America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
29 August 2017
The problem was the same for all the beasts. It was not simply that things were not what they used to be. It was rather that they were not what they used to be. Lions weren’t as proud. Monkeys had lost their talent for imitation. Tigers had become dis-spirited. Foxes had lost their guile, and even eagles were no longer eagle-eyed.
At least that was the view of Simon, a middle-aged chimpanzee with scrupulously groomed fur and sparklingly white teeth.
Simon had written a bestselling self-help book, Go Ape! You, Your Nature and the Path to Change. In it he argued that the essence of each beast is woven into its soul by the great loom of nature, and that deviation from one’s true self results only in physical lassitude and moral disorientation—exactly what had come to pass.
His fame spread rapidly, and it seemed that he was rarely off the TV. He liked to knuckle walk over to the camera, stare right down the lens and grunt—softly and slowly at first, then more and more rapidly and aggressively—before ending with a frenzied screech. Pausing for a moment to get his breath back, he’d then calmly address the audience:
“If you’re a monkey, go on—make a monkey of yourself. You’ll love it and others will recognize you for who you really are.”
But not everyone saw him as a ‘be what you truly are’ guru. Susan, for instance, a tough-talking hen and cultural commentator, dismissed his argument entirely.
“If you’re a puppy, you don’t have to scamper after a ball,” she said. “And—let me tell you—if you’re a chicken, you don’t have to be chicken. The world won’t stop spinning if you exercise free will.”
On one late-night show, she tapped her beak on the front cover of Simon’s book.
“See this picture!” she hooted. “Looks like he’s leaping between branches in the forest, right? I bet the photo was taken in the back garden of his townhouse and then photoshopped.”
There had been rumours about Simon for some time. His teeth were almost disturbingly bright. His grooming was beyond impeccable, too. All in all, there was something a little peculiar—even unnatural—about him.
And when his fall came, it came suddenly.
He was papped in a Chinese restaurant with a giggling panda. Here was a species-centric ape trying it on with a plump black and white bear, teasing her tummy with bamboo shoots and tickling her under the chin with his foot. It didn’t look good.
What looked even worse was him being caught on film in a primate dentist’s waiting room. The outfit, Smile Design, specialized in tooth whitening.
As if that wasn’t enough, he was photographed examining pelts in a fur-implant store. One image showed him handing money over the counter, and in another he was leaving the store carrying a large, brown paper bag.
So much for Simon’s twinkling white teeth. So much, too, for his famously sleek fur. Now, in the words of the Beastly Times' front page scoop, he’d become “The cheeky chimp who monkeys around with the truth.”
No one wanted to be associated with a swindler. The TV appearances came to a halt. His book sales plummeted.
Simon, however, was not finished yet. Six months later and out of rehab, he was on the chat show circuit again.
Appearing on a program with Susan, he’d lost none of his former enthusiasm. If there was any change in his outlook, he pointed out, it was that he was now truer to his nature. It had taken the tabloid exposé and his time in the clinic to discover who he really was.
He grinned earnestly, looked over to Susan and then spoke straight into the camera.
“Sometimes you latch on to the wrong branch and slip from the tree. That’s what happened to me. But now I’m up and swinging again.”
“I’ve set up a Primate-Panda Friendship Society, and I’m prepared to say it: I’m a panda lover, loud and proud.”
“And the tooth whitening and fur replacement?” asked Susan.
These, he explained, were neurotic symptoms. Deny your nature and such things are bound to happen. The show ended with Simon grunting contentedly and saying that there was no need for him to be anything other than who he truly was.
That was fine by the female pandas. They’d always been as interested in the night-time company of their male counterparts as the males had been interested in them. Given the choice between rumpy-pumpy and a stick of bamboo, the average male would choose, without hesitation, a mouthful of woody grass.
No wonder the sows were curious about Simon. With him, things were different. Sure, his primate histrionics made him rather strange; but he was exciting, and there was no doubting his desire.
Male pandas, however, saw the situation very differently. Each and every one of them longed to punish the transgressive chimp. In fact, getting even with Simon was about the only thing that energized the massive beasts, and certainly all that encouraged cooperation amongst them.
And they got him eventually.
On his way back home from The Fragrant Pagoda, one of his favourite restaurants and pick-up joints, Simon was jumped by an embarrassment of five hate-filled male pandas. A middle-aged chimp could be no match for bears with a combined weight of three-quarters of a ton.
They showed no mercy, knocking in Simon’s teeth and squashing him senseless against a back alley wall.
The contented pandas then went to an ursine café where each sat at his own table and munched slothfully on bamboo shoots. Studiously ignoring each other, they wondered what the newspapers and TV would make of the message they’d clawed into Simon’s fur: “Nature? You’re having a laugh.”
Adrian Chapman teaches English literature for University of Notre Dame and Florida State University at their centres in London, England. In addition to his academic work, he has published fiction in Ars Medica, has a short story upcoming in The Journal of Medical Humanities, and has had verse published by University of Glasgow.