fiction from college: spencer of the apes

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s another short story I wrote in college. This one is literary fiction from around 2006. It’s called:

Spencer of the Apes

Spence could trace every step that had taken him to the zoo, to Marco’s ninth birthday party, but he wasn’t quite sure what he was doing there.  He was alone, keeping an eye on the party favors and the piles of jackets and ravaged butter cream cake.  What was a grown man doing at a pirate party?  Marco was his neighbor, not his son.  Spence hadn’t stood up at the boy’s Christening.  Never had he purchased chocolate bars from his school fundraisers.  Yet there he sat, wearing a corsair’s eye patch on his brow and a fake parrot on his shoulder.  He felt caged-in, no different than the apes that chittered to his right.

Spence had been watching the rows of primates.  They cavorted about, often bouncing into each other like furry pinballs.  Monkeys had no concept of censorship or public decorum.  They acted on their most base desires, always hungry, always grasping. It was a group tantrum.  Only the orangutan seemed uninterested in the spectacle.  The lone wallflower, he appeared to be meditating.  He was entirely still, reflecting on some vision in the distance.  Spence followed his gaze. 

Spence and the orangutan both eyed the young woman in the roller skates. Neither knew her name, but each was justly transfixed.  How like a flamingo she was, balanced on one perfect leg, prying that scrap of whatever-it-was from her wheels.  She was remarkable.

Her group—they must have been students from the university—was disappearing into the reptile house.  They didn’t roll the way she could, not in their ordinary people shoes.  Spence wanted to say something clever to this woman, even if they were surrounded by Gila monsters and alligator snappers.  She passed through the gate and was gone.

The orangutan turned to him and frowned. Spence wondered whether the ape would encourage this potential courtship.  If he were to approach her, would the orangutan break his silence?  Would he howl and shake the bars of his cage with jealousy?

Eighteen years had transpired since Spence’s last visit to the zoo, a period in which he could vaguely recall some success with women.  Lately it just wasn’t happening.  Maybe a drink or two in the past few months.  He’d long been obsessed with restoring his late uncle’s house in the suburbs.  Now that he was invested, there wasn’t much time for women.  Nor was there money for cocktails or movie tickets.  There was only Marco and his mother, inviting him to block parties and bowling nights.  Otherwise, he was left to his renovations.  The friends he’d graduated with didn’t like the idea of slowing down.  They spent their nights in trendy downtown clubs, gyrating, knee-deep in bubbles while Spence labored over Formica chips and the price of shingles.

Spence imagined what his friends would think if something did happen with the girl in roller skates.  “I met her at the zoo,” he would say to them.  And how they would regret their ill-spent nights.

“Teach us,” they’d beg, groveling in their soap-stained jeans.

He looked to the orangutan again.  The creature seemed to nod its endorsement.  If only it were free it would be taking the same chance.  The undeniable call of the hunt.

Spence didn’t move.  One of the mothers would come and see that he’d abandoned his post.  He reached into his own party favor bag—Marco had been forced to

label them the night before, no doubt—and pulled out a zip-lock bag of goldfish crackers. He’d counted them already in his boredom; fifty-five little fish.  There were fifty-five crackers in Jennifer’s bag, and fifty-five in Brendan’s.  The recommended serving-size.  He imagined Marco’s mother, knife in hand, parceling out goldfish crackers in the manner of a pharmacist sorting antibiotic capsules.  She was the type of woman who wore pleated shorts and carried emergency lozenges in the dead of August.  Spence had been told that Marco’s father now lived in the woods.  He pictured him happily chopping blocks of pine, far from his former wife and her pleats.

He plucked a single goldfish from its plastic ocean and, without naming it, swallowed it whole.  What was he doing here?  He followed mental breadcrumbs to the moment of his sentencing.

Marco had stumbled into his yard some three days before the party, feverish and awkward as always.  Spence was pulling orange ectoplasm from a pumpkin.  His party invitation, crisp and tea-stained, was in the style of a buccaneer’s grocery list. The treasure was evidently a day of whimsy and merriment at the local zoo.  The boy trembled when he issued the document from his pocket.  Spence understood that the child was deathly afraid of him, but he also recognized that Marco dearly wished to be his friend.  Seeing that the party was in just a few days, he promised that they could offer up the jack-o-lanterns to the hippopotamus as sacrifice.  He spied Marco’s mother in her own yard, sipping economically at her coffee.  They were measured, exhaustingly planned sips.  She peered at him, grinning invitingly.  He felt like an animal being observed during a private, primal moment.  The moist orange pulp in his hand became entrails, the hollowed husk of the pumpkin, suddenly a carcass.  She’d smiled all the same.

Spence considered that smile as he returned his gaze to the reptile house and the wonder within.  He thought about the way Marco’s mother had prompted the boy through the gap in the hedges to deliver his party invitation. Spence wondered, at first vacantly, how much coaxing and rehearsal it had taken. Whose idea had it been?  He thought about the way he had looked at the young woman in the roller skates, how the Gila monster and alligator snapper must be looking at her now.  Marco’s mother was smiling and sipping that perfectly calibrated cup of coffee.  There was something sinister in that smile, something predatory.

He was her girl in roller skates.

Spence wished he could be anywhere else in the world.  He wished himself into the monkey cages and polar bear pits.  He wished himself miles into the brush, to a cabin in the hills.  He was good with an axe, or he could be.

Downing another goldfish, Spence turned to the orangutan.  It nodded sympathetically.




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