Saturday, June 9, 2007

Munkey Brains & Other Delicacies

More than 5 years ago now I wrote a story. It has no title. It has never been typed. But it is a singular work I have been saving until I can wrap my mind around a concept I have no conception of quite yet. But when I find it, I'll know. This I believe. (She said to no one in particular, but most especially not NPR.)

The story is about one's notions about other people. How they take on a shape and a life of their own inside one's mind as you think about them. The story is about a monkey who lives in a jungle that has invisible boundaries. He is mourning, he cannot remember where he came from or how he came to be in the jungle. He is alone there. The jungle is stormy sometimes and tempestuous and sometimes a princess comes to visit him. Eventually, though, she always leaves and does not come back for a long while. The monkey is sad and has a deep desire to understand his origins.

One day he asks his princess about his mother. She laughs and replies that he has no mother. The monkey does not understand this.

So he asks, "Where did I come from then?"

"From me." She replies, without elaborating.

Eventually, having had enough of the princess's mysterious replies the monkey decides to go exploring. He finds a cave. Which turns out to be a long passageway or tunnel, with roots sticking out everywhere. The monkey climbs, upward, until he arrives at a door. On the other side of the door is an office. It's dusty. And messy. There are file boxes and cabinets everywhere. Some of the cabinet drawers are open. Files are everywhere. Pieces of paper litter the floor. But, somewhere in a musty corner he finds a pile of boxes. They are wrapped with beautiful paper and tied up with ribbons and bows. Some are old, very old - some look quite new. Not knowing what to make of them, he chooses one. It is small-ish, the wrapping paper is a faded purple and the ribbons are white. Slowly, carefully he undoes the ribbon and then even more slowly and more carefully he peels back the fragile yellowed tape. The paper unfolds like a flower opening. Inside is a pale pink box. He opens the flaps of cardboard and inside are pictures. Snapshots. Candid and still. They are all of the same person. A man with dark hair and a wide, easy smile. Silvery pieces of metal seem to drip from his nostrils. On his arm are dark blue depictions of something or another. In one he wears a vest and is walking, expressionless. In another he sits at a red table, holding a cup, laughing. Another his mouth is wide, his arms outstretched with lights set upon him. There are little slips of paper too. With things written on them. Some are typed. But the monkey cannot read.

The monkey is now utterly confused.

He gathers together the contents, finds a broken old chair and sits down to look at them. He isn't sure why, but somehow the pictures feel... significant. As he studies the snapshots, despite her absence, he feels the unmistakable presence of the princess. Somehow, he thinks, she involved. That is certain. He looks at the man, who really is little more than a boy and feels a sort of... affinity. Yes, an affinity with him. Though he isn't sure why. He feels somehow familiar. Something about the way his eyes crinkle up when he laughs. Something about the way he looks at the photo-taker. Something, about the eyes. Yes, the eyes. The monkey stares and stares but gets no further. Finally, he feels his brain is running in circles and takes one of the snapshots, tucks it away and carefully puts back together the box.

This is a clue, he thinks. It must be.

He climbs back down the passageway and back into the forest. There has been another storm in his absence. And when he arrives at his tree, he finds the princess. She is sitting on the tree he once called home. It has been uprooted. Felled. She isn't smiling. She looks rather unhappy, in fact.

"Where have you been?" She asks, petulantly.

"Exploring." Says the monkey.

"Well, don't do that. When I come here to see you, I want to see you - all right?" This does not sound very much like a question to the monkey. No, it sounds a great deal more like an order. Or a threat.

"I'll remember." He assures her.

"Do that. I have to go now, I have other things to do but please be here next time. Though, I may be a while." With that she rises, turns on her heel, and begins to walk away from the monkey.

"Wait! I found something that I want to ask you about!" He cries.

She stops in her tracks. "You found something? What do you mean, you found something? Just where did you go?!"

"I don't know where I was. I found a cave and went in and when I came out I was in a new place I'd never been before. And I found this."

The princess snatches the picture away from him. She looks hard at it and he watches, frightened, as the color drains from her face and her expression hardens. Anger makes her eyes alight.

"Found this? You found this. Was it simply lying about or did you go digging through my things?"

The monkey looked at her. His mind raced. He'd never lied to the princess before. He'd never had occasion. But now, suddenly, there seemed no other option. He knew instinctively that telling her he'd opened one the of the boxes was the worst possible thing he could say.

"Yes. I found this. It was on the floor. There were lots of papers and things on the floor. It's kind of messy in there."

The princess stares hard at him. She cocks her head. She considers. Finally, she softens.

"Okay. You found it. Don't ever go exploring again. You live here. No place else. This is yours and no where else. Do you understand?"

"Yes. I understand. This is mine. No place else. I understand."

The story goes on. The monkey goes exploring again despite the princess's warning. He finds two more rooms. But none are so fruitful as the office.

I wrote this story about someone I had been thinking about for years. Many, many years ago I thought I loved him. Hell, I even thought I knew him and understood him. That, it turned out, was pure fantasy. But still, he had been an albatross that arrived and flew alongside sinking ships. Whenever a relationship was about to end, my thoughts would turn to him. As things grew worse in the relationship, my state of panic would increase. I would feel a burning need to see him, to talk to him. What exactly that would've accomplished at that time I wasn't sure. I wasn't even sure what I would have said if I had seen him. Maybe I would have come to this realization sooner but I suppose it came when I could understand it.

One night, years ago now - maybe 6 or so - I went to a friend's house and he was there. I believe he had just gotten out of a relationship - sort of. I was still engaged. My affianced had decided to go home. I had decided to stay. He and I talked and talked. I was enjoying it very much when our hosts decided it was time for them to go to bed. We still had more to say, I guess, so we decided to take a drive. Our conversation ranged over a variety of subjects. He said things that confused me. Things that didn't make sense in terms of what I thought of him, what I thought he was all about. And then suddenly it dawned on me. This person that I had been thinking about for all these years, this person I still fancied myself in love with had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the real, living, breathing him. They could not have been more different. I remember feeling the love seeping out of me, into my seat, down to the floorboards, and dripping - like water from an old car's exhaust pipe - onto the pavement below. I was leaking love and ideas built on falsehoods. At an alarming rate.

Now there is a new monkey in town. This one's a howler. It's nothing so dramatic as the first, I learn my lessons sometimes. And at least now the monkey is as aware as I am that he's a figment of my imagination. One day "poof," he'll get sick of performing for me and be gone in much the same fashion as the first. Though, I wonder why it is my brain chooses monkeys. I suppose because the individuals they represent made a big noise in my head without ever saying anything. Like the din of primates. I suppose I could think of them as inanimate objects - like giant rocks heaved into the freeway run-off pool of my mind - but that doesn't hardly seem appropriate. They are organic and mutable. They change to suit whatever tack my thoughts are taking. Rudderless sailboats lost at my sea.

I finally finished Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle early this morning. Things happen in an alternate reality that effect the physical world and that set me to thinking of this story. I hadn't thought of it in a while. Murakami's Mr. Wind-Up Bird set me thinking of myself. Kumiko, of the monkeys that live in my head. Perhaps there really are alternate realities for each of us. Perhaps we are all quietly living other lives we know nothing about. Perhaps the true alternate universes exist in the ideas and memories of us that live in the minds of other people. Maybe somewhere there is a meaner me or a sweeter me. A me that has absolutely nothing to do with the consciousness that peeks out at the world from behind this particular pair of eyes. That moves these particular limbs and thinks these particular thoughts, that creates these particular ghosts to rattle the window frames in the night.

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