The mad monkey channels the truth of the ages but the monkey is mad. The people chase after the diamond earrings the star plucked from her ears and threw to the ground. “For effect,” she laughs and smiles violet-eyed.
(illustration by adam koford)
North Carolina, 1973
Tally comes into my room sucking her arm and tells me it tastes just like sugar.
“Taste my arm Jane Lee.”
“I don’t want to taste your arm Tally.”
“This is gonna be good for my diet. Whenever I want something sweet all I have to do is suck my arm.”
“I’ll suck your arm,” Mallory says. She’s my roommate and she’s lying in my bed.
“What’s wrong with your bed?” I ask.
“Yours smells better.”
She takes Tally’s arm and pulls it to her mouth. Larry sticks his little pink nose our from under the covers and wiggles his whiskers at me.
“Hey punkin,” I say.
He scurries across the bedspread and hops to the floor; I kneel and stick my arm out. He runs up my arm and cuddles on my shoulder. Larry is a white rat and belongs to Cheryl Lynn, my suitemate. Cheryl Lynn’s roommate, Marjorie Baer Brown, swears she’s going throw him down the garbage shoot and incinerate him but Cheryl Lynn told her she’d cut off all her hair while she was asleep if she did. Marjorie B. backed down as Cheryl Lynn is a little crazy and true to her word.
“Be like a mewing kitten, the Bhuddist at the bar tells me.
“God will pick you up.”
I mewed for forty-five minutes when the lamp turned into a big fat worm. God didn’t come so I had to tell the lamp I knew it was just a lamp and to leave me alone. My feet were dirty and I wanted them clean. Mew. Mew. Mew. I wanted Jesus to wash my feet with oil.
Daryl takes the boa out the cage and drapes it around my shoulder. ‘”She’s very sweet,” he says. The snake and I were eyeball to eyeball, her little tongue poking featherlike against my check. I was fine till he fed her a live, white rat. The little rat was so scared. I didn’t want to watch, but I did, and there’s a strange thing that happens between hunter and prey. There’s the hunt and there’s the cornering and the prey knowing death is inevitable holds perfectly still and gives off a little shake, an almost imperceptible little shake, and that’s when the snake strikes. And just like that it’s over.
Mallory and I are in bikinis catching the first rays of spring, scalpels in hand.
“That’s the aorta,” Mallory says, carefully opening the chest cavity of her fetal pig.
“My pig doesn’t have an aorta,” I say.
“Sure it does, it’s right there,” She point with her scalpel. “Use your finger Jane Lee to hold that flap of skin back.
“Mallory don’t you think it’s odd these pigs came in little plastic bags with home of the happy pig written on them?”
Cheryl Lynn drops down next to us pig bag and scalpel in hand. Her hair’s all sharp and spiky; she cut it short with cuticle scissors.
“Phil’s going out on a date with Millicent Boddee,” she says opening the pig bag. She sticks her nose in, sniffs, and lies the bag gently on the ground with a reassuring pat.
“What are you thinking Cheryl Lynn?” Mallory asks.
Cheryl Lynn leans forward and starts cleaning her toenails with the scalpel.
“I’m thinking when he’s walking up the steps of the parlor I’m gonna be on the balcony and drop a water balloon filled with sugar water on him. You know how fussy he is about his hair, he’s worsen a girl.”
“I’ll do it,” I say.
Cheryl studies me with her long narrow nut eyes. Most people’s eyes stop before they reach the side of her head, hers don’t.
“You should be sitting down on the front bench so he won’t think it’s you.”
“We gotta learn these pigs,” Mallory says.
“Poor little pigs,” Cheryl Lynn says softly, tenderly taking hers out the bag.
I did drop the sugar water balloon on Phil and Cheryl Lynn was sitting on the front bench watching. When he looked at her she flashed him a peace sign and hocked a loogie through it.
Tally comes running into my room painted head to toe hot pink. She is naked save for white majorette boots.
“You gotta hide me from Miz Luke,” she says stepping delicate over Marjorie B. scrap-booking on the floor and quick into the closet, closing the door behind her. Miz Luke is the dorm mother; each dorm has a dorm mother we’re supposed to have tea with once a month. Not one of them is under seventy-five and the hazy memory of a gentler life that once was carries them edge free through the day.
“Girls,’ Miz Luke says opening the door.
“Hey Miz Luke,” we chorus. She dodders in. Larry pink nose peeks out from under the dust ruffle.
Mallory pats the space next to her on the bed. “You come here, sit next to me, I’ll make you some tea.”
Cheryl Lynn is sitting at the desk and staring out the window. She’s been sitting there catatonic for the better part of two hours. I am stoned and I hate seeing Miz Luke when I’m stoned because she reminds me of an old, porch cushion with loose stuffing and I feel mean when I think like that. She’s not quite all there in the head, Miz Luke, but she’s surely puffed with a mission on this evening.
“Girls did a naked pink girl run in here?”
“No Miz Luke!” “Oh my goodness no Miz Luke!” “A naked pink girl Miz Luke?”
Slight pause, that tight-wire moment of a lie getting over, Ms. Luke gives a little quiver.
“I saw her,” Cheryl Lynn says her tone flat lead ugly. “She ran right down the sidewalk with a monkey.”
I saw a child hit once, for no good reason, at the beach. Miz Luke’s face looked just like that child’s.
Marjorie B. was off the floor in a blink.
“Come on Miz Luke,” she slipped her arm around her waist, “I’ll help you look.” She shot Cheryl Lynn a look of purest hatred and eased Miz Luke out the door.
“That was close,” Tally says stepping out the closet. She picks up Mallory’s baton, twirls, tosses, turns, and catches it.
“Why are you pink?” Mallory asks.
“I was bored. You got anything to drink?”
Mallory unzips her pillow, pulls out a bottle of Jack.
Cheryl Lynn’s chair scrapes back.
“Where are you going?” Tally asks. She takes a slug of Jack, hands it to me.
Cheryl Lynn’s got long skinny crane legs but she walks stiff.
“To run up and down the stairs backwards,” she says and laughing like a maniac she stiff strides out the room.
“Did Phil knock her up?” Tally asks.
“Sounds like,” I say reaching for the bottle.
“We gotta get to the hospital,” Mallory says walking into my room. She tosses the keys to me. A light blue terry towel blood seeping through is wrapped round her arm.
“What happened?” I say catching the keys.
She unwraps the towel; her arm is bit clean to the bone. Tally runs in screaming, runs out still screaming. Screams are starting up and down the hall, a symphony of talcum powder screams. Mallory sighs.
“Cheryl Lynn,” she says. “She’s been eating blotter acid all day.”
Tally is running up and down the hall screaming, “Cheryl Lynn has barricaded herself in someone’s room and is destroying it, OMIGOD! OMIGOD!”
We file down the stairs through the rumors, she’s got a gun, she’s got a bomb, she’s got a hostage. An ambulance and a cop car pull up as we walk out of the dorm.
“Does it hurt?” I ask starting the car.
“I don’t know.” Mallory rests her head against the back of the seat and closes her eyes. “You wanna got to Chapel Hill after they finish stitching me up?”
There’s a clump of run-down hippie houses back in the woods about five miles out of Chapel Hill and Kid and Cameron live in one of them. They’re happy to see us and a little stoned. We sit on the porch drinking beer and Mallory takes her bandage off so they can see the stitches. Kid follows me into the kitchen and I let his hands roam.
“There’s no comfort in it,” I say pushing him off.
“I want to show you something,” he says and taking my hand he leads me out the house and next door to Carl’s.
“Carl’s not here,” he says opening the door, “I’m taking care of things.”
The room is dark and smells rank, something chattering flies by my face, I jump. Kid flips on a light, a bare bulb in the middle of the ceiling floods the space with harsh white light. Roaches flee and the room looks like a hurricane hit.
“Man you made a mess of things,” Kid say to the little capuchin monkey, sitting upright on the back of the couch. The monkey spits and bares his teeth at us, jumps from couch to bookshelf to chair. He’s a blur he’s moving so fast running into things and knocking them over. He looses his footing on an open book and screaming he shoots up the side of the bookshelf and crouches there panting. Kid laughs.
“Carl got him from a smuggler,” he says. “Cool huh?”
I went outside and threw up and when I looked up at the sky the stars were twinkling like diamonds.
Cheryl Lynn’s mother is bustling around the room finishing up with the packing when Cheryl Lynn drifts out of the bathroom tranquilized into submission wearing a yellow chiffon dress.
“You look lovely darling,” her mother coos. “There’s nothing like a pretty girl in a new dress. Don’t you feel better wearing a new dress Jane Lee?”
“I always feel better wearing a new dress. Now Cheryl Lynn honey I’m gonna go pull the car around and then I’ll be right back. When I went here this school had porters,” she says starting out the door, “it’s a terrible thing not having porters.” We listen to the sound of her heels tap-tap-tap further and further down the hall.
“You look right stupid in that dress Cheryl Lynn,” I say.
She laughs, takes a seat next to me on the bed and carefully arranges the folds of yellow chiffon around her.
“I like you Jane Lee,” she says all soft and dreamy.
“I like you to.”
We stare at the floor.
“You ever think of cutting yourself Jane Lee?”
“You can see the scar when you cut yourself.”
“You shouldn’t be cutting yourself Cheryl Lynn.”
We stay quiet for a minute.
“I’m giving you Larry,” she says finally, “he likes you best.”
“Your mom won’t let you take him?”
“She’ll let me but I’m not gonna be home that long. They’re putting me away.” Cheryl Lynn looks at me, leans in close and grins, and just like that she’s as pointed and sharp as she ever was. “I’m only pretending to take the drugs the doctor gave me,” she whispers, “and I’m going to pretend my way through that place. Then I’m going to California, I’m going to the Promised Land Jane Lee.”
I helped her mother get her things downstairs. Cheryl Lynn was acting doped up again, swaying along singing softly, “my name is little buttercup, sweet little buttercup.” It was hard not to laugh; it was hard not to cry.
“What’s in the box Marjorie B?” I ask. She jumps guilty-like, her hair rolled up in juice cans.
“Just trash,” she says picking up her pace. “I’m in a hurry Jane Lee, I gotta date coming.”
“You stop!” I holler.
She starts running, she’s through the door, but I shoulder her into the wall and beat her to the landing.
“Give it here,” I say blocking her way.
Two of the juice cans on Marjorie B’s head have come loose. Larry squeak-squeak-squeaks in terror, claws frantically at the inside of the box.
“Give it here,” I repeat.
“I WILL NOT!” she yells hugging the box tight to her and I grabbed onto her hair and yanked as hard as I could. She dropped the box but I was so mad I wouldn’t let go. She was screaming and hollering and carrying on telling me I was every bit as crazy as Cheryl Lynn. Mallory pulled me off her and when I wouldn’t calm down she smacked me hard across the face.
“Take a breath Jane Lee,” she said, and she held me close while I cried.