The Mon­key Ma­gi­cian

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Rachel Lyon

If you re­ally want to get into it, I never would have started tak­ing Ex­hil­ify were it not for Face­book. I was scrolling through my feed one night af­ter Katya and the baby had gone to bed. I don’t think it was re­ally that late. Ever since the baby came, Katya had been keep­ing weird hours, go­ing to bed some­times at six p.m. So I was hang­ing around on the couch, try­ing to ex­haust my­self enough to turn in, too. Maybe I was a beer or two in. And there was this post by this jerk I know from magic school back in Ve­gas. I guess this guy had fallen on hard times. Tell you the truth, I’d been fol­low­ing his fall from grace via so­cial me­dia with a cer­tain de­gree of schaden­freude. He’d had this sweet gig tour­ing with the Bai­ly­wick Broth­ers, but they ended up down­siz­ing and cut him from the core cast. Now he was un­em­ployed. From the ty­pos, I imag­ined he was drink­ing again. His posts were de­li­ciously pa­thetic; when I saw his name pop up in my feed, I ad­mit I looked for­ward to getting a glimpse into his self­pity. It ended up be­ing your typ­i­cal woe-is-me type of thing—i don’t even re­mem­ber what, it doesn’t mat­ter. What mat­ters is that, scrolling through the com­ments, I saw some­thing that made my belly fall into my butt. It was a com­ment by an­other jerk I hap­pen to know. At least you’re not the mon­key ma­gi­cian! the guy had writ­ten. Eight likes. Eight likes! Eight likes by eight jerks, all of whom I hap­pen to know. Eight magic school jerks, all of them laugh­ing at me. One by one, each of them had thought, Hey, sure! I like that! and joined in on the fun. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I fin­ished the six-pack and paced the dim kitchen, try­ing not to wake up the baby, lis­ten­ing to the racket of crick­ets out­side. Not to re­ply was not an op­tion. A man’s liveli­hood is his dig­nity. In ret­ro­spect, fin­ish­ing the six-pack be­fore com­ment­ing was prob­a­bly not a great choice. What­ever I ended up post­ing, I felt great about it in the moment, but I’m afraid it was kind of a di­a­tribe. I fin­ished around four a.m., hit En­ter, and went to bed. I felt pretty vin­di­cated, pretty holier-than-them. But when I woke up later that morn­ing, I had a feel­ing I’d com­mit­ted some fairly vin­dic­tive thoughts to eter­nity. I checked to see what the re­sponse had been, but here’s the kicker: the whole thread was gone. I couldn’t find it at all. I searched through my

so-called friends, and found that both jerks were miss­ing. Jerk Num­ber One: couldn’t find him at all. Jerk Num­ber Two: it sug­gested I “follow” him. Follow him! Christ. With one self-right­eous post, I’d alien­ated them all.

Katya was nurs­ing the baby. I was mar­veling at how un­rec­og­niz­able her tits had be­come. Back when I used to suck on those tits, they were small and firm. Now they’re, what’s a good word, pen­du­lous. They’ve got these blue veins like mar­ble. She said, “I don’t know why this shit both­ers you so much. You’ve been say­ing since back in Ve­gas that they were all jerks.” “They are,” I said, “but they’re my col­leagues. What re­ally gets me is they just don’t get me. I may be the mon­key ma­gi­cian, but they’re the mon­keys. Danc­ing around in front of what­ever unim­pressed crowd. Magic, ha!” Katya shifted the baby from one tit to the other. Rather loudly she said, “My sis­ter’s been see­ing a shrink.” I said, “Good, maybe she’ll leave us alone.” She said, “This woman is pretty rea­son­able—slid­ing scale.” “Oh, you’re not sug­gest­ing,” I said. Katya sighed. “Give it a rest,” I said. “Ugh, Terry. You are mis­er­able.” “I’m not mis­er­able,” I told her. “Hu­mil­i­ated, sure. But I’m stoic.” “I’m not say­ing you feel mis­er­able,” she said. “I’m say­ing you’re mis­er­able to be with.” “You’re telling me I’m mak­ing you mis­er­able.” She sighed and closed her eyes. “Yes, right,” she said. The baby sucked hap­pily.

The shrink’s of­fice was in a strip mall up­stairs from a con­sign­ment shop called A Sec­ond Wind, which propped its door open with a long cloth­ing rack and smelled like farts. I waited in a cramped, win­dow­less hall­way where a wa­ter­fall ran con­tin­u­ously over a small hunk of im­i­ta­tion rock. It didn’t do much to drown out what was go­ing on be­hind the shrink’s closed door. Some woman was cry­ing in there and talking about death. “I just don’t want him to go,” she was say­ing. “I feel like if he goes, the last twenty years of my life will have been a waste.” “There was never go­ing to be a re­ward at the end,” came a sooth­ing voice. The first voice sobbed.

“Can you ac­cept,” said the sooth­ing voice, “that love and ded­i­ca­tion are their own re­ward?” I have a habit of won­der­ing what would be the worst sort of af­ter­life. It’s sort of a game I play. I thought it up the first time I heard that phrase per­sonal hell. I was wait­ing in line at the DMV. I guess I was about seven­teen. I heard some­one say, The DMV is my own per­sonal hell. That stuck with me. It got me think­ing. Idly in the car, or try­ing to fall asleep at night, or up at some un­godly hour try­ing to soothe the baby, I weigh the op­tions. What is my own per­sonal hell? Now, in the strip mall ther­a­pist’s wait­ing room, over­hear­ing some Deb­bie Downer sob about death and love, I con­sid­ered a new op­tion. The door opened, and a woman in khaki slacks came out, shield­ing her eyes from me as a celebrity might from pa­parazzi. When she was gone, I stood up re­luc­tantly. There’s still time, I thought. I can still run. Katya doesn’t even have to know. But there was that sooth­ing voice again. “Come on in!” it said. “Don’t be shy!” She was a per­fectly nor­mal-look­ing per­son: late for­ties or fifties, smooth, gray­ing hair. In a weird re­ver­sal of my ex­pec­ta­tions, she hap­pened to be sit­ting on one end of a couch that ran the length of one wall. The only place left for me to sit was ei­ther on the other side of the couch, be­side her, or be­hind her desk in the cor­ner, or in a stiff chair by the door. It was a test, I thought, stand­ing un­com­fort­ably in the door­way. I chose the stiff chair by the door. “Hello!” she said and cocked her head to the side sym­pa­thet­i­cally, as one might do to a dog that got its foot caught in a drain. “You must be Terry.” “Yup,” I said. “You can call me Doc­tor Janet,” she said, a lit­tle smugly, I thought. “Okay,” I said. “So. What brings you here to­day?” I stum­bled, “My wife, uh.” She frowned sym­pa­thet­i­cally. “Mar­i­tal trou­bles?” I looked around des­per­ately for some­thing else to dis­cuss, but it was as if the room had been dec­o­rated with the ex­press in­ten­tion of be­ing undis­cus­si­ble. There was some sort of car­pet on the floor, but if it had a pat­tern or any color at all, I couldn’t tell you now what that might have been. There were im­ages on the walls, framed and hung just as art might be framed and hung, but to call them art would be wrong. Maybe be­side her there was a lamp? “Peo­ple come to me some­times al­most with­out know­ing why they’re here,” Doc­tor Janet said. “All they know is that some­thing is wrong. And

that some­thing has been wrong for a very long time. Is that the case with you, Terry?” “Um,” I said. “All right, why don’t you tell me a lit­tle about your life?” Obe­di­ently, or be­cause there was noth­ing else to do, I be­gan to talk about my sit­u­a­tion: my un­der­em­ploy­ment, money is­sues, the in­escapa­bil­ity of our debt. About how Katya was near­ing the end of her ma­ter­nity leave and how soon it would just be me with the baby most of the time. I wasn’t ex­actly pre­pared for that, I re­al­ized. I wasn’t even sure I liked the baby that much. That star­tled me, say­ing that out loud. I didn’t mean to say it. It just came out. As I talked, I’d got­ten my­self into some dark ter­ri­tory with­out even re­al­iz­ing it. Al­most against my own will, I found my­self telling Doc­tor Janet about how dis­ap­pointed Katya seemed to be with me, with our life: how ex­hausted we were all the time; how we hadn’t had sex in, Christ, over a month. Some­times I barely even rec­og­nized her. Doc­tor Janet kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet un­der her, as if we re­ally knew each other, as if we were cousins or some­thing. “And what do you do for work?” she said. “I’m a—” I be­gan. But I couldn’t con­tinue, and you want to know why? Be­cause I fuck­ing burst into tears. Doc­tor Janet leaned for­ward, and the look on her face was less con­cern than cu­rios­ity. “I’m sorry,” I said, wip­ing the snot from my nose, gulp­ing loudly. “I had no fuck­ing idea that was com­ing. I—” “No, no, it’s all right,” she said, hand­ing me a tis­sue box. “Stay with it. Stay with the feel­ing.” I blew my nose. “I’m the mon­key ma­gi­cian,” I said bit­terly. Did she sti­fle a laugh? I ex­plained, “I get hired by zoos, or great ape sanc­tu­ar­ies, or an­i­mal test­ing fa­cil­i­ties or what­ever, to come cheer up the an­i­mals they keep. I grad­u­ated magic school in 2008. Not a whole lot of work for ma­gi­cians out there since the econ­omy crashed.” “It seems like your job is a trig­ger for you.” Re­luc­tantly, I told her about the whole Face­book thing. Doc­tor Janet re­garded me, squint­ing. “Would you say you have re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced a loss of ap­petite?” I said I hadn’t fin­ished my Mc­muf­fin that morn­ing, but that was just be­cause it was gross. “Have you be­come numb to things that once moved you?” I said I didn’t know.

“Do you of­ten feel hu­mil­i­ated? Full of shame? As if you are dif­fer­ent from oth­ers? A sec­ond-class cit­i­zen? Do you find it dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate? Do you feel you don’t un­der­stand things that seem to come to oth­ers more nat­u­rally?” “All right!” I snapped. “I’m sorry to ir­ri­tate you, Terry. These are sim­ply pro­ce­dural ques­tions. The rea­son I ask is, I’m cur­rently par­tic­i­pat­ing in a clin­i­cal trial. Maybe you’ve heard of this com­pany, San­toman?” I shook my head. “They man­u­fac­ture some­thing like two-thirds of all the world’s pro­cessed food. It doesn’t mat­ter. Re­cently, they ac­quired a large phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany. You’d think that would set off alarm bells. It cer­tainly did for me! But they’re ac­tu­ally do­ing some re­ally in­ter­est­ing things. One of those things is Ex­hil­ify.” “Ex­hil­ify,” I re­peated. “It’s been very suc­cess­ful in the ini­tial test­ing phase. Now they’re go­ing into round two.” “You’re a psy­chi­a­trist?” I asked, con­fused. “I trained as a physi­cian,” she said. “Po­di­a­trist, ac­tu­ally. Be­fore I be­came a cer­ti­fied coun­selor. I re­al­ized I was just dis­gusted by other peo­ple’s feet. Isn’t that funny? But, bonus! I can ab­so­lutely write you a pre­scrip­tion. Would you be in­ter­ested in try­ing this stuff?” The only drugs I’d ever taken were recre­ational and plants. “I’m not sure,” I said. “Do you think Katya would be in­ter­ested in your try­ing this stuff?” I hes­i­tated be­fore ask­ing, “What does it do?” “Ev­ery­one has a bit of a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion,” she said. She hopped up onto her bare feet and padded over to the desk, where she wrote me a pre­scrip­tion. “Let me know if you ex­pe­ri­ence any­thing un­usual,” she said, hand­ing it to me. “Un­usual how? Un­usual like what?” “Oh,” she said, “changes in mood, changes in per­cep­tion, changes in how you feel phys­i­cally.” That seemed aw­fully broad. I said, “What if I don’t know whether or not it’s un­usual?” “You’ll know,” she said cheer­fully, and looked at her watch. “Whoops! Looks like our time is up. So lovely to meet you, Terry. I’ll bill you. Good­bye!”

The baby was mak­ing a racket, do­ing that thing where he’d wake us up scream­ing bloody mur­der and then, when he saw us ap­pear by his crib,

would quiet down, even laugh. Ev­ery time I’d get up, he’d quiet down; as soon as I turned to go back to bed, he’d scream again. It was some ma­nip­u­la­tive bull­shit, I’ll tell you that. “Why does he keep scream­ing?” Katya moaned from the bed. “He’s fuck­ing with me,” I told her. “Don’t be a god­damn child,” she said. “Pick him up!” “Why don’t you pick him up?” I said. “Why don’t you spend nine months grow­ing him in­side your uterus, and then let him tear you apart from the in­side?” she snapped. Again I re­con­sid­ered my own per­sonal hell. “Come here, butthead,” I told him. I picked him up out of the crib, and he grabbed the tip of my nose. He smelled like poo. I changed him at the table by the win­dow. Out­side, it was still so dark. An an­i­mal rus­tled the un­der­brush. “Some­times, I hate you,” I whis­pered, wip­ing the baby’s butt. He gave me a fat, tooth­less smile. Was I hu­mil­i­ated? Full of shame? Had I be­come numb to things that once moved me? It is true that the day he was born was the best day of my life. I’d held him in the hos­pi­tal while Katya slept and just mar­veled. I could hardly rec­on­cile the sweet, hic­cup­ping, red-faced ho­muncu­lus he’d been then with the pain in the ass he’d be­come. Now, he was like a psy­cho­pathic, mini Or­son Welles. He laughed at me just as they all laughed at me. With dizzy dread it oc­curred to me: Christ, he could grow up and be­come a jerk, too. I was sup­posed to take the Ex­hil­ify twice at the same time ev­ery day, but I didn’t want to wait. With the baby in one arm, I opened the lit­tle pa­per bag and pressed and twisted the child­proof cap. The pills were small and green. I popped one into my mouth with­out water. It went down so easy I barely felt it. Then I took the baby out­side onto the porch. It was try­ing, slowly, to be day­time. The sky was sort of ma­roon. I knew the baby was un­der­dressed for the chill, but he didn’t seem to mind. We sat there to­gether in the ex­pec­tant early morn­ing and lis­tened to things: the rus­tle of leaves, a cricket, a far­away car. He played with the but­ton on my pa­ja­mas, twist­ing it and pulling it and slam­ming it into my chest. I let him. I was wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. Even­tu­ally he fell back to sleep. A bird awoke in the maple tree and started to sing. The sky bright­ened, and I could see the mist hang­ing in the air be­tween the trees. A shaft of bril­liant, pink light ap­peared and broad­ened over the slats of the porch. A car pulled up to the gas sta­tion across the street, its en­gine qui­eted, and a young guy got out. He was just a teenager, prob­a­bly—baggy clothes and an un­for­tu­nate hair­cut. He stood on the con­crete curb at the door to the gas sta­tion and fid­dled

with his keys. Be­low one torn cuff of his pants, I could see the sole of his sneaker had come un­at­tached. While he tried to un­lock the door, that sole flopped against the pave­ment. Some­thing about the boy’s pos­ture: even with­out see­ing his face, I felt I knew him. I felt I knew ev­ery poor slouch­ing kid in the world. I was that kid. The baby was asleep in my arms, snor­ing lightly and smelling of warm cot­ton, and the bird was singing like a zealot in the old maple. And watch­ing the boy with the busted shoe—i don’t know—the whole fuck­ing scene was so beau­ti­ful I wanted to cry. That, it turns out, was the Ex­hil­ify. I can’t tell you how it works, but I can try to ex­plain what it feels like. It’s like you’re hy­per con­nected to ev­ery­one else in the world. No—it’s like you and ev­ery­one else are part of the same or­gan­ism. It’s like ev­ery light is brighter, ev­ery shadow is darker, and ev­ery color is so deep and rich that the world be­fore Ex­hil­ify com­pared to the world af­ter is like Kansas to Oz. It’s like you’re look­ing out at the world through an Instagram fil­ter de­signed by God, a fil­ter not just for what things look like, but for how they feel, too. It’s like if any­body—i mean any­body—said to you, Know what I mean? you’d say, Yes. Yes.

Later that week I got a call from an out­fit about an hour north of us called Ill­brio. It’s a med­i­cal test­ing fa­cil­ity where I work from time to time. I don’t much like the peo­ple, and the work doesn’t come in of­ten enough to count on, but big pharma’s big money. When they do call, I don’t turn them down. Ill­brio is on a kind of cam­pus sev­eral miles from the high­way. It’s a whole man­u­fac­tured lit­tle town, in fact, with a cou­ple of stores and a day­care and dorms for em­ploy­ees who are work­ing around the clock. Right in the mid­dle, there’s even a lit­tle man­i­cured town square, with a drug store and news­stand and soda foun­tain. The vibe is like Dis­ney­land meets Sil­i­con Val­ley, but with­out any of that ruth­less California sun­shine. The day I drove in was gray and flat as if the light it­self were a layer of ash. I killed the en­gine in the visi­tors lot and sat there a moment be­fore de­cid­ing: What the hell? I popped an Ex­hil­ify, grabbed my brief­case, and walked the quar­ter mile to the main build­ing. A mar­ket­ing rep by the name of Rick Zig­field greeted me at the front desk with a firm hand­shake and a clip­board full of forms. When I was done sign­ing ev­ery­thing, he stepped back and started walk­ing away at a fast pace in his good shoes, talking the whole time, clearly ex­pect­ing me to follow. It was like he’d learned how to be­have from Aaron Sorkin. “Good to see you, Ter­rence,” he said, glanc­ing at the clip­board. “Terry’s fine,” I told him.

“Cof­fee?” he said. “I am zonked!” Turned out, we were walk­ing to­ward the cafe­te­ria. It was four p.m., squarely be­tween meal times, and all the chairs were stacked on top of the ta­bles. At an in­dus­trial-sized cof­fee maker, we filled up pa­per cups with sour cof­fee. Rick Zig­field took two cups from the stack and filled them as one. “In­su­la­tion!” he said. I took one. “Rea­son we called you in, Ter­rence, is we’ve got a sit­u­a­tion with this orang­utan.” “Huh,” I said. “Never seen one of those ex­cept on TV. Me and the wife used to get high and watch Planet Earth.” Rick Zig­field was lead­ing me back into the hall­way. “Among the forms you signed back there is a very strict nondis­clo­sure,” he said. “We’re go­ing to need you never to in­di­cate to any­one, ever, that you saw this an­i­mal here. As you may know, be­ing in your line of work, med­i­cal test­ing on orang­utans is highly il­le­gal. But this par­tic­u­lar an­i­mal—julius— we saved him from brush fires in Su­ma­tra, so.” “So he owes you?” I joked. He shot me a look. “It’s a god­damn shame what the palm oil com­pa­nies are do­ing in Su­ma­tra,” he said, “I’ll tell you that. Burn­ing the whole god­damn is­land to the ground. Julius’s par­ents went back for his baby sis­ter, and they were trapped in the blaze. He watched his whole fam­ily burn alive.” “Je­sus,” I said. He un­locked a non­de­script door I’d been through be­fore, and we were in the room where Ill­brio keeps the an­i­mals they use for test­ing. It’s a large, bright space full of floor-to-ceil­ing cages and lit from above by sky­lights. All around us, be­hind aer­ated plex­i­glass, rab­bits dug into piles of cab­bage and shred­ded let­tuce; rats climbed ob­sta­cle cour­ses or ran around in plastic balls; rhe­sus macaques climbed rope lat­tices, clung to each other, and screeched wildly. I rec­og­nized a cou­ple of them from pre­vi­ous jobs. One had a golf ball­– sized tu­mor grow­ing out of his neck. At the far end of the room was a glass wall. Be­hind it was a room about the size of a walk-in closet, stuffed with wilt­ing green­ery. Crouch­ing next to a pile of branches was the orang­utan. He was hold­ing his knees, rock­ing a lit­tle, and look­ing down at the ground. Julius, I pre­sumed. Rick Zig­field and I stood to­gether on the peo­ple side of the glass. “We’ve done ev­ery­thing we can think of to reach him,” Rick said. “Our han­dler’s in there three times a day in­ter­act­ing. But he won’t do a thing. He won’t budge. “You’ve got to un­der­stand, Ter­rence, we’re work­ing on a highly ex­cit­ing project here. This is a highly ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity. It’s an en­tirely

new class of drugs, and these are not drugs you can test on rats or rab­bits. Why? They’re too sub­tle, too sen­si­tive. They have too much to do with what you might call, broadly, hu­man­ity, in the sense that they af­fect one’s ca­pac­ity for com­pas­sion, yes, but in the sense, too—and I don’t want to sound like a wing nut, here, but—that they could truly change the course of hu­man his­tory. “In other words, Ter­rence, Julius is in­cred­i­bly valu­able. The num­ber of times we’ve been able to get a great ape in here? Let’s just say I’ve been work­ing here eight years, and I’ve never seen it hap­pen. That’s why we brought you in.” I knelt down and put a hand up to the glass—more for the sake of prov­ing I was worth my pay­check than for any other rea­son. “Julius,” I said. Rick said, “You’ll have to talk louder than that.” I re­peated his name more loudly, “Julius!” The an­i­mal’s thick in­dex fin­ger twitched. We waited. Rick slapped me lightly on the back. “I’ll leave you two alone,” he said. He fin­ished the last of his cof­fee and set his dou­ble cof­fee cup on the lip of the shelf that held in the glass. Then he swiveled around on the heel of one fancy shoe and walked away quickly, leav­ing me alone in the room­ful of cages.

I started with a sim­ple scarf thing. I opened my brief­case and got out this rain­bow silk scarf. I let it lie on the ground and pulled at it spo­rad­i­cally, mak­ing it twitch ever so slightly. Julius didn’t seem to no­tice. I waved a hand over the scarf. I made it dis­ap­pear. Noth­ing. I re­trieved three jug­gling balls from their vel­vet bag and be­gan to jug­gle. Then I grabbed a few more and added them to the mix. Soon I was jug­gling six balls. Then twelve. I could see the arc of them, their move­ment re­flected in the glass. But Julius kept his head down, his eyes fixed on the ground. There was some­thing so sad about his old-man face, his black eyes, his weird thumbs and pro­tu­ber­ant muz­zle. Could a muz­zle be sad? With a few quick ges­tures, I be­gan to dis­ap­pear the balls one by one, un­til I was only jug­gling two. Then I reap­peared them one by one, un­til I was jug­gling nine al­to­gether. I’m a slick jug­gler, I have to say. I al­ways got the high­est marks for jug­gling in magic school back in Ve­gas. But with Julius, I got noth­ing. I felt like a cliché. He was mak­ing a mon­key out of me, so to speak. It was like: Who’s on what side of the glass? I don’t know how much time passed be­fore a door in Julius’s walk-in closet opened, and a fig­ure in white scrubs and a base­ball cap ap­peared. Star­tled, Julius sprang up and cow­ered in one cor­ner of his lit­tle room.

The fig­ure in scrubs set down a plate­ful of veg­eta­bles and a bowl­ful of water and then pro­duced a pill bot­tle from its front pocket. Julius raised his arms over his mouth. The fig­ure ap­proached him. He evaded it. The fig­ure pur­sued him to the other side of the lit­tle room. It was only a cou­ple of feet in perime­ter. He evaded it again and hopped back to the side he’d been on. The fig­ure put the pill bot­tle back into its pocket and knocked on the door it had come in through. In a moment, two more fig­ures in white scrubs ap­peared. Then the first fig­ure pro­duced a sy­ringe, while the other two held Julius down. His mouth was wide open. His eyes rolled back in his head. They stuck him with the nee­dle. I could hear the sound he made through the glass. His howl sounded like the cry of a full-grown man. Then the first fig­ure took the pill bot­tle back out and shook out a lit­tle green pill. Julius squeezed his lips shut, but to­gether, the three fig­ures forced it open, dropped a pill in, and made him drink from the bowl. His body drooped. He seemed to sub­mit. They pet­ted him on the head and made their way out. God, I thought. That poor fuck­ing an­i­mal. Then I thought: Be pro­fes­sional. You’ve got a fuck­ing job to do. I turned around to face the rats and rab­bits and raised up my arms like a champion. I’m the mon­key ma­gi­cian, moth­er­fuck­ers! They didn’t look up. At least I could maybe im­prove poor old Julius’s af­ter­noon. Rick Zig­field’s cof­fee cups were still sit­ting there on the lip of the win­dow. That gave me an idea. I gulped down the last of my own aw­ful cof­fee and turned my back to the win­dow so the cups were con­cealed. With the pock­etknife on my key­chain, I made two slits in each of the three cups to make a sort of tab in the pa­per. I put a jug­gling ball in each one and, turn­ing back around, ar­ranged all three cups face down in a row by the glass. What­ever Julius had been given from that sy­ringe seemed to have slowed him down. His gaze rolled to­ward me. I lifted up the cup on the end to re­veal one col­or­ful ball. Then I lifted up the mid­dle one, squeez­ing the tab I’d made, so it looked like there was no ball un­der­neath. I lifted up the third cup the same way, squeez­ing the tab so that it looked empty. Julius shifted his body ever so slightly, so that he was a lit­tle closer to the glass. He seemed to sense the sus­pense of the set-up. I did a lit­tle flour­ish with my hand as if to follow the move­ment of the ball from the cup on the end to the cup in the mid­dle. I lifted up the

cup on the end, squeez­ing the tab, and then lifted the cup in the mid­dle to re­veal the ball. Julius raised a hand to the glass, as if to touch the pa­per cups him­self. Now we were cook­ing. I did an­other lit­tle flour­ish as if to follow the ball from the mid­dle cup to the one on the other end, then squeezed the tabs on cups one and two to lift them up with their balls in­side, and fi­nally lifted cup three to re­veal the ball un­der­neath it. Julius’s pos­ture changed. His body seemed to lift. He brought his old­man face closer to the glass. I did the whole trick again. This time, he re­ally got into it. When I fin­ished the trick, he opened his gi­ant Mup­pet mouth, re­veal­ing two rows of squat her­bi­vore teeth. He threw his head back and rolled back­ward onto the floor into a pile of hay, then threw his feet up and rocked back to a seated position, grin­ning like a fool, bits of hay stuck in his orange hair. Magic! I couldn’t help but laugh with him. With one big wrin­kled in­dex fin­ger he pointed at the cups again. I re­peated the trick. I did it three times, then four, then five. I tried a few other tricks, but he kept point­ing at the cups. I was so wrapped up in the moment that I barely no­ticed how dark it had got­ten in the cage room. It was late in the day. The sun was go­ing down. We were laugh­ing and rock­ing around to­gether on the floor. He was point­ing at the cups. I was do­ing the trick. And then he raised a fin­ger, and in­stead of point­ing at the cups, pointed at me. I raised a fin­ger back at him, E.t.-style. I looked him in his two dark eyes. Was I imag­in­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween us? The depth of pain in his ex­pres­sion? I don’t think I was. I moved closer to the glass and put a whole hand up to it. He put his mon­strous hand up to the glass, too. I rested my head against it. He rested his head against mine. Julius the or­phaned orang­utan, my fun-house mirror im­age. Was I imag­in­ing that I could feel the warmth of his body through the dou­ble-paned win­dow? I couldn’t help my­self: in the room full of cages, I be­gan to weep. Rick Zig­field strode in. “Suc­cess?” he said. I looked up at him from my seat on the floor. He pre­tended not to no­tice me wip­ing the snot from my nose. “I al­most for­got you were in here!” he said. “We’re clos­ing up shop. Let’s get you signed out and paid for your hard work to­day.” I got up. I packed up my things. I took one last look at Julius. His heavy hand was still pressed against the glass as he watched me leave. I wanted to say some­thing to him—at least to say good­bye. I gave him an awk­ward wave and fol­lowed Rick Zig­field back out to Regis­tra­tion.

I walked to the visi­tors lot feel­ing un­easy. It was dark, and the trees at the edge of the pave­ment were black quak­ing shad­ows. I tried to cheer my­self up with pos­i­tive think­ing. When you’re an orang­utan in this world, I thought, your op­tions are lim­ited. At least I gave him some­thing to think about. Can orang­utans think? I tried again. Those jerks on Face­book should be so lucky, I thought. To do the kind of good work I was do­ing in the world. None of it helped. I was re­lieved when I found my car. I got in and started the en­gine. Ev­ery­one was go­ing home for the day. There was a long line of cars wait­ing to leave, and the line was mov­ing real slow. I pulled in be­hind a truck. When the driver got out to ex­change a few words with the guy at the gate, I thought, Christ, here we go. I honked my horn. He gave me the fin­ger. At last he got back in and pulled up and out onto the road. When he turned, I could see the name printed on the side of the truck. What do you think it said? San­toman.

I came back from Ill­brio feel­ing crum­pled and drained. Katya was sit­ting alone in the kitchen with a beer. As soon as I walked in, she raised a fin­ger to her lips. I tip­toed over the floor­boards, which creaked and whined un­der my weight. Testily she whis­pered, “I just put him down!” At her chair, I knelt and looked up at her, search­ing for I didn’t know what in her face. She sighed at me. “Not now, Terry. I’ve been giv­ing, giv­ing, giv­ing all day.” I ma­neu­vered my­self so that I was un­der the table, be­tween her legs. I put my head on her thigh. “How did it go,” she said re­luc­tantly. “Well, I had to sign all these nondis­clo­sure forms, so.” “Good,” she said. “I didn’t want to talk about it any­way.” I buried my head be­tween her thighs and breathed in the smell of her. I pulled on the elas­tic waist­band of her sweat­pants, nosed my way into her pants. She let her head fall back against the top of the chair. “Giv­ing, giv­ing, giv­ing, giv­ing,” she mur­mured. “For once, I just want to take.” I tasted her warm sour sweet, and she pushed back against my mouth. It had been so long. It had been too long. She breathed deeply as her body re­laxed. I felt her pulse in my mouth. And then, in the other room, we heard a rustling, a cou­ple of ex­ploratory cries. The baby had wo­ken again. “Fuck,” Katya said. I gripped her legs.

He started to cry more des­per­ately. It was like ev­ery time he woke up, he re­al­ized again that he was alone. The cries grew into a high-pitched mewl­ing. The mewl­ing crescen­doed into a full-on wail. “Fuck. Fuck!” said Katya more loudly. I lifted my head briefly enough to blurt out, “Ig­nore him!” “I can’t, Terry. Je­sus! Come on!” She squirmed out of my grasp and scram­bled out of the chair, throw­ing one leg over my head and arm to ex­tract her­self. I could hear him wail­ing in the bed­room, and her voice through his wails. “Shh, shh, it’s okay,” she was say­ing, “it’s okay, you’re okay, Mama’s here.” But out in the kitchen I was alone again, crouch­ing un­der the table, mouth wet and stink­ing.

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