And Then There Was Owen, Chapter 4: The Armadillo

And Then There Was Owen
A Parody of A Prayer for Owen Meany
By James Smyth, Adam Passarelli, Julianne Ellis, Miriam Miller, and Lili Xu

Chapter 4: The Armadillo
By Miriam Miller

“I met a man today on the train,” my mother said calmly between mouthfuls of green beans and potatoes.

It was a Thursday evening, and she had just returned home from her weekly voice lessons in Boston. Grandmother, Lydia, my mother, Owen, and I were sitting at the table eating our dinner at the time of this sudden announcement.

“A man!” Grandma gasped as she remembered the last time Mother had met a man on the train. Mimicking grandmother, Lydia put her hands to her mouth in horror. I looked at Owen, who appeared to be deep in thought. Owen was gripping his fork tightly, and he was slowly but deliberately raking his fork across his steak and shredding it until it was not only unappetizing but unidentifiable as well.

I watched these reactions in wonder, not knowing quite what to think of my mother’s declaration of extreme like for a man I had yet to meet.

“Yes,” mother said, “I met a man. No, he is not Johnny’s father. And I am not going to have a child with this man. He is just a man I met on the train. A man I like.”

“Will you see him again?” asked Grandmother. “What is his name? Where is he from? Is he from a respectable family?” I could imagine Grandmother’s heart beginning to pound at a ridiculous rate as she thought of the possibility that this man may not have an impressive family history.

“He teaches drama,” said Mother. “He attended Harvard. He is trying to get a job at Gravesend Academy. His name is Daniel Needham.”

“HARVARD,” snorted Owen under his breath with bits of potatoes flying out of his mouth and nose.

Mother, knowing of Owen’s immeasurable crush on her, gave him an apologetic look. “Owen, honey, I…”

At that moment, the doorbell rang, and everyone jumped. Owen, who usually was quick to jump up from his chair and answer the door, once again began to rake his fork back and forth across his dinner. Grandmother, generally not one to ignore bad manners, was so caught up in Mother’s situation that she appeared to not even notice Owen’s current disregard for dinner table etiquette.

“Well I believe that’s him!” cried mother, leaping up from the table. Grandmother and Lydia, still in shock, stared after her as she skipped to the door.

She opened the door, and in walked a man who looked nothing like any of my mother’s previous boyfriends. Instead of the tall, dark, and handsome types we were accustomed to meeting on rare occasions, this man was tall and thin with red hair and glasses.

What stuck out most to Owen and me was the medium-sized cardboard box he carried with him. As polite introductions were made to Lydia and Grandmother, I couldn’t help but stare at the box and wonder about its contents. My mother’s past boyfriends had always brought me gifts that were so characterless that I could not even force myself to express false gratitude for them, but these gifts were ordinarily wrapped in bright colored paper or decorated boxes.

This box that Dan Needham carried, which was undoubtedly a gift for me, was not fancied up at all. It gave me some hope as to what I would find when I opened it.

“This is Owen,” my mother said to Dan.

“Well, I’ve heard quite a lot about you, young man,” Dan said as he extended his hand.

Owen reluctantly switched his fork to his left hand and remained seated as he shook Dan’s hand with his right hand and continued to mutilate his dinner with his left hand.

“And this,” said my mother, “Is my son Johnny.”

“Johnny!” Dan shook my hand so hard I felt that it was in danger of breaking away from the rest of my arm. “It sure is nice to meet you!” he said. This drew cautious smiles from my Grandmother and Lydia.

“I wanted to know if you could do me a favor,” he said. He then held the box out to me. “Could you and Owen watch over this while I talk to the adults?” he asked. I noticed Owen had finally stopped playing with his food and was showing interest in the bland cardboard box.

“Sure!” I said, and before he could change his mind about trusting Owen and I with this thing that I was now sure was of greatest importance, I yanked Owen out of his chair and dragged him and the box into the living room.

I set the box in the middle of the floor, and Owen and I retreated to opposite ends of the room. With the box in between us, we sat and stared at each other.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. “Johnny, honey! Could you please get the door?” my mother shouted from the next room. I looked at Owen and tried to decide whether or not I could trust him with the temptation that lay in front of him. I went over to the box, carefully removed the tape and opened the cardboard flaps so I could so what was inside, but Owen could not. It had spikes and a long face and was very much dead if it had ever been living at all. At the time, the word armadillo did not come to me, because I had never seen such an animal and did not recognize this stuffed object.

“Owen,” I said, “I am going to see who is that the door. Do not open the box.”

“I DON’T EVEN CARE WHAT’S IN THE BOX,” Owen said. “I’D BET ANYTHING IT’S SOME STUPID KIDDIE PUZZLE LIKE ALL THE OTHERS HAVE BROUGHT. I’M JUST NOT INTERESTED.”

I can’t say that I believed him, but what was I to do? I rushed to the door to see who was there. I gave directions to the man at the door who was looking for Fruit Street and had been given directions to Front Street instead. I shut the door and rushed back to the living room.

Owen and the box were gone.

“OWEN!” I shouted. No reply.

I went into the room Grandmother, Lydia, my mother, and Dan were in. “Where’s Owen?” I asked.

“Oh, he poked his head in to tell us he was going home,” said Grandmother. “I think he went out the back door.”

Without a word, I ran out of the room, across the living room, and out the back door. I could not imagine why Owen had taken the box, especially if he had looked inside first and noticed that it was just a silly stuffed animal, but nevertheless it did not belong to me, and it was essential that I find it.

I ran all the way to Owen’s house. I was out of breath by the time I got there. For some reason, I was not surprised when Owen’s parents told me that Owen was not at home.

I walked back home, slowly, dreading the moment when I would have to tell Dan that Owen had taken the box that he had trusted me to watch over.

I returned home and shut the back door quietly. I slowly walked across the living room with my head down.

The cardboard box was sitting in the middle of the room exactly where I had left it before I answered the door.

“The box!” I cried. I looked for Owen, who was, of course, nowhere to be found. That was just like Owen, to make me look all over town for him and then leave the box right where it was to begin with.

At that moment, Dan walked into the room with my mother. “Well, Johnny!” he exclaimed. “You haven’t opened the box yet!” he chuckled. “I was sure it would be open by now! Let me help you with that.”

Dan removed a small knife from his pocket. I closed my eyes, waiting for Dan to notice that the tape had already been removed from the box. When I heard the sound of the knife cutting through layers of tape, I opened my eyes again. Owen had covered all his bases, making sure to reseal the box with the same kind of tape that Dan had used.

Dan slowly cut through the box as my mother and I watched. When he had finished cutting it open, he held the two flaps of the box together. “Go ahead and open it, Johnny,” he said. “It’s for you.”

I rolled my eyes as I turned away from him. This was almost as bad as the gifts my mother’s previous boyfriends had gotten me. The only thing that separated this gift from the others was its uniqueness. A stuffed armadillo, though impractical, is a very creative gift idea.

Dan stood behind me as I reached for the flaps of the cardboard box. I slowly pulled them apart…

And out leapt a giant armadillo, complete with a set of spiky, threatening teeth and razor-sharp claws.

“DAN!!!!!!!!!!” screamed my mother. “What on earth!!! It looks like a live armadillo!” At that point, the armadillo had already leapt over my head and was tearing its way through the house.

“They told me it was dead! It was supposed to be stuffed! How can that…?” cried Dan.

I couldn’t have been more shocked. I could remember the feel of the armadillo: still, cold, and quite dead.

Dan ran over to the door that separated the kitchen from the rest of the house. “Stay in there!” he yelled to Grandma and Lydia. “It looks like we have a live armadillo on the loose!”

At this point, no one could actually see the armadillo, but it had darted towards and no doubt up the stairs.

Dan immediately raced toward the scurrying noise coming from my mother’s bedroom. My mother and I huddled together in the corner of the living room. This armadillo did not seem to be in a very good mood, which was perhaps understandable considering he had recently been confined to a cardboard box. We were scared out of our minds.

“Kill him!” I screamed to Dan. I could at least feign bravery even if I did not feel it and was not acting upon it.

“Arghhhhhhh!” we heard Dan scream from upstairs.

Then we heard the struggle. Screams and grunts echoed off the walls. A loud clatter of things falling to the floor reverberated throughout the house. Violent armadillo noises filled the Wheelwright house on Front Street, and terror filled the hearts of those listening.

We huddled there listening to the brawl between man and beast. We were too scared to think or move. We couldn’t have done anything to help anyway.

“Oh, Johnny,” whimpered my mother. “What can we do?”

At that moment, another terrible armadillo growl reached our ears, and my mother began to sob.

My legs shook. I didn’t know what to do. I could hear Grandma and Lydia screaming from the next room.

All of a sudden, the noises stopped. There was no screaming, no grunting, no clashing, no frightening armadillo noises.

And then we heard a tiny armadillo moan of triumph float down the stairs toward us.

And we knew that Dan Needham had met an unfortunate death by armadillo.

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