The Monkey

Issue 2/1981 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’). Introduction and translation by W. Glyn Jones

The newspaper came at five o’clock, as it did every morning. He lit the bedside lamp and put on his slippers. Very slowly he shuffled across the smooth concrete floor, threading his way as usual between the modeling stands; the shadows they cast were black and cave-like. He had polished the floor since last making some plaster casts. There was a wind blowing, and in the light from the street lamp outside the studio the shadows were swaying to and fro, forced away from each other and then brought together again: it was like walking through a moonlit forest in a gale. He liked it. The monkey had wakened up in its cage and was hanging on to the bars, squealing plaintively. “Monk-monk,” said the sculptor as he went out into the hall to fetch his newspaper. On his way back he opened the door of the cage, and the monkey scrambled on to his shoulder and held on tight. She was cold. He put her collar on and fastened the lead to his wrist. She was a quite ordinary guenon from Tangier that someone had bought cheap and sold at a large profit: she got pneumonia now and then and had to be given penicillin. The local children made jerseys for her. He went back to bed and opened his newspaper. The monkey lay still, warming herself with her arms around his neck. Before long she sat down in front of him with her beautiful hands clasped across her stomach; she fixed her eyes on his. Her narrow, grey face betrayed a patience that was sad and unchanging. “Go on – stare, you confouded orangoutang,” the sculptor said and went on reading. When he reached the second or third page the monkey would suddenly and with lightning precision jump through the newspaper, but always through the pages he was finished with. It was a ritual act. The newspaper is torn apart, the monkey shrieks in a triumph and lies down to sleep. It can give you some relief to read about all the worthless nonsense that goes on in the world every morning at five o’clock and then to have it confirmed that it is worthless nonsense when the whole lot is made unreadable by a great hole being made through it. She helped him to get rid of it.

Now she jumped. “You devil,” the sculptor said, “You cretin, you lousy monkey.” He thought of something new every morning. Then he tucked her down under her coverlet and made sure she had plenty of air. The monkey was soon snoring, and he went on to the art columns. He knew they would be critical of him this time, but there was a gentle condescension which he had not expected; he was getting so old that they had to be considerate. Had the monkey not been there he would have turned straight to the art page, but she helped him to read that page en passant like any other. “Just you sleep, you little bastard,” he said. “You don’t understand a thing; all you want is to make an impression. And spoil things.” It was true; the monkey was just like anyone else: the slightest crack, the slightest spot or defect, and her fingers were there to make it worse and bigger; she saw anything and everything that might give the slightest indication of weakness, and there she would make a grab and tear open and rip apart; that is what monkeys are like, but they do not understand, and so they are forgiven. The others cannot be forgiven. The sculptor dropped his newspaper on the floor and turned over towards the wall. When he woke up it was far too late, and he got up with the usual nasty feeling of having neglected something. He was very tired. The first thing he did was to put the monkey in the cage; she did not move, but simply sat in a corner and looked thin in her knitted jumper. There was heavy traffic in the street outside, and the lift was going all the time. He wiped up some lumps of clay and swept the floor; it is easy to sweep up on smooth concrete; a long brush will go between the legs of the modelling stands and slides as effortlessly as over silk; then everything goes into the dustpan and down into the bucket.

He liked sweeping the floor. Out of habit he went across to the window once or twice but could not see out any longer: it had been covered over because of the light. He fed the monkey. He decided to change his sheets and considered taking the box full of waste plaster down into the yard but decided against it and swept the floor again. He collected some old bits of soap which were too small to use and put them into a tin and poured some water on them. He removed the rags from the statuette and had a look at it, rotated it half a turn and then swung it back again. He went over to the monkey’s cage and said, “You wretch, you’re so ugly you make me sick.” The monkey gave a cry as though asking for something and stretched out her hand through the bars. He rang Savolainen but put down the receiver before he could answer. Actually, he might as well go and have a meal and get that done with, he decided to take the monkey with him to give her a bit of a change. But she didn’t want to go and bounced backwards and forwards in the cage. “What do you want?” he said. “Do you want to go out or would you rather stay behind in all the mess?” He waited. At last she came and sat quite still while he dressed her in her coat of cat’s fur; while he tied her bonnet ribbons under her chin she raised her face and looked at him with a steady, expressionless look in her close­ set yellow eyes. The sculptor looked away, suddenly affected by the motionless animal’s attitude of complete indifference. They went out together, and he held her inside his jacket. The wind was still blowing. The children were hanging about on the esplanade; when they saw him they ran up shouting, “The monkey! The monkey!” She dived out, strained at her collar and shrieked at them, and they shouted back and followed them right down to the corner. There she bit one of them, quickly and sharply. “Monk-monk! Monk-monk!” chanted the children. He slipped into the cafe and put the monkey down on the floor.

“You again,” said the cloakroom attendant. “You know what happened last time, sir. Animals aren’t allowed.”

“Animals?” exclaimed the sculptor. “Do you mean cats and dogs? Or your customers in general?”

Savolainen and the others were having a meal.

“Monkeys,” remarked Savolainen, “are well known for being destructive.”

“What the devil’s that you say?”

“They have an urge to destroy. They break everything.”

“They have tenderness, too,” said the sculptor. “They try to console one.” Lindholm grinned and said that that was what the sculptor needed today. But it might have been worse.

The monkey was still inside his jacket, and he could feel her trembling all the time. “Worse?” exclaimed Savolainen with a show of dismay. “What do you mean by even worse?”

The sculptor said, “Keep quiet, blast you.”

And in the ensuing silence he added, “I was only talking to the monkey here.”

“Oh,” said Pehrman. “Take no notice of them; they only say what they think, and so what? Though it’s a pity everyone takes notice of what they say; you’re fundamentally knocked out. And it’s the devil’s own job to get yourself up again.”

“If you’re old, at least,” remarked Stenberg.

“What does it eat? Clay? Looks like it. What’s it called?”

“Buggerlugs,” he replied. “Devil incarnate!”

Suddenly the monkey darted across the table, knocked over a glass and bit Stenberg right through the ear, and then she returned with a shriek to hide inside the sculptor’s jacket again.

“Tenderness,” said Lindholm. “Wasn’t that what you said? A very tender animal, I must say.”

The sculptor got up and retorted that that was exactly what he had said, and that in any case he didn’t like the menu in the place and had other things to do.

“There’s a Tarzan film on at the Ritz,” the cloakroom attendant said.

“I suppose that’s where you’re off to?”

“Of course,” replied the sculptor. “How did you guess?” He gave too big a tip, out of sheer contempt.

The wind was stronger now. They walked down the esplanade, there were no children about. “Not worth it,” thought the sculptor, “I give up.” The monkey was very upset. He tried to warm her under his jacket, but she got out and almost hanged herself in her own collar. She started screeching, and in the end he let her off the lead. She sat still for a moment, then she jumped out of his hands and bounded up into a tree; she held tight on to the trunk, and there she sat like a little grey rat, looking very frightened. She was trembling with cold. Her long tail was within reach; he could have got hold of her but he simply stood and did nothing. Like lightning the monkey darted up into the leafless tree, hanging up there in the highest branches like a dark fruit, and he thought, “You poor devil; yes, you’re cold, but even so you can climb.”

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