Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580
As Chapter 26 begins, two little boys, Joey and Willard, are playing in the yard of the boat works. A cat jumps up on the fence and the boys give chase. They run after the cat for a good distance, picking up good, smooth rocks along the way to chuck...
(The entire section contains 580 words.)
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As Chapter 26 begins, two little boys, Joey and Willard, are playing in the yard of the boat works. A cat jumps up on the fence and the boys give chase. They run after the cat for a good distance, picking up good, smooth rocks along the way to chuck at the creature but lose the crafty feline in the tall weeds. Even though their chase failed, the boys are pleased with the rocks they have picked up, for they are the perfect size and shape for throwing.
Walking back to Cannery Row, the two boys stop to practice their pitching and wield a few of their rocks at a metal sign. A man hears the commotion and comes out to find the perpetrators, but the boys are too quick for him. They run, hide, and giggle at the incompetence of adults.
They hide for quite a while but eventually realize no one is looking for them. The boys emerge from their cover and head down to Doc's laboratory.
Doc's workplace is a sort of mystery that invites the creation of dares among adolescent boys. The sea creatures he has in aquariums are both dangerous and curious. There are snakes, too, perfect for scaring one's companions with, as well as jars and potions. Strange smells are always wafting through the windows. At night, unfamiliar music can be heard and dim lights fill the small workspace. It is the closest thing Cannery Row has to a haunted house.
In addition to the creatures, equipment, and odd sounds and smells, almost every boy in town has heard the scary but unsubstantiated rumor that Doc has something very creepy bottled up in his laboratory. Any boy who gets to pass on this lore to a boy still in the dark about it considers himself to be very lucky indeed. On this day, Joey gets to be the one who tells Willard that Doc has human babies in bottles in there.
Willard says he does not believe Joey. Indignant, Joey says it is true and that the Sprague boy had told him he had seen them with his own eyes, and that the dead babies even had little hands and feet. Willard calls the Sprague kid a liar.
Bored and angling for a fight, more for something to do than for any other reason, Willard tries to provoke Joey into a fistfight. He says he will call the Sprague boy a liar to his face. Does Joey "want to make something of it?"
Joey refuses to fight. Willard tries again. He calls his friend a coward and again asks whether he wants to make something of it. When Willard still fails to get a rise out of Joey, he makes fun of Joey's father. He asks where Joey's father is. Joey is forced to tell Willard what he already knows—that his father is dead.
Willard will not let it go. He presses Joey for details until Joey admits that his father committed suicide by eating rat poison.
Willard has a big time with this information. He mimics acting like a rat, crawling around on all fours and twitching his nose and laughing uproariously. Joey, still in pain, recalls how it took his father a long time to die. He remembers how hard his father had looked for a job before he decided to kill himself. Weakly, Willard tries to renew the previous fun of the taunting, but the joy has gone out of it.