The monkey was mocking him.
David had been ready to down the rest of his soda and move on to the lion’s den — if he was going to spend his time at the zoo moping over Veronica, the company of other predators seemed like the most suitable place. But when he ran his tongue over his teeth to rid himself of any unwanted lunch remnants, the monkey did the same.
David crushed his paper cup, sending a spray of ice and soda in every direction as he whirled toward a teenage boy standing beside him. “Did you see that?”
The boy, at least half of David’s thirty years, sneered. “You could have spilled that crap on me, mister.”
“But did you see that?” David spun back toward the cage to address the monkey. “You’re taunting me, aren’t you?”
The monkey grabbed a banana and crushed it the same way David had his drink.
David gave a triumphant slap to the railing that stood between him and the monkey’s cage. “I knew it!”
The boy yawned as bits of banana seeped through the monkey’s fingers. “It’s just a stupid monkey.”
“No, that’s not just any monkey.” David peered at the sign affixed to the cage — a Latin laundry list of genus, species, and subspecies. “That primate wants something from me.” David pointed a spindly, accusing finger at the monkey. “Don’t you? You’re a monkey with an agenda.”
The boy snorted. “Think you need a girlfriend, dude.” He shook his head and wandered off, past a sign pointing toward the lion’s den.
“It’d be a tragedy if the brat fell in,” David muttered. He’d had a girlfriend, and with the monkey’s mimicry to distract him, he’d finally managed to stop thinking about her. But now the memory that brought him to this spot every weekend hounded him again: this was where he had spied Veronica kissing another man. This was where she had admitted to using David — and countless others — to get back at a husband he never knew she had.
“Pathetic, aren’t I?” David said to the monkey. He leaned his hands against the railing and sighed. The monkey placed its hands on a branch inside its cage to imitate David’s grip, then stuck out its tongue and offered a loud “pbbbt!”
David glanced around. Except for a zoo employee tinkering with something in a nearby cage, it was just him and the monkey. He stared at the creature for a long while — glassy brown eyes and exaggerated ears, a nose that resembled a crushed walnut, and lips like Mick Jagger’s.
“Spending every weekend here with you — no wonder you’re making fun of me.” David ran a hand through his mussed hair. “I’d make fun of me too.”
The monkey flashed a toothy smile and ran a hand over the matted hair on its head.
“There’s gotta be something I can do that you can’t.” David thought for a moment, then slapped his thigh. “Aha! Opposable thumbs!”
He jutted his arms out, thumbs in the air. The monkey returned the gesture.
“Oh.” David’s shoulders sagged. “Guess you have those too.”
“Most primates do.”
David turned to find a young woman, no older than himself, standing behind him, her nose wrinkled in a contemplative expression as she studied the monkey. Her diminutive figure — as small as her voice — was buried beneath a green, rumpled zoo uniform, and her tawny hair was pulled up in an unceremonious twist. After a glance at the next cage over, empty except for a pair of slumbering spider monkeys, David guessed she was the zoo employee he had spotted there a moment before.
“He usually doesn’t imitate people that much,” she said, nodding toward the monkey as it imitated the nervous way David was tapping his hands against his thighs. “Especially not when there’s food around.” She giggled so hard that her wire-framed glasses bumped their way down to the tip of her nose. “Maybe he thinks you’re cute.”
“Not as cute as you.” David’s cheeks grew hot, and he fought the urge to slap a hand over his mouth — as if that would take back what he had just blurted.
The young woman giggled again, cheeks flushed, but still smiling. From the cage, the monkey offered another “pbbbt!”
David wiggled his fingers at the cage, but instead of copying the gesture, the monkey folded its arms in seeming triumph and curled its lips back to offer a toothy smile. David returned the smile, then turned his attention back to the young woman. “You work with the monkeys?”
“I’ve got some friends who would say that about their co-workers.” She laughed — a sound that David would have called a snort if she didn’t look so adorable while making it. “But yeah, I do.”
“You know what I think?” David pointed at the grinning monkey. “I think that monkey has been stalling me. I probably would have wandered off to the lion’s den if he had ignored me for his dinner. But I think he wanted me to stay here and meet you and ask you if you’d like to have a cup of coffee with me when you get off work.” David stuck out his hand, beaming with giddy confidence. “I’m David, by the way.”
“Lisa.” She blushed as she shook his hand. “And I just got off work now, actually.”
“Perfect.” David offered her his arm, then cast one final glance at the cage before escorting her away.
The monkey winked, and David winked back.
Barbara A. Barnett is a 2007 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, where she learned valuable things about writing and the evil ways of chickens. Since earning a dual degree in English and music, she has spent most of her professional life working for various arts organizations, from cataloging for a music library to grant writing for an opera company. In the real world, she lives with her husband in southern New Jersey. Online, you can find her and a list of her publications at www.babarnett.com.