'Enough. I'll be outside. And don't answer the phone if it rings. I don't trust you anymore on the phone. Remember when you told the insurance salesman he could come to the house to sell me a policy?'

'Well, I was mad at you at the time. You refused to get me on-line skates for my birthday.'

'The neighbors would run me out of North Hills on a rail if I let you have on-line skates. You cause enough trouble as it is. Whistling at Gwennie, that pretty dog on the corner, when she's out for a walk! Pretending you were vicious and going to attack that old lady that uses a walker! She couldn't stop crying for an hour.'

'And grabbing school kids' lunches at the bus stop! Organizing the squirrels to run in a cadre across John's roof after midnight. No wonder he moved out. And we shouldn't forget your jumping in the pond when kids were swimming. Don't try to tell me again you were saving them from snapping turtles. You should be ashamed of yourself.'

'Just teen age high jinks. I'm older now and plan to have a profession.'

'Yeah, sure. This marimba thing will last as long as your ice skating escapade. Your behavior at that rink was inexcusable. Why you thought that team would let you play ice hockey with them is beyond me.'

'I can skate. No problemo.'

'It's against the rules to have a four footed player.'

Buddy narrowed his eyes as he looked at Jim. 'How do you know? Have you ever read the rules?'

'The captain of the team told me when he was ordering me to get you off the ice or else. And I can't ever go back to the rink. I'm banned for life. And my granddaughter Jennifer was humiliated. She can still work there as long as you don't come back.'

'I guess I really did it when I stole the puck.'

'No, I think it was when you slid into the goalie and knocked him down. I thought he would never regain consciousness.'

'Picky, picky.'

 'By the way, how did you get to the Penn Glade School? I didn't take you.'

'Welllll,' Buddy said, pulling out the word. 'I just walked there.' Buddy held up a restraining paw. 'Now before you get all bent out of shape, I was careful and didn't accept any rides.'

Jim ran his hands across his face as though he were washing it. In a tightly controlled voice, he said, 'We have leash laws around here. You're lucky you didn't get picked up by the dog catcher.'

'How dumb do you think I am? NO!' he howled, 'don't answer that. I simply carried the leash in my mouth and everyone just thought my so-called owner was right behind me. I smiled at all the ladies and they all thought I was cute.'

'You didn't talk to anyone, did you? That's all I need. For the neighborhood to know you can talk. Okay, one more question. How do you and Chessie plan to get to this school for budding marimba and flute players?'

'Well, it's a little tricky. I called Rainbow Cab and asked about their senior fares. They said if Chessie and I come in to their office and sign up for the senior program, they could pick us up and deliver us wherever.'

'You're not seniors, either of you.'

'Yeeeees - we are.' Buddy extended his first word, which made Jim widen his eyes in alarm. When Buddy did this, nothing good ever came out of his next statement.

'You see, if you add up Chessie's age in human years, she'd be one hundred and twelve. I'd be twenty-one. And since you only have to be sixty to qualify, if I borrow - like forty years from her, we both slide in under the wire.'

 'Do they know you're a cat and a dog?'

 'Not just any cat and dog. We're going to be stars.'

'Okay, future stars, do they know?'

'Well, not yet. But I figure when you take us in to sign up, you can mention it.'

'I'm not taking you in there!' Jim sputtered. 'I can't take any more of this. Buddy, this has to be the most harebrained scheme I've ever heard of. You topped all the other crazy things you've gotten me involved in. I'm going out to mow the grass. And when I come back in, I want to hear that you've changed your minds. Understand?'

He looked at Buddy with thunder in his eyes. Chessie hid under the dining room table. Jim didn't see the meeting of Buddy's and Chessie's eyes and the slight, satisfied grins that formed on their mouths.

Later that same night, after the grass had been cut and Jim had worked off a head of steam, he sat in his recliner and tried to unwind. Just thinking about Buddy's antics set him off. This latest thing had to have been the most ridiculous scheme yet.

'I hope, Buddy,' Jim said when he could be sure of not raising his voice, 'that I will hear no more of this nonsense about marimba and flute lessons. The subject is closed. Understand?'

At that moment, the phone rang. Buddy leapt to his feet and raced to place the cordless in Jim's outstretched hand.

'You're with whom? The Philadelphia Inquirer? I don't want a subscription. Good night.'

Jim slammed the phone in his hand. Enough, he thought. I've been through enough. I don't need telemarketers calling.

As the phone rang again, Buddy snatched it from Jim's hand and answered in a deep, well-modulated voice. 'Yes, Mr. Yocum is here. Yes, this is Buddy. Really! I have brown and white fur and an engaging look in my eyes. I'm a trifle on the pudgy side, but I'm told it looks good on me. Yes. I'm a Springer Spaniel.'

Jim snatched the phone from Buddy's paw.

'This is Jim Yocum. What do you want?'

'Mr. Yocum. This is Red Cross - I know, don't be put off by my name. This call is legitimate. I got an anonymous call this evening that you have a talking dog. Is that so? Is that who I was just talking to? A photographer and I would like to come to your house to interview you and you dog - say tomorrow.'

'No,' Jim roared. 'There's no talking dog here. The call was a hoax. Not true. Don't come here. Good night.'

Jim slammed down the phone and turned to find the room empty. Buddy was nowhere to be found. Chessie had also disappeared. 'BUDDY! CHESSIE! Where are you? What's going on? Come here now or I'm putting a sign out front that there's a cat and a dog available to anyone who wants them. Preferably someone who needs working pets.'

'Okay,' came a voice from the bedroom. 'I'm coming. Don't be mad. I can't help it if someone called the paper ... '.

'YOU called the paper! Don't tell me you didn't,' Jim shouted when Buddy poked his head around the kitchen door.

'Okay, okay, I called,' Buddy said in a low tremulous voice. He slowly sidled into the family room, smiling his you've-caught-me-again smile. 'I just thought it would help you see that Chessie and I could be stars. We could earn big salaries and support you and take care of you the way you've taken care of us.'

'Don't give me that routine. The you're-doing-this-for-me nonsense. No, forget it. When I come home at night, I don't want any more hassles. Just forget the whole marimba thing. It's over. Done. Do you understand?' Jim's face was now right in Buddy's face, his breath in Buddy's fur, his eyes locked to Buddy's.

'Yes, but ... '

'No buts,' Jim said quietly, almost a whisper. 'This is the end of this discussion. I can't take any more. I will NOT take any more.' As he spoke, his whisper was almost like the hiss of a teakettle with a full head of steam.

Buddy's eyes rounded in alarm, his head shifting from side to side, as though seeking an escape route.

'Yes, okay. No more. No more marimba, no more flute, no more mariachi band.' His right paw raised in an attempt to look sincere. 'I swear on my Boy Scout's oath.'

'Buddy,' Jim said through clenched teeth, 'you were never a Boy Scout. Knock this off. Don't say another word. Chessie, you too. Don't dare say anything.'

 Chessie, on her way to jumping on Jim's lap, turned in mid-air and streaked from the room.

'Girl never could take the heat,' Buddy mumbled.

'Not a word more.'

Buddy's right paw came up again. He struck the air several times to show he understood. But as he crept from the room his head low, almost stepping on his long ears, trying to present a picture of utter dejection, Jim heard him mutter, 'Chessie, this is not the time to talk to him about tap dancing lessons.'

Note; The author retains all rights to this story.