Gay Monkey Business
By Ophelia Po
Ephraim the ape sits in the gay bar surrounded by his straight friends, dressed to the nines, short fur poking through a fishnet top, high waisted suit trousers, tailored for his strange body; a gold Swiss watch on his wrist, to match the chain around his neck. A serious investment. Ephraim had been excited to show the people in his life what he does outside of the office. The bar is exclusive, not just anybody can lumber in. Some are colleagues, some old university classmates. They all look like tourists as they file into the bar with him, all business casual and apprehensive smiles. Ephraim sips at a cocktail containing gin from the top shelf. His wrinkled palms sweat, but the alcohol sedates him. Ephraim so wants them to see him at his best, but he keeps being dragged back.
Apes have incredible memories, rivalling those of humans. Ephraim forgets recent things easily now that the fur around his jaw is greyed, but he remembers everything from his old life in the zoo. He was the best boy, they told him that all the time. So kind, so well behaved, so obedient. All true. Ephraim knew the privileges this kind of reputation garnered him. The other apes had their pride, but what was pride? There was no such currency in the zoo. But the more he was granted by the zookeepers, the more the other apes drew away from him. He didn’t blame them now, but they confused Ephraim then. How could they not see?
Ephraim has a routine at the office. Every morning he makes pour-over coffee in his pristine kitchen, before dispensing it into his Icelandic thermos and placing it into his satchel. The people of Iceland know how to make a thermos, and this one has the highest reviews online. Afterward, he cycles to work. He had to get special pedals fitted to reach his short legs, but it was worth the investment. Everyone who is serious about staying fit cycles, nowadays. The thermos of coffee lasts him all the way until lunchtime. He isn’t the kind of ape to drink instant from the office kitchenette. Not if he wants to be taken seriously. At lunch he will have it refilled at the local cafe, where he picks up an artisanal sandwich. Every day is the same order: four large leaves of romaine lettuce. Four seasoned slices of San Marzano tomatoes. Six strips of lightly fried prosciutto. Three thin slices of red Gouda. All laid between two thickly cut pieces of fresh, white sourdough. The Gouda always gives Ephraim a stomach ache after, but everyone knows that a proper sandwich is incomplete without good cheese.
Ephraim had a routine at the zoo, as well. Ephraim did think the zookeepers loved him then, because they only knew the part of him who was kind, well behaved, obedient. It was a pleasure for them to see him help with their little tasks. He had his first taste of coffee in the zoo. One of the zookeepers made him a weak cup in one of those cheap china mugs with zoo branding on it. He thought it would be funny. Ephraim didn’t find it funny. He raged and screeched at the heat and the burnt granules on his tongue. He raged so much that the zookeepers had to drag him back to his enclosure, where he was gauped at by the tourists behind the glass, and his monkey cohorts in front of it. On closed days the zookeepers taught him to feed the other animals, handfuls of seeds here, buckets of fish. They tried, once, to get him to feed the other apes, but some things were too shameful, even for Ephraim. The faces of his peers, looking up at him in disgust, was too much. How could they not see? He needed the merit. He had to do this! Did they expect him to lumber around like an animal for the rest of his life, having bugs picked from his hair? Ephraim had started wearing clothes by then. One ill-fitting zookeeper t-shirt.
It wasn’t until university that Ephram came out for the first time. It was a calculated decision. He had no family to worry about disowning him, he was a good student, he had a recurring summer internship, and he had good standing in various clubs and sports. It was a grand social expenditure, but it was a relief to finally do it. He had always tensed up when there were gay characters on tv, as if they might suddenly turn to the camera, mid scene, and recite in stage whispers: ‘Ephraim is one of us!’ For a while, he was certain that this is what would make everyone realise that he was an imposter. Ephraim had started to wear collared shirts and wool trousers around campus; he was sure it made people take him more seriously. At night he had dreams of spotlights shining on his guilty monkey boner, everyone who knew him looking on in horror. ‘That’s the penis of a gay ape!’ They would gasp. He learned then that there is never a last time to come out, but that he must champion the act, because you cannot escape what made you.
Foolishly, Ephraim had believed that one day the zookeepers would open the gates to his enclosure and wish him a good life. He had imagined it a hundred times, each detail relished when he closed his eyes. They would give him a paper bag full of humble zookeeper supplies. They would wash his t-shirt, and present the ensemble to him with a tearful hug, before waving him on his way and kissing the air. He would look back before stepping into a taxi, knowing that the ostracization and the shame was worth it in the end. He had made the right sacrifice. But the longer time dragged on, the more difficult it became for Ephraim to live in that fantasy. He became prone to the kinds of rages he had almost never let himself give into before. He beat his fists against the glass and screamed, his huge canines bared. More than once the keepers had to sedate him, and drag him, limp, back to his enclosure. It was embarrassing to remember that loss of control, when he was just another animal. The zookeepers started to get worried. Slowly, one by one, Ephraim began to lose his privileges, and the hot liquid hope that had kept him up for so long, began to burn.
So, the next time the keepers left Ephraim to put himself to bed, he didn’t close the lock on his enclosure. He curled up in some hay and waited until the lights were off and the last human sound had quieted, and then he stirred. It took a long time before Ephraim could bring himself to pop the latch. After all, there were far worse places an ape could end up. Later, Ephraim would watch videos online about apes kept as pets by wealthy Americans, who were forced to perform by their keepers, dressed in tutus and cuffed in chains. But still he hesitated. It was the weight of his first few months sleeping on dingy sofas, his first job, his graduation, his first boyfriend, his first real job, his first heartbreak, the day he found out that they were closing the zoo, up against the weight of leaving the only family he’d ever had behind, and the simplicity, the conformity, of conducting monkey business. Ephraim shudders, as he remembers pressing hairy, wrinkled fingers onto the cold metal of the unknown.
Ephraim the ape sits in the gay bar surrounded by his straight friends, dressed to the nines, short fur poking through a fishnet top, high waisted suit trousers, tailored for his strange body; a gold Swiss watch on his wrist, to match the chain around his neck. A serious investment. His friends are good sports about it, but they’re still tourists, all business casual and apprehensive smiles. Now they sit around him, drinking cocktails containing gin from the top shelf, trying not to stare. Ephraim wants it all to have been worth it. Ephraim wants them to see he is no imposter. His wrinkled palms sweat. The alcohol sedates him. But he keeps being dragged back to an old feeling, breaking a latch from half a lifetime away. How could they not see? The shame of best boy-hood. The ancient, familiar sense that the people around him are looking down at him in an enclosure: kind, well-behaved, obedient Ephraim, wearing his zookeeper t-shirt.