Barry always wanted to play the trumpet. Sure, he was a lemur and that made his dream a bit more of a challenge, but he had faith in himself. “Listen,” Barry thought, “if I could peel a mango in an hour, I can certainly learn to play the trumpet. How hard could it be?” As it turns out, pretty hard.
Barry had a sister. Actually, he had twelve sisters if you counted his nine half-sisters. Lemur dads were not known for sticking with one partner, not that his mom cared one wit about it. “Good riddance,” she once told Barry. “That guy got on my last nerve. Did you know he’d constantly accuse me of going out at night? ‘Of course I go out at night, I’m nocturnal. Ya dummy.’”
Barry’s sister, Colleen, always tried to encourage Barry. If he was inclined to hang from the tallest branch, Colleen would say, “If anyone can do it, Barr, it’s you.” Or if he imitated a monkey, she would laugh her lemur head off. They were great pals. But whenever the trumpet came up, Colleen would change the subject or say she had a cicada at home she had to eat before it went bad. Barry felt hurt that Colleen didn’t take his trumpet dream seriously and broached the subject with her one night over dinner of bananas and tree bark.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Why is it that whenever I talk about the trumpet, you change the subject or suddenly have an insect that you need to race home to eat?”
“Do I?” Colleen said, looking away, nibbling on her toilet-claw.
“Yes, you do. And to be frank, it hurts me. I thought you believed in me and my dreams.”
With a mouth full of shredded toe nail, Colleen turned, spat, then looked Barry right in his bulging green eyes.
“Haven’t I always supported you?”
“Yes,” acquiesced Barry. “You have but, I dunno. Am I wrong? Am I imagining this?”
Colleen sighed and scratched one of her four nipples.
“Listen, do you even know where to get a trumpet?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Barry said with his tail between his legs.
“Well, you need to think about it, Barry. Also, do you know how to read music?”
“I have to know how to read music?” Barry said, his bulging green eyes becoming even bulgier. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Barry,” said Colleen, trying not to condescend. “Surely, you were aware of that.”
“Honestly, I just thought I’d pick up a trumpet and start playing. Just like that. Like I’ve been doing it all my life.”
“Uh, yeah, it doesn’t work like that. Take for instance, the time I wanted to climb an Octopus tree and everyone said, ‘Colleen, who do you think you are, a Sifaka lemur? The spikes on that tree will just about kill you.’ And wouldn’t you know, one jump on that trunk and I screamed bloody murder. Want in one hand, Barr, poop in the other. Sometimes you have to keep your dreams a little more down to your level, which is about one foot off the ground.”
“Wow,” said Barry. “I had no idea you felt this way. Thanks for letting me know.” Barry shoved his ring tail into Colleen’s face, which he had rubbed earlier against his own butt leaving a scent that was less than welcoming. He then leapt onto a nearby tree.
“Nice. Very mature.” Colleen called after him as she picked a tick off her coat and ate it.
Barry bounced from tree to tree hoping it would buoy his mood. “How dare Colleen speak to me that way,” he thought. “Her biggest ambition was climbing a spiky tree trunk? How dumb. She’s so jealous of me and my passion for the trumpet, I could scream like a lemur screaming at another lemur.” Just as Barry was about to plop to the ground in search of a chameleon dessert—which was, no surprise, tricky to find, he heard a sound. One of the most beautiful sounds he’d ever heard. Even more beguiling than the Goshawk’s call right before it attacks its prey and tears it open with a hooked beak the size of Barry’s foot. Rumor had it that his cousin, Leonard, once had a run in with a Goshawk when he was hanging out with some friends in a Baobab tree. Leonard never spoke of it and if you asked him about it, he’d raise his tail and urinate on you. Therefore, the family kept mum about it, especially at social gatherings.
He hung from a branch with one arm, taking in the dulcet harmonies. When he sensed the direction from whence they were coming, he jumped to the forest floor and followed them. As they became louder, Barry could hardly believe his ears. He rounded a bed of prickly pear cacti and acacia shrubs to a clearing he’d never been to before and saw the most amazing sight. There was a Madagascan fruit bat, a white-bellied Senomy and a Fossa standing in a circle, playing instruments and creating a song that made Barry well with emotion. He approached them carefully as the Fossa was known for eating anything that moved, making Barry the perfect meal as he was a bit paunchy after dinner. He always overdid it with the tree bark. Barry stopped and hid in a Tahina palm tree so as not to disturb their playing, peeking his head out and closing his eyes in melodious bliss.
The fruit bat played the clarinet and the Nesomy, also known as a forest rat, which Barry thought was a bit demeaning of a nickname, played a tiny set of drums that rested on his tiny forest rat belly. The Fossa, also known around Barry’s neighborhood as “Terrifying catdog that eats us” played the stand up bass, plucking at the strings with its retractable claws.
The wilds sang that day. Sang with what Barry would come to know as “standards” and “Improvisations.” What Barry didn’t know is that he was hearing a thing called Jazz. It was mesmerizing. Barry began coming to this spot every night to hear them play, sometimes falling asleep in the moss at the base of the Tahina palm tree and not waking until morning.
Colleen confronted him.
“Where do you go every night?”
“Nowhere. None of your business.”
“It is my business. You’re my twelfth brother and I need to know where you are. We’re a conspiracy.” This is what groups of lemurs were called. Even better than a gaggle of geese but not better than a murder of crows.
“That’s the only reason you need to know?” accused Barry. “Because I’m a member of your conspiracy?”
“No. Of course not. I worry. It’s a sister’s job to worry. Please Barry. Ever since we had our disagreement—”
“Fight.” corrected Barry.
“Okay, fight, you’ve been acting weird. Going out until all hours. Not returning home until morning—”
“I’m nocturnal!” shouted Barry.
“Yes. I know. But it’s different. We used to hang out, literally, all the time. Now, I never see you anymore.”
“Yeah, well, we’re not as close as we used to be. Just accept it.” Then Barry swung his tail around and leapt away, leaving Colleen so upset she had to rub her butt against the nearest tree.
That night, Barry went to his hiding spot near the clearing and peeked his head in between two giant leaves but the band wasn’t there. “Did they take the night off?” Barry thought. “I wish I knew their rehearsal schedule.” Suddenly a tiny black head with a prominent overbite appeared right before Barry’s face.
“Hey Man” said the fruit bat.
Barry froze, pretending to be a palm frond.
“Dude, I know you’re not a plant.”
Barry’s eyes widened like two green marbles. He should’ve been better at hiding. But the promise of the music drew him out and made him lean into the notes.
“Don’t be scared. Come on out.” Barry noticed that the fruit bat spoke with a lisp so “scared” sounded like “thcared.”
“Um, is the terrifying dog/cat here?”
“Who? Chet?” The bat looked behind him. “Hey Chet, he called you a terrifying dog/cat.”
“He’s not wrong.” Chet’s retractable claws flicked open so he could scratch his neck like a mob boss.
“Oh pa-leeze,” said the Nesomy, licking his paw to his ear. “I’ve seen worse.” Then Chet roared at the Nesomy with fangs that could only be compared to a Sabertooth’s, making Barry shake so hard he peed a little, but the Nesomy stayed stock still wearing a mousey poker face.
“Nothin?” the Fossa asked with hope.
“Not a shiver, Ace.” said the Nesomy cool as the coolest mouse ever.
The Fossa skulked back to his bass, huffed on the wood and wiped it shiny with the back of his paw.
“What’s your bag, son?” The fruit bat fluttered a black veiny wing.
“My bag?’ asked Barry
“Yeah, you know. Your deal, your scene?”
“Um.” Barry had never felt more alone and more at home.
“He wants to know why you’ve been spying on us, Kitty Kat.” said the Nesomy.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to spy. It’s just that I love your music. It. . .casts a spell on me.”
“Dig.” nodded the fruit bat. “I’m Jerome, you’ve met Chet and this here is Deacon,” he said pointing at the rat.
“Nice to meet you,” said Barry as he rounded the giant leaf which he was hiding behind, extending a paw to Jerome, then Deacon.
“You got any chops, Ringtail?” Chet tightened his Bass’s strings.
“I’m sorry, I don’t—”
“He wants to know if you can hang. You know how to play?” Deacon adjusted his petite beret.
“Oh. No. But I want to. My dream is to play the trumpet. Silly right?”
“You’re pullin’ my stubby leg!” chuckled Jerome.
“I know. It’s stupid. My sister, Colleen, thinks I’m wasting my time.”
“Check it out, Ringtail. We need a cat who can really blow the Boogie Woogie,” said Deacon, adding dark Wayfarer sunglasses to his ensemble.
“If that means ‘play the trumpet?’ Wow. Me?”
“Could be. If you’re willing to jam.” Jerome lipped his clarinet’s reed.
“I would dig that a lot,” Barry’s bulgy eyes lit up. “Except I don’t own a trumpet.” His marbley eyes lost their gleam.
“Don’t be a drag, Ringtail. We got you. Follow.”
Barry trailed Jerome, Chet and Deacon deeper into the jungle. There was a part of him that wondered if this was a good idea. Maybe they wanted to ambush him. Maybe Chet and Deacon would find it amusing for Chet to prove right the saying, “You can’t swing a lemur without hitting a few Cymbidiella falcigera.” Nevertheless, Barry had nothing to lose. If he couldn’t play the trumpet, he had no reason to go on. Come what may, this was his destiny.
They stopped in a large patch of shade.
“Look up, Ringtail.” suggested Jerome.
Barry did and above him he saw shimmers among the branches of a Mahogany Tree.
“What’s this?” Barry couldn’t take his eyes off the shining.
“A little while back, we were rappin’ in this very spot when Chet got hit in the head with what turned out to be my skins.”
Barry eyes widened in horror.
“His drums, Ringtail.” clarified Jerome.
“See, I always knew I wanted to be a drummer but my family wigged out. Said I’d disgrace the mischief.” Mischief is a group of rats. Also better than a gaggle, but not necessarily better than a conspiracy.
“Same with me,” agreed Jerome. “Except the licorice stick was my jam.”
“The clarinet?” asked Barry.
“See? You dig,” said Deacon. “Once I told my colony I wanted to whistle with a band, my mother said, ‘no son of mine is going to be a musician. You’re a fruit bat so you’re going to hang upside down and eat fruit like the rest of us.’” I left the next day.
Chet leaned against a tree, sniffling.
“Least you had families. I’m a lone cat with nary a brother or sister to call my own.”
“Don’t you mean dog/cat?” Barry murmured.
“Don’t push it, Ringtail.” warned Chet.
“That’s phoney baloney, Fossa, and you know it. We’re your brothers now, dig?”
“I dig.” Chet wiped his nose with the back of his paw.
“All right. That’s enough bring down. Ringtail, can you hop on up there and grab your bugle?”
“Can I? Wait, by bugle, you trumpet, right?”
“You know it, son.”
Barry hopped up into the Mahogony tree with the athletic prowess of, well, any marsupial really, and landed snout to bell with the trumpet of his dreams.
He whispered, “I will name you ‘Clarence.’”
Barry hopped back to the ground where his three new friends awaited his landing. Then he brought the horn’s mouthpiece to his lemur lips and blew into it a lung full. The note rose into the air and hung there like a velvet cloud. They all three stood in awe, a tear streaming down Deacon’s furry face. Jerome and Chet stared at him.
“What? I’m not crying; you’re crying.” he protested.
Jerome, Deacon and Chet fetched their respective instruments and joined in, creating a song that had no explanation. But they all knew in their Madagascan hearts that Ringtail was their missing piece.
A couple of weeks later, Barry approached Colleen who was sucking sap from a tree.
She greeted him with silence save for the sap sucking sounds.
“Coll? Please. I need to talk to you.”
She continued kissing the tree of its juice, ignoring her 12th brother.
“Listen, I was hurt. I couldn’t believe that my favorite sister didn’t believe in me.”
Colleen stopped, turned and licked her sticky opposable thumbs.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in you, Dum-Dum. I just didn’t want to see you get disappointed.”
“Coll, have you ever regretted hopping on that Octopus Tree?”
Colleen paused for a moment and picked her nose.
“No. I guess not.”
“You wanted to know if you could do it. You wanted to know what it was like to be a Sifaka.”
“And the thing is, I don’t want to know what it’s like to play the trumpet. I want to play the trumpet. You dig?”
“Of course I don’t dig, Barry. What am I, a Web-Footed Tenrec?”
Barry chuckled, then picked a Weevil off Colleen’s ear and ate it.
It was a Saturday night when Jerome’s colony, Deacon’s mischief, Barry’s conspiracy and Chet’s friend, a hissing Cockroach named Gene, gathered in the area where Barry first discovered the angelic music. The audience hushed as Barry and the band emerged from the wood, Clarence gleaming from the moon’s light.
Barry smiled at the crowd, then took a deep breath and blew.
Nancy Kissam studied Educational Theatre at NYU. Her first feature film script, Stone, was included in the Outfest Screenwriter’s Lab and her second script, Drool, won the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition. Nancy directed Drool, which was subsequently distributed by Strand Releasing. She won a short screenwriting competition with her short, Shave, produced by Christine Vachon and Killer Films. Her TV Pilot, Georgie Girl, was a finalist at the Austin Film Festival. She is also a writer of short stories, memoir and poetry. Her short story “The Names We Give” was recently published at Twist & Twain Literary Magazine and another, “The Bus” was published at Dark Elements Press. Nancy teaches high school theatre and lives with her wife and chug in Los Angeles.
This is her first feature on The Fictional Café.