Down slid the chimp. Not quite like a fireman, more hand-over-hand because the pole inside the four-foot-wide acrylic cylinder running floor-to-ceiling in the middle of my apartment had branches. Surely, shit piled on the floor below – the chimp was good at tearing off his diaper – but the beauty of it was I couldn’t see it or smell it, and the rent was great because the chimp’s owner kept the top and bottom apartments of the triplex. You’ll never meet your neighbor, said the realtor, but his pet prefers your floor.
He’s my roommate, I told the first guy I convinced to sleep over. Don’t worry, the bedroom has a door.
I’d never had a pet. The chimp liked me anyway. Maybe. He only pulled his genitals out of his diaper when I wore red. He and I danced around when I played my music loud enough that I thought he could hear it. I pressed myself flat against the acrylic with a kiss he mimicked.
It was hard, working at home under the ape’s watchful eye. I edited at a desk that faced him and lost a lot of time to distraction, but I worried that he would miss me if I went out to a coffeeshop. Eventually I didn’t linger at the grocers, I seldom even went to the movies. When I did, I relayed the plots to him in mime, imagining myself the blonde in the gorilla’s fingers. When I ate popcorn in front of him, he pretended to eat it, too, one kernel after another.
I could’ve charged money from visitors. When they came for dinner, he made fun of them and they applauded, which he imitated even better. He liked to frighten children, my niece, in particular. He’d open his mouth as wide as it would go and let loose a very bad noise we could hear even through the wall. She screamed back.
The upstairs/downstairs neighbor went to work. Someone occasionally hosed and scoured the sides at night, but I never caught him, busy as I was in bed during those hours. The chimp flirted so much, making faces, my overnight beaus became jealous, especially a curly-headed guy. On a dare I took off my clothes for the chimp, and it seemed that without anything resembling fur, I was not so attractive. I thought of the chimp as just another male: all that hair, those calculating eyes, the penis he was so proud of, the banana he stuck in his ear.
Over the months he got smarter, unlike me. He undid a Rubik’s cube and tried to chew off a corner. I found myself eating like him, the food falling out of the sides of my mouth. Was that when the curly-headed guy stopped coming? Not even a goodbye text, I confessed to the chimp.
My mother visited and agreed the monkey was nice. The monkey made faces but that’s what monkeys do.
Oh, Mom, I said, but I have you.
She harrumphed and said, You might catch some monkey disease, you know.
The chimp screeched at the man I really liked: generous, kind, blasphemous when need be. I met him at a PETA demonstration, my new cause, feeling sorry for the chimp but no, I could not and would not call the ASPCA, they would have removed him in a minute.
Igor, my lover called the chimp, and raised a shoulder in a parade around the room. He said his naming the chimp was a sign but not of what. The chimp gave him the finger, a gesture he’d picked up fast from the curly-headed guy. Time and the place for it were lessons harder to get across. The guy was sure the neighbor was running an experiment with the chimp, or else we were the experiment.
Late one night we opened the bedroom door and found Igor struggling mostly one-armed down the pole, the other arm dangling. Had he dropped from a branch? Unthinkable for an ape. I imagined chimp-abuse in full color, electric clips on his nipples, or a spat in which he was cast down into this oubliette by the neighbor whom I’d erased from existence because the chimp was mine, all mine.
His handicap was pitiful, he whimpered, he had to lean against the trunk and gesture with one hand, not two. We banged on the cylinder, then the neighbor’s doors, upstairs and down. By the time we gave up pounding and ringing and went back down to our place, the chimp was gone. The neighbor must have used the elevator to fetch him. The chimp slid down to show us his cast hours later and tried to woo me further with injury, holding out his broken limb, twisting his face into a half smile.
I love animals, said my lover. But.
The night I moved out, the chimp had his back to me; he’d turned it when he saw the couch in transit, the one we jumped on in tandem, he on his branch, me ruining the springs. I wanted to smash the acrylic prison and let him loose, or take him with us. Of course, the neighbor wasn’t home. After the movers had taken down the last of the boxes, my lover left the truck and came up. Instead of showing his teeth and riling him by scratching his chest like the others always had, my lover cradled a forgotten pillow and pretend-cooed over it.
You’ve got to be kidding, I said. No babies, that’s the deal.
The chimp laughed and laughed.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Author of nineteen books, Terese Svoboda has won the Guggenheim, the Bobst Prize in fiction, the Iowa Poetry Prize, an NEH translation grant, the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, a Jerome Foundation video prize, the O. Henry Award for the short story, and a Pushcart Prize for the essay. Three-time winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, she has also been awarded Headlands, Hermitage, James Merrill, Yaddo, MacDowell, and Bellagio residencies. She has three books of fiction forthcoming