after Zachary Schomberg’s “The Animal Spell”
He told me that what I needed most in the world was a monkey, so I bought two. I know you’ve heard this story but I think today you need it again, or I need to tell it. I was twenty-two; he was eighteen but I wouldn’t have guessed it, the kind of man who’s tall without being tall, and he looked so silly with the monkeys, the cage balanced on the handlebars of his bicycle. A clear day in spring, the light dying, shadowing the yellow hills. Such a funny sight that I invited him in for iced tea, and we got to talking. Asked what I did, so I told him I worked in a flower shop. Asked me where, so I told him Fourth and Main, not meaning to say it, not knowing who he was, could be anyone in the world. I’d never seen my father so angry as when he got home and saw the monkeys, learned I’d let a stranger in with no one home, but all I could think about were his eyelashes.
The next day, of course, he came into the shop. I was fixing a bouquet of lilies for a wedding, didn’t notice him until he drew up close and clunked his cage of monkeys on the counter. Mind if I leave them here a minute? he asked. I’ve got to buy some flowers. Well, I didn’t believe him for a second, because in those days it happened a lot; in those days, I think, I was beautiful. I asked if he needed help and he said no, he’d just take his time if that was all right, and turned from me to look at the flowers. Bent over each bouquet to sniff them. Brushed the petals with his fingers, so gently that I grew jealous of the flowers. The monkeys hooting and rattling the bars of the cage, capuchins with black, beady eyes.
No marriage is perfect. You’ve got to understand: he doesn’t mean to hurt anyone. I promise you that somewhere else in this world, right now, a man loves a woman who isn’t his wife. It’s just a thing that happens, and maybe you’re too young to understand it like that.
Let me tell you a different story, about a trumpeter swan. When I was a girl, around your age, there was a pond behind my house where I went with my sister. In the winter we skated there and in the summer we swam. Sometimes I went alone to sit on a flat, mossy stone, put my feet in the water when it was warm enough, but on that day, the day with the swan, it was cold. I was reading when a man came up behind me, an old man with a scraggled gray beard. Stood behind me for a long moment; then he lit a corncob pipe and sat by my side. Took a few puffs and said, You see that girl? I looked up from my book, and in the pond there was a trumpeter swan, picking bugs from her breast, ruffling her feathers. I wondered why she was out so early in the spring; I didn’t speak, couldn’t, and after a pause he said, I’m going to marry her. Won’t she make a beautiful bride? I stammered out yes, I suppose she would. The man puffed on his pipe and told me that once he had believed that animals were people under spells. I thought if I loved her, he said, the spell would be lifted. Now I know better. I know that love can’t change a thing.
(Sara Brody is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in the Monarch Review, the Adroit Journal, and Narrative Magazine. This story was originally published in April 8, 2016 edition of the Columbia Journal.)