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John-Boy's Christmas Zoo

By Sue Cowing


     “Hey, John-Boy,” said Uncle. “What you like for Christmas?”

     “For real?”

     “For real.”

     “A dog. But Mom says cannot.”

     “Why cannot?”

     “Against the rules.”

     Uncle had three big dogs. Hunting dogs. Took them everywhere in his truck. John-Boy wanted a dog for himself. A pet.

     “Too many rules,” said Uncle. “Not like the

old days.” He turned  to John-Boy’s dad. “You heard? Going make us pay money every time to fish in the ocean.”

     “Sheeesh. Next thing you know, gotta pay to breathe the air.”

     “Do already, seems like,”said Uncle.

     “Anyway, no dogs,” John-Boy said, getting back to the subject. “Can't even have a bird cuz they mess and make noise. Only pet they let you have here is a fish.”

     Uncle got that look on his face like he just heard a pig in the forest. “You wait,” he said to John-Boy.  “Going get you one dog you can keep.  No noise.  No stink.”

     “For real?”

     “You wait.” He grinned. 

     Christmas morning, he pulled up in his truck and came up to the door, carrying two big buckets.  

     “Merry Christmas, John-Boy. Got you a dog and a cat.”

     Each bucket had a fish inside. One gray with long whiskers. The other long and mean-looking.

     “What, Uncle?” said John-Boy.

     “One baby dogfish and one catfish. No noise.  No stink.” He laughed.

     No fun, John-Boy  thought. But he made a big smile and said, “Thanks, Uncle.”

     “Now, dog or dogfish, you got to take care.”

     Uncle and Dad built two big tanks for the fish in John-Boy’s room and put in a pump.  

     John-Boy named the fish 'Ilio, dog, and Popoke, cat, what the heck?  More fun than he thought, especially when he could show his cousins he did so have a dog and a cat.

     That Saturday, Uncle took him snorkeling. After a little while Uncle pointed to a fish peeking out of the reef. “You like one goat?” he said, and  they netted the goat fish.

     By the time vacation was over, John-Boy had a lion fish and a zebra eel and two more tanks.   He took good care. He liked feeding the fish and watching them swim around and look at him.  Night was peaceful with the pump motors humming. He started thinking maybe he'd be a fish man someday.  Maybe run a great big aquarium.

     Trouble was, he couldn't keep quiet about his pets. First day back at school, Lyle and a couple other boys started bragging about all the cool stuff they got for Christmas--Game Boys, skateboard ramps--and John-Boy said he got a dog and a cat.  And a goat.

     “Not,” said Lyle, but he could tell Lyle kind of believed him.

     “Not only,” John-Boy said. “Got a lion and a zebra, too.”

     “NO WAY!” said Lyle. The only pet you got is one cockaroach.”

      “Oh, yeah?”

     “Yeah . .We coming to your house after school to see your elephant.”

     “Never said elephant.”

     “Okay lion, then.”

     When Lyle came to John-Boy’s  house and saw he had one dogFISH and one catFISH and one goatFISH and one lion FISH and one zebra EEL, he made a fist to punch him.  But the eel opened his ugly mouth at them, and he looked so bad and cool Lyle forgot to be mad.

     Uncle came by.

     “Nice zoo, eh boys?” he said.

     The guys nodded.  Everybody agreed with Uncle.

     “So, John-Boy, what you want for your birthday?

     “A tiger shark, Uncle,”  he said.

     The guys' mouths went open.

     “You wait, John-Boy,” he said.  “You just wait!”

from The Honolulu Advertiser, Christmas Eve, 2006

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