Natural History

Natural History by Neil Cross

Book: Natural History by Neil Cross Read Free Book Online
Authors: Neil Cross
very intelligent little monkeys.
    Their enclosure, which they shared with the black-handed spider-monkeys, was surrounded by a moat; capuchins couldn’t swim and feared water. In the moat lived ducks who swam in lazy circles, trailing strings of happy little ducklings.
    What the capuchins liked to do was this: dangle upside-down from a branch that overhung the water, snatch up a straggling duckling, then hustle it to dry land, kill it and eat it.
    Visitors who witnessed this were distressed by the panicking duckling, the haughty, oblivious mother, the cute little monkey with duckling blood smeared round its chittering mouth.
    If they demanded it, Patrick usually refunded their entrance money. He didn’t like dealing with the punters and he didn’t really care if they were shocked by seeing a monkey eating a duckling. What did they expect?
    But the genius of the capuchins fascinated him. Their compound was like a prison for flesh-crazed mad scientists.
    Around 4 p.m. he went to pick up Jo. She’d be waiting at John Nately’s gate, as if she hadn’t moved all day. She was eating an apple, or she simply stood with a book in one hand, reading.
    Whatever she was doing, she never noticed him arrive. He sat at the wheel, watching her—crunching her apple or holding a book before her face, or just huddling in the rain.
    She made him smile—she always made him smile. And when he honked the horn she always glanced up as if surprised to see him.
    He drove her to Monkeyland and sometimes, she accompanied him as he shambled about his business. But mostly she sat in his office and read books, or wrote essays on Patrick’s work computer—which was excellent, because it meant Patrick couldn’t access his emails or get to his spreadsheets.
    When she grew bored, Patrick sometimes paid her two quid an hour to sort his in-tray. She set the important paperwork in a neat pile on the right side of his desk. Like all neat piles, it soon became invisible.
    Now and again, Charlie took her to feed the old donkeys; she liked the warm, straw, horseshitty smell of them.
    But usually, she just did her homework at Patrick’s desk, or read, erect in his chair with the book two inches from the tip of her nose.
    Sometimes, when Mrs de Frietas slipped out for a crafty Lambert & Buder, which Patrick wasn’t supposed to know about, Jo answered his phone. ‘Patrick Bowman’s phone,’ she would say. ‘How may I help you?’
    Jane finally called from Uganda, near the eastern Zairean border. She was breathless and excited and hassled, and the line was very bad. So he told her everything was fine, that he loved her and the kids missed her, that it was good to hear her voice, and not to worry.
    He didn’t say they already had a big problem.
    There was a weird mood in the Bachelor Group. In the early morning, when the mist was thin, the chimps were sombre and watchful—as if terrible anxieties had kept them awake through the night. Never relaxed, the group, was becoming schismatic. Small, temporary alliances were forming—chimps huddling like Victorian anarchists, then dissolving, often in shrieking twisters of violence.
    Uncle Joe, the dominant bachelor, spent much of his time in furious display. He threw tyres, food. He slapped at the ground. He vocalized rapidly through pursed lips. He pulled his lips back from his teeth and screamed.
    One morning, instead of retreating from Uncle Joe’s display, two younger apes called Gilbert and Rollo responded by attacking him. There was an unpleasant little squabble—shrieking and thumping and kicking and biting—until Gilbert and Rollo retreated to higher ground (their new jungle gym) and squatted there, sulking, grooming themselves by way of displacement.
    Bleeding, haughty, Uncle Joe retreated to a farther corner. Believing himself out of eyesight, he sagged.
    â€˜These fucking bastards,’ said Patrick. ‘I wish they’d

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