Monkey Talk


Christopher Moore

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 101 in 1998.

Davino looked over at Caro, his seventeen year old Fillipino girlfriend, sitting in the morning sun on White Beach; she wrinkled her nose, and leaned forward from the waist, her elbows planted on her bare legs, and he asked himself how long she would stay in Puerto Galera--would she catch the one-thirty o'clock ferry back to Batangas, stay another week or month; and whether she stayed or went, would it really matter, or had he drifted so far off course he had forgotten himself. He dove into the warm water and swam away from the beach. After a few minutes, he looked up at the beach, and Caro had gone. He splashed the water with both hands like a child and smiled at the empty shoreline.

At eleven thirty the foreigners--mainly Germans and Aussies, their fair skin red from the sun and scattered patches of heat rash raised in bumps on their legs and arms--waited for the jeepney back to Pureto Galera where they would take the ferry to Batangas and the bus back to Manila. They drank San Miguel Beer slumped around a table at the edge of the dusty road. Davino's seventeen year old girlfriend sat along on the wooden plank in the hot sun. She stared straight ahead down the road, her arms folded, sweat rolling down her face. Her long black hair was tied into a thick pony tail with a rubber band; a long, luxurious length of hair that touched the small of her back. She crossed her legs, hunched forward, rocking herself. Davino was the sole Canadian.

"Honey, get out of the sun," shouted Davino.

Caro ignored him.

Davino walked over and sat next to her on the bench. She stiffened when he touched her cheek. "I thought you weren't hungry," he said.

She didn't believe him. Earlier that morning she had waited for him at on the veranda of their cottage on White Beach. She watched the fishing boats, then five Filipino boys her own age playing volley ball down on the beach. She had worried that Davino had been lost, captured by the guerrillas who controlled the mountains a few miles away, or that he had ran out on her. That had never happened to her before. But some of the girls she worked with at San Anna's bar in Manila had told stories of customers running out. Instead she found him at the Nipa Hut eating a bowl of porridge and listening to the BBC on his shortwave radio. Frankie, the Filipino owner, who owned the Nipa Hut was showing him his .38 revolver, drawing it out of the holster as Caro silently sat opposite him. She listened as he told Frankie that when he was a boy in New Brunswick, his mother had threatened to send him to reform school because he had refused to eat his porridge. And every morning she screamed at him.

Davino looked at his watch; the hands hadn't moved for over an hour. He shook it, looking up the road as a jeepney approach. The Filipino jeepney was the basic unit of transportation; from the distance it looked like a WWII German staff car customized by Spanish Harlem graffiti artists. The rearing silver horses on the hood; bright flags, round plastic shields with painted bulls, fighting fish, and a clenched fist, and banner across the windscreen that had the word Taurus written on it. The jeepney screeched to a halt, scattering a huge cloud of dust across the road. The foreigners climbed into the back and sat on wooden benches. Davino leaned over to Caro.

"My watch. Did I take it off when I went swimming last night?"

Caro had no idea how to answer that question. She shrugged her shoulders.

"You must remember?"

"Maybe you forget," she said.

"It's stopped."

This amused one of the Germans next to Davino. "Why you want to know the time when you are on holiday?" he asked Davino.

"I'm not on holiday. I'm forty-three years old and I'm retired. I haven't worked in five years. I have flown forty-six times, and spent one hundred forty dollars per flight. I live on 360 pesos each day. I give her 120 which is the same as she gets in the bar. She has her period now. Don't you honey. So she only gets her expenses for three days. I pay $2.20 for a loft in Puerto Galera that is as good as a loft in Greenwich Village. I have no stress. I live like the natives. I get up and go to bed with the sun. I'm a radical green. I don't produce anything; and I only consume natural things. In five years I have spent $1.84 per day on average for women. And this morning the BBC Reports interest on T-bills is almost nine percent. That's when I buy. When I roll over my money."

"So why you worried your watch is broken" said the German, leaning across his whore and looked at Caro. Davino rolled his eyes as to say this was obvious. "Ferry schedules."

"For the news at noon," replied Davino.

"The church bells ring at noon," said the German. "Where you from?"

"Canada," said Davino. "One out of four Canadians want to leave Canada.

But they don't know how. They pay taxes and work to pay off mortgages and credit cards. Lives of stress. I am writing a book telling Canadians to divorce their wives, sell everything and move to Asia."

The German eyed Davino for several moments. The jeepney skidded sideways over a pothole. Everyone inside bounced. A heavy blanket of dust blew back through the vented sides. The Filipino women covered their faces with colored handkerchiefs. After a brief stop to let locals off the jeepney, they resumed their journey down the rocky road. The German seemed about to say something but decided not to resume the conversation. At Puerto Galera, the jeepney unloaded near the pier. Caro looked at the bay. The ferry wouldn't arrive for another hour.

"You come back to the loft?" Davino asked her.

She looked at a sidewalk cafe. People were eating rice and vegetables. "I fix you something to eat," said Davino. "I very sorry about this morning." Caro followed him up the steep hill and then along P. Concepcion Street, passed the A & M Store with sandals, balls, and T-shirts hanging from the front. Davino had a room at Macatangay Guest House and knew the old Filipino woman who ran it. They walked up three long flights of stairs and onto a small patio with a bamboo table, couch, and three chairs. Two monkeys each with a leather harness around their stomachs were tied to a nylon clothes lines that fan from the balcony to the far end of the large house--more than forty feet. Immediately below the clothes line was a thick bamboo pole which the monkeys used to run back and forth between the house and the balcony. The male monkey was larger, more aggressive than the female. They sat on the railing picking insects off each other; grooming one another, cuddling, then the male put his head on the females lap. Davino disappeared up the short flight of narrow bamboo stairs that led to his tiny room for food. Caro began clipping her fingernails. The monkey leaped toward her.

"Caro, I told you not to tease them," said Davino.

He broke off a piece of chocolate cake and threw it at the female monkey. She looked glassy eyed at Davino. The lump of cake struck her between the eyes, fell to the concrete and broke apart. "Maybe they don't like cake," he said, carefully tearing off another piece. He threw it to the male monkey, who caught it, stuffed it in his mouth, then spit it out. This frustrated Davino, who tried the female again. The female caught the cake, looked at it, sniffed it and dropped it into the courtyard below. Caro looked over the edge of the railing and watched the chickens scratching and pecking at the dirt in the courtyard. Towels, sweatshirts, blouses, underwear, sheets, and table cloths hung from five clothes lines. She saw a brown streak down the side of one of the sheets from the cake Davino had thrown.

"Better watch out, honey," said Davino. "If you tease them, they will bite."

He walked over to the water jug, put it to his lips, and gulping the water, draining the jug like a circus performer. He hadn't asked her if she was thirsty. She threw another piece of chocolate cake at the male monkey, catching him in the side of the head. The monkey wasn't expecting the surprise assault and screamed, jumping from the bamboo pole, to the railing, and swinging out and catching the coconut tree that shot up from the courtyard. The monkey tried to use the coconut tree limp like a sling-shot but the rope on his leach was too short and yanked him back, knocking the female monkey off the bamboo pole. Caro laughed; she like getting the best of that monkey.

Davino dressed in black shorts and tennis shoes had sweat running down his face, chest, ribs and back. He padded his pockets, He had a panic look. "Caro, where is my watch?" he shouted. He ran back to his loft, reappearing two minutes later. "What did you do with it? I want it now! I want to see if I can fix it."

"I not see your watch," she said, picking at the crust of the brown bread.

"You must have done something with it. Think," he ordered her. "I just had it. It's got to be here." Davino worked himself up, showing his teeth and frowning. He scratched his beard that reflected a pure white in the sun slanting over the balcony. She sat down in a chair opposite the monkey's who eyed her with great suspicion. Davino ran around the balcony, then back to his room. A few minutes later, lathered in sweat, he opened a blue plastic bag he had brought onto the balcony with the tray of food. Inside he pulled out the watch. It still didn't work. He shook it; but it to his ear, filled his cheeks with air, then exhaled in frustration, He looked at Caro, quickly slapped some cheese on a slice of brown bread and handed it to her. "If you go back to Manila today, I give you money to buy me a watch. You pay no more than fifty pesos. You check to make certain it works. The date works, too. That's very important. You take this watch and barter with the man. Tell him you give him this watch and thirty pesos. Can you remember that?"

Another resident passing the table, frown at the two monkeys, giving them a wide berth. "They bite," he said in an Aussie accent. "If you want a watch, you can buy one at the market," he added. "But I don't think you can trade in a broken one."

Davino began excited. "Where? Which stall? You come with me?"

The Aussie, a sun wrinkled old man in his early 60's with a loose upper plate rattling in his mouth, nodded wearily, snatching a piece of bread and cheese off the plate. Caro rocked back in her chair. "Why you not believe I not take your watch?"

But Davino was already on the stairs. "Stay here. I'll be right back." He had ignored her question. After he left, she saw his old watch on the table. She turned it over and examined the cheap black plastic band. With her fingernails, Caro picked at the back of the watch until she flipped it off. She turned the watch around and a small, white disk with a microchip fell on the table. She picked it up and looked at this strange thing. Their was no clock face on either side. Davino had accused her of taking it. He had blamed her for ruining it. He had given her so many complicated instructions for buying a new one. And the German on the jeepney had asked what she had wanted to ask Davino. "Why is this so important to you?"

The church bells of Pureto Galera rang for noon. Caro. Picked up the black plastic strap and hurled it at the male monkey. He ducked and the strap fell among the chickens eating chocolate cake in the courtyard. She squared off with the female monkey who eyed her fingering the white plastic disk. Without thinking, Caro threw it at the female monkey, who reached out and caught it with her right hand and immediately popped it into her mouth. A moment later Davino came bounding up the stairs wearing his new watch. He looked at Caro, and then the female monkey. The circular disk was between the monkey's teeth and cheek, creating an grotesque perfectly round, raised lump on the side of the monkey's face.

"Where's my watch, Caro?" asked Davino.

Caro pointed at the monkey. "She has it."

Davino sighed, shaking his head. "That's very bad. She might swallow it. Choke on it. And die. Don't you ever think of what you do?"

Davino walked over to the railing, pulled the female monkey over onto his lap, stuck his fingers inside the monkey's mouth, fishing for the plastic disk. "Where's strap? What have you done with the strap, Caro?"

She pointed at the courtyard. Davino, leaned out over the railings, looking down among the chickens, as the male monkey swung out from the bamboo pole. The blow struck Davino just below the throat, knocking him back. He made a strange noise like when he had been drinking water earlier. He landed with a dull, heavy thud, knocking down two of the clothes lines. By the time Caro ran down the three flights of stairs, several people were kneeling around Davino in the courtyard. He had broken his neck and had died instantly. Caro squatted down beside him and picked up his right hand; she slowly peeled back Davino's fingers. Inside was the smooth, white disk. She looked at it for several second. then heard the horn from the ferry to Batangas. She rose to her feet, walked between the people, out of the courtyard and back to P. Concepcion Street. As the ferry pulled away from the pier she stood next to the railing. The German who had sat next to Davino on the journey came over and stood beside her.

"Where is your friend?" he asked her.

Caro didn't reply, looking back at dusty, sun baked village of Puerto Garlera.

"I forgot to ask him earlier. About time. Why if he had retired, what did he need it for? Maybe next time you see him you ask for me?" He nodded and went back to his seat.

Caro pulled her arm back and flung the white plastic disk, her head held to one side as she watched the disk arc out over the water and finally sink into he cool, blue water.

The End

Monkey Talk © Christopher G. Moore