Afterwards, when the whole sorry business was over, Maria remembered that the monkey had not been her idea. Not as such, she told herself. He had just sort of… happened. She called him Simeon. A cruel joke really that served only to enhance his ape-ishness in her mind and diminish the human qualities in him that she had once found so attractive. Although, to say it was his humanity that she had loved would be inaccurate as well. In truth it was the animal in him, his brutishness that set her heart on fire.
She saw him first one Tuesday lunchtime, as anyone might have done, propping up the bar at the Firestation on Waterloo Road. He was holding a newspaper, The Times as she recalled, such that it completely obscured all of him but his fingers and toes, and the tip of his tail as it curled in prehensile fashion around the lower rung of the stool. He stared at the newspaper intently, with the eyes of a scholar, not perturbed in the least by the fact of its being upside down since, of course, he was a monkey, and could not read at all.
After a preliminary conversation in which they introduced themselves and enquired in the usual fashion as to the other’s preference for wine over beer, opinion of the weather and so forth and during which she, being a keen observer of everyone she met, had covertly established his likely credentials, she took him home.
It by no means behoves us, tempting though it may be, to speculate about what happened between them on that first sultry Tuesday afternoon at Maria’s modest apartment in Pimlico. Afterwards she vehemently maintained to her friends that they did nothing but talk, drank a little wine perhaps, and indulged somewhat in a passion for the music of Phil Collins which they found to their delight that they shared. After all, she reminded them, he’s an animal! It can only be assumed (such is our information at this time) that she was referring to the Monkey, and not to Phil Collins, about whom so much has already been said.
Regardless of the true nature of the events that unfolded behind that apartment door, identical, as it was to all the others that surrounded it for miles about; regardless of the origin of a certain new spring in the step of Maria as she made her way to her office on the Strand the next day, one fact we do know is that the monkey very soon moved in. He had his own room of course; it wasn’t the sixties after all.
To begin with it was all sunshine and roses. She brought home from work every evening the fruit that he loved and he in return spent the day preparing extravagant feasts of what he called ‘human food’ in the kitchen. He ate none of it, preferring instead a platter of unripe banana which he cut, nevertheless, so as not to seem brutish, with a knife and fork. In the time remaining to him during her absences he wrote poetry, or swung disconsolately from the lampshade in a manner that quite unsettled Mrs Wachowsky, the rotund and otherwise indomitable lady from, Maria thought, ‘Eastern Europe’ (they’re so hardworking you know!), who came every day to clean.
It was with Mrs Wachowsky, in fact, that the trouble began. She left. Suddenly one Saturday afternoon in a hail of invective, the meaning of which was clear enough, although the words themselves came out like so much saliva. And it was true what she said: the apartment, once a place of clean lines, of chrome and glass and sumptuous-though-reasonably-priced upholstery had begun, in a creeping sort of way, to resemble the aftermath of the battle of the Somme. It wasn’t so much the books that Simeon had pulled from the shelves in the course of his clambering about, and strewn around the floor. It wasn’t the half-chewed pages of the magazines studiously removed from their hideaways in innovative Swedish storage units and balled up in the corners. It wasn’t the broken ornaments, the stuffing pulled out of the sofa and the pillows of his bed nor the earth from the broken pots of the yucca plant, peace lilies and the like that was trodden into the carpet. It wasn’t even the nest that he’d made in the bathtub. No. Of all things it was the kitchen.
Simeon’s culinary endeavours were, as Maria’s friends were fond of telling her, acts of purest love and as such were undertaken with the kind of reckless abandon typical of, for example, the exploits of Don Quixote. No dish was left unused, no implement unsoiled, no surface spared a covering of flour, vegetable matter or crème anglais. It was a bombsite; completely unusable, and Simeon, the culprit, in the midst of it all that Saturday afternoon, wearing an apron with a look of pure rapture on his wrinkled face, caught sidelong the full force of Mrs Wachowsky’s Slavonic wrath.
There were no more cleaners to be had. Maria suspected conspiracy and became angry. Simeon sulked.
The impasse continued for several weeks, during which time, the apartment festered. Simeon, feeling injured because, as he saw it, the grandeur of his gestures had been eclipsed by concerns of a merely practical sort, remained balled up on the sofa refusing all contact. Maria, to whom sulking was the very worst kind of juvenile behaviour, and typical, as she saw it, of male animals of all kinds, cultivated an air of quiet and superior disdain. Above all else she wanted him to be strong, his wildness barely contained, but in the cold atmosphere of her scorn he wilted, becoming ever more childlike before her eyes.
The end came only when some acquaintance of Maria’s, a Miss Sophia Pinkus, arrived by chance one Sunday morning, unannounced and, seeing the depths to which the pair had sunk, and the squalor of the place, took Maria firmly in hand.
At Carluccio’s, over Frappucino, Sophia talked in earnest tones, reminding Maria of her status as a professional and independent woman, immune to the whiles of men (she waved away objections relating to Simeon’s status as, well, a simian, and not a man) and advised, nay demanded that something must be done. Maria was tied, Sophia argued, to that apartment, because of the monkey. It was during this meeting, while Simeon, back at the apartment, flicked idly through the channels on the TV, and read Voltaire, that Sophia first conceived the idea of the cage.
That evening there was a meeting. The cage sat between them on the coffee table; cleared, for the purpose, of debris. Sophia, self appointed mediator, sat in an armchair to one side with her lips pursed in what she hoped was a manner of professional distaste. Or was it distance? Maria did most of the talking.
“Of course I love you, Simeon,” she said, her eyebrows creasing with the emotion of it all, “but…you see, I can’t live like this. You understand, don’t you?” The monkey nodded. Stared at the floor. “I must have my freedom.” She said. “You can see that, can’t you Simeon?” He could, she thought, although he said nothing. “I couldn’t bear to cage you against your will.” She went on. “And that’s why I’m asking if you’ll consider doing this on your own. For me…” She was pleading, she realised, with something like disgust.
Simeon, who loved her truly enough even for this said nothing, but slowly, meekly, with his eyes downcast, climbed into the cage that she had brought, and closed the door behind him.
Sophia breathed a sigh of relief. Maria cried. “You can stay in my room.” She promised, between sobs. “It’ll be just like old times. You’ll see.” And for a while, it was. He couldn’t cook, of course, but she fed him unripe bananas through the bars, just the way he liked them, and supplied him with books and paper and pens. He composed sonnets. Joked that he was the simian Oscar Wilde. They laughed, and listened again to the music of Phil Collins. Then Maria began to bring home human men. Jocose, sporting, military types. Great hulks of manly flesh, and everything unravelled.
Simeon growled at them of course. Bared his teeth and rattled the bars of his cage. If they came close enough, pushing their mocking faces up towards him, he lunged at them and once caught a handful of immaculate blonde hair in his fist. His triumph was boundless but short-lived and the man sent the cage and Simeon inside it sprawling across the room. It was only when he came to, and saw Maria trying to hide her mirth behind a façade of horror, that the monkey knew his fate was sealed.
She moved him into the spare room. His howling during the act of love, she said, was putting her boyfriends off their game. She forgot to feed him. The first time she was appalled and made amends with lavish gifts of melon, soft mango and caresses. Then it happened again, then more often than not, and before long she forgot about him completely. In the darkness, pressed against the bars each night, Simeon heard her laughter, her muted cries from the room next door through the wall, and huddled closer into the corners of his cage. He tried to be proud of himself, happy for the freedom he had given her. Tried to see himself even, in his delirium, as Kafka’s hunger artist: excelling, glorious in his suffering, but he could not. He was left, in the end, alone, with only the knowledge that no-one would come, and was too proud, even then, to cry out.
Two weeks later, one Autumn morning at daybreak, Maria woke and with a gasp, remembered Simeon. Rushing through to his room, guilty as sin and throwing open the door of the cage she saw, with a cry his still-warm body huddled in the corner, shrunk, somehow much smaller than she remembered. She wept. Perhaps, at least, she thought, he had seen the dawn. A shaft of weakling sunlight broke cover and filtered into the room through a window translucent with dust. Dust coated everything. Motes hung suspended in the air. Not far away at Hyde Park, behind the iron railings on Bayswater road is a cemetery for pets. She buried him there.
Thanks to Alex Fraser for the featured photo, obtained under creative commons license No changes were made to the original image