It was the middle of July, a hot, humid day in an average suburban town. Debbie Bear, a responsible, trustworthy teenager, was sitting outside on the back porch wondering what she could possibly do today. All of her friends were on vacation; Claire was in Australia, Jessica was in Japan, Blake was in Manhattan, and Susie was visiting her grandparents in Idaho. Debbie was on a quest for adventure, but even that was an understatement for what was truly in store.
Debbie slumped down in her chair and heaved a sigh of boredom. Her mother peeked her head out the back door. Her thin and boney arm extended to Debbie with the phone in her hand. “It’s for you,” Mrs. Bear said.
Utterly confused, puzzled, and wondering who would possibly call her on this eventless day, Debbie took the phone and held it to her ear. “Hello?”
A deep voice grumbled on the other line, “Hi, Debbie. It’s Mr. Lancaster.”
Mr. Lancaster? Debbie thought, assuming she heard the name wrong. Mr. Lancaster was her middle-aged neighbor. Mr. Lancaster, she continued to contemplate, he’s . . . well, insane.
“Hello, sir,” Debbie replied.
“Do you have plans today, Debbie?”
“Well, no, sir. I don’t.”
“Perfect. So, you are available to babysit for me?”
Debbie nodded as if he could see her. “Yes, Mr. Lancaster. I can babysit today.”
“Great. I’ll see you at twelve o’clock.”
Hanging up, Debbie wondered who in their right mind would marry a crazy, coo-coo bananas man like Mr. Lancaster. She didn’t recall him having a child, or a nephew or niece for her babysit. But nothing superior to making money was happening on that warm, uneventful day that July, so she left her house at 11:55.
After one knock on the door, Debbie’s gut twisted and she had a bad feeling about what she was going to take on as Mr. Lancaster opened the door.
Orange hair and a bright blue suit, he gestured for her to come in. Reluctantly, she entered cautiously, looking around the house. She spotted armor on a stand in the corner by the door, three bookshelves against the wall, and green carpeting on the stairs. And she questioned who would ever request green carpet.
Debbie looked back at her neighbor, wondering where he might be going in a blue suit and top hat. “So, where is the baby?” she asked him.
He threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, no, no. Kurt isn’t a baby.”
She squinted at him. As crazy of a neighbor Mr. Lancaster was, he wasn’t necessarily mentally challenged to the point he’d mix something such as a teddy bear up with a baby. “Huh?”
He led her to a family room, “This way.” He chuckled again, “’Where’s the baby?’”
Sitting on a plaid couch, watching a soap opera, wearing blue and white pinstriped pants—probably with a diaper underneath—and a yellow shirt was a chimpanzee.
“Kurt is a monkey!” Debbie gaped.
The monkey oooh-oooh, ahh-ahh-ed and jumped into Mr. Lancaster’s arms. “Kurt, this is Debbie,” he said. “She’s going to watch you while I’m gone.” He handed her a list written in orange ink on a piece of paper shaped like a palm-tree. “Here is the to-do list with Kurt’s schedule and things for him to do and not do. Don’t. Lose. It.” Mr. Lancaster knitted his eyebrows in a way that sent a chill down Debbie’s back. He smiled and laughed, encouraging Debbie to as well. She smiled forcefully.
Mr. Lancaster left and Debbie set the list on the counter before checking the front door to make sure it locked. She headed back to the kitchen and gasped. Kurt was sitting on the granite countertop eating the list!
“No, Kurt! Bad, Kurt!” Debbie rushed over and grabbed him. She forced his mouth open, hoping to fish the remains of the list from his mouth—but Kurt had already swallowed the whole piece of paper. “How do you punish a monkey?” she asked herself, feeling lost and hopeless.
“Don’t smile,” she grumbled. “Kurt, we’re in a crisis! What do I do?”
He threw his hands up in an I-have-no-idea manner.
Debbie looked up at the clock. “Okay, Debbie. Think. It’s noon. What do monkeys do at noon?” She folded her arms, upset.
Kurt jumped off the counter and walked to the pantry. Part of Debbie wanted Kurt to continue into the pantry, in hopes he might be on to something and know what to do next. But the other part of her wanted to stop him, wanting to prevent any other disaster from happening. Unsure of what to do, Debbie buried her face in her hands.
Kurt came back from the pantry with three bananas in his hands. He held one out for Debbie to open. But Debbie, thinking he was offering food to her, shook her head and turned away. Kurt, sticking out his bottom monkey lip in despair, squeezed the end of the banana peel and watched the banana fly on the carpet.
Debbie heard the banana hit the ground, so she turned around only to step on the banana and squish it into the rug.
Kurt held out the second banana for Debbie to open.
“No, stupid monkey,” she growled, “I don’t want a banana.”
Kurt attempted to open this banana, but he squashed it in his hand and rubbed it across the wall to clean his fingers.
“KURT!” Debbie exclaimed. “No, no, no! Ugh! You’ve ruined the wall and the carpet—well, technically I ruined it . . . but you put the banana there.” She took the last banana from Kurt and threw it on the bar. “You are . . .” She looked around the room and spotted an empty corner with a sign reading “Time-out” on the wall. “Time-out!” She picked up Kurt and sat him in the corner. “Now, stay!”
Kurt folded his arms and pouted.
Debbie pursed her lips and spun on her heel, looking around the living room for an indication of what to do next. She decided to venture upstairs and see if there might be sign up there. After checking one room with nothing but Mr. Lancaster's bed and dresser and another just a display of modern artwork, Debbie finally came across a room with an orange door and blue mat on the floor in front of it. She entered vigilantly.
It was Kurt’s room! He slept in a small bed, probably made for a toddler, and he had his own dresser full of monkey-sized clothes. Debbie examined the room closer and spotted a changing table.
“A changing table?” Debbie gaped. “A changing table? But he’s a monkey! Oi vey. Mr. Lancaster has lost his mind.”
Mean while, as Debbie explored, Kurt waddled from the time-out corner and upstairs. He had found Debbie sitting on a rocking chair in his room. Debbie had dozed off into a deep sleep. Kurt, taking advantage of this unsupervised moment, took out his markers and began to draw a portrait of Debbie . . . on the wall.
“KURT!” Debbie shrieked after she woke. She saw Kurt had used the wall as his canvas to draw a picture of her in sky blue ink. He dropped the marker and cowered into the corner, burying his face in his hands.
What was Debbie to do with this misbehaved monkey who has practically ruined Mr. Lancaster’s house? She decided not to punish him. She could tell Kurt was feeling guilty and sad, and no punishment besides disappointment in him would really weigh down his conscience. And after the punishment was decided, Debbie had to focus on the next big deal: What to do now.
“How many things could you possibly do with a monkey anyway, right?” she asked herself. “Maybe all he needs is to get out of the house. Maybe he won't ruin any more furniture or the architecture of a house if we go outside.”
So, after a failed attempt to put shoes on Kurt, he and Debbie left the house to go to the park. The idea was a good idea, actually. In high hopes he may wear himself out and take a nap, Debbie tried to enjoy the park the best she could.
Kurt went down the slides, and Debbie waited at the bottom to catch him every time. She pushed him on the baby-swing, joined him on the teeter-totter, and even helped him climb the monkey bars (the whole time laughing at the irony). And on the walk home, Debbie looked down at Kurt to find he was missing. In sheer panic, Debbie sprinted back to the park and searched every bush, behind every tree, inside every tunnel slide, and on every swing.
She ran back to Mr. Lancaster’s house as fast as she could and made a poster with the best drawing of a monkey she could make. She wrote “MISSING MONKEY, COMES TO THE NAME OF ‘KURT’” in big capital letters in a thick black Sharpey. Debbie copied them and hung them up all over the neighborhood; she hung them on every stop sign, bench, windshield of cars, front doors, trees, everywhere!
Just when Debbie thought Kurt was history, Mr. Lancaster called her. “Hello?” she answered nervously.
“Debbie!” he said. “I’m on my way home now, just to let you know. How was Kurt?”
She traced the seam of her jeans with her fingers and worked up the courage to tell the truth. “Um . . . Well, you see, Mr. Lancaster . . .”
“A handful?” He laughed. “Oh, Kurt. Sorry to hear that. I’ll be home soon!”
“But, Mr. Lancaster!” It was too late though. Mr. Lancaster had already hung up and the fact that Debbie would ever find Kurt was wishy-washy.
Debbie, crushed and scared, checked every room in the house one more time before calling it a mystery as to where Kurt was. She sat down on the stair steps and placed her face in her hands. What was she going to tell Mr. Lancaster? He loved Kurt!
“Debbie?” Mr. Lancaster entered the front door and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Debbie’s lip quavered. “About that . . .”
“Is he taking his nap like I wrote on the list?” Ignoring Debbie, Mr. Lancaster walked up the stairs and toward Kurt’s bedroom.
“Mr. Lancaster, Kurt ate the list, and then he threw bananas on the carpet and I squashed them. Then he drew a picture on the wall with markers, and then we went to the park and . . .”
Mr. Lancaster looked around Kurt’s room and checked for the monkey under the bed sheets. “Where is he?”
“He’s not taking a nap. . . . I have to tell you something.” Debbie took a sudden interest in her shoes and felt like she might cry. She lost a monkey!
Confused, Mr. Lancaster went into his room and opened the cabinet under his bathroom sink. And Kurt was in there!
“Kurt!” he cried, hugging the monkey.
“Kurt?” Debbie gaped. “But . . . But . . . What?”
“You were playing hide-n-go-seek to trick me, weren’t you? Wasn’t he?” he looked up at Debbie with a smile.
“Yes. He was,” Debbie nodded. “I thought he might want to play a trick on you. And me,” she mumbled under her breath.
“Now,” Mr. Lancaster stood, “what did you want to tell me?”
Debbie opened her mouth to tell the truth, but just shut it and shook her head. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
And that is how Debbie got a call from her crazy neighbor, lost a monkey, and earned thirty-five dollars one, lazy July afternoon.