The monkey has been playing with the Magic 8 Ball all morning and it’s getting on Debbie’s nerves.
“Colette, quit shaking that thing,” she yells. The monkey shrieks and runs across the table, scattering purchase orders. They have just finished the “Fancy Furry Friends” trade show in Las Vegas where the monkey dutifully twirled a tiny baton in a beguiling azure tulle and sequined gown. Debbie loves the unnatural glittery slickness of sequins, reflective and wet looking as a new born seal, but after three days of keep twirling honey, no hitting, that’s a good girl, keep twirling, and hustling spangled capes and tutus and dazzling customers with yes, I can do that, sequined skating outfits for a family of chimps? sure, sequined poodle skirts? yes, yes an orangutan tux, yes, her threads were frayed. The sequins were getting to her. To both of them.
They are taking a break in Tucson. Nothing artificial, Debbie hopes, will glow in the desert. Here, at this rustic resort scenically positioned near russet-colored mountains, she could stop thinking about showy costumes for show-biz animals and wouldn’t run into anyone flashy or famous or interesting. Actually, she’d love to meet someone famous and interesting, but when she consulted the Magic 8 Ball, the answer was not encouraging.
Debbie puts on a bathing suit. The monkey perches on the bathroom sink and looks at herself in the mirror. Staring at her little monkey face is one of her favorite things to do. Besides nature shows on TV, it’s the only time she gets to see a monkey.
It’s too cold for the monkey to swim, so she has to wait in the room, a room with long white curtains that may never be the same. Monkeys are restless, uninhibited. They shriek, bite, shred, throw, holding nothing back, including affection, which they coofully display with the large-eyed drippiness of a Keane painting. When was the last time Debbie had oozed an emotion without considering the repercussions? Debbie gives the monkey her favorite picture book, the one starring Koko, the famous signing gorilla, Koko’s Kitten, and points out the TV remote control.
Talk shows are Colette’s favorite thing to watch. The monkey, however, with the concentration of Queequeg in the final chapters of Moby-Dick, is consulting the Magic 8 Ball and she is screeching after each shake, unhappy with the answers: CANNOT PREDICT NOW and ASK AGAIN LATER.
The air is colder than Debbie expected, astringent like a brush whisking out her lungs. A man with pale, prematurely thinning hair tries to talk to her in the pool when she takes a break from swimming breathless laps. She pretends not to hear him.
He sidles up to her. “Are you from Hollywood?”
The top of his head is glistening in the sun like an oversized pink sequin. His face is just starting to line around the eyes and forehead but she doesn’t like the character of his lines. They are thoughtless, vacuous wrinkles, the kind caused by too much sun. He probably thinks she’s available or desperate because she’s ten pounds overweight. The nerve, she thinks, and resumes swimming.
Debbie finds the monkey trying to shake some sense into the 8 Ball when she comes to collect her for a ride.
The sequin head ambles over to her when she stretches out her long blue-white legs on a plastic beach chair. “I’m here for a sales conference,” he says. By now he’s seen the spider veins, the chipped toe polish advertising hammer toes. She opens her eyes and looks down at his flip flops. His toes are square. Clean cut. She’d rather see a handsome bump. A missing toe. Something that shows his body has been lived in. Someone who could show her a thing or two. She’s not sure what that means, only that he’d know about things that really matter. “I’m here for a rest,” she says and when it looks like he’s about to say something else, she closes her eyes.
I am not my job, she thinks. I will not be buried with my business card, “Monkey Suits.” Why does all this space make me think of death?
Debbie finds the monkey trying to shake some sense into the 8 Ball when she comes to collect her for a ride. They would drive, without a map. Well, with a map, but in no direction in particular, and keep driving until she has a revelation of some sort, until the trip has some important meaning. She has five more days to have an epiphany.
The road gets dustier and narrower. Not much traffic. A few Jeeps and gas guzzlers, mostly Chevys. The desert is not dramatic enough to be beautiful. No Sahara-like stretches of rippled fawn-colored sand. No cactus with a significant shape, like an animal or a monster or a man that forms in the corner of childhood bedrooms. There is absolutely nothing here to remind her of the dream she’d had at twelve, the pink-glazed dream that won’t go away. So why is the dream looking at her over the lip-colored hills?
She begins to look forward to hand-painted signs, thinking that although it isn’t nature she is appreciating, at least it’s something quaint, something she couldn’t find in Los Angeles.
Several handmade signs announce the upcoming reptile farm. Better not stop there. What if they’re not in a natural habitat? She’s not up for a rescue. Another sign advertises cactus jelly jams and preserves. Further on, authentic Indian jewelry. This raw, unframed folk signage will look great in her house. She’d like to take something back with her.
Maybe she should have answered the man in the pool. But then again, why should she? He is not famous or interesting. Not old enough to be wise or grateful. This is her vacation, and she didn’t need to fulfill some balding, shallow-wrinkled, barely middle-aged creep’s fantasies. Maybe it was time to fulfill her own fantasies. There is a sign coming up that she considers taking.
She pulls in, expecting to see something touristy like a teepee or a little pueblo, but it’s just a shack made of what looks strangely like dried cactus threaded through beams of pine and sealed with blue plastic on the roof. She gets out of the car and walks to the shack entrance where the monkey, clinging to Debbie’s neck, tries to pry off a letter tacked up with a small nail. The letter, on Presidential stationery, is supposed to make you feel like you won something because you’ve had a 100th birthday. Next to it is a cardboard sign with “Coffee 4 Sale” written in crayon. Nailed beneath it is another sign, painted, “No drinkin No smokin” and something about rocks. Outside is a rock collection set up on cinder blocks—boring, regular rocks that she can’t imagine anyone selling, let alone buying.
Inside the doorway, the light glows blue. Debbie expects a shriveled, feathered, broken little man holding a cracked coffee mug in a trembling leathered hand. Someone with tragic stories, someone pathetic enough to be selling coffee and rocks and maybe had never had a martini.
She sees boots. The boots stand, and he comes out. He is taller than she’d expected. He’s wearing a cowboy hat of a color that is so faded it is no color she can describe, and jutting out from the beaded band is a small feather, maybe an owl feather, and his hair is long, yellowed, waving gently on his shoulders like Marlene Dietrich’s.
“Hi,” she says. “Are you Geronimo, as in the famous Apache chief?”
He opens his palm to her, shows her his lines. “Sit down,” he says. There are three metal folding chairs outside, the kind you see at meetings in basements. She sits down.
His chest expands, and she thinks of a peacock. “He was my grandfather.” His voice is not old or flattened. He’s wearing wide wale corduroy pants in a pale bark color and a plaid shirt in blues. Debbie resolves to make Colette an outfit—a bark corduroy dress with flannel sleeves.
“I noticed the letter from the President. Do you mind if I ask? I can’t believe that you’re 100 years old.”
“One hundred and one this December,” he says. “They think so, anyway. But I think I may be 103.”
He has ignored Colette. Maybe his vision is bad. Maybe he thinks she’s a hideous, spindly baby. She looks into his shack.
“It’s like a cathedral in there,” Debbie says. “A cathedral of blue.”
Aside from spitting in the direction of his boots, the monkey has ignored him, too.
“Blue is the color of faith.”
“Faith?” she says.
“Yes,” he answers, but this time it sounds like he’s saying “fate.”
“It’s is a happy color for my people. The color of sky.”
He is still standing, looming over her. Inside the cathedral, his blue looks unnatural, more like a pool than sky, a supernatural place to swim or drown.
“Would you like some tea?” he asks.
“How did you know I don’t drink coffee?” she says. There is water already boiling on a small wood-burning stove, and she expects tea of leaves he’s picked from the scrubby landscape but he hands her a cup with a supermarket brand tea bag. She wonders if he ever leaves this place. Goes into town to shop, see a movie or eat out. She cannot imagine him in a diner on a red vinyl swivel stool swirling day-old milk into his coffee. As the tea darkens his knee rubs against hers, and she feels dizzy.
She doesn’t know what to ask. “Do you have a TV?”
“No, but I used to watch it when I was working in California.”
“Um. What did you watch?” The monkey tugs on her leash, and Debbie lets her wander to the rocks. She picks them up and turns them over as if she’s looking for something, a message or an answer.
“Oh, I loved The Three Stooges. The only thing I got mad about was that guy who was always slapping the other ones. That’s the only thing I didn’t like about it. They were always hitting each other.”
“I hated that, too,” she says. She can’t believe she’s met a man, an Apache, who abhors comedic violence.
“And I loved that funny little guy. Charlie Chaplin.”
She wonders how long it’s been since he’s seen a television.
“Don’t you get lonely out here?”
“I’m not lonely,” he says. “I raised myself.”
“They found me half dead under a bush after a massacre. I grew up with people who didn’t like grandfather. I didn’t have nobody. They said they had a hard time because of him.”
“Him? Oh him. Geronimo. You have the same name.”
“That’s a Mexican name. My real name is Gokhlayeh.”
His voice changes when he says his name, lilting like a strange bird.
“Gokhlayeh,” he repeats, slowly as if he expects her to repeat it. “What is your name?”
She’s never liked her name. She should tell him it’s Kiki or Columbine or Ophelia.
“Debbie,” she says.
“What does it mean?”
“Mean? Nothing really.”
He shakes his head. “All names have meaning.”
“If you mean in baby books, it means ‘bee.’” She watches him watch a butterfly and notices its wings are three different hues of yellow and wonders if she’s made herself vulnerable by mentioning a baby book. Why had she even looked at a baby book. She’d chosen the name in the dream. Allan Christopher.
“What, what do you do?” she asks. “Out here.”
He looks out there. “Oh, there’s quail. Must be two or three hundred quail.”
“Do you hunt?”
“No, I feed them. I see a little bird, a little ant. I feed them and I almost talk to them.”
“I talk to Colette. My monkey over there. She’s like my child.”
There is a silence. She looks at his hands. No ring. “Are you married?”
Tacked to chicken wire under the shack awning are tea-colored pages cut from newspapers: “The Last Geronimo. Chief Geronimo III tries to keep the Apache pride and dignity alive. . .”
“Married? Who needs to marry? I had women. We made about twelve kids. They’re old men, now. The oldest one is seventy. He was born right after grandfather passed away. He died in prison, you know. He gave himself up to go to the reservation but they put him in jail in Florida.”
“Do any of your kids have your name?”
He shakes his head, no.
Tacked to chicken wire under the shack awning are tea-colored pages cut from newspapers: “The Last Geronimo. Chief Geronimo III tries to keep the Apache pride and dignity alive…”
What a shame he’s the last, she thinks.
“I must have been a cute old man, because I had a lot of women.”
She is sure she is blushing, so she turns to the monkey. “Colette, come here.” She tugs on the leash and the monkey, who has found no answers under the rocks, scampers over and climbs to her shoulder.
“What does she do?” says Geronimo.
He nods. His cheekbones seem pointed when the light hits them, like rocks jutting from a stream. She has the urge to pet them, brush along the rock tips with her fingers.
“She’s my baby. A pet. I rescued her from a medical lab. Why? Is it bad to have a pet?”
The monkey tugs on Debbie’s hair and touches her lip.
Geronimo puts his cup down on a cinder block and holds out his right hand. The lifeline curls around his bracelets of Neptune, and they encircle his wrist in the blue light like a snake. Colette squeals and climbs up to Debbie’s shoulder.
Does he want to shake her hand or look at her lines or grasp her chin as if it were a quail and bring her face to his, and would he smell, was it even possible to bathe out here? “Do you want to give that to me?”
She is holding the tea bag. She hands it to him and takes a gulp of tea.
“My people believe an animal needs a job.”
“Oh? Um. She models at trade shows and does light housekeeping.” She worries he’ll think this is frivolous. “I should go.”
“You will come back tomorrow,” he says. He embraces her and the large fertile-colored stone—a carnelian perhaps—on his horseshoe belt buckle presses into her abdomen. He could crush her; he is that strong.
Driving back, the mountains are the red of biting ants, the cactus silvery green as though powdered with sugar and the combination is bittersweet, and she wonders where he sleeps. On a hammock? A mattress? An animal skin rug? He is tall, dark, blonde, really, and handsome, and he’s incredibly strong. He’s famous, too, or at least he has a famous bloodline. It would be a shame to see it end. She feels like she’s supposed to do something, the way she did something about the lab monkey.
She’d met Colette in Berkeley three years ago when she’d picked up the suave silver-haired behavioral psychologist she’d seen on PBS. He told her he was a professor but neglected to tell her what he researched. He flirted her onto the Berkeley campus and into a dimly lit, animal-smelling room and pushed her unexpectedly onto a cool stainless steel counter near a cage where something labeled C-2 screamed. Debbie twisted her head around to see monkey eyes staring from a white fur face with a brown cap of fur-like bangs.
“Pretty,” signed the monkey, or so Debbie thought. She hadn’t signed since high school where her best friend Loretta, was deaf.
“It talks,” Debbie said.
“Oh, she’s from last year’s project, the signing project,” mumbled the professor as he hiked up her skirt.
“Project?” She yanked her skirt back down.
“She’s a lab animal,” he said. “This year it’s substance abuse.”
“Bad man,” signed the monkey.
Debbie pushed on the professor’s chest and squeezed out from under him. “You mean, you teach her to talk, then you torture her so she can tell you what hurts?”
“Just a coincidental bonus.” He grinned, grabbed her wrists with one hand and pressed her against the table.
“Hey, quit it,” Debbie yelled. Strangely encouraged, the professor ripped Debbie’s blouse, scattering buttons.
That was when the monkey grabbed a chunk of silver professor hair. Undeterred, excited even, the professor unbuckled his belt, unzipped and wriggled his pants down over his hips. Seeing his glinting iris within reach, the monkey, always keenly aware of opportunity, jabbed a finger in his eye.
Over his swearing, Debbie saw the monkey sign “Love you.”
“Come home with me,” signed Debbie. The monkey clapped and signed “Love you.”
“I’m taking her home,” she announced, fiddling with the lock and the professor, who did not have tenure, was obliged to let the rescued designer take C-2 home.
Now they were inseparable, though it was sometimes difficult for Colette to keep a low profile.
Driving back to the resort she stops at a Trading Post for a provincial meal. The monkey stretches out her arm and tries to touch a kachina doll through the glass.
Debbie talks and signs to the monkey. “You like little doll?” Colette signs “Yes,” one of the fifty words she can speak with her hands.
“We’ll get you a kachina,” Debbie promises. Then she signs, “If you promise not to eat it. Like the baby doll I got you.”
“No eat,” signs the monkey. “Bad doll. Bad taste.”
Colette hides under a black shawl. Monkeys are never welcome in restaurants, even less welcome than children.
The place isn’t very rustic. No cowboy hats, no fringe, no beads, no craggy desert-dusted skin. No one with the soulful quality of Geronimo. What is this thing she has for older men?
Jack Palance is her latest intrigue. She’s seen the actor in her neighborhood. He was aging like a good car with badly patched repair work. Rust stains showing through the paint job. He was always alone. Did he have a wife? A lover? Some stay-at-home pet, like a boa constrictor or a cat? Jack Palance changing a litter box? Not likely.
She wants to stop him someday, make sure it is him, not some look-a-like with a boxer-style flattened nose. She watched a movie a few weeks ago starring Jack Palance as a washed-up boxer. Requiem for a Heavyweight. He wasn’t as handsome as Marlon Brando in that other washed-up boxer movie. But Palance was more convincing. More tragic.
She’d told her mom about her crush on Palance, distressed he’d never noticed her. “Honey,” her mom had said. “Why don’t you find somebody your own age?”
She’d never had anyone her own age. Kids had always been scabby, runny, nasty little monsters, just because they had dads. She’d spent every summer living with her grandfather, a tall sea captain who told wonderful stories. He could have been a tap dancer, he told her —he’d shown her some steps—but he went to war. He’d almost been famous.
The monkey screams. The waiter, the disappointingly un-Western waiter, who is her own age, younger even, and who’d been idly smoking in the corner, becomes attentive. She is wary of young men. Young men ravage you like a bag of potato chips, get their hands greasy and throw away the bag.
“Everything okay?” He is a surfer-rocker type, cute despite his underdeveloped surfer-rocker reptile brain and complete lack of facial character.
Debbie pushes Colette’s head under her scarf. “Yes, yes, thank you. I’d like to order. I’ll have the Western omelet but with fries instead of hash browns.” He bends over the table to fill her water glass, his head at monkey-eye level. “Nice cologne,” coos Debbie. “Vetivert?”
The waiter screams and presses his nose. “Jesus. Some thing grabbed my nose ring.”
Debbie stands, clutching Colette. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
Colette is quiet. Debbie whispers into the black scarf. “That was bad. Bad Colette.”
“Maybe we should go.”
“What the hell is it?” says the waiter.
“It’s a baby,” says Debbie.
Colette sticks out her head.
The waiter shrieks and runs up for a closer look.
Colette snarls and bares her teeth, her incisors glistening sharp yellow.
Still pressing his nose, the waitress takes a step back.
“What’s its problem?” says the waitress, clutching the surfer rocker waiter’s well-toned bicep. “You know, that thing oughtta be in a cage.”
“She’s really a sweetheart,” says Debbie. “But we can leave.”
“Yes,” signs Colette.
Debbie shifts Colette to her hip. Colette’s tail curls protectively, possessively, around her arm.
“You do that,” the waitress says. “Freaks.”
She wonders if men are turned off by a monkey. If she’ll ever be in a relationship. Have a baby. A human baby. She’s already thirty-four. She leaves and straps Colette into her baby seat.
The dream had come at twelve while she slept in Cap’s bed. Everything was amniotic pink, seen from the fetus’ perspective. His name was Allan Christopher and he heard his mother’s heart beating too fast, a brutal heart beating. She would be unable to keep him.
“You’re my little baby. Would you like a little sister, some day? A little human baby?”
Colette sticks out her tongue.
She’d told Cap about the dream. “Why wouldn’t you want to keep a baby?” he said. He told her about a South American couple that was very sad because they couldn’t have children, so they adopted a baby. It looked a little odd and it turned out to be a shaved baby monkey with the tail cut off. They kept it anyway and loved it like their own.
Back at the resort, Debbie notices that the monkey is agitated, perhaps because she doesn’t like her job. Debbie releases her at the foot of the curtains.
Colette is jumping up to the curtain rod, then sliding down the curtains like a vine.
“Colette, are you warm enough?” Debbie opens the dresser and points. “Why don’t you pick out a sweater? What about your red sweater?”
The monkey slides down the drapes and heads for the dresser and rummages through her drawer. She yanks out her red cardigan and jumps into Debbie’s lap.
“Just think. If I have a baby someday you guys can wear the same clothes. And you can be the babysitter. What do you say?”
The monkey sticks out her tongue and scampers across the room to the Magic 8 Ball and shakes it violently. As usual, the answer is an unsatisfactory REPLY HAZY TRY AGAIN and the even less satisfactory, OUTLOOK NOT SO GOOD.
Her outfit the next morning takes planning. Nobody wears black out here, that might be too severe. Jeans? Too casual, too disinterested. The floral dress? Too childish. Intentions should lie just beneath the surface of the material. She decides on a cobalt blue dress, a little clingy, that shows a lot of leg. The monkey picks out a blue knit outfit that’s a little clingy and shows a lot of tail.
Geronimo is standing outside when she pulls in, surrounded by small birds with small bobbing heads. At first she thinks he is wearing the same plaid flannel shirt he had on yesterday. If he were interested in her, wouldn’t he change? No. The pattern is different.
“I knew you’d come,” he says. He looks taller today. “That is a beautiful color.” He throws a last handful of seed. The word seed resonates, as if she’s said it out loud, stringing out a long line of eeees. The sky brightens. “I’ll go inside and make you some tea.”
She follows him.
“I was thinking we could go into town and have lunch or something. I was hoping you could tell me about Native American costumes.”
“Indians don’t wear costumes.” He looks back toward the bitter-colored mountain faded powdery red-brown.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I mean, it’s just that I’m a designer.”
“Okay,” he says. She assumes that she’ll drive but he walks behind the shack and asks her to follow. “Oh, you have a Jeep,” she says.
“My son bought it for me. He’s an operator. He makes a lot of money.” She doesn’t know what the son operates. Telephones? Heavy machinery? It doesn’t sound like something you do in Hollywood, something you do to get famous. If she had a son with Geronimo, he certainly wouldn’t operate.
“Let me tell you something about you. You’ve been trying to be a good girl. You don’t make stories.”
Through his corduroy jeans she cannot tell if he is wearing underwear. What kind would it be? Boxers? Calvin Klein?
“You don’t have a crazy imagination. I can read your mind.”
She shifts her thoughts to something abstract, something he won’t be able to see. Sky. Hills. More sky.
Geronimo opens the door on the passenger side but lets her close it herself. He guns the motor, backs up and heads in the opposite direction of the red mountain before she has even put on her seat belt. He drives fast, recklessly like a teenager, letting the other guy move out of the way. She wonders if he’s reckless in other ways.
“A man who is a criminal, he always looks away. Not open. No clean mind, like I’m looking at you.”
“Con artists can look you straight in the eye,” she says. “Axe murderers. Serial Killers. Baby killers.”
“Yes,” he says. “I know.”
He pulls into Arizona Joe’s. The screen door is painted an inappropriately cheerful shade of mint. Geronimo yanks it open too forcefully, as if he remembers it being heavier. She doesn’t remember seeing a door at Geronimo’s shack. A fattish man pouring hot water through the coffee maker keeps pouring and says “Hey chief. Another reporter?”
She doesn’t want to be another anything.
Geronimo tips his hat and guides her to a booth. “Two months ago I came here with a man from The Sacramento Bee.” The fattish man hasn’t noticed the monkey, who has already leapt onto the table and is pouring sugar into a heap and making squiggly patterns in it.
“The monkey is talking to us,” says Geronimo.
The monkey picks up a handful of sugar and lets it slip through her fingers.
“She is saying you have to do every thing the Creator lets you imagine yourself doing, see, or it leaves you, like that.”
How cute is that, she thinks, Geronimo thinks Colette’s a philosopher. It was true, though. She had listened to self-improvement tapes that talked about creative visualization. She’d given up styling for trendy magazines and started her business after a daydream about dancing dogs in tutus. If visualization caused business dreams to manifest, what about the one where Geronimo, after tenderly unbuttoning her shirt, throws her on a mattress in his shack. Did he even have a mattress?
“Coffee?” The fattish man is grinning over her. “Iced tea,” she says. “And an orange juice for her.” Geronimo orders. “Orange juice and eggs over easy.“
Over easy. It sounded like something he’d do to her on the mattress. She could deal with the seduction part, so unlikely, so taboo, it was exciting, although maybe when it came to the sex part she wouldn’t actually look. What about the part of her fantasy where she visits with the baby, their baby? Geronimo’s progeny would flourish in the competitive, celebrity-thick air of Hollywood. The baby, her baby, Geronimo the fourth, would be famous.
“Anything else?” says the fattish man. “Make that hot tea,” she says, smiling.
“I’m thinking about doing some designs with feathers,” she says. “What kind of feather is that?”
“You see a lot of feathers in the movies, but we don’t wear them every day. You see, I wear a hat. It’s just a small hawk feather. I would wear an eagle but they’re endangered. In the movies I wear an Indian headdress.”
“You were in movies?”
“Oh, I was in a lot of movies. I’ve been a U.S. Marshall. And a Texas Ranger. I’ve been everything.“
“Those Hollywood people came out here. I was already an old man when I got into movies; I was never a movie star until John Wayne came.”
“Really? Which movies did you do with him?”
“ High Chaparral.”
“Really?” Maybe he’d even been in a movie with Jack Palance.
“In The Little House on the Prairie I sing an Indian song in my own language before I die.“ Debbie makes a mental note to rent it.
“Do you ever go to the movies?” she asks.
“I enjoy a good Western but I don’t like movies about Indians.“
“Because they’re not Indians, anyway. They have people made up like Indians, you know. There might be one or two in there, but you hardly see them.”
“But what about the movies you were in?”
It makes me mad to see that crazy action. It’s phony. There was a movie about the Sioux where ten men kill about two thousand Indians. They make the white man whip everybody, those movie actor heroes. You know why I got in the movies? I was broke. I needed the money very bad.
“There’s something you have to understand. Let me explain how American Indians are. They don’t get excited that easy. When they have real Indians in the movies, directors don’t like them. They say they don’t know how to act. Because they’re not phony. Indians are not emotional people. They are what they are.”
The monkey waves her hand over Geronimo’s orange juice. Debbie grabs her but the monkey has already sifted sugar through her fingers.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know why she does this.”
“The monkey is jealous,” says Geronimo.
The monkey reaches across Debbie’s arm and knocks her tea onto the table and into her lap.
“Shit,” says Debbie.
Geronimo gives Debbie his napkin. The monkey grabs it and begins mopping the table. A drip trickles slowly like an anesthetic onto her arm.
The drive back is slower, a tepid, drawn-out foreplay. Geronimo languidly takes the turns, steering with one arm, casually resting the other across the back of the seat. His fingers brush Debbie’s shoulder over potholes, and she shivers. Her crotch is still tea-damp and when she looks down, sees her dress wedged between her thighs. She thinks it’s strange to hear Geronimo use the word “phony” and then she thinks about sequins. No wonder they’ve lost their appeal. They’re plastic.
Inside the shack, there is a mattress, not bare or covered with a Navaho blanket or something scratchy and grey, but with a pale blue electric blanket with the cord dangling ineffectually from a corner and Debbie sits on it. “Are you tired?” asks Geronimo. “Go ahead, lie down. Can I get you something?”
“I’m not tired. I was just thinking about how much I was going to miss you.”
She pats the mattress the way you do when you want a dog to sit next to you. “I’ll be outside,” says Geronimo. She stands. “Gokhlaya? I mean Gokhlayet?”
Geronimo comes to her, “Gokhlayeh.”
“Don’t leave me,” she says. His eyes are shining in the blue light and she feels as if she is swimming. “You never told me what it means,” she whispers. Probably something virile. Heroic. A name that could save a nation.
“One Who Yawns.” He smiles and pulls her hand to his face. From here she can smell his breath, and it’s unexpectedly sweet.
Something thumps against the shack. Then more thumps. The sound of an unhappy monkey throwing rocks which only now have meaning.
“The monkey is jealous,” says Geronimo.
“She’s just a little temperamental,” says Debbie, then yells, “Colette.“
The monkey keeps thumping.
Debbie leaves the shack and grabs the monkey. “Put the rock down,” she says. Geronimo ducks, and the monkey hits the “Coffee 4 Sale” sign.
“That’s it. In the car.”
Debbie throws the screaming monkey, gently, inside and quickly slams the door. The monkey pounds on the windshield.
Geronimo takes off his hat, places it on the folding chair. “Maybe she thinks you’ll do something to make her very jealous.”
Debbie is fairly certain she’s ovulating.
The monkey opens and shuts the glove compartment.
“Come in,” he says, and Debbie feels weak. Geronimo lifts her chin to his face the way she’d imagined he would and his hands feel smooth and hard like sanded wood. His firmness makes her feel chiseled, noble and almost beautiful. This close, his skin is mountain-colored and creviced with thoughtfulness and tragedy, and his eyes, his oystery Apache eyes, are threaded with sepia, it’s this earth that makes him potent, she thinks, and he kisses her. He does not jam his tongue into her mouth like a teenager, like the way he drives. He kisses her softly as though she would break, holding her face as if it’s a small bird. After the kiss he pulls a flap of plastic over the entrance and leads her to the mattress.
Light wavers on the voluminous crêpeish folds under his chin and she thinks of the dewlap on an anole. She’d had two of the color-changing lizards and remembers the male extending a fleshy protuberance under his jaw, probably some mating thing, though the female never looked impressed and no babies came of it. She would have to deal with it here, the folds hanging loosely near her face. She would focus on his eyes, the novelty, the outcome, the baby.
The monkey, bored with crawling through the steering wheel, and swinging from the rearview mirror, is pushing in the cigarette lighter and burning holes in the map she’s plucked from the glove compartment.
Geronimo and Debbie lie down and he kisses her roughly, then stares at her as if he’s surprised at himself, as if he hasn’t done this in a very long time, and there is blue light in his eyes and she can no longer see any earth, just atmosphere. She wonders if her eyes look bluer and when she touches his belt, wonders if he’s circumcised. She unzips him and glancing quickly, sees that he isn’t.
Meanwhile, the monkey, who has nothing else to touch or push or open and close, has released the emergency brake.
At first Debbie is not hopeful—my God, he’s 103—but when Geronimo scrunches her dress over her hips and straddles her, she realizes she’s mistaken. The light is blue until she closes her eyes, then a pink hue takes over, the pink of the hills, the color of indelible loss, the color she could finally embrace. “We could make a Geronimo the fourth,” she confides. She’s sure this is a turn-on.
The nose of the car has hit Geronimo’s mattress and cracked Debbie’s wrist. Geronimo hoists up his pants, smoothes her dress and lifts her, as though she weighed no more than a kitten, and takes her outside.
“A baby? With you?” He is still inside her, but arching above her as if he’s about to leave, hop on a horse and ride off into the sunset. “You’re a nice girl, you’re very sweet, and I’m sure we’d make a beautiful baby. But it wouldn’t be a Geronimo.”
Engulfed by the quieting blue, the disturbingly truthful blue, they don’t hear the stones crunching, the wheels crushing gravel, a vehicle rolling into motion. The car is not going very fast, but fast enough to stop the competition.
The car is interrupted by the thin, tenuous beams—three have collapsed—and plastic shrouds the tires. The nose of the car has hit Geronimo’s mattress and cracked Debbie’s wrist. Geronimo hoists up his pants, smoothes her dress and lifts her, as though she weighed no more than a kitten, and takes her outside. The monkey, however, is lying in a fetal position on the front seat, fatally coiled with something broken, a neck or perhaps a heart.
Debbie slips from Geronimo’s arms and without feeling any pain in her wrist, forces open the car door partially blocked by splintered pine. She uncurls the monkey and breathes and breathes and breathes into her and pushes on her chest and even though it’s too late, she cannot let go.
She had never looked. Did he have little hands? He would be eight years and two months, by now, Allan Christopher.
Geronimo gently pulls Debbie from the car and staring at her swelling ulna, tells her to she better get in his Jeep, now. He will drive her to the hospital and then they will bury the monkey. She doesn’t want to cry in front of him; the sobs are building up, tightening her throat. She hasn’t been able to save her, she hasn’t saved anything at all.
“Please,” she says. “let’s bury her first.”
Geronimo wraps the monkey in a plaid shirt, the one he wore yesterday, and hands her to Debbie, then gets a shovel. They walk behind the shack and then keep walking, as if Geronimo doesn’t want death too close to him or as if he’s giving Colette’s soul room to ascend into the hills and the heavens.
“Do you believe in afterlife?” she asks. Colette is cooling. The body goes so quickly.
Geronimo stops digging and looks toward the mountain. “Let me tell you the truth about our life. This ground here takes care of you. It gives you everything you’ve got. When you die, he collects. He eats you up. You belong to the dirt.”
She opens the shirt. Colette’s mouth is open in the shape of a little scream and Debbie presses the jaw closed. Then Debbie closes the monkey’s eyes the way she’s seen it done in movies but one eye won’t shut as if the monkey is winking. She’d expected there to be roots or rocks or something to slow down the last time she’ll see Colette but the digging doesn’t take very long. Geronimo jams the shovel into the ground and Debbie realizes the digging part is over.
She wonders if Geronimo expects her to bury Colette in his shirt; if he’s giving some part of himself to Colette.
“What about your shirt?”
Geronimo motions to the grave, as if she’s supposed to put Colette into it. She wants him to say something, an Indian prayer. Anything.
“Can I buy you another one?”
“I don’t need another one,” he says.
She hears a terrible sound, something stored up for years, and it takes her a second to realize this shrill shrieking, stabbing cactus and sky, echoing against distant canyons and dopplegänging bruised pink sobs, is hers.
Geronimo pushes hair out of her face and squeezes her hand, and the blue of his eyes—the pupil pinpointed and vacant in this arid light—seems endless, without malice or compassion, an unendurable truth. “The creator puts everything in our minds we need to know,” he says, but she is no longer listening when she places the monkey, gently, in the cradle of dirt.
Laren Stover‘s published works include Pluto, Animal Lover, a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge, and The Bombshell Manual of Style. Laren is a fellow of Yaddo and Hawthornden and has received the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation grant for fiction and the Dana Award. Her libretto, Appalachian Liebesleider, premiered at Carnegie Hall to a standing ovation.
Requiem for a Heavyweight starring Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, Kim Hunter, and Ed Wynn
Photo by Michael Appleton