FILLIES AND FELLAS • by Sean Jones

The dilemma — I knew even as a nine-year-old boy to be a “good problem” — was I’d unwrapped a blue plastic horse from Mrs. Golding during the fourth-grade classroom Christmas party and all the girls wanted horses, as girls will, but the boys wanted monkeys because boys will be… monkeys. But I liked horses. The gift horses bore a royal azure while the monkeys wore a shade Crayola couldn’t name, a non-beige, not-tan, unburnt sienna. Other horses in blue, the Colts of Baltimore, we worshiped alongside our fathers on Sundays and half my classmates and I had been born in the Horse’s Year. Like horses, I liked girls, the nice ones, yet I wanted the boys, all of them, to like me. I had to choose between wanting what I wanted and wanting what the boys wanted me to want.

But every girl who’d received a mud-colored monkey had traded it to a boy, grateful to unload her offbeat creature. Had I been more impulsive, I could have swapped sooner, bartered my equine for a primate, made a young lady’s Christmas, danced like a chimpanzee with the boys of the not-quite-tan troop, pretended I didn’t care what girls thought and told myself I belonged amongst the males of the sub-species: we Peters didn’t need no Wendys to reattach our shadows to our soles with needle and thread and gentleness. But, because I’d hesitated, to move from a stallion owner respected by the girls to an ape-man accepted by the boys, I could follow no straightforward path.

I had a girlfriend, a girlfriend named Amber who’d have stepped in front of a tranquilizer dart for me, a girlfriend with sea-green eyes, freckles, cheeky dimples, soft brown curls tethered in red ribbons and deep kindness in her heart, a girlfriend who’d received a spotted giraffe from Mrs. Golding. Out of the gate, Amber’s idol, Colette Lemarc, had gotten a blue horse and had decreed that girls should ride; Amber’s giraffe placed her second amidst the hoofed clique, Amber the runner-up, a girl with a serviceable animal and measured pride and no reason to feel belittled — I justified. I could have compromised and made Amber happy but since no one would trade me a monkey for a giraffe, I couldn’t swap my horse to Amber and still acquire the creature the boys insisted I desired. I told myself I preferred a sweetheart who ran apart from the blue herd; I liked Amber how she was, with her freckles, her giraffe spots.

Wild-haired Isadora Davies liked me despite November’s chocolate-milk-in-the-water-balloon cafeteria incident after which her school-aide mum had branded me a “most uncouth youth.” Isadora, from Wales, had been gifted a pink toucan, but another quandary applied: a fourth-grader couldn’t finagle a monkey for a toucan — not even by convincing Troy Jackson, who’d tailored a purple construction-paper tunic for his monkey and giggled with the blue horse girls by the pencil sharpener, not even convincing Troy to swing a three-way swap — because by the time said nine-year-old had concocted a sufficiently Byzantine horse-trading formula, the exchange rate would have escalated and said fella would have had to bolster his offer of a barnyard animal with a promise to dance — no guarantee it wouldn’t be a slow dance — at the upcoming hoedown with a certain Welsh girl, a lass considered the most fey, the most feral girl in school — she smelled like a cave — and wasn’t a horse, his heart was whispering, his true-blue wish? The trade routes didn’t meander Isadora’s way.

Debra Green. She’d scored a blue horse but her cousin, Danny, was at Disneyland for Christmas and we persuaded her to unwrap his unclaimed gift and she opened a… monkey? Nay. Too simple a solution. Danny’s animal was a red alligator, the only one anyone had received. Alligators outclass monkeys, true? An alligator will dominate a monkey all day long. Catch a tiger by the tail? Gators over monkeys, any time, every time. Eat people? Forget about it. Climb trees? Advantage monkey, admittedly, but the alligator in honest red will forever outshine all the vaguely khaki monkeys in all the fourth grades in all the classroom jungles in all the world. I had to obtain the reptile, then be inducted into the circle of monkey boys lest I patrol the corral of stacked chairs and huddled desks while protecting the fillies from simian incursions.

Interrupting the soirée, Mrs. Golding announced she was heartbroken we couldn’t graciously accept the gifts we’d been given and we were making each other unhappy when we declared some animals more unequal than others and would those of us with bipeds please not bend the animals’ arms into their laps?

We’d not learn about the bees and the birds for another year but the fourth-grade man-children who’d opened or extorted or bribed or swindled or conned or connived or racketeered their way onto Monkey Island had older brothers. Having none, I hadn’t understood the appeal of a plastic monkey — until our teacher spelled it out. Thanks, Mrs. Golding, for the gift of lost innocence, for the knowledge of good and evil and opposable thumbs folded into ochre crotches.

In the party’s final furlong — partly to do the proper thing, partly to sooth my guilt from the summer’s county fair when, without even saying hello to her, I’d jumped in the bouncy castle where she worked but, mostly, mostly because of those freckles — I gave my horse to Amber. She wanted me to have Gerome, her giraffe, but Debra Green re-wrapped him for her cousin and — after I’d promised Debra I’d two-step at the hoedown with Isadora — I garnered the red alligator, for which I was offered my choice of three different same-colored monkeys by three different junior reprobates. The problem was, and I knew it then, a monkey isn’t much good when its little, brittle arms break off from being bent into a compromising position too, too many times. Chomp.


Sean Jones says: “When I read other authors’ bios, they talk about their cats. I don’t have any and I wonder if other authors really do. After all, they’re creators of fiction. Let me tell you about my cats. Jasmine is black Siamese with green eyes and she loves to scamper on the back porch and catch moths in the moonlight. Thor is a tabby who sleeps all day, ironically through thunderstorms. Then, there’s Penelope, a Persian…”


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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Wow. Sean, you sure have a way with words. And somehow, somehow, I understood what you were saying without slowing down to analyze what the heck you were trying to say. You hit the nine-year old voice dead-on and even though there were long blocks of words and no dialogue, you kept me interested. Good on you. Five stars.

    I don’t have any cats, but I really want a donkey.

    • We have 9, so be careful what you ask for 🙂

      • Chris Antenen

        9 donkeys? I heard of a farm in Canada and also found a place that sells miniature donkeys in Ohio. That’s fascinating. Now on to the story. I thought there was one in South Georgia, but I couldn’t find it.

        • When asked why we have 9 donkeys, I reply, because 21 were too many to take care of :o)

  • Wow. Sean, you sure have a way with words. And somehow, somehow, I understood what you were saying without slowing down to analyze what the heck you were trying to say. You hit the nine-year old voice dead-on and even though there were long blocks of words and no dialogue, you kept me interested. Good on you. Five stars.

    I don’t have any cats, but I really want a donkey.

    • We have 9, so be careful what you ask for 🙂

      • Chris Antenen

        9 donkeys? I heard of a farm in Canada and also found a place that sells miniature donkeys in Ohio. That’s fascinating. Now on to the story. I thought there was one in South Georgia, but I couldn’t find it.

        • When asked why we have 9 donkeys, I reply, because 21 were too many to take care of :o)

  • As a precursor, this story might not be for me. I didn’t get the underlying current of the story or its real purpose. I might need to think about it more to get it.

    The first sentence did me in. It took me three times to read it this morning. I think that the long and scattered sentences are trying to represent the inner workings of the nine-year-old mind of the narrator. If that is the case, I think that there are too many non-nine-year-old words used. Byzantine, soirée, feral, connived, racketeered, and ochre really jump out at me as examples. I have had three third graders now. They don’t have that sort of vocabulary to work with.

    I will come back later today and read it again. Then I will vote.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      What I thought marvelous about this story was the seamless blending of adult knowledge with a nine-year-old’s emotions. So many looks-back at childhood fail at that. This was a breathless cascade of desperate calculation recalled by a wry adult.

      • I should probably stop reading these before I get all the kiddos to school. That didn’t come across to me on the first or second reading.

        Taking into account the comments from you and others here I gave it a third read. The first sentence is better with that in mind. But, when I hit the word Byzantine, it still gives me a bit of a jolt.

        • Carl Steiger

          I got it that this is an adult remembering an episode from childhood, but overall I just didn’t get it. I think that’s largely because I’m just too tired this morning to put the effort into it. “Byzantine” didn’t jolt me, but “hoedown” did. I’m not sure which side of the Atlantic this is — Welsh girls and the Baltimore Colts in the same story?

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Per a Google search, American football hit the UK airwaves in 1982.

          • Carl Steiger

            Then that’s settled — the world came to an end in 1982.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Well, I’d watch the sheepdog trials whenever I could find them on cable…these strange intercultural longings can’t be repressed…

          • Carl Steiger

            I’m partial to watching nautch dancers myself, but I’d take sheepdog trials over NFL games anytime.

          • S Conroy

            “Mud-colored”, not “mud-coloured”. I’d put my bets on the US horse/monkey.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            But then there’s the “school-aide mum.”

            But then there’s “fellas.”

            But then, how often do Yanks use “lest?” We tend to say “in case” or “so as not to” rather than that nice compact word.

          • MPmcgurty

            I say “lest”. Never say “so as not to”. I’m a Yank. Canadians say “mum”.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I speak that sub-dialect called Noo Yawka, so perhaps am not a reliable authority.

          • Chris Antenen

            More please!

          • Chris Antenen

            Lest you make too many wild assumptions, I like ‘lest.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I like it too, but I find it more natural with a sort of ironic inflection to it and wouldn’t tend to use it in a contemporary, US-set story. That’s just me re the vibrations the word gives off for me.

      • Chris Antenen

        Like ‘breathless cascade.’ Exact.

  • As a precursor, this story might not be for me. I didn’t get the underlying current of the story or its real purpose. I might need to think about it more to get it.

    The first sentence did me in. It took me three times to read it this morning. I think that the long and scattered sentences are trying to represent the inner workings of the nine-year-old mind of the narrator. If that is the case, I think that there are too many non-nine-year-old words used. Byzantine, soirée, feral, connived, racketeered, and ochre really jump out at me as examples. I have had three third graders now. They don’t have that sort of vocabulary to work with.

    I will come back later today and read it again. Then I will vote.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      What I thought marvelous about this story was the seamless blending of adult knowledge with a nine-year-old’s emotions. So many looks-back at childhood fail when they attempt it, because they don’t capture both aspects truthfully. This was a breathless cascade of desperate calculation recalled by a wry adult.

      • I should probably stop reading these before I get all the kiddos to school. That didn’t come across to me on the first or second reading.

        Taking into account the comments from you and others here I gave it a third read. The first sentence is better with that in mind. But, when I hit the word Byzantine, it still gives me a bit of a jolt.

        • Carl Steiger

          I got it that this is an adult remembering an episode from childhood, but overall I just didn’t get it. I think that’s largely because I’m just too tired this morning to put the effort into it. “Byzantine” didn’t jolt me, but “hoedown” did. I’m not sure which side of the Atlantic this is — Welsh girls and the Baltimore Colts in the same story?

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Per a Google search, American football hit the UK airwaves in 1982.

          • Carl Steiger

            Then that’s settled — the world came to an end in 1982.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Well, I’d watch the sheepdog trials whenever I could find them on cable…these strange intercultural longings can’t be repressed…

          • Carl Steiger

            I’m partial to watching nautch dancers myself, but I’d take sheepdog trials over NFL games anytime.

          • S Conroy

            “Mud-colored”, not “mud-coloured”. I’d put my bets on the US horse/monkey.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            But then there’s the “school-aide mum.”

            But then there’s “fellas.”

            But then, how often do Yanks use “lest?” We tend to say “in case” or “so as not to” rather than that nice compact word.

          • MPmcgurty

            I say “lest”. Never say “so as not to”. I’m a Yank. Canadians say “mum”.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I speak that sub-dialect called Noo Yawka, so perhaps am not a reliable authority.

          • Chris Antenen

            More please!

          • Chris Antenen

            Lest you make too many wild assumptions, I like ‘lest.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I like it too, but I find it more natural with a sort of ironic inflection to it and wouldn’t tend to use it in a contemporary, US-set story. That’s just me re the vibrations the word gives off for me.

      • Chris Antenen

        Like ‘breathless cascade.’ Exact.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Different, engaging and entertaining. I enjoyed this immensely.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Different, engaging and entertaining. I enjoyed this immensely.

  • Chinwillow

    Ah…to be nine again! The dilemmas revisited as an adult. Fast moving, entertaining and kept my mind leaping from thought to thought like a frog on lily pads. 5 stars from me…and…Amanda…I’m getting 2 donkeys for Christmas! lol

    • NO! The fainting kind? The dwarf? Are you anywhere near Northern Ontario?

      • We could share…

        • Chinwillow

          LOL..2 mini donkeys..a jenny and a jack…we can share:))..but I’m in Pa

  • Chinwillow

    Ah…to be nine again! The dilemmas revisited as an adult. Fast moving, entertaining and kept my mind leaping from thought to thought like a frog on lily pads. 5 stars from me…and…Amanda…I’m getting 2 donkeys for Christmas! lol

    • NO! The fainting kind? Oh no, wait, that’s a goat. The dwarf? Are you anywhere near Northern Ontario?

      • We could share…

        • Chinwillow

          LOL..2 mini donkeys..a jenny and a jack…we can share:))..but I’m in Pa

  • ” we Peters didn’t need no Wendys to reattach our shadows to our souls with needle and thread and gentleness.” Ya Baby!
    I did not think the nine year old was telling us anything. I thought you, Sean were behiind the wheel getting Mrs. Golding to play santa and then getting her a.. kicked for it. There are great shades of Gary Shteyngart’s work being uncovered here for me. Highly entertaining, completely creative.

  • ” we Peters didn’t need no Wendys to reattach our shadows to our souls with needle and thread and gentleness.” Ya Baby!
    I did not think the nine year old was telling us anything. I thought you, Sean were behiind the wheel getting Mrs. Golding to play santa and then getting her a.. kicked for it. There are great shades of Gary Shteyngart’s work being uncovered here for me. Highly entertaining, completely creative.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Loved it. Five stars.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Loved it. So much painful truth clothed in a charming dilemma.

    And you didn’t take the tired route of making the MC a lonely outsider trying to impress the girl of his dreams, or something. His outsider status is so much more subtle than that. Beautifully-done lookback, convincing as the child and as the grownup remembering.

    And great title.

    Five stars.

  • Catherine Mathews

    This is my third try to write comments – maybe the rest of them are floating around somewhere. I want to say that I enjoyed this light-hearted piece very much, and think it is quibbling to say that the vocabulary is not that of a nine-year-old. It is fun anyway. I love the images and use of color, the fact that a rule was broken – “always break up the text with dialogue” – and it was still successful. I will look for your name and your stories. Four, five stars

  • Catherine Mathews

    This is my third try to write comments – maybe the rest of them are floating around somewhere. I want to say that I enjoyed this light-hearted piece very much, and think it is quibbling to say that the vocabulary is not that of a nine-year-old. It is fun anyway. I love the images and use of color, the fact that a rule was broken – “always break up the text with dialogue” – and it was still successful. I will look for your name and your stories. Four, five stars

  • I like the way this is written. I especially like ” November’s chocolate-milk-in-the-water-balloon cafeteria incident” as an example of economy with words 🙂

  • I like the way this is written. I especially like ” November’s chocolate-milk-in-the-water-balloon cafeteria incident” as an example of economy with words 🙂

  • MPmcgurty

    “who’d have stepped in front of a tranquilizer dart for me” Lovely, but there were so many golden nuggets like this.

    This was a joy to read, although I must admit I had to read one paragraph several times (I’m looking at you, paragraph four). I heard this man recounting an event that, in the mind of a fourth-grader, was as important and strategically challenging as D-Day at Normandy. The voice allowed me to hear the man, and the man was able to communicate his boy feelings so well that I empathized with him, absurd as it was.

    I can even forgive paragraph four, because imagining the gears in the kid’s head grinding while he’s figuring out potential swaps and consequences was so fun. Even more fun now that I cracked it.

    I just loved this.

  • MPmcgurty

    “who’d have stepped in front of a tranquilizer dart for me” Lovely, but there were so many golden nuggets like this.

    This was a joy to read, although I must admit I had to read one paragraph several times (I’m looking at you, paragraph four). I heard this man recounting an event that, in the mind of a fourth-grader, was as important and strategically challenging as D-Day at Normandy. The voice allowed me to hear the man, and the man was able to communicate his boy feelings so well that I empathized with him, absurd as it was.

    I can even forgive paragraph four, because imagining the gears in the kid’s head grinding while he’s figuring out potential swaps and consequences was so fun. Even more fun now that I cracked it.

    I just loved this.

  • joanna b.

    i had a harder time than most with this story. a lot of work went into it, i can see that, but i wanted to stop reading after the first, 52 word long, sentence. the payoff for ploughing through it and trying not to skim was not, for me, worth it. i did like the “chocolate-milk-in-the-water-balloon cafeteria incident.”

  • joanna b.

    i had a harder time than most with this story. a lot of work went into it, i can see that, but i wanted to stop reading after the first, 52 word long, sentence. the payoff for ploughing through it and trying not to skim was not, for me, worth it. i did like the “chocolate-milk-in-the-water-balloon cafeteria incident.”

  • S Conroy

    Think I’d have liked the blue horse, but would have also been happy with the monkey if the colour was a bit darker. Bit like the narrator I suppose.I have to admit getting a bit annoyed with the horses for girls, monkeys for boys thing, though I know it’s realistic and in the real world children get absurdly gendered from a very early age, whether they like it or not and I shouldn’t be such a sour puss. So no vote for now. Will see if I can get over myself and vote later.

  • Guest

    Think I’d have liked the blue horse, but would have also been happy with the monkey if the colour was a bit darker. Bit like the narrator’s tastes I suppose. I have to admit getting a bit annoyed with the horses for girls, monkeys for boys thing, though I know it’s realistic and in the real world children get absurdly gendered from a very early age, whether they like it or not and I shouldn’t be such a sour puss. So no vote for now. Will see if I can get over myself and vote later.

  • I am one of the few not captivated by this tale which reminded me much of an episode of The Wonder Years with the sophisticated adult narration of childhood reflections. The goings-on about the monkeys and horses became tedious to me and I was wanting their relevance to develop some significance beyond what was presented. There was some lovely writing in this story which, to me, was wasted on a story I couldnt take interest in.

    • MPmcgurty

      The Wonder Years, yes, and also Christmas Story.

  • I am one of the few not captivated by this tale which reminded me much of an episode of The Wonder Years with the sophisticated adult narration of childhood reflections. The goings-on about the monkeys and horses became tedious to me and I was wanting their relevance to develop some significance beyond what was presented. There was some lovely writing in this story which, to me, was wasted on a story I couldnt take interest in.

    • MPmcgurty

      The Wonder Years, yes, and also Christmas Story.

  • I like the alliteration of the title too.

  • I like the alliteration of the title too.

  • Carl Steiger

    I’ve come back in a better mood than yesterday, and am casting a four-star vote. Marvelous writing, just a little too much of a good thing for me.

  • Carl Steiger

    I’ve come back in a better mood than yesterday, and am casting a four-star vote. Marvelous writing, just a little too much of a good thing for me.

  • Diane Cresswell

    Interesting perspective and great observations described here. Trippy walking through the thoughts of a younger mind and picked up that it was like an older Ralphie to a younger Ralphie ala Christmas story speaking. Like this but left me a bit hanging… he should have kept the horse.

  • Diane Cresswell

    Interesting perspective and great observations described here. Trippy walking through the thoughts of a younger mind and picked up that it was like an older Ralphie to a younger Ralphie ala Christmas story speaking. Like this but left me a bit hanging… he should have kept the horse.

  • Chris Antenen

    I zipped through this and understood (almost) everything first time, but then I taught fourth grade for a few years and was head over heals for the boys. They’re so ‘into’ everything and their minds race. I liked the girls, too, and for different reasons. They were smart, laid back, sometimes silly, and often shy. The boys, however, were good for lots of laughs and speculation. I can hear this adult mind in my head — maybe this, maybe that — If I trade this, then that — Even all the little jumps into side analysis of the situation are so typical of the age. I could go on, but I won’t. You can bet I’m going to try something similar. This was truly amazing. Easy 5.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Re the cats: I think Sean is being gently mocking about the cliche’d sameness of many writers’ bios–and his is at first place on my top fave list.

      • Chris Antenen

        Knew he was mocking, but Shadow objected to his ‘voice.’

    • Chris Antenen

      That would be heels, and I can’t even blame spellcheck.

  • Chris Antenen

    I zipped through this and understood (almost) everything first time, but then I taught fourth grade for a few years and was head over heals for the boys. They’re so ‘into’ everything and their minds race. I liked the girls, too, and for different reasons. They were smart, laid back, sometimes silly, and often shy. The boys, however, were good for lots of laughs and speculation. I can hear this adult mind in my head — maybe this, maybe that — If I trade this, then that — Even all the little jumps into side analysis of the situation are so typical of the age. I could go on, but I won’t. You can bet I’m going to try something similar. This was truly amazing. Easy 5.

    Don’t like your cat thing? Either you get it or you don’t. I have one at a time for twenty years or so.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Re the cats: I think Sean is being gently mocking about the cliche’d sameness of many writers’ bios–and his is at first place on my top fave list.

      • Chris Antenen

        Knew he was mocking, but Shadow objected to his ‘voice.’

    • Chris Antenen

      That would be heels, and I can’t even blame spellcheck.