The Monkey’s Paw
JIM and I were hardly seated in this restaurant on Mabini when the skies opened up. Sheets of rain came crashing down, slamming into the street below and sending the people outside running for cover. We watched mesmerized as the rain came down in torrents.
I ordered some food and two buckets of beer when a waiter came over. Then I stood up and walked toward the glass doors to watch the downpour more closely.
“This is hairy,” I said when I returned to our table. “It reminds me of a story we were assigned to read in an English class in college.”
“What story?” Jim said.
“The Monkey’s Paw. By a chap called Jacobs.”
“He’s British. Or was. This story was published at the turn of the last century, so he should be dead by now.”
“Is it any good?”
“It made an impression on me.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I don’t know. This was years ago, and I’m not even sure how much I’ve subtracted from or added to it. I don’t even remember the names of the characters in it.”
“Let’s hear it, anyway.”
“All right. It’s about this family that lived in the countryside: a husband and wife and an only son who worked in a factory. The couple were retired, so the son was the sole breadwinner.
“One cold and wet night they had a visitor: an old friend who had been in the British army serving in India. They had drinks by the fire and then dinner in the parlor, and then they talked about the old days. Later, the visitor produced a monkey’s paw that he said an old fakir had given to a fellow officer in India. The fakir put a spell on the paw so that three different people could have three wishes from it. He said his comrade’s last wish from the paw was death, and that was how he came to own it.
“The father asked the visitor if he’d had his three wishes from the paw, and when the visitor nodded the father said he had no more use for it: Why not turn it over to him?
“The visitor hesitated. Then he threw the paw into the fire, and that sent the father jumping to retrieve it. ‘Throw it away!’ the visitor said, but the father ignored him and put the paw in his pocket. Sighing, the visitor then told him to wish for something sensible if he wanted to wish anything at all from the paw.
“Later, when the visitor had left, the father, mother and son sat in the parlor and talked about him. The father then produced the paw from his pocket and asked what he could wish from it since he thought they had everything. The son said he might wish for 200 pounds, which would be enough for the final installment on their house. The father then raised the monkey’s paw and wished for 200 pounds.
“The next day the son left for work. And that night the mother noticed someone outside peering into the house as she and her husband sat at dinner. She and her husband then went out to see who it was, and it turned out it was someone from the factory that their son was working for.
“They invited him inside, where, reluctantly, he told them that their son had been caught in the machinery. The company could not be blamed for his death, but it would be compensating his family in gratitude for his services.”
“How much compensation?” Jim said.
“Yes. Husband and wife were distraught, of course—the wife in particular. They had their son buried and spent painful days remembering him. And then, 10 days after his death the mother suddenly remembered the monkey’s paw. ‘Get it!’ she told her husband. ‘Wish our boy alive!’
“The father understood his wife but was reluctant—even horrified. He saw his son’s body when they brought it home; he couldn’t be returning in that condition. Still, his wife was insistent, so he left the bedroom, went down to the parlor and retrieved the paw from the mantelpiece. On his return he showed the paw to his wife, raised it and wished their boy alive. He then dropped the paw out of fear.”
“What happened then?” Jim said.
“Nothing at first. Then around midnight the wind blew, the skies opened up and the dogs started howling. Someone knocked on the door downstairs, terrifying the father but animating the mother. ‘That must be my boy!’ she said. She ran to the door, but her husband beat her to it and held her arm to stop her. Outside, there was another knock followed by another. The knocks got louder and louder.
“The mother broke free at last and then ran downstairs. She headed for the door and rattled the chain, but she couldn’t reach the bolt to unlock it. She called him for help, but instead the terrified man started looking for the monkey’s paw to make the third and last wish. Downstairs, the knocks grew louder. Finally, the mother found a chair to step on to reach the bolt, but it was then that the father found the paw, raised it and made his last wish.
“The rain stopped, the wind died down and the dogs quit barking. And when the mother eventually got the door open no one was there.”
“I don’t have to tell you what the last wish was, do I?” I said.
“No. It’s clear as a bell,” Jim said.
The rain stopped finally. I waved to the waiter, and when he came over I ordered another bucket of beer and asked for the bill. Jim and I were quiet as we drank and watched the buildup of activity outside after the rain stopped. Later, I asked him what message, if any, he got from the story.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said.
“Because you might get it?”
“Yes, and maybe at great cost—as in that story you told me.”
Cesar Barrioquinto is an editorial consultant.