Rachel in Love
by Pat Murphy
This story first appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, edited by Gardner Dozois. (Copyright © 1987 Pat Murphy) It is currently
available in Women of Wonder--The Contemporary Years, edited by Pamela Sargent.
# # #
It is a Sunday morning in summer and a small brown chimpanzee named Rachel
sits on the living room floor of a remote ranch house on the edge of the
Painted Desert. She is watching a Tarzan movie on television. Her hairy
arms are wrapped around her knees and she rocks back and forth with suppressed
excitement. She knows that her father would say that she's too old for such
childish amusements--but since Aaron is still sleeping, he can't chastise
On the television, Tarzan has been trapped in a bamboo cage by a band of
wicked Pygmies. Rachel is afraid that he won't escape in time to save Jane
from the ivory smugglers who hold her captive. The movie cuts to Jane, who
is tied up in the back of a jeep, and Rachel whimpers softly to herself.
She knows better than to howl: she peeked into her father's bedroom earlier,
and he was still in bed. Aaron doesn't like her to howl when he is sleeping.
When the movie breaks for a commercial, Rachel goes to her father's room.
She is ready for breakfast and she wants him to get up. She tiptoes to the
bed to see if he is awake.
His eyes are open and he is staring at nothing. His face is pale and his
lips are a purplish color. Dr. Aaron Jacobs, the man Rachel calls father,
is not asleep. He is dead, having died in the night of a heart attack.
When Rachel shakes him, his head rocks back and forth in time with her shaking,
but his eyes do not blink and he does not breathe. She places his hand on
her head, nudging him so that he will waken and stroke her. He does not
move. When she leans toward him, his hand falls limply to dangle over the
edge of the bed.
In the breeze from the open bedroom window, the fine wisps of grey hair
that he had carefully combed over his bald spot each morning shift and flutter,
exposing the naked scalp. In the other room, elephants trumpet as they stampede
across the jungle to rescue Tarzan. Rachel whimpers softly, but her father
does not move.
Rachel backs away from her father's body. In the living room, Tarzan is
swinging across the jungle on vines, going to save Jane. Rachel ignores
the television. She prowls through the house as if searching for comfort--
stepping into her own small bedroom, wandering through her father's laboratory.
From the cages that line the walls, white rats stare at her with hot red
eyes. A rabbit hops across its cage, making a series of slow dull thumps,
like a feather pillow tumbling down a flight of stairs.
She thinks that perhaps she made a mistake. Perhaps her father is just sleeping.
She returns to the bedroom, but nothing has changed. Her father lies open-eyed
on the bed. For a long time, she huddles beside his body, clinging to his
He is the only person she has ever known. He is her father, her teacher,
her friend. She cannot leave him alone.
The afternoon sun blazes through the window, and still Aaron does not move.
The room grows dark, but Rachel does not turn on the lights. She is waiting
for Aaron to wake up. When the moon rises, its silver light shines through
the window to cast a bright rectangle on the far wall.
Outside, somewhere in the barren rocky land surrounding the ranch house,
a coyote lifts its head to the rising moon and wails, a thin sound that
is as lonely as a train whistling through an abandoned station. Rachel joins
in with a desolate howl of loneliness and grief. Aaron lies still and Rachel
knows that he is dead.
When Rachel was younger, she had a favorite bedtime story. --Where did
I come from? she would ask Aaron, using the abbreviated gestures of ASL,
American Sign Language. --Tell me again.# # #
"You're too old for bedtime stories," Aaron said.
Please, she signed. --Tell me the story.
In the end, he always relented and told her. "Once upon a time, there
was a little girl named Rachel," he said. "She was a pretty girl,
with long golden hair like a princess in a fairy tale. She lived with her
father and her mother and they were all very happy."
Rachel would snuggle contentedly beneath her blankets. The story, like any
good fairy tale, had elements of tragedy. In the story, Rachel's father
worked at a university, studying the workings of the brain and charting
the electric fields that the nervous impulses that an active brain produced.
But the other researchers at the university didn't understand Rachel's father;
they distrusted his research and cut off his funding. (During this portion
of the story, Aaron's voice took on a bitter edge.) So he left the university
and took his wife and daughter to the desert, where he could work in peace.
He continued his research and determined that each individual brain produced
its own unique pattern of fields, as characteristic as a fingerprint. (Rachel
found this part of the story quite dull, but Aaron insisted on including
it.) The shape of this "Electric Mind," as he called it, was determined
by habitual patterns of thoughts and emotions. Record the Electric Mind,
he postulated, and you could capture an individual's personality.
Then one sunny day, the doctor's wife and beautiful daughter went for a
drive. A truck barrelling down a winding cliffside road lost its brakes
and met the car head-on, killing both the girl and her mother. (Rachel clung
to Aaron's hand during this part of the story, frightened by the sudden
evil twist of fortune.)
But though Rachel's body had died, all was not lost. In his desert lab,
the doctor had recorded the electrical patterns produced by his daughter's
brain. The doctor had been experimenting with the use of external magnetic
fields to impose the patterns from one animal onto the brain of another.
From an animal supply house, he obtained a young chimpanzee. He used an
mixture of norepinephrin-based transmitter substances to boost the speed
of neural processing in the chimp's brain, and then he imposed the pattern
of his daughter's mind upon the brain of this young chimp, combining the
two after his own fashion, saving his daughter in his own way. In the chimp's
brain was all that remained of Rachel Jacobs.
The doctor named the chimp Rachel and raised her as his own daughter. Since
the limitations of the chimpanzee larynx made speech very difficult, he
instructed her in ASL. He taught her to read and to write. They were good
friends, the best of companions.
By this point in the story, Rachel was usually asleep. But it didn't matter--she
knew the ending. The doctor, whose name was Aaron Jacobs, and the chimp
named Rachel lived happily ever after.
Rachel likes fairy tales and she likes happy endings. She has the mind of
a teenage girl, but the innocent heart of a young chimp.
Sometimes, when Rachel looks at her gnarled brown fingers, they seem
alien, wrong, out of place. She remembers having small, pale, delicate hands.
Memories lie upon memories, layers upon layers, like the sedimentary rocks
of the desert buttes. # # #
Rachel remembers a blonde-haired fair-skinned woman who smelled sweetly
of perfume. On a Halloween long ago, this woman (who was, in these memories,
Rachel's mother) painted Rachel's fingernails bright red because Rachel
was dressed as a gypsy and gypsies liked red. Rachel remembers the woman's
hands: white hands with faintly blue veins hidden just beneath the skin,
neatly clipped nails painted rose pink.
But Rachel also remembers another mother and another time. Her mother was
dark and hairy and smelled sweetly of overripe fruit. She and Rachel lived
in a wire cage in a room filled with chimps and she hugged Rachel to her
hairy breast whenever any people came into the room. Rachel's mother groomed
Rachel constantly, picking delicately through her fur in search of lice
that she never found.
Memories upon memories: jumbled and confused, like random pictures clipped
from magazines, a bright collage that makes no sense. Rachel remembers cages:
cold wire mesh beneath her feet, the smell of fear around her. A man in
a white lab coat took her from the arms of her hairy mother and pricked
her with needles. She could hear her mother howling, but she could not escape
from the man.
Rachel remembers a junior high school dance where she wore a new dress:
she stood in a dark corner of the gym for hours, pretending to admire the
crepe paper decorations because she felt too shy to search among the crowd
for her friends.
She remembers when she was a young chimp: she huddled with five other adolescent
chimps in the stuffy freight compartment of a train, frightened by the alien
smells and sounds.
She remembers gym class: gray lockers and ugly gym suits that revealed her
skinny legs. The teacher made everyone play softball, even Rachel who was
unathletic and painfully shy. Rachel at bat, standing at the plate, was
terrified to be the center of attention. "Easy out," said the
catcher, a hard-edged girl who ran with the wrong crowd and always smelled
of cigarette smoke. When Rachel swung at the ball and missed, the outfielders
filled the air with malicious laughter.
Rachel's memories are as delicate and elusive as the dusty moths and butterflies
that dance among the rabbit brush and sage. Memories of her girlhood never
linger; they land for an instant, then take flight, leaving Rachel feeling
abandoned and alone.
Rachel leaves Aaron's body where it is, but closes his eyes and pulls
the sheet up over his head. She does not know what else to do. Each day
she waters the garden and picks some greens for the rabbits. Each day, she
cares for the rats and the rabbits, bringing them food and refilling their
water bottles. The weather is cool, and Aaron's body does not smell too
bad, though by the end of the week, a wide line of ants runs from the bed
to the open window. # # #
At the end of the first week, on a moonlit evening, Rachel decides to let
the animals go free. She releases the rabbits one by one, climbing on a
stepladder to reach down into the cage and lift each placid bunny out. She
carries each one to the back door, holding it for a moment and stroking
the soft warm fur. Then she sets the animal down and nudges it in the direction
of the green grass that grows around the perimeter of the fenced garden.
The rats are more difficult to deal with. She manages to wrestle the large
rat cage off the shelf, but it is heavier than she thought it would be.
Though she slows its fall, it lands on the floor with a crash and the rats
scurry to and fro within. She shoves the cage across the linoleum floor,
sliding it down the hall, over the doorsill, and onto the back patio. When
she opens the cage door, rats burst out like popcorn from a popper, white
in the moonlight and dashing in all directions.
Once, while Aaron was taking a nap, Rachel walked along the dirt track
that led to the main highway. She hadn't planned on going far. She just
wanted to see what the highway looked like, maybe hide near the mailbox
and watch a car drive past. She was curious about the outside world and
her fleeting fragmentary memories did not satisfy that curiosity. # # #
She was halfway to the mailbox when Aaron came roaring up in his old jeep.
"Get in the car," he shouted at her. "Right now!" Rachel
had never seen him so angry. She cowered in the jeep's passenger seat, covered
with dust from the road, unhappy that Aaron was so upset. He didn't speak
until they got back to the ranch house, and then he spoke in a low voice,
filled with bitterness and suppressed rage.
"You don't want to go out there," he said. "You wouldn't
like it out there. The world is filled with petty, narrow-minded, stupid
people. They wouldn't understand you. And anyone they don't understand,
they want to hurt. They hate anyone who's different. If they know that you're
different, they punish you, hurt you. They'd lock you up and never let you
He looked straight ahead, staring through the dirty windshield. "It's
not like the shows on TV, Rachel," he said in a softer tone. "It's
not like the stories in books."
He looked at her then and she gestured frantically. --I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
"I can't protect you out there," he said. "I can't keep you
Rachel took his hand in both of hers. He relented then, stroking her head.
"Never do that again," he said. "Never."
Aaron's fear was contagious. Rachel never again walked along the dirt track
and sometimes she had dreams about bad people who wanted to lock her in
Two weeks after Aaron's death, a black-and-white police car drives slowly
up to the house. When the policemen knock on the door, Rachel hides behind
the couch in the living room. They knock again, try the knob, then open
the door, which she had left unlocked. # # #
Suddenly frightened, Rachel bolts from behind the couch, bounding toward
the back door. Behind her, she hears one man yell, "My God! It's a
By the time he pulls his gun, Rachel has run out the back door and away
into the hills. From the hills she watches as an ambulance drives up and
two men in white take Aaron's body away. Even after the ambulance and the
police car drive away, Rachel is afraid to go back to the house. Only after
sunset does she return.
Just before dawn the next morning, she wakens to the sound of a truck jouncing
down the dirt road. She peers out the window to see a pale green pickup.
Sloppily stenciled in white on the door are the words: PRIMATE RESEARCH
CENTER. Rachel hesitates as the truck pulls up in front of the house. By
the time she has decided to flee, two men are getting out of the truck.
One of them carries a rifle.
She runs out the back door and heads for the hills, but she is only halfway
to hiding when she hears a sound like a sharp intake of breath and feels
a painful jolt in her shoulder. Suddenly, her legs give way and she is tumbling
backward down the sandy slope, dust coating her red-brown fur, her howl
becoming a whimper, then fading to nothing at all. She falls into the blackness
The sun is up. Rachel lies in a cage in the back of the pickup truck.
She is partially conscious and she feels a tingling in her hands and feet.
Nausea grips her stomach and bowels. Her body aches. # # #
Rachel can blink, but otherwise she can't move. From where she lies, she
can see only the wire mesh of the cage and the side of the truck. When she
tries to turn her head, the burning in her skin intensifies. She lies still,
wanting to cry out, but unable to make a sound. She can only blink slowly,
trying to close out the pain. But the burning and nausea stay.
The truck jounces down a dirt road, then stops. It rocks as the men get
out. The doors slam. Rachel hears the tailgate open.
A woman's voice: "Is that the animal the County Sheriff wanted us to
pick up?" A woman peers into the cage. She wears a white lab coat and
her brown hair is tied back in a single braid. Around her eyes, Rachel can
see small wrinkles, etched by years of living in the desert. The woman doesn't
look evil. Rachel hopes that the woman will save her from the men in the
"Yeah. It should be knocked out for at least another half hour. Where
do you want it?"
"Bring it into the lab where we had the rhesus monkeys. I'll keep it
there until I have an empty cage in the breeding area."
Rachel's cage scrapes across the bed of the pickup. She feels each bump
and jar as a new pain. The man swings the cage onto a cart and the woman
pushes the cart down a concrete corridor. Rachel watches the walls pass
just a few inches from her nose.
The lab contains rows of cages in which small animals sleepily move. In
the sudden stark light of the overhead fluorescent bulbs, the eyes of white
rats gleam red.
With the help of one of the men from the truck, the woman manhandles Rachel
onto a lab table. The metal surface is cold and hard, painful against Rachel's
skin. Rachel's body is not under her control; her limbs will not respond.
She is still frozen by the tranquilizer, able to watch, but that is all.
She cannot protest or plead for mercy.
Rachel watches with growing terror as the woman pulls on rubber gloves and
fills a hypodermic needle with a clear solution. "Mark down that I'm
giving her the standard test for tuberculosis; this eyelid should be checked
before she's moved in with the others. I'll add thiabendazole to her feed
for the next few days to clean out any intestinal worms. And I suppose we
might as well de-flea her as well," the woman says. The man grunts
Expertly, the woman closes one of Rachel's eyes. With her open eye, Rachel
watches the hypodermic needle approach. She feels a sharp pain in her eyelid.
In her mind, she is howling, but the only sound she can manage is a breathy
The woman sets the hypodermic aside and begins methodically spraying Rachel's
fur with a cold, foul-smelling liquid. A drop strikes Rachel's eye and burns.
Rachel blinks, but she cannot lift a hand to rub her eye. The woman treats
Rachel with casual indifference, chatting with the man as she spreads Rachel's
legs and sprays her genitals. "Looks healthy enough. Good breeding
Rachel moans, but neither person notices. At last, they finish their torture,
put her in a cage, and leave the room. She closes her eyes, and the darkness
Rachel dreams. She is back at home in the ranch house. It is night and
she is alone. Outside, coyotes yip and howl. The coyote is the voice of
the desert, wailing as the wind wails when it stretches itself thin to squeeze
through a crack between two boulders. The people native to this land tell
tales of Coyote, a god who was a trickster, unreliable, changeable, mercurial.
# # #
Rachel is restless, anxious, unnerved by the howling of the coyotes. She
is looking for Aaron. In the dream, she knows he is not dead, and she searches
the house for him, wandering from his cluttered bedroom to her small room
to the linoleum-tiled lab.
She is in the lab when she hears something tapping: a small dry scratching,
like a wind-blown branch against the window, though no tree grows near the
house and the night is still. Cautiously, she lifts the curtain to look
She looks into her own reflection: a pale oval face, long blonde hair. The
hand that holds the curtain aside is smooth and white with carefully clipped
fingernails. But something is wrong. Superimposed on the reflection is another
face peering through the glass: a pair of dark brown eyes, a chimp face
with red-brown hair and jug-handle ears. She sees her own reflection and
she sees the outsider; the two images merge and blur. She is afraid, but
she can't drop the curtain and shut the ape face out.
She is a chimp looking in through the cold, bright windowpane; she is a
girl looking out; she is a girl looking in; she is an ape looking out. She
is afraid and the coyotes are howling all around.
Rachel opens her eyes and blinks until the world comes into focus. The
pain and tingling has retreated, but she still feels a little sick. Her
left eye aches. When she rubs it, she feels a raised lump on the eyelid
where the woman pricked her. She lies on the floor of a wire mesh cage.
The room is hot and the air is thick with the smell of animals. # # #
In the cage beside her is another chimp, an older animal with scruffy dark
brown fur. He sits with his arms wrapped around his knees, rocking back
and forth, back and forth. His head is down. As he rocks, he murmurs to
himself, a meaningless cooing that goes on and on. On his scalp, Rachel
can see a gleam of metal: a permanently implanted electrode protrudes from
a shaven patch. Rachel makes a soft questioning sound, but the other chimp
will not look up.
Rachel's own cage is just a few feet square. In one corner is a bowl of
monkey pellets. A water bottle hangs on the side of the cage. Rachel ignores
the food, but drinks thirstily.
Sunlight streams through the windows, sliced into small sections by the
wire mesh that covers the glass. She tests her cage door, rattling it gently
at first, then harder. It is securely latched. The gaps in the mesh are
too small to admit her hand. She can't reach out to work the latch.
The other chimp continues to rock back and forth. When Rachel rattles the
mesh of her cage and howls, he lifts his head wearily and looks at her.
His red-rimmed eyes are unfocused; she can't be sure he sees her.
Hello, she gestures tentatively. --What's wrong?
He blinks at her in the dim light. --Hurt, he signs in ASL. He reaches up
to touch the electrode, fingering skin that is already raw from repeated
Who hurt you? she asks. He stares at her blankly and she repeats the question.
Men, he signs.
As if on cue, there is the click of a latch and the door to the lab opens.
A bearded man in a white coat steps in, followed by a clean-shaven man in
a suit. The bearded man seems to be showing the other man around the lab.
"...only preliminary testing, so far," the bearded man is saying.
"We've been hampered by a shortage of chimps trained in ASL."
The two men stop in front of the old chimp's cage. "This old fellow
is from the Oregon center. Funding for the language program was cut back
and some of the animals were dispersed to other programs." The old
chimp huddles at the back of the cage, eying the bearded man with suspicion.
Hungry? the bearded man signs to the old chimp. He holds up an orange where
the old chimp can see it.
Give orange, the old chimp gestures. He holds out his hand, but comes no
nearer to the wire mesh than he must to reach the orange. With the fruit
in hand, he retreats to the back of his cage.
The bearded man continues, "This project will provide us with the first
solid data on neural activity during use of sign language. But we really
need greater access to chimps with advanced language skills. People are
so damn protective of their animals."
"Is this one of yours?" the clean-shaven man asks, pointing to
Rachel. She cowers in the back of the cage, as far from the wire mesh as
she can get.
"No, not mine. She was someone's household pet, apparently. The county
sheriff had us pick her up." The bearded man peers into her cage. Rachel
does not move; she is terrified that he will somehow guess that she knows
ASL. She stares at his hands and thinks about those hands putting an electrode
through her skull. "I think she'll be put in breeding stock,"
the man says as he turns away.
Rachel watches them go, wondering at what terrible people these are. Aaron
was right: they want to punish her, put an electrode in her head.
After the men are gone, she tries to draw the old chimp into conversation,
but he will not reply. He ignores her as he eats his orange. Then he returns
to his former posture, hiding his head and rocking himself back and forth.
Rachel, hungry despite herself, samples one of the food pellets. It has
a strange medicinal taste, and she puts it back in the bowl. She needs to
pee, but there is no toilet and she cannot escape the cage. At last, unable
to hold it, she pees in one corner of the cage. The urine flows through
the wire mesh to soak the litter below, and the smell of warm piss fills
her cage. Humiliated, frightened, her head aching, her skin itchy from the
flea spray, Rachel watches as the sunlight creeps across the room.
The day wears on. Rachel samples her food again, but rejects it, preferring
hunger to the strange taste. A black man comes and cleans the cages of the
rabbits and rats. Rachel cowers in her cage and watches him warily, afraid
that he will hurt her too.
When night comes, she is not tired. Outside, coyotes howl. Moonlight filters
in through the high windows. She draws her legs up toward her body, then
rests with her arms wrapped around her knees. Her father is dead, and she
is a captive in a strange place. For a time, she whimpers softly, hoping
to awaken from this nightmare and find herself at home in bed. When she
hears the click of a key in the door to the room, she hugs herself more
A man in green coveralls pushes a cart filled with cleaning supplies into
the room. He takes a broom from the cart, and begins sweeping the concrete
floor. Over the rows of cages, she can see the top of his head bobbing in
time with his sweeping. He works slowly and methodically, bending down to
sweep carefully under each row of cages, making a neat pile of dust, dung,
and food scraps in the center of the aisle.
The janitor's name is Jake. He is a middle-aged deaf man who has been
employed by the Primate Research Center for the past seven years. He works
night shift. The personnel director at the Primate Research Center likes
Jake because he fills the federal quota for handicapped employees, and because
he has not asked for a raise in five years. There have been some complaints
about Jake--his work is often sloppy--but never enough to merit firing the
man. # # #
Jake is an unambitious, somewhat slow-witted man. He likes the Primate Research
Center because he works alone, which allows him to drink on the job. He
is an easy-going man, and he likes the animals. Sometimes, he brings treats
for them. Once, a lab assistant caught him feeding an apple to a pregnant
rhesus monkey. The monkey was part of an experiment on the effect of dietary
restrictions on fetal brain development, and the lab assistant warned Jake
that if he would be fired if he was ever caught interfering with the animals
again. Jake still feeds the animals, but he is more careful about when he
does it, and he has never been caught again.
As Rachel watches, the old chimp gestures to Jake. --Give banana, the chimp
signs. --Please banana. Jake stops sweeping for a minute and reaches down
to the bottom shelf of his cleaning cart. He returns with a banana and offers
it to the old chimp. The chimp accepts the banana and leans against the
mesh while Jake scratches his fur.
When Jake turns back to his sweeping, he catches sight of Rachel and sees
that she is watching him. Emboldened by his kindness to the old chimp, Rachel
timidly gestures to him. --Help me.
Jake hesitates, then peers at her more closely. Both his eyes are shot with
a fine lacework of red. His nose displays the broken blood vessels of someone
who has been friends with the bottle for too many years. He needs a shave.
But when he leans close, Rachel catches the scent of whiskey and tobacco.
The smells remind her of Aaron and give her courage.
Please help me, Rachel signs. --I don't belong here.
For the last hour, Jake has been drinking steadily. His view of the world
is somewhat fuzzy. He stares at her blearily.
Rachel's fear that he will hurt her is replaced by the fear that he will
leave her locked up and alone. Desparately she signs again. --Please please
please. Help me. I don't belong here. Please help me go home.
He watches her, considering the situation. Rachel does not move. She is
afraid that any movement will make him leave. With a majestic speed dictated
by his inebriation, Jake leans his broom on the row of cages behind him
and steps toward Rachel's cage again. --You talk? he signs.
I talk, she signs.
Where did you come from?
From my father's house, she signs. --Two men came and shot me and put me
here. I don't know why. I don't know why they locked me in jail.
Jake looks around, willing to be sympathetic, but puzzled by her talk of
jail. --This isn't jail, he signs. --This is a place where scientists raise
Rachel is indignant. --I am not a monkey, she signs. --I am a girl.
Jake studies her hairy body and her jug-handle ears. --You look like a monkey.
Rachel shakes her head. --No. I am a girl.
Rachel runs her hands back over her head, a very human gesture of annoyance
and unhappiness. She signs sadly, --I don't belong here. Please let me out.
Jake shifts his weight from foot to foot, wondering what to do. --I can't
let you out. I'll get in big trouble.
Just for a little while? Please?
Jake glances at his cart of supplies. He has to finish off this room and
two corridors of offices before he can relax for the night.
Don't go, Rachel signs, guessing his thoughts.
I have work to do.
She looks at the cart, then suggests eagerly, --Let me out and I'll help
Jake frowns. --If I let you out, you will run away.
No, I won't run. I will help. Please let me out.
You promise to go back?
Warily he unlatches the cage. Rachel bounds out, grabs a whisk broom from
the cart, and begins industriously sweeping bits of food and droppings from
beneath the row of cages. --Come on, she signs to Jake from the end of the
aisle. --I will help.
When Jake pushes the cart from the room filled with cages, Rachel follows
him closely. The rubber wheels of the cleaning cart rumble softly on the
linoleum floor. They pass through a metal door into a corridor where the
floor is carpeted and the air smells of chalk dust and paper.
Offices let off the corridor, each one a small room furnished with a desk,
bookshelves, and a blackboard. Jake shows Rachel how to empty the wastebaskets
into a garbage bag. While he cleans the blackboards, she wanders from office
to office, trailing the trash-filled garbage bag.
At first, Jake keeps a close eye on Rachel. But after cleaning each blackboard,
he pauses to sip whiskey from a paper cup. At the end of the corridor, he
stops to refill the cup from the whiskey bottle that he keeps wedged between
the Saniflush and the window cleaner. By the time he is halfway through
the second cup, he is treating her like an old friend, telling her to hurry
up so that they can eat dinner.
Rachel works quickly, but she stops sometimes to gaze out the office windows.
Outside, moonlight shines on a sandy plain, dotted here and there with scrubby
clumps of rabbit brush.
At the end of the corridor is a larger room in which there are several desks
and typewriters. In one of the wastebaskets, buried beneath memos and candybar
wrappers, she finds a magazine. The title is Love Confessions and the cover
has a picture of a man and woman kissing. Rachel studies the cover, then
takes the magazine, tucking it on the bottom shelf of the cart.
Jake pours himself another cup of whiskey and pushes the cart to another
hallway. Jake is working slower now, and as he works he makes humming noises,
tuneless sounds that he feels only as pleasant vibrations. The last few
blackboards are sloppily done, and Rachel, finished with the wastebaskets,
cleans the places that Jake missed.
They eat dinner in the janitor's storeroom, a stuffy windowless room furnished
with an ancient grease-stained couch, a battered black-and-white television,
and shelves of cleaning supplies. From a shelf, Jake takes the paper bag
that holds his lunch: a baloney sandwich, a bag of barbequed potato chips,
and a box of vanilla wafers. From behind the gallon jugs of liquid cleanser,
he takes a magazine. He lights a cigarette, pours himself another cup of
whiskey, and settles down on the couch. After a moment's hesitation, he
offers Rachel a drink, pouring a shot of whiskey into a chipped ceramic
Aaron never let Rachel drink whiskey, and she samples it carefully. At first
the smell makes her sneeze, but she is fascinated by the way that the drink
warms her throat, and she sips some more.
As they drink, Rachel tells Jake about the men who shot her and the woman
who pricked her with a needle, and he nods. --The people here are crazy,
I know, she says, thinking of the old chimp with the electrode in his head.
--You won't tell them I can talk, will you?
Jake nods. --I won't tell them anything.
They treat me like I'm not real, Rachel signs sadly. Then she hugs her knees,
frightened at the thought of being held captive by crazy people. She considers
planning her escape: she is out of the cage and she is sure she could outrun
Jake. As she wonders about it, she finishes her cup of whiskey. The alcohol
takes the edge off her fear. She sits close beside Jake on the couch, and
the smell of his cigarette smoke reminds her of Aaron. For the first time
since Aaron's death she feels warm and happy.
She shares Jake's cookies and potato chips and looks at the Love Confessions
magazine that she took from the trash. The first story that she reads is
about a woman named Alice. The headline reads: "I became a Go-go dancer
to pay off my husband's gambling debts, and now he wants me to sell my body."
Rachel sympathizes with Alice's loneliness and suffering. Alice, like Rachel,
is alone and misunderstood. As Rachel slowly reads, she sips her second
cup of whiskey. The story reminds her of a fairy tale: the nice man who
rescues Alice from her terrible husband replaces the handsome prince who
rescued the princess. Rachel glances at Jake and wonders if he will rescue
her from the wicked people who locked her in the cage.
She has finished the second cup of whiskey and eaten half Jake's cookies
when Jake says that she must go back to her cage. She goes reluctantly,
taking the magazine with her. He promises that he will come for her again
the next night, and with that she must be content. She puts the magazine
in one corner of the cage and curls up to sleep.
She wakes early in the afternoon. A man in a white coat is wheeling a
low cart into the lab. # # #
Rachel's head aches with hangover and she feels sick. As she crouches in
one corner of her cage, he stops the cart beside her cage and then locks
the wheels. "Hold on there," he mutters to her, then slides her
cage onto the cart.
The man wheels her through long corridors, where the walls are cement blocks,
painted institutional green. Rachel huddles unhappily in the cage, wondering
where she is going and whether Jake will ever be able to find her.
At the end of a long corridor, the man opens a thick metal door and a wave
of warm air strikes Rachel. It stinks of chimpanzees, excrement, and rotting
food. On either side of the corridor are metal bars and wire mesh. Behind
the mesh, Rachel can see dark hairy shadows. In one cage, five adolescent
chimps swing and play. In another, two females huddle together, grooming
each other. The man slows as he passes a cage in which a big male is banging
on the wire with his fist, making the mesh rattle and ring.
"Now, Johnson," says the man. "Cool it. Be nice. I'm bringing
you a new little girlfriend."
With a series of hooks, the man links Rachel's cage with the cage next to
Johnson's and opens the doors. "Go on, girl," he says. "See
the nice fruit." In the new cage is a bowl of sliced apples with an
attendant swarm of fruit flies.
At first, Rachel will not move into the new cage. She crouches in the cage
on the cart, hoping that the man will decide to take her back to the lab.
She watches him get a hose and attach it to a water facet. But she does
not understand his intention until he turns the stream of water on her.
A cold blast strikes her on the back and she howls, fleeing into the new
cage to avoid the cold water. Then the man closes the doors, unhooks the
cage, and hurries away.
The floor is bare cement. Her cage is at one end of the corridor and two
walls are cement block. A door in one of the cement block walls leads to
an outside run. The other two walls are wire mesh: one facing the corridor;
the other, Johnson's cage.
Johnson, quiet now that the man has left, is sniffing around the door in
the wire mesh wall that joins their cages. Rachel watches him anxiously.
Her memories of other chimps are distant, softened by time. She remembers
her mother; she vaguely remembers playing with other chimps her age. But
she does not know how to react to Johnson when he stares at her with great
intensity and makes a loud huffing sound. She gestures to him in ASl, but
he only stares harder and huffs again. Beyond Johnson, she can see other
cages and other chimps, so many that the wire mesh blurs her vision and
she cannot see the other end of the corridor.
To escape Johnson's scrutiny, she ducks through the door into the outside
run, a wire mesh cage on a white concrete foundation. Outside there is barren
ground and rabbit brush. The afternoon sun is hot and all the other runs
are deserted until Johnson appears in the run beside hers. His attention
disturbs her and she goes back inside.
She retreats to the side of the cage farthest from Johnson. A crudely built
wooden platform provides her with a place to sit. Wrapping her arms around
her knees, she tries to relax and ignore Johnson. She dozes off for a while,
but wakes to a commotion across the corridor.
In the cage across the way is a female chimp in heat. Rachel recognizes
the smell from her own times in heat. Two keepers are opening the door that
separates the female's cage from the adjoining cage, where a male stands,
watching with great interest. Johnson is shaking the wire mesh and howling
as he watches.
"Mike here is a virgin, but Susie knows what she's doing," one
keeper was saying to the other. "So it should go smoothly. But keep
the hose ready."
"Sometimes they fight. We only use the hose to break it up if it gets
real bad. Generally, they do okay."
Mike stalks into Susie's cage. The keepers lower the cage door, trapping
both chimps in the same cage. Susie seems unalarmed. She continues eating
a slice of orange while Mike sniffs at her genitals with every indication
of great interest. She bends over to let Mike finger her pink bottom, the
sign of estrus.
Rachel finds herself standing at the wire mesh, making low moaning noises.
She can see Mike's erection, hear his grunting cries. He squats on the floor
of Susie's cage, gesturing to the female. Rachel's feelings are mixed: she
is fascinated, fearful, confused. She keeps thinking of the description
of sex in the Love Confessions story: When Alice feels Danny's lips on hers,
she is swept away by the passion of the moment. He takes her in his arms
and her skin tingles as if she were consumed by an inner fire.
Susie bends down and Mike penetrates her with a loud grunt, thrusting violently
with his hips. Susie cries out shrilly and suddenly leaps up, knocking Mike
away. Rachel watches, overcome with fascination. Mike, his penis now limp,
follows Susie slowly to the corner of the cage, where he begins grooming
her carefully. Rachel finds that the wire mesh has cut her hands where she
gripped it too tightly.
It is night, and the door at the end of the corridor creaks open. Rachel
is immediately alert, peering through the wire mesh and trying to see down
to the end of the corridor. She bangs on the wire mesh. As Jake comes closer,
she waves a greeting. # # #
When Jake reaches for the lever that will raise the door to Rachel's cage,
Johnson charges toward him, howling and waving his arms above his head.
He hammers on the wire mesh with his fists, howling and grimacing at Jake.
Rachel ignores Johnson and hurries after Jake.
Again Rachel helps Jake clean. In the laboratory, she greets the old chimp,
but the animal is more interested in the banana that Jake has brought than
in conversation. The chimp will not reply to her questions, and after several
tries, she gives up.
While Jake vacuums the carpeted corridors, Rachel empties the trash, finding
a magazine called Modern Romance in the same wastebasket that had provided
Later, in the janitor's lounge, Jake smokes a cigarette, sips whiskey, and
flips through one of his own magazines. Rachel reads love stories in Modern
Every once in a while, she looks over Jake's shoulder at grainy pictures
of naked women with their legs spread wide apart. Jake looks for a long
time at a picture of a blonde woman with big breasts, red fingernails, and
purple-painted eyelids. The woman lies on her back and smiles as she strokes
the pinkness between her legs. The picture on the next page shows her caressing
her own breasts, pinching the dark nipples. The final picture shows her
looking back over her shoulder. She is in the position that Susie took when
she was ready to be mounted.
Rachel looks over Jake's shoulder at the magazine, but she does not ask
questions. Jake's smell began to change as soon as he opened the magazine;
the scent of nervous sweat mingles with the aromas of tobacco and whiskey.
Rachel suspects that questions would not be welcome just now.
At Jake's insistence, she goes back to her cage before dawn.
Over the next week, she listens to the conversations of the men who come
and go, bringing food and hosing out the cages. From the men's conversation,
she learns that the Primate Research Center is primarily a breeding facility
that supplies researchers with domestically bred apes and monkeys of several
species. It also maintains its own research staff. In indifferent tones,
the men talk of horrible things. The adolescent chimps at the end of the
corridor are being fed a diet high in cholesterol to determine cholesterol's
effects on the circulatory system. A group of pregnant females are being
injected with male hormones to determine how that will affect the female
offspring. A group of infants is being fed a low protein diet to determine
adverse effects on their brain development. # # #
The men look through her as if she were not real, as if she were a part
of the wall, as if she were no one at all. She cannot speak to them; she
cannot trust them.
Each night, Jake lets her out of her cage and she helps him clean. He brings
treats: barbequed potato chips, fresh fruit, chocolate bars, and cookies.
He treats her fondly, as one would treat a precocious child. And he talks
At night, when she is with Jake, Rachel can almost forget the terror of
the cage, the anxiety of watching Johnson pace to and fro, the sense of
unreality that accompanies the simplest act. She would be content to stay
with Jake forever, eating snack food and reading confessions magazines.
He seems to like her company. But each morning, Jake insists that she must
go back to the cage and the terror. By the end of first week, she has begun
plotting her escape.
Whenever Jake falls asleep over his whiskey, something that happens three
nights out of five, Rachel prowls the center alone, surreptiously gathering
things that she will need to survive in the desert: a plastic jug filled
with water, a plastic bag of food pellets, a large beach towel that will
serve as a blanket on the cool desert nights, a discarded plastic shopping
bag in which she can carry the other things. Her best find is a road map
on which the Primate Center is marked in red. She knows the address of Aaron's
ranch and finds it on the map. She studies the roads and plots a route home.
Cross country, assuming that she does not get lost, she will have to travel
about fifty miles to reach the ranch. She hides these things behind one
of the shelves in the janitor's storeroom.
Her plans to run away and go home are disrupted by the idea that she is
in love with Jake, a notion that comes to her slowly, fed by the stories
in the confessions magazines. When Jake absent-mindedly strokes her, she
is filled with a strange excitement. She longs for his company and misses
him on the weekends when he is away. She is happy only when she is with
him, following him through the halls of the center, sniffing the aroma of
tobacco and whiskey that is his own perfume. She steals a cigarette from
his pack and hides it in her cage, where she can savor the smell of it at
She loves him, but she does not know how to make him love her back. Rachel
knows little about love: she remembers a high school crush where she mooned
after a boy with a locker near hers, but that came to nothing. She reads
the confessions magazines and Ann Landers' column in the newspaper that
Jake brings with him each night, and from these sources, she learns about
romance. One night, after Jake falls asleep, she types a badly punctuated,
ungrammatical letter to Ann. In the letter, she explains her situation and
asks for advice on how to make Jake love her. She slips the letter into
a sack labelled "Outgoing Mail," and for the next week she reads
Ann's column with increased interest. But her letter never appears.
Rachel searches for answers in the magazine pictures that seem to fascinate
Jake. She studies the naked women, especially the big-breasted woman with
the purple smudges around her eyes.
One night, in a secretary's desk, she finds a plastic case of eyeshadow.
She steals it and takes it back to her cage. The next evening, as soon as
the Center is quiet, she upturns her metal food dish and regards her reflection
in the shiny bottom. Squatting, she balances the eye shadow case on one
knee and examines its contents: a tiny makeup brush and three shades of
eye shadow--INDIAN BLUE, FOREST GREEN, and WILDLY VIOLET. Rachel chooses
the shade labeled WILDLY VIOLET.
Using one finger to hold her right eye closed, she dabs her eyelid carefully
with the makeup brush, leaving a gaudy orchid-colored smudge on her brown
skin. She studies the smudge critically, then adds to it, smearing the color
beyond the corner of her eyelid until it disappears in her brown fur. The
color gives her eye a carnival brightness, a lunatic gaiety. Working with
great care, she matches the effect on the other side, then smiles at herself
in the glass, blinking coquettishly.
In the other cage, Johnson bares his teeth and shakes the mesh. She ignores
When Jake comes to let her out, he frowns at her eyes. --Did you hurt yourself?
No, she says. Then, after a pause, --Don't you like it?
Jake squats beside her and stares at her eyes. Rachel puts a hand on his
knee and her heart pounds at her own boldness. --You are a very strange
monkey, he signs.
Rachel is afraid to move. Her hand on his knee closes into a fist; her face
folds in on itself, puckering around the eyes.
Then, straightening up, he signs, --I liked your eyes better before.
He likes her eyes. She nods without taking her eyes from his face. Later,
she washes her face in the women's restroom, leaving dark smudges the color
of bruises on a series of paper towels.
Rachel is dreaming. She is walking through the Painted Desert with her
hairy brown mother, following a red rock canyon that Rachel somehow knows
will lead her to the Primate Research Center. Her mother is lagging behind:
she does not want to go to the Center; she is afraid. In the shadow of a
rock outcropping, Rachel stops to explain to her mother that they must go
to the Center because Jake is at the Center. # # #
Rachel's mother does not understand sign language. She watches Rachel with
mournful eyes, then scrambles up the canyon wall, leaving Rachel behind.
Rachel climbs after her mother, pulling herself over the edge in time to
see the other chimp loping away across the wind-blown red cinder-rock and
Rachel bounds after her mother, and as she runs she howls like an abandoned
infant chimp, wailing her distress. The figure of her mother wavers in the
distance, shimmering in the heat that rises from the sand. The figure changes.
Running away across the red sands is a pale blonde woman wearing a purple
sweatsuit and jogging shoes, the sweet-smelling mother that Rachel remembers.
The woman looks back and smiles at Rachel. "Don't howl like an ape,
daughter," she calls. "Say Mama."
Rachel runs silently, dream running that takes her nowhere. The sand burns
her feet and the sun beats down on her head. The blonde woman vanishes in
the distance, and Rachel is alone. She collapses on the sand, whimpering
because she is alone and afraid.
She feels the gentle touch of fingers grooming her fur, and for a moment,
still half asleep, she believes that her hairy mother has returned to her.
In the dream, she opens her eyes and looks into a pair of dark brown eyes,
separated from her by wire mesh. Johnson. He has reached through a gap in
the fence to groom her. As he sorts through her fur, he makes soft cooing
sounds, gentle comforting noises.
Still half asleep, she gazes at him and wonders why she was so fearful.
He does not seem so bad. He grooms her for a time, and then sits nearby,
watching her through the mesh. She brings a slice of apple from her dish
of food and offers it to him. With her free hand, she makes the sign for
apple. When he takes it, she signs again: apple. He is not a particularly
quick student, but she has time and many slices of apple.
All Rachel's preparations are done, but she cannot bring herself to leave
the Center. Leaving the Center means leaving Jake, leaving potato chips
and whiskey, leaving security. To Rachel, the thought of love is always
accompanied by the warm taste of whiskey and potato chips. # # #
Some nights, after Jake is asleep, she goes to the big glass doors that
lead to the outside. She opens the doors and stands on the steps, looking
down into the desert. Sometimes a jackrabbit sits on its haunches in the
rectangles of light that shine through the glass doors. Sometimes she sees
kangeroo rats, hopping through the moonlight like rubber balls bouncing
on hard pavement. Once, a coyote trots by, casting a contemptuous glance
in her direction.
The desert is a lonely place. Empty. Cold. She thinks of Jake snoring softly
in the janitor's lounge. And always she closes the door and returns to him.
Rachel leads a double life: janitor's assistant by night, prisoner and teacher
by day. She spends her afternoons drowsing in the sun and teaching Johnson
On a warm afternoon, Rachel sits in the outside run, basking in the sunlight.
Johnson is inside, and the other chimps are quiet. She can almost imagine
she is back at her father's ranch, sitting in her own yard. She naps and
dreams of Jake.
She dreams that she is sitting in his lap on the battered old couch. Her
hand is on his chest: a smooth pale hand with red-painted fingernails. When
she looks at the dark screen of the television set, she can see her reflection.
She is a thin teenager with blonde hair and blue eyes. She is naked.
Jake is looking at her and smiling. He runs a hand down her back and she
closes her eyes in ecstacy.
But something changes when she closes her eyes. Jake is grooming her as
her mother used to groom her, sorting through her hair in search of fleas.
She opens her eyes and sees Johnson, his diligent fingers searching through
her fur, his intent brown eyes watching her. The reflection on the television
screen shows two chimps, tangled in each others arms.
Rachel wakes to find that she is in heat for the first time since she came
to the Center. The skin surrounding her genitals is swollen and pink.
For the rest of the day, she is restless, pacing to and fro in her cage.
On his side of the wire mesh wall, Johnson is equally restless, following
her when she goes outside, sniffing long and hard at the edge of the barrier
that separates him from her.
That night, Rachel goes eagerly to help Jake clean. She follows him closely,
never letting him get far from her. When he is sweeping, she trots after
him with the dustpan and he almost trips over her twice. She keeps waiting
for him to notice her condition, but he seems oblivious.
As she works, she sips from a cup of whiskey. Excited, she drinks more than
usual, finishing two full cups. The liquor leaves her a little disoriented,
and she sways as she follows Jake to the janitor's lounge. She curls up
close beside him on the couch. He relaxes with his arms resting on the back
of the couch, his legs stretching out before him. She moves so that she
pressed against him.
He stretches, yawns, and rubs the back of his neck as if trying to rub away
stiffness. Rachel reaches around behind him and begins to gently rub his
neck, reveling in the feel of his skin, his hair against the backs of her
hands. The thoughts that hop and skip though her mind are confusing. Sometimes
it seems that the hair that tickles her hands is Johnson's; sometimes, she
knows it is Jake's. And sometimes it doesn't seem to matter. Are they really
so different? They are not so different.
She rubs his neck, not knowing what to do next. In the confessions magazines,
this is where the man crushes the woman in his arms. Rachel climbs into
Jake's lap and hugs him, waiting for him to crush her in his arms. He blinks
at her sleepily. Half asleep, he strokes her, and his moving hand brushes
near her genitals. She presses herself against him, making a soft sound
in her throat. She rubs her hip against his crotch, aware now of a slight
change in his smell, in the tempo of his breathing. He blinks at her again,
a little more awake now. She bares her teeth in a smile and tilts her head
back to lick his neck. She can feel his hands on her shoulders, pushing
her away, and she knows what he wants. She slides from his lap and turns,
presenting him with her pink genitals, ready to be mounted, ready to have
him penetrate her. She moans in anticipation, a low inviting sound.
He does not come to her. She looks over her shoulder and he is still sitting
on the couch, watching her through half-closed eyes. He reaches over and
picks up a magazine filled with pictures of naked women. His other hand
drops to his crotch and he is lost in his own world.
Rachel howls like an infant who has lost its mother, but he does not look
up. He is staring at the picture of the blonde woman.
Rachel runs down dark corridors to her cage, the only home she has. When
she reaches the corridor, she is breathing hard and making small lonely
whimpering noises. In the dimly lit corridor, she hesitates for a moment,
staring into Johnson's cage. The male chimp is asleep. She remembers the
touch of his hands when he groomed her.
From the corridor, she lifts the gate that leads into Johnson's cage and
enters. He wakes at the sound of the door and sniffs the air. When he sees
Rachel, he stalks toward her, sniffing eagerly. She lets him finger her
genitals, sniff deeply of her scent. His penis is erect and he grunts in
excitement. She turns and presents herself to him and he mounts her, thrusting
deep inside. As he penetrates, she thinks, for a moment, of Jake and of
the thin blonde teenage girl named Rachel, but then the moment passes. Almost
against her will she cries out, a shrill exclamation of welcoming and loss.
After he withdraws his penis, Johnson grooms her gently, sniffing her genitals
and softly stroking her fur. She is sleepy and content, but she knows that
they cannot delay.
Johnson is reluctant to leave his cage, but Rachel takes him by the hand
and leads him to the janitor's lounge. His presence gives her courage. She
listens at the door and hears Jake's soft breathing. Leaving Johnson in
the hall, she slips into the room. Jake is lying on the couch, the magazine
draped over his legs. Rachel takes the equipment that she has gathered and
stands for a moment, staring at the sleeping man. His baseball cap hangs
on the arm of a broken chair, and she takes that to remember him by.
Rachel leads Johnson through the empty halls. A kangeroo rat, collecting
seeds in the dried grass near the glass doors, looks up curiously as Rachel
leads Johnson down the steps. Rachel carries the plastic shopping bag slung
over her shoulder. Somewhere in the distance, a coyote howls, a long yapping
wail. His cry is joined by others, a chorus in the moonlight.
Rachel takes Johnson by the hand and leads him into the desert.
A cocktail waitress, driving from her job in Flagstaff to her home in
Winslow, sees two apes dart across the road, hurrying away from the bright
beams of her headlights. After wrestling with her conscience (she does not
want to be accused of drinking on the job), she notifies the county sheriff.
# # #
A local newspaper reporter, an eager young man fresh out of journalism school,
picks up the story from the police report and interviews the waitress. Flattered
by his enthusiasm for her story and delighted to find a receptive ear, she
tells him details that she failed to mention to the police: one of the apes
was wearing a baseball cap and carrying what looked like a shopping bag.
The reporter writes up a quick humorous story for the morning edition, and
begins researching a feature article to be run later in the week. He knows
that the newspaper, eager for news in a slow season, will play a human-interest
story up big--kind of Lassie, Come Home with chimps.
Just before dawn, a light rain begins to fall, the first rain of spring.
Rachel searches for shelter and finds a small cave formed by three tumbled
boulders. It will keep off the rain and hide them from casual observers.
She shares her food and water with Johnson. He has followed her closely
all night, seemingly intimidated by the darkness and the howling of distant
coyotes. She feels protective toward him. At the same time, having him with
her gives her courage. He knows only a few gestures in ASL, but he does
not need to speak. His presence is comfort enough. # # #
Johnson curls up in the back of the cave and falls asleep quickly. Rachel
sits in the opening and watches dawnlight wash the stars from the sky. The
rain rattles against the sand, a comforting sound. She thinks about Jake.
The baseball cap on her head still smells of his cigarettes, but she does
not miss him. Not really. She fingers the cap and wonders why she thought
she loved Jake.
The rain lets up. The clouds rise like fairy castles in the distance and
the rising sun tints them pink and gold and gives them flaming red banners.
Rachel remembers when she was younger and Aaron read her the story of Pinnochio,
the little puppet who wanted to be a real boy. At the end of his adventures,
Pinnochio, who has been brave and kind, gets his wish. He becomes a real
Rachel had cried at the end of the story and when Aaron asked why, she had
rubbed her eyes on the backs of her hairy hands. --I want to be a real girl,
she signed to him. --A real girl.
"You are a real girl," Aaron had told her, but somehow she had
never believed him.
The sun rises higher and illuminates the broken rock turrets of the desert.
There is a magic in this barren land of unassuming grandeur. Some cultures
send their young people to the desert to seek visions and guidance, searching
for true thinking spawned by the openness of the place, the loneliness,
the beauty of emptiness.
Rachel drowses in the warm sun and dreams a vision that has the clarity
of truth. In the dream, her father comes to her. "Rachel," he
says to her, "it doesn't matter what anyone thinks of you. You're my
I want to be a real girl, she signs.
"You are real," her father says. "And you don't need some
two-bit drunken janitor to prove it to you." She knows she is dreaming,
but she also knows that her father speaks the truth. She is warm and happy
and she doesn't need Jake at all. The sunlight warms her and a lizard watches
her from a rock, scurrying for cover when she moves. She picks up a bit
of loose rock that lies on the floor of the cave. Idly, she scratches on
the dark red sandstone wall of the cave. A lopsided heart shape. Within
it, awkwardly printed: Rachel and Johnson. Between them, a plus sign. She
goes over the letters again and again, leaving scores of fine lines on the
smooth rock surface. Then, late in the morning, soothed by the warmth of
the day, she sleeps.
Shortly after dark, an elderly rancher in a pickup truck spots two apes
in a remote corner of his ranch. They run away and lose him in the rocks,
but not until he has a good look at them. He calls the police, the newspaper,
and the Primate Center. # # #
The reporter arrives first thing the next morning, interviews the rancher,
and follows the men from the Primate Research Center as they search for
evidence of the chimps. They find monkey shit near the cave, confirming
that the runaways were indeed nearby. The news reporter, an eager and curious
young man, squirms on his belly into the cave and finds the names scratched
on the cave wall. He peers at it. He might have dismissed them as the idle
scratchings of kids, except that the names match the names of the missing
chimps. "Hey," he called to his photographer, "Take a look
The next morning's newspaper displays Rachel's crudely scratched letters.
In a brief interview, the rancher mentioned that the chimps were carrying
bags. "Looked like supplies," he said. "They looked like
they were in for the long haul."
On the third day, Rachel's water runs out. She heads toward a small town,
marked on the map. They reach it in the early morning--thirst forces them
to travel by day. Beside an isolated ranch house, she find a faucet. She
is filling her bottle when Johnson grunts in alarm. # # #
A dark-haired woman watches from the porch of the house. She does not move
toward the apes, and Rachel continues filling the bottle. "It's all
right, Rachel," the woman, who has been following the story in the
papers, calls out. "Drink all you want."
Startled, but still suspicious, Rachel caps the bottle and, keeping her
eyes on the woman, drinks from the faucet. The woman steps back into the
house. Rachel motions Johnson to do the same, signaling for him to hurry
and drink. She turns off the faucet when he is done.
They are turning to go when the woman emerges from the house carrying a
plate of tortillas and a bowl of apples. She sets them on the edge of the
porch and says, "These are for you."
The woman watches through the window as Rachel packs the food into her bag.
Rachel puts away the last apple and gestures her thanks to the woman. When
the woman fails to respond to the sign language, Rachel picks up a stick
and writes in the sand of the yard. "THANK YOU," Rachel scratches,
then waves good-bye and sets out across the desert. She is puzzled, but
The next morning's newspaper includes an interview with the dark-haired
woman. She describes how Rachel turned on the faucet and turned it off when
she was through, how the chimp packed the apples neatly in her bag and wrote
in the dirt with a stick.# # #
The reporter also interviews the director of the Primate Research Center.
"These are animals," the director explains angrily. "But
people want to treat them like they're small hairy people." He describes
the Center as "primarily a breeding center with some facilities for
medical research." The reporter asks some pointed questions about their
acquisition of Rachel.
But the biggest story is an investigative piece. The reporter reveals that
he has tracked down Aaron Jacobs' lawyer and learned that Jacobs' left a
will. In this will, he bequeathed all his possessions--including his house
and surrounding land--to "Rachel, the chimp I acknowledge as my daughter."
The reporter makes friends with one of the young women in the typing
pool at the research center, and she tells him the office scuttlebutt: people
suspect that the chimps may have been released by a deaf and drunken janitor,
who was subsequently fired for negligence. The reporter, accompanied by
a friend who can communicate in sign language, finds Jake in his apartment
in downtown Flagstaff. # # #
Jake, who has been drinking steadily since he was fired, feels betrayed
by Rachel, by the Primate Center, by the world. He complains at length about
Rachel: they had been friends, and then she took his baseball cap and ran
away. He just didn't understand why she had run away like that.
"You mean she could talk?" the reporter asks through his interpreter.
Of course she can talk, Jake signs impatiently. --She is a smart monkey.
The headlines read: "Intelligent chimp inherits fortune!" Of course,
Aaron's bequest isn't really a fortune and she isn't just a chimp, but close
enough. Animal rights activists rise up in Rachel's defense. The case is
discussed on the national news. Ann Landers reports receiving a letter from
a chimp named Rachel; she had thought it was a hoax perpetrated by the boys
at Yale. The American Civil Liberties Union assigns a lawyer to the case.
By day, Rachel and Johnson sleep in whatever hiding places they can find:
a cave; a shelter built for range cattle; the shell of an abandoned car,
rusted from long years in a desert gully. Sometimes Rachel dreams of jungle
darkness, and the coyotes in the distance become a part of her dreams, their
howling becomes the cries of fellow apes.
The desert and the journey have changed her. She is wiser, having passed
through the white-hot love of adolescence and emerged on the other side.
She dreams, one day, of the ranch house. In the dream, she has long blonde
hair and pale white skin. Her eyes are red from crying and she wanders the
house restlessly, searching for something that she has lost. When she hears
coyotes howling, she looks through a window at the darkness outside. The
face that looks in at her has jug-handle ears and shaggy hair. When she
sees the face, she cries out in recognition and opens the window to let
By night, they travel. The rocks and sands are cool beneath Rachel's feet
as she walks toward her ranch. On television, scientists and politicians
discuss the ramifications of her case, describe the technology uncovered
by investigation of Aaron Jacobs' files. Their debates do not affect her
steady progress toward her ranch or the stars that sprinkle the sky above
It is night when Rachel and Johnson approach the ranchhouse. Rachel sniffs
the wind and smells automobile exhaust and strange humans. From the hills,
she can see a small camp beside a white van marked with the name of a local
television station. She hesitates, considering returning to the safety of
the desert. Then she takes Johnson by the hand and starts down the hill.
Rachel is going home.
This entire document is Copyright © 1996 by Pat Murphy. All rights reserved.
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