Monkey House

In the oldest park in Paris, Le Jardin des Plantes, visitors can buy a ticket and see the exotic animals in the zoo. It is not up to this writer to cast a judgement on the act of keeping creatures in cages for the sensorial delectation of humans; in this piece’s reality, it is what happens.

The hot sun beat down on the soil in the park and the flowers seemed to droop in desperation. The visitors sought shade where they could, though some more daring folk went to smell the flowers or inspect the scientific labels. Some had seen on their phones that there was a chance of rain later in the day, which was hoped for by some in the park.

The animals were mostly moping about the dry earth, looking for shade where possible. There was a supply of water, but the heat had made them drowsy. Except for the monkeys, who were unusually alert. They were communicating much more with each other, shouting and scrambling about their adventure park.

The visitors that were gathering around the monkey house were staring intently at the sight, remarking on the singularity of their behaviour, but also perturbed by the slightly menacing air that the scene had. The monkeys were bearing more of their teeth when they opened their mouths, and mother monkeys seemed to be keeping an eye on their children more severely. This seemed like a leadership contest and a victor might be pronounced before the watershed.

An American family came out of the reptile house and stopped by the monkeys to see what was what. In one spot of the large enclosure, a pair of monkeys, perhaps younger than the others, had snuck off to a different area and were acting amorously together. The father and mother giggled at each other, looked at their children, squeezed each others’ hand and left the zoo, not seeing that another male monkey had come and beaten off the other for the female.

They sat together on a bench, taking out their sandwiches, remarking on how hot it was. They checked the map to see where they had to go next. After a few moments, it became clear that a group of ravens were interested in their food. Two had come directly up to them, while three more lay waiting behind the bench, making the father turn his head. They were surrounded.

“Just give them some bread and let’s get out of here,” he said abruptly. It was clearly not just the bread they were interested in, and when the family got up to leave, one of the slicker birds flew in to take the map, snapping at the father’s fingers as it did so. “Goddam bird!” He said with a curse. “Come on, honey, it will be fine; look, we can ask that couple on the bench,” said his more rational wife, taking the initiative in her own suggestion, though not without some frustration; she did not like the idea of getting involved with ravens, already flown off to their lofty shade.

The monkey house was simmering in the afternoon heat, with seeming arrangements being made and teams formed. There was the occasional screech, but they were mostly keeping the peace. One of the tourists outside managed to snap a picture of two monkeys confronting each other. He added it to his story immediately.

“Excuse me,” seemingly not noticing the intense conversation that was going on on the bench, “but you can tell us where Notre Dame is?” The couple paused, looked at each other and the man with a strained but understanding temper pointed them in the right way. “Thanks very much, sir, and have a great day” said the father, shaking his hand. If Frank was in any other mood, he would have appreciated the moment. As it happens, he found himself in a delicate situation.

“You know, I think I love you more than I love her,” resuming his early thread. “I don’t know if I would care if she found out.”

“Well, that’s exactly what she’s going to do. I told you; she’s got someone after us. And I think he’s in this park.”

“That’s nonsense, Sandra would not go to those lengths, I can assure you. If she suspected a thing, she would be straight on it, no holding back.”

“She’s been watching me, I’m sure of it. On my way back from work the other day, a car followed me for a good three quarters of an hour. I’m scared.”

“No need to be scared; Sandra’s a perfectly rational and compassionate woman. She knows we’ve been unhappy for years now. I don’t know how we’ve coped.”

“Yeah, but hearing that you’re abandoning her and the children for a woman fifteen years younger might just push her over the edge.”

“Do you have to remind me of this?”

“You told me you loved me.”

“I do.”

“So do I.”

It is at this moment that Frank catches in the corner of his eye a man with a camera behind the trees on the other side of the park. He curses, considers running after the man, but decides to wait it out in the shade. He needed to drink something, but he felt stuck on the bench, glued to Imogen. This is it, he thinks, it ends here; the game I’ve been playing and the lies I have told. Here it all finds an ending.

In the monkey cage, two powerful males have risen to the top, casting to their own sides supporters, depending on where the interest lay. Or this is how it seemed to the tourists who were riveted by the exceptional energy that this group of monkeys was exhibiting. Anymore and it might end up trending.

Frank wondered where his wife had found the money for a detective and, more importantly, when he or she had started following him. But as he said, he couldn’t find the energy to care for his wife anymore and sat on the bench, he slumped his greying head on the shoulder of a woman who had been carrying him for ten years. She wished him luck on business trips and heard all the stories of the children; she was the supportive partner he thought he had never had.

Imogen looked up to the sky and saw that it had gotten darker, heavy with urban precipitation, one large stomach ready to burst open. “Come on,” she said, “let’s get out before the rain breaks.” The get up from the bench, turn right towards the exit by the large greenhouse and that is when they see two figures, one more familiar than the other. It was Sandra and her brother.

“How could they have possibly known?” Frank said to under his breath, but loud enough for Imogen to hear. “I told you; she had someone on us,” she retorted. Well, this is it, Frank thought to himself, I must tell her in front of her brother. He’s not going to like this at all, the angry little brute.

Sandra had been tipped off by her sleuth of the whereabouts of her husband and lover. She had known about it for some months now, slowly digesting an extramarital affair that lasted almost two decades. Now, she was to meet her rival, and confront them both. She lived it as a tragically proud moment in her life, comforted by the presence of her brother who had agreed not to intervene unless necessary.

“Sandra…” Frank said, seizing the moment to speak. But she brushed him off and went directly to Imogen. “So you’re the woman who thinks she can scab off my household?” She asked cooly, but with a definite menace, not malice, in her voice. Imogen felt the stare of a betrayed woman look her up and down, she could see the studied, bitter resentment on the face of the woman she envied deep down, and was on the brink of capitulating.

Back at the monkey house, the tourists were having a field day. The two male monkeys who had been squaring up to each other were pushing each other in the enclosure. The troops around them were howling, waiting on tenterhooks for the moment, and it was strange to see that such a racket had not attracted the attention of the guards. But they didn’t care; teeth was going for flesh, and punches were being made.

“Look, Frank,” Sandra turned on him, “I don’t want to make a scene out of this. Come on, let’s go and get out of the rain and discuss this elsewhere.”

“I’m not coming with you,” snapped Frank in a tone that was not his own. “I’m staying here, with Imogen, the woman I have loved for the last 20 years.” Sandra buckled at the knees and was about to fall, when her brother came and supported her. Imogen seemed to snicker at this woman, just then so proud, cut down by Frank’s words. The brother noticed and with violence said “wipe that grin off your face, you whore.” “Don’t you speak to my fiancee like that.” “But you’re already married to me,” came a mumble. “Or else what, cheater?”

With that, Frank launched himself at his brother-in-law, who in defence had to let Sandra fall to the ground. Imogen could be heard shouting in the background, as the two men wrestled on the wetting dust around the tracks, their grunts becoming more proclaimed, the two women shocked by the scene in front of them. All of a sudden, there was a gunshot. The clouds broke, an immense downpour of rain. Frank became weak, falling to the floor, clutching his heart. The brother stood back and watched life wrinkle out of a man. The women were escorted away in metal coats, as heavy drops ricocheted off the metal. The police blues flashed their usual melody. The zookeeper put away his rifle and watched the monkeys return to the old status quo.

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Dancing Rice – Impression #4

To love another is one thing; to love yourself is another. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Korean proverb

Besides the city, a young farmer was tending his rice field. The year was to supply a rich harvest and more could be given to the Confucian temples further down the track. The farmer’s family were eating a humble breakfast, while in the horizon the vision of the city rose its head. The people did not know then what damage pollution could inflict on the environment. This was the moment of human expansion the most profound and the most deadly.

The farmer finished his morning routine and went in for lunch. A gentle drizzle was soaking the dusty road and cattle hooves stove the dirt, revealing healthy soil. His mother poured out a full bowl of soup and sat down herself opposite her son. “Are you going up to the city after all?” Came the question from the mother. “I still need to think about it”. The two carried on with their meal in comfortable silence. “Are you still with that girl?” Yuan nodded.

For three evenings a week, Samira danced in a show that was customary in the area. Yuan would watch, keeping a respectful eye on the others as well. He knew most of them, as the village usually had a small concentration of personalities. After the shows, he would wait for her and accompany her home, stealing kisses whenever he could.

“But I’ve heard you’re moving up to the city,” she said this time, dodging easily his gauche, trod out gestures. “Yes, I hope to have enough from this harvest to invest in something up there, Seoul way.” As they walked along the sidewalk, Samira thought to herself about what this could mean for them and the future he had been promising her.

“We’ve worked together as a team before, surely we can do it again?” She asked, thinking of a plan to make this work out. Yuan did not feel so confident and with a heavy heart held the hand of a woman he would love to love.

Six months ago he had sworn to her an absolute faith, after a series of trying months, during which both parties had fallen out and learned about the other. They sat back at Samira’s apartment, taking off their wet shoes, her mother making tea in the dimly lit parlour. Their house was on the border of the farmland and the concrete high risers, so stark was the difference between the two areas. “We can earn enough here,” she pleaded with him. He left at 3am, kissing her head, stroking her neck and saying that he will always love her. She stayed up and wrote him a letter.

“Yuan, I will wave you off by the shore and kiss your hands as you leave; I will see your boat fade into the horizon, with me wondering when you will walk again on these pastures; I will kiss the very memory of you on my mantlepiece and stoke fires, thinking how nice it would be if you came into the room with your usual cheerful smile. But if you wish to hold good the deal you made to me, of loving me always and honouring our pact, then I want no other woman to taint your bed.

“You go away and leave me to the threats and calls of the locals, as I lead a troupe of girls across the stage. Your presence kept them from getting too excited, but now with you gone God knows what sort of excitement the men will have. Though I have learnt to protect myself over the years, you never know what can happen to something you are not watching.

“I see what you are doing, don’t try and pull the wool of my eyes; you are yearning for greater things, with youthful ambition. Do I not satisfy you enough? Do you search bigger game in a bigger arena? Or are you looking for a cage to hide in? While you race off into the horizon, ever faster, I will stay here and deepen my connection with the land, but I will always be faithful to you.

“I can see you now, being an intellectual in the streets, earning money sitting down, and joining the right crowds; you have a cousin there you can stay with. I will keep entertaining people; that’s my job and evidently yours is to be the star of your own show. I remember times when you have held a good crowd around you with a strong story. I don’t doubt you will do this elsewhere.

If you want, you will be able to find me by the shore, tending my nets that I put out every morning to catch a little more for lunch, a trout or pike, that come swimming too close to the shore. You will find me there and I will be waiting for you. But respect my wishes, if you truly agree to this pact.

“Fare well, dear lover, and take to heart my words.”

She sealed the envelope and left it on the desk by the front door. She slipped out and got a taxi back to her own apartment. It felt like an age until Yuan woke her up in the morning, excitedly, and asked if she want to come with him and they could go on an adventure together. She sat there, stupefied, wondering if he had read the letter.