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Darwin's Child, God's Child (short story) by Jack Palache

© Jack Palache

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Dottie Thomas’s eyes dart around the dingy little restaurant. The restaurant walls are of faded oak paneling, and there are several scuffed wooden tables scattered about in disarray. Along the right wall is a piano and computer, and in the far right corner two tables with engraved chess boards and pieces in play.

Is she about to get the scoop of the century? She holds her hand up and her cameraman waits at the door as her red leather-clad legs meander over to the only occupied table. She presumes the man with long matted hair, hunched over some spread sheets, is the owner.

"Hi. I'm Dottie Thomas," she says, flashing a confident smile and stretching out her hand.

"Sam," the man replies, taking a sip of his coffee and tipping the cup in her direction, eyeing her. For an instant Dottie's hand wavers. He has a feral visage, his face is heavily pock marked, and his eyes have a hunted look.

"I know who you are," he adds. "I've seen you on television. Would you kindly ask the cameraman to leave and give me your cell phone. My life has become infinitely more complicated with all the high-falutin’ new technology."

Dottie waves her cameraman off and and watches Sam limp across the restaurant and lock the door, pulling down the blinds and turning on the dim down lights.

She fidgets a little. She’s not used to working alone and everything seems a little freaky, but along with a strange boiling cabbage smell, she senses one hell of a story. Sam hobbles back over to the table and she reluctantly hands him her mobile.

“I’m sorry, where are my manners? Please sit,” he says, motioning to a chair at the table and gathering his papers into a pile.

"So what can I do for you?" he adds.

Dottie begins - “ We’ve had an anonymous call saying... well saying...“ But for some reason she can’t think of the right words.

“Saying what? That a half-man half-monkey lives here?” Sam interjects.

Dottie nods, feeling outwitted. She sizes Sam up as the cunning type. But she knows the tricks of her trade. Either the man will cooperate or not. So she adds with a challenging smile:

"Is that why you're so afraid of recorded images, because you have something to hide? You won't let me see him?"

“Sam! You've got an admirer!" the restaurant owner barks out in a bass voice.

"You call him Sam too?"

"That's his name."

Sam comes out of the kitchen and approaches them. He's dressed in a white shirt, bow tie, baggy pants and black tuxedo jacket with long coattails. Over his head is a cardboard box with two eye holes cut out. He’s stooped and has bowed legs, but stands more than five feet tall. His long arms and furry hands protrude from the white shirt under his jacket sleeves.

"He wears a monkey suit," the restaurant owner explains. "Sam has a sense of humor."

"Can I see his face?"

"Of course. He doesn't like to think in the box anyhow. He just doesn't want to be photographed. It's against his religion. He's Amish."

Sam the monkey-man takes a seat across from Dottie and appears to be studying her. After a moment he lifts the cardboard box off his head. He has the face of a monkey, although hidden somewhat by a burly beard.

Dottie reins in her surprise and smiles in his direction.

"Ey'm Sham," he says in a throttled voice.

This time she can't stop her eyes from opening wide.

"Are you surprised?" Sam the restaurant owner says gruffly.

"Well, yes. Somewhat at least."

"He don't talk much. He has problems with asphyxiated consonants and things like that."

"So do you do his talking for him?" Dottie asks, struggling to regain her composure.

"Not really. I ain't much of a man of words myself."

After a brief silence, Dottie falls into her interview mode:

"Does Sam have a birth certificate?"

"Ask him."

"Neh," he gurgles.

"Why not?"

"Well, just because, that's all,” Sam the owner interjects. “Does a man need a birth certificate to exist?"

“But there’s some question as to whether he’s really a man.”

“Then all the more so he don’t need no birth certificate!”

"Okay, I won't beat around the bush. There are people who think Sam is really just... a monkey."

"It’s the beard. He's Amish, I told you that."

"Can I record this conversation?"

"Why not? I am."

Sam pulls a dictaphone from his pocket and shows it to Dottie.

"Why are you recording it?" she asks.

"I have reasons to be distrustful of reporters," he replies, positioning the dictaphone on the table and glancing toward the piano and computer.

"Has anyone ever reported on Sam before?"

"There was a story written about him on Cape Cod some years ago, but it was very delicately handled and I edited it before it was printed."

"You said you're not a man of words."

"I was joking."

"I didn't take it as a joke. So where was the story published? What was the reaction?”

“In some zoo magazine. In the end no one believed it except Sam and me.”

Dottie switches directions: "How long have you known Sam?"

"Since childbirth."

"Where was he born?"

"In a manger."

"You’re joking again?"

"I never joke."

"But you just said a minute ago you were joking."

"It happens sometimes, but it's never intentional. It all depends how you interpret the word 'joke'. There are some around here, who say all life is but a joke."

"There's a rumor you were once a zoo-keeper."

"It's true. Back in Pittsburgh."

"Did you take care of monkeys?"

"I fed 'em, bedded 'em down, talked to 'em."

"You talked to the monkeys?"

"Is that unusual, to talk to the animals?" Sam rejoins, feigning surprise.

“What I meant was, did they talk back?”

“Of course.”

"Did you fall in love with a monkey?"

"What kind of a question is that? What gives you the right to ask such a question?”

“I’m trying to determine if you might be Sam’s father.”

“Does he look that much like me?”

Dottie studies them both carefully.

“He has your eyes.”

“He has his own eyes.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know. You’re looking for a scoop. Something to entertain your viewers. Well Sam is not a freak show. He's a person with feelings, just like you.”

“But he does look incredibly monkey-like.”

“Not in my eyes, he don’t!”

"Aren't you afraid of the police coming around? I mean without Sam having a birth certificate, they might seek to deport him or something?"

"Deport him to where? To monkey land?"

"Or maybe back to the zoo?"

“You better have evidence before you say things like that. Remember, I'm recording this. But yea, who's not afraid of the police? They have guns and billyclubs and handcuffs and stuff like that. But we have rights too. They need a warrant, don't they?"

"Well, they could say you're harboring a fugitive."

"Sam, are you a fugitive?"

"Neh."

"A terrorist?"

"Neh."

"There you have it."

"But how old is Sam?" Dottie persists. "He may be a minor. That might be against some law."

"Look at him, for Chrissake! Does he look like a minor?"

Sam grabs Sam the monkey-man's thick beard.

"So who is Sam's mother?"

"She was a wonderful woman, God bless her soul. Like all mothers."

"Well, that's nice of you to say that. But she wasn’t a monkey?”

“Not to me she wasn’t. But sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between monkeys and men. I mean ‘men’ in the generic sense of course. Hope you’re not offended by my political incorrectness. That’s another reason I don’t do interviews.”

"And you've no pictures of Sam as a child, I don’t suppose."

"We don't believe in pictures. Pictures are false images. The Youtube and satellite images and digital surveillance portend the end of the world. Mark my words, not that they'll mean much when the world’s ended."

"What about taxes? Does Sam pay taxes? Not paying taxes might be illegal."

"Sam doesn't have any money. I support him."

"But he works in your restaurant."

"He doesn't work. He plays. Play something for her Sam. You can play it for me, you can play it for her."

Sam goes to the piano and plays an exquisite, drawn-out rendition of 'As Time Goes By'.

"I'm impressed," Dottie says, swallowing hard and staring intently at the monkey man as he ambles back to the table.

The restaurant owner's voice snaps her out of her momentary reverie: "Impressed enough to leave us alone?"

"I'm a television reporter. If I can't film you – I mean him actually - there's nothing to report. You wouldn't let Sam appear on my show?"

"Ask him. He's an adult."

"I think I already know the answer."

"Neh," the monkey man says.

"No, I don't know the answer, or no you won't appear on my show?"

"Neh sheh."

"Can you write, Sam?" Dottie asks on an impulse.

Sam the monkey-man quickly rises out of his chair and takes Dottie by the hand. At first she resists, but then decides to go along. She notes how surprisingly warm and gentle is his touch, even if his skin feels calloused. He leads her to the computer and puts a text up on the screen. As she reads it, her jaw drops open and she shakes her head in wonderment.

"But, this is a description of my visit here... our whole conversation! How did you know what we were going to say?"

Sam sits down at the computer and begins writing. With Dottie looking at the screen over his shoulder, they begin to communicate - Sam in writing and Dottie by speaking.

Sam: Television reporters always ask the same questions.

Dottie: "But how did you know I’d come here today?"

Sam: I didn’t know when you’d come. I just knew you’d come someday. I could feel it in my bones, so I wrote about it.

Dottie: “But you have my name on the text. How did you know my name?”

Sam: I’ve seen you on television.

Dottie: “But if you don't believe in false images, why do you watch television?"

Sam: The images exist. So I watch them. They're just false.... like you on television. When you're on television, you're not you."

Dottie: “What do you mean?”

Sam: I can't touch you. I can't caress your face. You’re just an image, and it's false.

Dottie: “Forgive my asking, but have you ever been with a woman?”

Sam, looking over his shoulder and flashing her a shy monkey smile: No, but I'd like to. I'm actually well-hung, as they say. But what woman would fall in love with me?

Dottie, moving her hand toward Sam's shoulder and then withdrawing it: “How old are you, Sam?”

Sam: I have a monkey-like conception of time. Does a day really start at midnight? Is that what makes today yesterday? Do I have to wait until midnight for tomorrow? And then it won't be tomorrow anymore anyhow.

I've spent my time,
dissecting time,
and have reached the conclusion there is none.
What once was gone,
can always come back,
and what was lost can be won.

Dottie: "That's insightful, Sam. Do you think like a human being, or a monkey?"

Sam: I think half for myself, and Sam thinks the other half for me.

Dottie: "What is your relationship with the restaurant owner?"

Sam: He's my spiritual Siamese twin.

Dottie: "Meaning?"

Sam: We share a view of the world, but we see it from a different angle.

Dottie, reaching out and lightly patting Sam on the head: "He said there was a story about you written in Cape Cod. What happened to that story?"

Sam: Nothing. My story is always the same. Everything is pre-determined by the fact that I look like a monkey and have no birth certificate. No one believes I exist, although if they saw me in person they would. That's why I can't allow pictures. It's easy to believe a picture, even though picture-images lie much more than words. People have to take me on faith. Did you believe I existed before you came in here?

Dottie: "Honestly? I wasn’t sure. Some people think you’re just an illusion."

Sam: Is that why you patted me on the head? To see if I was real?

Dottie backs away.

“Sam,” she says hesitantly, “Don’t you realize that accepting you as real is a big thing for…. for…us. If a monkey is a man, then we could be…..

Sam: You don’t have to say it. I know what you mean.

Dottie: “Aren’t you afraid of people in religious circles?”

Sam: That’s another reason I avoid the public eye.

Dottie: “Do you feel like something would happen to you if you were outed?”

Sam: Come the judgment day, we’ll all be laid bare.

Dottie: “Are you religious?”

Sam: I’m the link between evolution and the Garden of Eden. I’m the animal that ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and started to speak. I know the world with words and the world without words. I know the word that was in the beginning. Wouldn’t you be religious in my shoes?

Dottie: “Was it better before you discovered words?”

Sam: I can’t answer that question in words.

He gets up and hugs Dottie, who first pushes herself away, then embraces him lightly, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. A tear forms in his eye. He releases her and, still standing, hunches over the keyboard and begins writing on the computer with one hand and playing the piano with the other, all the while dancing and swaying rhythmically:

I’m so sorry, really sorry
that a monkey with a story
can exist, like this.
And I don’t know how much longer
that a heart that’s gettin’ stronger
can go on, like this.
But can I really help it I'm a monkey man?
And if I can't make you believe it, then who can?

Dottie too starts swaying and turns to the restaurant owner and hollers out:

“Sam’s writing on the computer and playing the piano at the same time! Is he always this crazy?”

“He does that sometimes,” Sam the restaurant owner answers, tapping his feet to the beat. “Monkey see, monkey do.”

“Don’t you ever want to just go somewhere Sam, get away from it all?” Dottie asks the monkey man, putting her hand on his shoulder and looking at the computer screen. Sam, ratcheting up the beat, composes:

Why would I wanna do that?
I wanna be where you’re at.
You have a face a man would die for
and if I weren’t part monkey I’d fall on the floor.
I wanna be where you are
no matter how hard and no matter how far.
You are the woman created for me
so we’ll get married and have two or three.

“Enough prattling, Sam!” the restaurant owner calls out, pounding his hand on the table. “Both of you come over here for a coffee.”

Dottie sits down, red in the face, and Sam the monkey man sits beside her and takes her hand in his. Sam the man raises his coffee in a toast and looks at Dottie.

“You’d be more attractive without makeup. Do you wear it because of your job, or do you have something to hide?”

“Are you trying to insult me?” she replies, pulling her head back with a quick jolt.

“Just a tit for tat, that’s all. You insinuated I slept with a monkey.”

Dottie relaxes, raises her coffee cup and tilts it. “Touché,” she says and for the first time smiles at the restaurant owner.

“So tell me Dottie,” he says slowly, “do you have a story here?”

“Of course not. Especially since you’re recording everything. And I couldn’t use it without your permission, which I assume you won’t give me.”

“So has this all been a waste of your time?”

“Professionally, yes.”

“If you tell your colleagues you met a monkey-man, will they believe you?”

“I doubt it very much.”

“Okay, now I have a question. Do you have any idea what you're doing here?"

"Let's just say my visit hasn't worked out the way I had it planned."

The restaurant owner lights a cigar.

"Well, it's certainly worked out good for us. You see, lately Sam's taken to writing a play. He says it'll change his life and enable him to finally go public. I don't know much about it, but it has somethin' to do with you."

Dottie gets up and slowly paces the room. The outline of a van appears through the window blinds and her cameraman knocks on the door.

"Ten more minutes!" she shouts.

Sam the monkey man goes into the back kitchen and returns with a small bundle of paper sheets in his hand.

"Is this your play, Sam?" Dottie asks in a gentle voice.

"Esh."

"Can I look at it?"

"Esh."

Dottie takes the manuscript and begins to read, while slowly pacing. As she flips pages ever faster, her face contorts into shocked surprise.

"This is just a replay of our entire meeting!"

Sam the monkey man nods, with an apprehensive look.

"I've been turned into a character in your play!"

"What goes around comes around," the restaurant owner chirps.

"How does this end?" Dottie flips nervously to the last page and focuses on the final line:

Sam: That’s up to you to decide.

The papers begin to shake in her hands.

“Nobody would understand this,” she says in a pleading voice, looking straight into the eyes of the monkey man. “I've enjoyed myself, really I have. But don’t you realize I can’t get involved? I live a circumscribed life - a job, an audience, a partner, a boss, social obligations ... none of this fits in. One of the cardinal rules of journalism is: 'don't get attached to your story'.”

She picks up her mobile phone from the table and goes to the door. Sam the monkey-man rushes over to let her out, peering at her with a sad smiling face. Dottie puts her hand on his arm.

"You're asking me to give up everything I've worked all my life for, Sham. I want you to know that I was tempted at least," she says, kissing him on the cheek before leaving.

After she departs, the restaurant owner hobbles into the back kitchen and returns with a bottle of bourbon and two shot glasses. He gives the monkey man a glass and raises his in a toast:

“Go ahead, drink up! She fell for our plan hook line and sinker. Ha, ha! She never realized that I had an infrared voice transcript system built into my dictaphone and hooked up to the computer; nor that I was typing on the keyboard under the table when she was looking at the screen with you; nor that the piano music was pre-programmed.

"But you were great Sonny," he adds, reaching out and patting him on the head. "You'll be a better man than me someday, just you wait and see.

“We're free! No more reporters! If anyone comes around I’ll just tell ‘em the great Dottie Thomas has already investigated and found nothing to the story. We're free at last!"

He clinks glasses with the monkey man, who downs his shot in a single gulp and wipes a tear from his eye.

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