Freedom Lane: Helen Jr

“Wait ’til you see it,” Flounder said, leading Da’Quarius toward his attic room above his father’s dry cleaning business. “I got it from my cousin. He has all sorts of weird animals.”

 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ve listened to you buildin’ dis up since we got off da’ bus. Just show me already.”
 
Flounder excitedly opened the door and let Da’Quarius into his bedroom. Across from the foot of his bed was a huge fish tank containing an octopus. Flounder watched in glee as it suckered its way across the glass. “Isn’t it cool?!” he exclaimed.
 
“Does it do anything?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“No,” Flounder said. “It’s an octopus. I guess he’s kinda boring. My cousin has lots of weird animals his parents are making him get rid of. My family took some to kill and eat. They’ve been talking about eating Scooby.”
 
“Who dat?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“My octopus,” Flounder replied. “His name is Scooby.”
 
Da’Quarius sighed. “What else your cousin got?” he asked.
 
“Pirañas,” Flounder replied. “He has a baby alligator too.”
 
Da’Quarius stared at Flounder. “Take me dere right now.”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 9, Episode 4: Helen Jr.
 
***
 
“He’s as cute as a button,” Helen said, looking down at the baby alligator Da’Quarius had brought home. He sat in a small inflatable pool in the living room by Helen’s favorite chair. “I’m going to name you Helen Jr.”
 
“I don’t like this at all,” Rose said with her arms crossed, looking at Helen and Helen Jr nervously.
 
“It’ll be fine,” Helen said. “You’re just upset that he scared that pansy dog.”
 
Rose turned to look at Dutchie, who was cowering in fear at the top of the stairs. “I don’t even know what possessed Da’Quarius to bring this home,” she said.
 
“His gook friend’s family was going to eat him,” Helen said. “We saved him from the horrors of the food chain.”
 
“The other day you said you thought koala meat would be delicious,” Rose said. “You said it was God’s plan for humans to eat every animal he put on  the planet.”
 
“Well not Helen Jr,” Helen said.
 
“We are not keeping him,” Rose said.
 
“Why not?” Helen asked. “You gave the kid a dog, and I didn’t complain at all.”
 
“One,” Rose said, “you’ve never stopped complaining about Dutchie.”
 
“So I guess we’re even then,” Helen said.
 
“Two,” Rose continued, “it’s not legal to keep an alligator as a pet.”
 
“But he’s so adorable!” Helen said, petting the alligator’s scaly head. “Fuck the law!”
 
“Three,” Rose said. “He’s bound to get bigger and eat Dutchie and probably us.”
 
“No he won’t,” Helen said. “Not if we raise him properly. The dog and Helen Jr are going to be the best of friends. Haven’t you even seen a Disney movie?”
 
“Don’t do that,” Rose said. “Don’t you dare bring Disney into this.”
 
“He’s hungry,” Helen said as Helen Jr nipped at her shoe. “Go get me some raw steak, and we’ll teach him how he should behave in the house.”
 
“I don’t even understand your fascination with alligators,” Rose sighed. 
 
“He reminds me of a pet we had in Havenville Pen,” Helen said. “An alligator somehow got smuggled inside, and he lived in the sewers under the place. His name was Meatfuck. Anyway, Meatfuck was tranqed and dragged out, and none of us ever knew what happened to him. They probably shot him dead, and I never got to say goodbye.”
 
Rose sniffed as the fought back tears. Then, without warning, Helen Jr tried to bite Helen’s breast, narrowly avoiding it. “Will you get him something to eat, dammit!” Helen snapped, holding Helen Jr away from her body. “He nearly got my right tit!”
 
***
 
“This is so cool,” Da’Quarius said, looking at the tank of piraña. He was letting Helen and Rose adjust to the alligator while he watched the fish swim around the large tank. “It’s cool dat yo’ family let you keep dem.”
 
“They’re definitely going to eat Scooby now,” Flounder said, watching the piraña sadly. “They’ll never let me keep both.”
 
“Speakin’ of which,” Da’Quarius said, “it’s feedin’ time!” He took the shoebox he was holding and opened in. He reached in and pulled out a plump rat by its tail. 
 
“Do I have to watch?” Flounder asked.
 
“Yes,” Da’Quarius replied. “Yo’ dad said we’re doin’ him a favor by killin’ da’ rats.”
 
Da’Quarius moved his hand over the tank, hanging the squealing rat over the water. He waited for the piraña to head toward the top and dropped the rat, laughing maniacally as the piraña had their lunch.
 
There was a frenzy of movement as the water became tinged with red bubbles. It was over shortly, and pieces of bone floated to the bottom of the tank. “Holy shit,” Da’Quarius said as Flounder vomited in a trash pail. “Dat was awesome. When do dey eat again?”
 
“My cousin said twice a day,” Flounder said, “so twelve Hours?” He offered a shrug.
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said as the piraña calmed down. “What do you want to do until then?”
 
“Want to see what Scooby is up to?” Flounder asked.
 
“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go.”
 
***
 
Helen walked around the backyard with Helen Jr on his leash. “You getting enough exercise?” she asked her little alligator. “I can’t believe Rose won’t let me walk you around the block.” She pulled a ziplock bag from her pocket full of raw, de-boned chicken and dumped it on the ground. Helen Jr gobbled it up greedily.
 
“I don’t understand why you brought that home,” Rose said, watching from the window. Da’Quarius was having his after school snack at the table.
 
“Look at how happy Helen is,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ve never seen her not hate an animal before.”
 
“You didn’t answer my question,” Rose said. “What possessed you to bring that home?”
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I remember Helen siding with the alligators when dat kid got ate.”
 
“Don’t bring that up,” Rose said. “Helen was joking, and it was a pretty dark joke at that. Aren’t you worried about Dutchie? He’ll be the first one Helen Jr will try to eat.”
 
Da’Quarius sighed. Dutchie barely left his bedroom now that Helen Jr had moved in. “Alright,” Da’Quarius said. “I guess you’re right. I shouldn’t have brought it home. Sorry.”
 
“That’s right,” Rose said, turning away from the window with her arms crossed.
 
“But what are we gonna do now?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“I can probably make some calls to some people who will help get Helen Jr into a zoo without calling the police,” Rose said. “He’s actually a really well-behaved animal.”
 
“Don’t let Helen hear you,” Da’Quarius said. “You’ll never get him outta here.”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius went with Flounder after school the following day to feed another rat to the piraña. “I cain’t wait to feed dis squirrel to dem,” Da’Quarius said. He was holding a cardboard box containing an injured squirrel they found by the side of the road. Flounder had a pair of tongs he took from his mother’s kitchen so they could drop it in the tank without getting bit.
 
“I still feel weird about dropping that squirrel in,” Flounder said.
 
“It’s hurt real bad,” Da’Quarius said. “We’re doing it a favor.”
 
They both entered the room to find the number of piraña had diminished. “What happened?” Da’Quarius asked. “Did you start givin’ dem away?”
 
“My cousin warned me about this,” Flounder said. “Sometimes they form gangs and start fighting with each other. They must have formed cliques and had a gang war, resulting in half their deaths.”
 
“Gangs?” Da’Quarius said. “I think yo’ cousin is fuckin’ wit’chu.”
 
“They must have been brought up in a bad neighborhood,” Flounder sighed.
 
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “Now you definitely are fuckin’ with me.”
 
“Do you still want to feed them?” Flounder asked.
 
“Fuck yeah I do,” Da’Quarius said, getting the box ready. “Hold up. I wanna tape dis shit.”
 
“What?” Flounder asked. “How are you gonna tape it and feed them?”
 
“I’m just gonna tape it,” Da’Quarius said, getting the camera on his phone ready. “You gonna drop it in.”
 
“No,” Flounder said. “I can’t.”
 
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said. “What happened to da’ pair a’ nuts you grew over da’ summer. I might not always be around to feed yo’ fish. You gonna have to do it sometime.”
 
Flounder sighed. “Let me know when you’re ready,” he said, defeated.
 
“Go,” Da’Quarius said, smiling behind the other side of his phone.
 
Flounder opened the box and used the tongs to pull out the injured squirrel, struggling to breath. It looked into Flounder’s eyes, silently pleading with him. “I can’t,” Flounder said. “He’s so sad.”
 
“Just do it,” Da’Quarius said. “It wants to die. Put it out of its misery.”
 
Flounder lowered the squirrel into the tank, and a smaller frenzy than last time ensued. When it was over, the bottom half of the squirrel floated to the top of the tank.
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Guess dey weren’t dat hungry.”
 
“What are we going to do with what’s left of the squirrel?” Flounder asked.
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said, “but I ain’t touchin’ it.”
 
***
 
Helen got ready for bed. Rose was already there, reading, but Helen had to put Helen Jr to sleep. She put him him his little pool with some fresh meat, and she closed the round baby gate she bought at a garage sale along with a teddy bear. “Goodnight, sweetheart,” Helen said.
 
Helen Jr looked back at her, it’s teddy bear secured in its mouth. 
 
“Oh,” Helen said. “Don’t give me those eyes. You know you have to stay down here.”
 
Helen and Helen Jr continued to look into each other eyes until Helen opened the gate. “Come on, you,” Helen said. “I can’t leave you all by yourself. Be good in bed, or Rose will have a fit.”
 
Helen bent over and lifted Helen Jr with a heave, putting his head on her shoulder. “Don’t want to forget your teddy,” she said, turning and picking the the dropped teddy bear. She turned and carried Helen Jr like a green, scaly baby up the stairs toward her bedroom. She went inside her room quietly, not to disturbed Rose as she read.
 
“GET THAT THING OUT OF HERE!” Rose shouted.
 
Dutchie left Da’Quarius’s room to see what the commotion was about. Frightened by Rose’s shout, Helen Jr crawled out of their room at the same time. Dutchie took one look at Helen Jr and bolted back into Da’Quarius’s room, slamming the door behind him.
 
“I can’t believe you’d bring an alligator into our bed!” Rose exclaimed, following Helen into the hallway.
 
Helen picked up Helen Jr and cradled him. “Stop yelling,” she said. “You’re scaring the baby.”
 
“That is not a baby,” Rose said. “That is a wild animal, and he doesn’t belong in our home. Put him back in the pool, gate him off, and, first thing tomorrow, you’re going to help me find him somewhere else to stay.”
 
“Don’t be so mad because I’m giving Helen Jr all the attention,” Helen said. “If you want a little loving from me, you just have to ask, doll.”
 
Rose gave Helen he dirtiest look she could muster. “Put that alligator into its pen,” Rose said. “If you can’t stand to be away from it, then you can sleep in that little pool too.”
 
Rose closed the door.
 
Da’Quarius peeked out of his own room, watching Helen cradling Helen Jr in front of her closed bedroom door.
 
“What the hell do you want?” Helen asked.
 
“How’d Dutchie slam my door?” he asked.
 
***
 
Flounder and Da’Quarius went to his house after school once again to feed the pirañas. “I don’t know what PETA will do,” Da’Quarius said. “As far as I can tell, dey can just have da’ video of da’ squirrel gettin’ ate off da’ ‘net.”
 
“So they won’t come after us?” Flounder asked.
 
“Prob’ly not,” Da’Quarius said with a shrug. “What are dey gonna do anyway? Animals eat animals. It’s da’ circle of life. Ever see da’ Lion King?”
 
When they got to the piraña tank, there was only one left, swimming in filthy water containing the pieces of the others.
 
“He ain’t eatin’ dis whole rat,” Da’Quarius said. “Not after eatin’ all da’ others.”
 
“Why did he do that?” Flounder said, moving close to the tank. “He killed all of his brothers and sisters!”
 
The piraña slammed its face in the glass inches away from Flounder, and he jumped back and nearly fell over.
 
“Dis one is bad ass,” Da’Quarius said. “He got blood on his hands, and he don’t give a fuck.”
 
“But what are we going to do?” Flounder asked. “My parents won’t let me keep this huge tank for one fish.”
 
“Get a smaller tank,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“No,” Flounder said, watching the piraña, who seemed to be watching him back. “He scares me.”
 
“So what do you wanna do?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
***
 
Helen sat in the backyard in her lounge chair. Helen Jr was walking around on his leash. Helen held the hose in her hand, spraying Helen Jr despite the chill in the air. “You having fun?” she asked. “You’re such a good boy.”
 
Rose came outside, looked at the scene and debated going back in. “Look,” she said. “I can’t find anyone who will take Helen Jr without asking too many questions. We’re going to have to call the authorities.”
 
“No!” Helen said. “You can’t turn him over to the fuzz! They’ll euthanize him!”
 
“I don’t want that either,” Rose said, “but if you want to give him to a zoo, you’ll have to explain where you got him and why you have him.”
 
“That’s bullshit,” Helen said. “I don’t want Helen Jr at a zoo either. He’s a good boy.”
 
Rose walked over and saw the package of raw steak, still unopened. “Aren’t you going to feed him?” she asked. “He’s getting bigger. He needs to be well fed so he doesn’t -“
 
“He’s fine,” Helen said, interrupting Rose with a wave of her hand. “He filled up on cats earlier.”
 
“WHAT?!” Rose exclaimed. “What cats?”
 
“Harold and Lee had a couple in their yard, so I let Helen Jr in between the bushes,” Helen said. “You should have seen him. It was so cute watching him hunt.”
 
“That’s it,” Rose said, walking back toward the house. “He needs to go. I’m calling the zoo and telling them the truth.”
 
“You can’t turn snitch on me!” Helen snapped.
 
“I’m not turning snitch!” Rose shot back, turning around to face Helen again. “He’s killed for his meat now. He’ll be bigger than us when he’s fully grown. He needs to go for our safety.” She turned and went back into the house.
 
“I won’t win this one,” Helen said softly. She turned to look at Helen Jr, who was looking back at her with his alligator eyes. “I won’t let them have you, though.”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius and Flounder stood at the edge of the swamp near I-91. Da’Quarius held the fishbowl with their remaining piraña inside. “He should be alright here,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Will he survive in the swamp?” Flounder asked.
 
“Sure he will,” Da’Quarius said. “He’s a tough mo’ fucker. He ate all da’ rest of ‘em. He’ll make it through da’ winter eatin’ rats an’ shit. There’s plenty of vermin around dis area.”
 
“Alright,” Flounder said. He poured the water from the bowl into the swamp, letting the last piraña fall in with a small plop. It swam off away from the two into the dark water.
 
“You did good,” Da’Quarius said, patting Flounder on the back. “You know what dey say. If you love somethin’, set it free or some shit.”
 
“Love?” Flounder said. “That thing scared the crap out of me!”
 
***
 
Helen walked up to the same swamp near I-91 only minutes after Da’Quarius and Flounder dumped their lone piraña. She held Helen Jr for the last time. She had to slip some drugs into Rose’s afternoon tea to put her to sleep, and she had hid the small gator in one of her larger purses. Now, she was ready to say goodbye.
 
Helen placed Helen Jr on the ground, and he looked around, curious about his new surroundings. He walked toward the water and looked at its own reflection. He then turned and looked at Helen.
 
“Go on,” Helen said, her voice cracking with sadness. “This is your home now.”
 
Helen Jr looked at his former master for another moment before easing itself in the cool water. Helen watched as it swam away. “Stay near the run off from the factory,” she said. “The water is warmer over there. You’ll be OK. You’re strong like me.”
 
Two eyes came above the water as Helen Jr watched her. He swam back toward the grassy edge of the swamp and started to climb back out.
 
“No!” Helen said, tears running down her cheeks. “You have to go! We don’t want you any more!”
 
But Helen Jr didn’t understand. He continued to close the distance, now fully out of the water.
 
“GO!” Helen shouted. She picked up a rock and threw it. It barely missed Helen Jr’s head, and he jumped back in the water, where he watched from afar.
 
“I told you,” Helen whispered. “We don’t want you.” She picked up another rock and threw it in the water. Helen Jr swam off in the direction of the factory and the pipe that dumped into the swamp.
 
“Go on,” Helen said, watching and wiping her face with her sleeve. “Get out of here.”
 
***
 
Flounder came back to the swamp hours later, sneaking his mother’s mixing bowl full of water and a large octopus named Scooby. Scooby was cramped in the bowl, but it was only his temporary home. Flounder walked up to the bank of the swamp and dumped it into the water.
 
“There you go, Scooby,” Flounder said as the octopus swam away. “You’re free now. My parents won’t eat you. I know the swamp isn’t much of a place for an octopus, but my cousin said some salt water comes in here from the beach, so you should be OK.”
 
The octopus gave no reaction as it sunk down into the swamp. Flounder shed a single tear and went off the way he came to return his mother’s mixing bowl and get his strapping for taking the octopus they were supposed to have for dinner.
 
There was some movement in the swamp as Helen Jr raised itself just high enough so his eyes broke the surface. Scooby did the same, looking at the small alligator in front of him. They glared angrily at each other for a moment, then they parted ways. Helen Jr went toward the warm water of the factory drainage, and Scooby went toward the saltwater that drifted in from the harbor. A piraña passed by, briefly observing them both.
 
The End
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