{ The Decapitation of David }
Kristy Graver
Illustration by Pat Lewis

monkeysFor his first trick-or-treating excursion, my brother, David, was able to choose an expensive latex mask from K-Mart's monster menagerie. Of all the hollow-eyed ghouls staring at him from the nightmare Halloween wall, he picked a goofy, orange monkey. Slipping the mask over his head, he tumbled on the cold, linoleum floor, screeching and flailing his disproportionately long arms. It was a perfect match. The monkey mask made only one Halloween appearance, yet it remained a household fixture, like some rabid family pet. David frolicked in it year-round until the orange fur became dingy and matted, flecked with bits of dried leaves, food, and dirt.
   One day, as my school bus rounded the corner, I saw the painfully familiar monkey head emerge from behind the bushes. I strained to see through the tinted glass, watching in horror as David bounded through a patchwork of neighboring gardens and lawns toward my stop. The bus lurched to a grinding halt and the doors squeaked open. I reluctantly alighted from the idling shuttle.
   David, adorned only in his mask and red swimming trunks, danced around me, whooping, hooting, and ferociously thumping his chest. With his mane of fiery-orange hair and the copper-tone remnants of a summer tan, he looked like an escaped laboratory chimp involved in an experiment gone horribly awry.
   I whacked him with my empty book bag. He writhed in mock-agony on the rain-soaked ground. His stubby, mud-caked legs pumped furiously, sending gobs of earthen sludge whizzing through the air and into my face. All of the passengers on the crowded bus pressed their noses to the glass, laughing at the crazy antics of the one-man zoo. I tearfully sprinted for home, trailed by a busload of mocking laughter, while David continued to wow the crowd with his primate hijinks until the bus rumbled down the road and out of sight.Despite my humiliating experience and subsequent decline from grade school popularity, Mom thought it best to nurture David's fascination with monkeys, so we piled in the car for a trip to the Erie Zoo.
   "Your brother could become famous," she said matter-of-factly, "like that Gorillas in the Mist woman, Dian Fossey."
   I eyed David ominously. "You mean the one who was brutally murdered?"
   The three-hour drive to the zoo was an impromptu lesson in human evolution. David was elated by the fact that he was descended from the objects of his lifelong obsession, rattling off an encyclopedic knowledge of monkeys in his laboriously incoherent kindergarten babble.
   "Da monkeys yike to swing from da twees and eat bannaners."Mom sat behind the wheel—eyes wide, mouth agape—oohing and ahhing as David threw out random bits of monkey-trivia. I beat my head against the window and prayed that the primate exhibit would be closed for cleaning, repairs, or ritual sacrifice.
   The Erie Zoo is a sprawling animal sanctuary filled with tropical landscapes, interactive learning stations, and meandering cobblestone trails. After a seemingly endless safari through the fifteen-acre site, we managed to see less than ten of the 500 animal residents; the majority of them were hidden beneath mounds of hay or inside cool, dark alcoves. To catch a glimpse of a lounging lion's exposed rump was cause for major celebration.
   We had almost come full-circle when the brick facade of the Monkey House came into view. David blazed down the trail, dodging sightseers, strollers, garbage cans, and refreshment stands with the speed and agility of a pro-running back. He threw open the heavy glass door with ease and disappeared from sight. He was home.
   Inside, the House was alive with the sights, sounds, and smells of its residents. The air was heavy with heat and moisture and the stifling stench of monkey shit. Deafening screeches and playful whoops echoed throughout the building as the primates romped, swung, fought, and cajoled inside their manufactured jungle habitats. David stood mesmerized in front of a giant glass enclosure while dozens of black-handed spider monkeys performed death-defying acrobatics for him.
   Suddenly, David's little eyes lighted up. He rustled through Mom's bottomless-pit purse and fished out the monkey mask, flinging gum wrappers and wads of used Kleenex to the floor in the process. He pulled it snuggly over his head and lurched about the floor, scratching his armpits and mimicking the frantic cries of his evolutionary brethren.
   An eerie silence fell over the place. Red-Ruffled Lemurs hung motionless from high tree branches, a troop of Lowland Gorillas halted their nitpicking session and stared off into middle distance, the orangutans sat back and scratched their shaggy, crimson heads in befuddlement. All the while, David continued to gyrate in a hypnotic shaman's dance.
   And then all hell broke loose. With a collective, siren-like rallying cry, the brief tranquility of the Monkey House was shattered. Kamikaze chimps hurled themselves from lofty jungle perches. Puffy-cheeked Grivet monkeys, using their long, spindly tails as rudders, whizzed through the air before careening with a thud into the Plexiglas cage. A rabble of marmosets used their opposable thumbs to grasp broken tree limbs. Like an angry lynch mob, they clumsily whirled the weapons above their heads and gnashed their square teeth in defiance.
   A few zoo patrons watched the uprising in subdued silence, casually nibbling on popcorn and candy as if they were taking in a matinee screening of Planet of the Apes. Others ran screaming from the building. Animal control officials scurried around the exhibit looking just as frantic and perplexed as the monkeys themselves.
   Mom attempted to quell the situation by removing the offending mask, but David stepped around her, jumping and hollering, sending the primates even further into a state of fevered insurrectionęto them, he was a fugitive; a fellow inmate who somehow managed to free himself from the confines of the cage. They cheered on the escaped ape with fervor. I felt like I was at a rowdy rock concert, caught in the swirling midst of a violent mosh pit.

Being kicked out of a zoo was an all-time low for my already dysfunctional family. I imagine that our pictures are still hanging up in the main office, complete with bad, computer-generated age progressions and a bold-faced account of the riot. I'm not sure what became of the monkeys involved in the melee—as for David, he was summarily decapitated and sent to his room without supper.

back home.