Read More: A brief interview with Susan Robison
I needed to keep Mikey with me longer. He needed it, too.
I was sitting in the nursery next to the oak crib, gazing up at the luminescent stars and planets that Tom had pressed on the ceiling when we were anticipating our first. As the room darkened, I watched the little galaxy wink into light. It was hushed in there, the Cape Cod noises having tiptoed away. The mobile hanging over the crib began to spin, which could have been the wind, but then the rattle, nestled in the sheet, shook.
I closed my eyes to amp up Mikey and all too fleetingly I was able to hear sweet little snores. But then the cicada chorus swelled and the gulls squawked louder than ever before. I lit out of the nursery, almost bumping into Tom.
“Grief counseling,” he said, yet again. “We’ll both go. We have got to move on.”
One miscarriage, then later on in my second pregnancy, after Tom and I allowed ourselves to believe we were safe, another. The first time was at eight weeks, so we didn’t know whether it was a boy or a girl, but the second one at fifteen weeks was Mikey. We lost him three months ago. I didn’t want a therapist make me betray him by going through some kind of exorcism. I told Tom that I needed more time and promised I’d work out my grief in my own way.
Tom and I were snuggled against each other on the couch, scrolling through channels. Tom had always liked his nightly beers—more so since our losses—and now his stomach pudged out, straining his shirt. But he’d cultivated facial stubble that thinned his face and drew you in to his eager blue eyes. A news segment about monkeys born on an island next to Disney World caught my attention. Tiny capuchin monkeys, the kind that hold the cup out for organ grinders, were bred there then sent to ‘foster families’ all over the country who raise them for about a year until the monkeys are comfortable with people and ready to be trained for those in need. Then they’re taken to Capuchin Companions in Boston, an hour from us.
A monkey carefully stuck a straw into a bottle of water and held it for a paralyzed teen who took a big sip. My heart flipped, fish-like. I squeezed Tom’s hand and though he smiled, I’m pretty sure he knew what was in my mind and thought it was a really bad idea.
“A three-pound projectile careening off walls, landing on shoulders.” He cranked his neck, loudly. “They probably poop mid-air.”
“They don’t. They wear diapers with cute patterns, sailboats and clowns and stuff. You saw them.” He looked at me keenly. Even at our first date five years earlier, we felt we could read each other’s slightest signals. It was uncanny, we agreed. Now, I could see him do the calculation that I was pretty sure went something like this: how much we needed each other to get through what we lost, plus how much he loved me, divided by how long could he hold on given how grief-addled I was becoming.
“We’d have to give the monkey up in a year. You couldn’t do that, Annie.” He cranked his neck again. He’d been really popping those bones these last few months and I’d been pleading with him to stop, that his head would get stuck in one place. His next words spilled out urgently. Too urgently. “Let’s try again for our own. Dr. Johnson said the next one could make it.” The doctor who examined me after Mikey said she found no structural abnormalities in my uterus that caused the miscarriages. “And if we lose that baby, we’ll manage to move on. At thirty-two, we’ve got time, but not a lot. We’ll adopt if we need to.” He paused. “A child.”
Before we married, Tom had made clear to me that he wanted a couple of kids and I’d agreed. His brother and sister lived across the country and he talked to each of them weekly and I envied him that. I was an only kid raised by a nanny since both my parents worked long hours. She was nice enough but old. I must have tired her out because she plopped me in front of the TV too often. That nanny raised me for four years, then a younger one took over. My mother claimed my father got too friendly with the second one. My mother sacked her. Then him.
Now, looking into Tom’s bright blue eyes, I thought how cheery a couple of kids had felt. Though I nodded at his words, something else must have registered in my eyes to make Tom drop his hand from my face. Was it the ‘had felt’? It caught me by surprise and I abruptly turned back to the TV. Tom stood and banged out the loose-hinged screen door. It stuttered in his wake.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, let go of the monkey. I went onto Capuchin Companions’ website and studied photos of the infant monkeys ready for foster placement. I became consumed with how they could free people from locked-up lives. I’d never been the altruistic type, but I liked the idea of starting now.
I began humming again. I scrubbed and vacuumed, attacked the hill of laundry. What made me finally move forward, even this much, seemed to soften Tom. I told him I’d pour into this monkey the love and care that should have gone to Mikey. “One year,” I said. “Just give me that.”
“We’ll try for our own. I’ll be ready, I promise.” I wrapped my arms around him and we held fast for a long time.
“Okay,” he said. “Okay.”
I beckoned him to my computer. “That one,” I said, pointing to the picture that I’d bookmarked of a tiny male capuchin with the widest grin of all. “I want Cody.”
Justine, a trainer from Capuchin Companions, came to our home to assess whether we were capable of taking on an infant monkey. Though she was much younger than I, she had an air of authority about her that I recognized from my days as a successful real estate agent. That was before my second miscarriage, after which I haven’t been able to rally enough to show another house.
Justine asked to check out the space the monkey would have. I’d plastered capuchin and jungle pictures all over the nursery walls where the cage would be and I told her that I wanted to make the monkey feel right at home. I heard a whimper from the crib and I must have startled or made a sound, as Justine’s eyes met mine for an instant, glanced away. I busied myself opening the curtains, showing her our fenced-in backyard where we would set up a climbing structure and swinging basket so the monkey could get plenty of exercise. All the while I was wondering why such a plaintive whimper. When I’d catch—well, imagine—fleeting crib sounds, they were happy ones, gurgling and such.
I excused myself and put the kettle on for tea. I poured water into cups and dunked tea bags. But my hands shook so that I couldn’t bring the cups into the living room. I called for Tom and he took over.
We all sipped ginger tea, exchanging smiles. Justine pulled out a binder and a folder that, I assumed, contained the information already collected about us during a lengthy phone interview with a woman in charge of placement at Capuchin Companions. Justine asked us why we had a nursery with a crib. “The notes say you’re childless.”
Tom spoke right up, knowing that I couldn’t. He told her about the miscarriages and that we’d try for a baby again, later. After the monkey.
The first time I’d lost a baby, Tom was with me through the bleeding and wrenching cramps. The next time, placental gunk landed on the bathroom floor and then a more solid thing that might have been Mikey. Tom was heading home from work and he rushed me to the hospital since I kept cramping and bleeding. But he wasn’t there while it was happening. He didn’t see.
“How are you both doing now?” Justine asked. Tom told her what he and I had discussed, that it was extremely tough for many months, but we have a strong relationship so helped each other get through our losses.
She looked at me. “And you?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m…through it. You know, mostly.”
Cody arrived on a blustery March day of driving rain and pelting pinecones. I motioned Justine to pull into our garage so he wouldn’t get wet. She removed Cody from the crate secured to the rear seat and he scrambled up her arm and perched on her shoulder. He had a leash around his middle and wore a tiny diaper with sailboats. I reached for him, but Justine told me that he needed to settle down after the long ride. His dark brown cap of fur framed a pink face no bigger than a golf ball. He peered at Tom and me with black button eyes and then burrowed his head into Justine’s hair. I was already in love.
Justine would be sleeping on our living room couch for two nights. Courtesy of Capuchin Companions, a cage had been set up in the nursery. Tom wasn’t happy about it in there, but it was the only place we could put it in our two-bedroom house.
She told us what food Cody liked—seeds, nuts, bananas, live grasshoppers, Monkey Chow. She taught us how to clean his cage and food pans, change his diapers, bathe him in the kitchen sink. The first night Cody screeched when Justine placed him in the soapy water, but by the second night when Tom set him in the sink, he dunked his head under the water, then popped up, soap bubbles mounded on his nose and ears. We all laughed heartily and he swiveled his head to each of us, grinning.
After Justine drove off that third morning, Cody was spread out on his blue blanket in his cage, sleeping soundly, his little belly vibrating. Tom had taken the week off so the three of us could bond. That he was willing to do this for me, for us, made me love him more than ever. I turned his face to mine, kissed him deeply and pressed myself into the heat of his chest. God, I missed that heat. When we were first dating, he was a magnet and I was…metal filings. I had no choice—his pull was the most powerful thing, ever. Mixed with that force was astonishing gentleness, not just in sex, but in the ways he sought my opinions and listened attentively when I spoke. How special is that in a guy.
Now, he stroked my back under my T-shirt, then cupped my breasts, fluttered his fingers on my nipples. I whispered goodbye to Cody, then led Tom into our bedroom. We couldn’t get enough of each other’s tongues and flesh. I rolled over and rubbed lubricant on the lip of my diaphragm that I’d shoved in the back of my nightstand drawer as I couldn’t handle anything inside me after the second miscarriage. I was glad he felt so good in me now. I guess what I told Justine was true. I was through it, mostly.
I was jolted awake by the sound of Cody crying. It was such a human sound, for a moment I thought it was Mikey. I was pained when I realized that it wasn’t. Mikey had become too quiet since Cody had come. […]
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Susan Robison’s stories have appeared in New Letters, Crab Orchard Review, Confrontation, Saranac Review and many other journals. The first chapter of her novel, After Crash, was published in failbetter and the novel will be published by Outskirts Press. Susan’s personal essays have appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine. Robison lives in Wayland, west of Boston, with her husband and son.
Read More: A brief interview with Susan Robison
“After The Monkey” was the runner-up of the 2018 New Writer Awards (fiction/nonfiction).