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Man of the Woods

by Gerald Heys

“No,” said Kevin, hovering by the door, desperate to go back. “He spoke, I tell you. Two real words.”

The Head Keeper sighed, leaned forward at his desk, and clasped his hands under his chin. “A whole sentence, then? Subject and predicate?”

“Not exactly, Brian. But it’s like the old Malay legend is, you know, real... Look, just come and see. Please.”

“They can’t speak, Kevin. Their laryngeal pouch—”

“Come and see.”

Brian shook his head but got up from his seat and left his office, Kevin leading the way.

Passing the giraffes, Brian said, “You know, if this is one of your stupid pranks—”

“It’s true, I tell you,” said Kevin, almost skipping with excitement. “This is massive.”

“And your timekeeping’s not up to much, either, Kevin.” The hippos lolled around in the pool, enjoying the warm day, flicking their ears in the sun.

“I’m working on that,” said Kevin.

“You could do with getting some of your lot fed when you should, too, and cleaned out properly. And I get the feeling that you don’t have the best of relationships with the animals. Do you think they actually like you, Kevin?”

“Brian,” he said. “What does any of that matter now? Just think: The queues. The publicity.”

A couple of camels loped past the Primates’ Pavilion as they went inside.

“Here we are,” said Kevin.

Clyde, with his quizzical old-man’s face, was leaning back, scratching his belly, while the other long, lazy, ginger arm reached for the tiny pile of figs. “Is he getting enough of them?” said Brian, pointing.

“Course he is.” Kevin rapped on the bars. “C’mon, matey.”

Peering at Clyde, Brian said, “What did he say exactly?”

“Well, it sounded like—”

Sounded like?”

“Closing time.”

“Closing time?”

“Yeah. He looked at me, and said closing time. Clear as you like. Amazing.”

They both leaned forward, staring.

Alone in his cage, Clyde stared back, looking like some old lag on a very long stretch.

“Have you sluiced it down properly at the back?” asked Brian.

“Just watch him,” said Kevin. “Look, he’s doing it. That’s exactly the look he had.”

Clyde opened his mouth, gazing at Brian, the lower lip thrust out.

“Listen,” said Kevin. “God. Listen to this...”

And, echoing round the concrete enclosure, Clyde produced a big, long, rich raspberry. A Bronx cheer to beat the band.

“Right,” said Brian, standing up and turning on his heel. “That’ll do. My office. Now, Kevin.”

“Please, Mr Jarvis...” Kevin said, palms pressed together like he was praying.

But Brian was marching away, past the pygmy tarsiers, arms swinging.

Kevin glared at Clyde. “You big, stupid bugger,” he hissed, balling his hands into fists. “What the hell’s wrong with you? Do it. You can. You know you damn well can. Are you trying to ruin me, you evil monkey? I’m losing my job here because of you.”

Clyde reached for the last of the figs, and pushed them slowly into his mouth, gazing somnolently through the bars.

Brian, stopping over by the gibbons, shouted, “My office. Now, Kevin.”

Clyde opened his mouth again. Just, Kevin thought, just like half an hour ago — come on, you ugly, nasty, stupid animal: do it, show him.


This one was fuller and longer, really long, lingering, and accompanied by a slow shake of Clyde’s lugubrious head, his unblinking eyes fixed on Kevin’s.

The chimps shrieked and the lemurs howled like ghosts.

Copyright © 2011 by Gerald Heys

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