The Bronx Zoo’s ‘World of Primates’ Tour and Exhibit Is Currently Closed

I had a friend but she left me, I said.

First novel. That is, autobiography with new names: we met in a bar outside of Savannah. Two months later we had an apartment together and a dog. Three months later the dog had cancer. She put the dog down herself, called him over to her where she knelt on newspaper in the kitchen with a rag soaked in ether. I tried to stop her but she said, ‘He understands, more than you do.’ As I tell it, I realize two things about the story: (1) no one wants to hear it; (2) I should have read it a little more closely. As people get up to walk away, I think: this must be how god misunderstands his characters. But I’m not mad. I understand, now. Who wouldn’t nod? Who wouldn’t sympathize? Who wouldn’t ballpark the paces to the bar, the bathroom, the exit…

 

I had a friend but she left me, I said.

Decorative friends are good. For decoration, for example. Not for this: maybe she was a lesbian? She played that, I suppose, amongst other roles. Still, there were things I could do for her. Things she could do for me. Not all of them sexual, not all of them kind. Can we build anything sturdier on the quicksand of modern life? Audience. That is, hostage who must buy every other round: so she was a dyke, classic.

That’s not how she left me, I said.

 

I had a friend but she left me, I said.

A pause – who wouldn’t need one? – and then: tell me more.

I could tell him that I felt guilty, for everything. I wanted to tell him, elaborately. Most writers just want this: please hear me, fill the void left by my father, my lover, the world. I say whatever I want but it reduces down to binary: sound/silence, on/off. Decodes as: M’aidez vous. S.O.S….or, if you’re an early Modernist: only connect. We story-pushers all assume, this is what people want. Best case scenario for the Foucaultian millennium: a cellmate. Don’t leave me alone, crawling as some Beckett clown through this empty swamp. A bad habit: when I know someone’s listening, I get academic. But it was costing me, a half-week’s wages per hour. Those are expensive syllables, expensive pauses.

 

I had a friend but she left me, I said.

Those who know, they don’t ask why. They say: what was she like?

Me. That is, the character I’ve been rehearsing, elegiac with practiced flaws: she was good with animals, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anyone so totally dedicated to something. Her animals, I shouldn’t say that, she wouldn’t want me to call them animals, they were family, she really loved them. More than people, sometimes. I certainly loved her more than people. I was afraid of people. That’s why I bought the gun in the first place. She hated it, said it would only hurt someone. She said: that’s not what it’s for.

I misunderstood her, I said.

 

I had a friend but she left me, I said.

Silence.

I came home. The dishes were washed, the living room was swept. My desk was tidied up. The bed was made. There was a small box sitting on top of the folded comforter. The safe under the nightstand was open.

In the box was a note:

If you give a chimpanzee a tool, he will throw it at you. If you give a gorilla a tool, he will clean his ear with it, or dig in the ground. If you give an orangutan a tool she will let herself out of her cage.

Benjamin Schachtman is a retired line cook and bass player who now lives and teaches in New York City with his wife and dog. His work has appeared in Slush Pile, Ozone Park Journal, The Conium Review, and is forthcoming from a few other small journals.

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