He came back this time as a monkey: a macaque with a vague longing; an ache for a mate, for a cloud-capped, snowy mountain to retreat to, for the hot water springs there to bathe in. He hummed, as best he could remember them, the birdsongs from the ever-after. He came back. And, for awhile, he lived out a brief, unhappy life in a ghettoed part of town, beneath corrugate, with a hollowed out and listless miaow and another unsavoury; a lumpen, blooded, come-and-go thing that wheezed and squawked.
The three of them lived in the tin one-room in the overgrown bone yard at the back of a church, all twisted and burnt-out and black. The miaow was a bristling, feral thing, revenant also, the colour of the fired brick. The come-and-go was moth-eaten, rancid; a creature in a rank suit of suede with vermin trim. The macaque began at once to lose the shine from his pelt, the smile from his chin. He laid on a rattan and wondered his lot.
It was cramped and noisy in the shack and it stank of rubbish, rust and fuck-knows what. They squabbled over this, over that, but mostly they existed in a disquiet. At night the come-and-go would come-and-go, come-and-go, bringing parties of unsavouries to the rag curtained corner of the hovel that it deemed its own. The noises that came through that thin veil were disturbing to the monkey’s ears, made more so by being unseen, imagined. The invitees were spindle-legged mis-shapes: beetles and crabs, broadshouldered horseflies and battle-scarred spiders and rats; belching, jaundiced, cripple toads, foxes, pox-riddled, and others, too vile to mention.
Uncurling, he rose from the rattan and brushed from his belly, his back, the collected detritus of the timespent. Dust and half-blind bugs tumbled from him and he bowed and pawed the pale and blinking creatures from the dirt floor to his mouth.
He had dreamed again of distant mountains, clouds, or snow topping them. He dreamed a lush jungle, alive with chatter and with laughter and love: the sound of monkeys. He dreamed the canopy, wet with steam, hung low with fragrant vines and he dreamed he breathed the hot springs there to bathe in.
In the dirt yard was a common use bath. It was a stone relic around which an unholy crowd, withershins, tramped, mumbling. He loped between them, sniffing, climbed up and into the cold vessel and crouched within, knees to chest to chin, shivering. Though the crowd appeared lacklustre, casting his way only on occasion an indifferent glance, he smelt otherwise on the air. He smelt their desperation.
The inch water font belittled him. He completed a brief ablution and climbed out. The dirt yard powdered his paws and by the time he was back inside on the mat, he was as unclean and unhappy as he was just before. He curled and, covering his head with his paws, he waited for the thin sleep to come.
The miaow, this time, was black. She hunted of a midnight, mice and small rats and foolish birds that bellied and slept in the tall grass. The daylight hours she would nap, sometimes in the bone yard grass, sometimes in the shack. The neighbours called her by some name from their shacks as she mewled in the dark yard.
The soldiers came one dawn; uninvited, uniformed. They came delivered by silent gunships, the blast of which flattened many of the shacks before they even touched the ground. They came riding the backs of tanks, of trucks, of half-tracks, the wheels of which churned the earth maroon and brown. They wore black, buttoned to the throat with death’s head badges, silver lightning flashes. Blood-red lips and cold blue shadows of amphetamine. They came in squads of sixty, booted; breathing fire, spitting lead. They spoke as crows, and in fact, they spared their corvid cousins as if it was prearranged. They brought with them, unleashed, dogs of Mongol descent, cruel hounds known for their disdain of pale and bony creatures – the unwashed, the unlucky, the underfed.
As the barely settled sun began its ascent again, the dismal army – their boots and bayonets greased with blackening blood and spat and worse – had levelled the shanty town and murdered all the inhabitants. Their work became now less frenetic and there was a dreadful beauty to the way they ranged around the ruins, installing the new reality: they chatted almost friendly among themselves as they kicked and dug at the bodies – every so often, not so often, they came across a pitiful and near lifeless creature with pleading eyes, with twitching limbs, and these were dispatched with a care-free stab, bullet, flame, punch, stamp or wringing of the neck.
The miaow settled in the shadows of the bone yard grass, licking her own blood and gore from her paws and watched the soldiers dance their victory on the dirt boards of the flattened ghetto. They danced a drunken waltz around the yard. There was no music to speak of, but the tapping and the scratching of their heels and paws on the floor became to her a cacophony unbearable.
The dancers made their way toward the noon where their long shadows gathered beneath them. The miaow watched from the burnt-out church, quite hidden, and when the soldiers collected and marched on, she lifted up her violin and played a hollow, melancholy melody.
He came back again as a macaque. And as a macaque he sat, this time, up to his neck in a hot water spring and leaned into the curve of the mountain rock pool behind him. She was a slim and kind macaque with blonde fringes. She leaned into him and his cock, beneath the water, rose and measured her spine. The macaque took pleasure in soaping her shoulders and whispering her ear with stories, half-stories really, memories and dreams, and she would listen and smile and hum her birdsongs that to him seemed familiar. The clouds hung in the upper reaches of the mountain, as thin as holy bible paper.