The Monkeys in Love Will Pet and Cuddle You
Joan has finally booked them in for couple’s counselling. She navigates while Peter drives, and they pull up into the car-park of a council block in Wythenshawe at ten past twelve on Sunday afternoon. Joan folds away the map.
“Wait,” says Peter. “We’ve gone wrong. I told you back at the junction.”
“Shut up,” says Joan, “There it is. See?” She points at a mobile home jacked up on concrete breeze-blocks beside the tower’s bin store. A sandwich board out front says, Your Simian Salvation!
Peter says, “What? No. Hang on—what?”
“I told you it was alternative,” says Joan. “Come on. We’re booked for midday.”
“Booked for what, exactly?” asks Peter, but she’s already out of the car and skipping towards the caravan.
A woman in overalls is standing behind the sandwich board, waving at them. She’s wearing thick gardening gloves and is carrying a large green refuse sack. “The Reynoldses?” she cries, “are you the Reynoldses? You’d best hurry; they’re very frisky this morning!”
“I’m Joan Reynolds,” says Joan, beaming.
“Who’s frisky?” says Peter. “What is this?”
“I’m sorry,” says Joan. “Pete got us lost on the M56, didn’t you, Peter?”
“I thought this was going to be a medical-type set-up,” says Peter. “With couches, and a doctor.” There’s a smell like the dog pound, like his Nan’s crowded hamster cage, soiled air and fur, and it’s coming from the caravan.
The woman bows. “I’m Rowan,” she says, “I’m your simian-assisted psychotherapist. I work with Cindy and Darling to harness the connection between monkeys and humans for mutual benefit. Monkeys symbolize play and freedom and affection, and together, we shall restore these qualities to the glorious union that is your marriage!” She’s panting.
“Well, we’re not actually married,” says Joan, scowling at Peter.
“I want to know what’s in that trailer,” says Peter.
“This,” says Rowan, “is our interim treatment facility. I’ll give you the tour, if you’ll just—” She raises her eyebrows at Joan, who frowns, and then says, “Oh! Right. Sorry,” and passes her a folded check.
“Let me see that,” says Peter, and Joan says, “For God’s sake, Pete. Manners!”
Rowan taps the caravan’s window. “Have a peek! Nearest, you’ll see Darling. He’s the more experienced facilitator. He’s a gentle soul, very giving. And Cindy is smaller, very lovable, very joyous. Qualities we should all try to emulate,” she adds, as Peter presses his face against the cold glass.
There are two monkeys perched on top of the mobile home’s fold-out bunk bed. They’re eating spring rolls and spitting flakes of pastry onto the floor. Their bodies are grey and hairy, with little black faces and spiked red fur on the tops of their heads like candle flames. One is bigger than the other, child-sized, while its mate is weighted more like a fox terrier. A dark mound of faeces has been kicked, or thrown, up against the wall, next to a large box of ready-salted peanuts.
After a moment, Peter says, “Where did you get them?”
“Uganda!” says Rowan. “You wouldn’t believe the nightmare I had in Customs. I had to stick them up my dress and pretend I was pregnant. Turns out I’m allergic. My whole belly came out in hives. Of course, it was worth it. They’re my lovelies!”
“But, they look, I mean, aren’t they—endangered?” asks Peter.
“Don’t they try to escape?” asks Joan. She’s gone quite pale as she watches the animals hop about on the bed.
Rowan shakes her head. “Peach Schnapps. You soak the nuts and then dose their water. They love it! And it helps them sleep like the earth angels they are. Now! Here.” She pulls two more pairs of gloves and two pairs of plastic goggles from the refuse sack. “Safety first!”
“But—what do we do?” says Joan. “I’m not sure I—”
“Oh Joanie,” says Rowan. “Go in! Sit, breathe, inhale. Let their base nature guide you back to your animal instincts. Let them heal your broken passion!”
“You’re not serious,” says Peter. “Joan. Come on. Let’s go.”
“But you’ve already paid!” says Rowan. “It wouldn’t be ethical of me to let you walk away now. Here. Take this.” She thrusts the big green sack into Peter’s arms. “Toss out the leaves as you go in—like confetti. It gets Darling all loved up. Very atmospheric.” She opens the door a crack and steps back.
Joan says, “Rowan, I’m, I’m not sure—”
“No hesitation! This is your life, Joanie,” cries Rowan, and she pushes Joan inside, so that Peter, of course, has to follow. The door slams shut behind them. It makes the whole caravan shake. The monkeys scream.
Joan says, “Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.”
The male, Darling, leaps from the bed and sniffs her, mouth open.
“Here!” Peter flings handfuls of leaves towards the bed. “Look! Yummy—here, you bastard!”
The monkey stuffs them in his mouth and chews. He eyes Peter.
“What are you doing?” hisses Joan. She starts edging towards the door.
“I don’t know! Appeasing them? What are you doing?”
“Getting out of here—oh, Jesus.” The female, Cindy, has leaned from her platform and pawed quickly at Joan’s head, snatching a chunk of unclipped hair and pulling and sucking on it. “I’m stuck! I’m stuck!” Joan’s crying. “Get it off of me! Oh, God, Pete.”
“Stop it,” he says, “you’ll aggravate them. Just—just try and calm down, love—I think it’s only sort of—petting you.”
“Oh, God,” Joan says, again, weakly, but she freezes.
Darling, the bigger monkey, coughs up a wet mulch of greenery, and leaps across the tiny floor to hump Peter’s leg. Its nails grip his calf. Peter grimaces. Joan whimpers.
“Don’t move,” whispers Peter. “Okay? Sweetheart? Stay really, really still.” Her hand, flailing, finds his, and he takes it and squeezes. The monkeys are rubbing and cuddling them both. The caravan is hot, and thick with the stink of faeces and decaying Chinese food. Every surface is coated with coarse grey and brown hairs. Peter sneezes. Cindy’s tail wraps around Joan’s neck, and Joan, panicked, giggles.
Outside, Rowan bangs on the door and shouts, over and over, “The monkeys in love will heal you!”
Valerie O’Riordan is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. Her first chapbook of flash fiction, Enough, was published by Gumbo Press in 2012. She blogs at www.valerieoriordan.com.