Billy the Grub | The New Engagement

Billy the Grub: Page 3 of 4

By Jon Berger
Billy The Grub story art

Mrs. Yellow stood at the door of our classroom. “Welcome Billy,” she said and showed me in. There were ten of us in the class. I sat in the back by Carl. There were also two police officers: Jeff and Gordon. An old doctor guy with a beard, he never said anything, he just wrote in a notebook, and there was a camera guy with a tripod set up by the doctor. They all lined the brick wall on the door side of the class.

Mrs. Yellow was in the front. She took attendance. Our homework was grocery shopping. Carl bought detergent, ten quarts of ice cream, some pizza and a squirt gun. Jim bought some TV dinners, a skateboard, umbrella and a turkey. Kelly bought fifty cans of soup, some wine and stuffed animals. Mrs. Yellow stood in the front with her hands folded behind her back, her nose in the air listening. She was reacting by nodding her head as if two people were talking to each other inside her skull. We went through the whole class. After everyone named their list we discussed what they did wrong. Jim didn’t need a skateboard. He bought it for a kid. This is called “bad consuming.” Carl didn’t need a squirt gun for anything. Bad consuming. Kelly didn’t need stuffed animals. Alcohol was also bad. Another thing was the amount of things bought.

I didn’t want it to be my turn, but it was. I always sat so I could go last, but it didn’t matter because I always ended up going anyways.

“Billy, please tell us what you bought while out shopping this week?” Mrs. Yellow asked. The doctor shifted in his chair and turned a page in his notebook. The camera swiveled at me.

“Um… paper plates-“

“How many?”

“One packet.”


“I bought ten packets of hotdogs, beer and a lobster.”

“It makes me sad that you bought beer, Billy. But wow!” her eyes got real big, “a lobster? I’m impressed. Now, are there any other purchases you made recently that you think we need to know about?” One thing about Mrs. Yellow is that even when she is sad at us she is still smiling.

“Uh… no that’s it.”

“Okay,” she folded her hands together in front of her, brought them up to her chest and inhaled through her teeth “what did Billy do wrong?”

Jack raised his hand. “He needed to buy ketchup, mustard and buns for his hotdogs.”

I like hotdogs plain.

“Very good, Jack. Now Billy, I want you to walk us through what it was like cooking a lobster.”

“I didn’t cook him. I named him Steve and he lives in my bathtub.”

She blinked at me like one of those ventriloquist dolls. “Really?”

The camera man covered his mouth and laughed, sinking his head between his shoulders. The old doctor sighed through his nose, crossed his legs and flipped to another page in his notebook, his face going to a grimace. I could hear his pen rasping on the paper.

I’d been getting these feelings in my stomach; it reminded me of a bowling ball that couldn’t knock down any pins. Me and Mike went bowling on the weekends sometimes.

“Billy, why on earth would you keep a lobster as a pet?”

“I don’t know.” My voice was starting to shake and catch in my throat. “He makes a really good pet. I thought it would be cool to have.”

 “Two things Billy,” she held up her fingers. “One! You are not allowed to have pets. You know this. Two! Lobsters are not pets.” She sighed and looked down at the floor and then back up at the class. “Billy, we’re a long way from learning about pets. You’re breaking the rules and are being devious. If you want a pet you need to be patient and first learn about them. What you don’t do is look for loopholes and go buy a lobster. Lobsters are food. Now, what you need to do is you need to go online and do research on how to cook a lobster.  I want a full report.  That is your homework for next week. Understand?”

I nodded.

“Now, there is another matter that was brought to my attention today that I think warrants class discussion.” She turned around and walked to her desk and grabbed a manila folder. She turned to face the class and opened it. “Billy,” she said without looking up. “My office received a notification about a purchase you made earlier today at an electronics store. Would you care to talk about that?”

“No.” I said it like a reflex. My stomach feeling was going up into my chest. It traveled into my back, through my shoulder and down my arms and all the way into my hands. Tunnel vision was starting to set in. This is part of why we are not people.

“Well, I’m not really asking. We need to talk about it. It says here that you walked in and destroyed a three hundred dollar iFad, causing a scene in the process. Is this true?”

“It was an accident. I told the manager I was sorry.”

The doctor man leaned up and cupped his mouth to the camera man’s ear. The camera man nodded to his whisper. He leaned back behind the camera. I turned and glared into the black hollowness of the lens. I think something was in there, something that knew everything but didn’t say anything. I could feel the zoom’s focus as the camera man pressed his eye into the camera.

“Hey!” she clapped her hands together, breaking the room like glass. “You know better than to look at that camera!” She put the folder down and her hands on her hips and inhaled.

I turned to face her.

She exhaled, “I need you to explain why you broke the iFad, and why you felt you needed one. You’re just embarrassed, it’s fine.”

“I never told you I bought it. I don’t want to talk about it,” I said slowly.

“Well it’s not a choice Billy. You’re showing poor spending habits and we need to discuss it.”

“No, I’m not showing poor anything. That manager was a… fucking asshole. He yelled at me a whole bunch and called me names.”

Carl glanced over at me. “Billy,” he whispered and shook his head, “don’t.”

She tightened her jaw and swallowed hard. “Yes, the manager was understandably upset. When you do something wrong and are in these situations it is your responsibility to calm the person down. You failed to do this. How do you think you could’ve handled that situation differently?”

 “I could’ve crushed his FUCKING HEAD!”  I roared and slammed my fist through the puny desk I was sitting at. There was a loud snap and wood dust puffed everywhere and I snarled in a way that showed my sharp teeth.

Mrs. Yellow, in a very matter-of-fact-way snapped her fingers at the cops and then pointed at me. “Jeff, Gordon,” she said.

Gordon stood up straight and hiked up his belt. “Come on Billy, let’s go.”

I got up from my desk and went toward the door.


I stopped.

“This is your first offense. Before you’re allowed to come back you must present to me a formal apology and you must have completed all class assignments. Failure to comply within a month’s time will result in you being sent back to culture camp, where you will have to start this process over again. Understood?”

I nodded.

“This makes me very sad, Billy.”

Jeff and Gordon escorted me out of the building and said good night.


I went to work. I was given a job as a night janitor at a news station. The station was empty, dark and quiet. I broke two mops that night. It was an accident because I mopped the floors too hard, but nobody got mad because I hid them in the back room. I got to go and dust off the desks where the news anchors sat and told the news. They had iFads on neat little stands. I always watch the news in the morning before I go to sleep for the day. It’s cool because I can see on the TV where I was standing just a few hours before the news starts.


I went to the dollar store across the street from my apartment, where I found the biggest fishbowl they had. I filled it and placed Steve the lobster in it. It was too small and he could barely move around. I bought him minnows for his last meal during the bus ride to the barbecue. I grabbed the case of blue beer out of my fridge. I stood at the bus stop cradling the bowl under one arm and the case of beer under the other. People took pictures. A man walking by and asked me if the lobster was my pet. I told him that it wasn’t anymore. He shook his head and laughed while he walked on.

I sat in one of the big seats because of my tail. It was a long ride on a sunny day. The buildings became less tall and farther apart, more lawns, not concrete. I had a map of how to get to Mike’s place, but it wasn’t really his place because Mike lived in his sister’s basement.

I got off at the last stop and walked down the sidewalk a ways. Nice little buzzing cars would stop and stare and then speed off. One of them pulled up and went real slow alongside me, making a low humming noise. The back window rolled down and smoke rolled out and a girl with purple hair and big sunglasses poked her head out. “Hey they’re Mr. Grub. You lost?” She asked with a smile.

“No, I know where I’m going,” I said trying to walk faster and not look at her.

“You need a ride?”

“No, I won’t fit.”

“Why not?” She asked crinkling her nose.

“I’m too big.”

“Awwwe…” she cooed, “That’s too bad, me and all my friends are naked.” Giggles came from the dark of the car.

I turned my head away.

She laughed and sat back into the car, the window went up. The front passenger window rolled down and an arm shot out and threw a handful of spare change at me. The car sped away. All the nickels, pennies and dimes didn’t hurt because of my thick skin, but some of the change landed in Steve’s fishbowl. He didn’t seem to mind though.


Jon Berger lives and writes in Saginaw, Michigan, where he works as a library clerk.His work has recently appeared in Five 2 One Magazine and is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review and The Bitchin’ Kitsch.

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, The New Engagement in print.

Order Today!

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.