She is not a girl. I must not think of her as a girl. She most certainly does not have the presence of a girl. She does not have a girl’s way.
She has the way of a woman and the presence of a goddess.
Blend the two and what is left is a queen.
What you have is an oracle. A prophet. I doubt there has ever been a living being more comfortable in her own skin.
And yes, every living being has at one point been a she. Some of us were left in a bit longer, to brown the top so to speak, to have us bubble up the air pockets, to get the texture right and compliment the meal of life. But we all have a she inside.
Antonia is all she. A she as profound as 10,000 years. A she too deep to be marked by age.
Chimpy taps me on the shoulder. I adjust the rearview mirror to see him.
What is it? I ask.
One forearm above his head, he scratches his armpit. Then, he signs, She’s a tasty little piece. That guy’s a prick. Did you see how she was sweatin’ you? You should bang her. He makes an O.K. sign, pokes a finger through and slides it back and forth, still making the gesture even after he has turned his face away.
I readjust the mirror. There’s a scene of law enforcement vehicles, of barricades and twirling lights, by the east entrance to the city zoo on Alda Way, but traffic could be worse.
When the elevator door opens, Chimpy hops in first, springing himself off his knuckles.
I tell him, Remember: wait outside until I say it’s okay for you to come in.
Chimpy shakes a loose fist side to side as if coating a rod with lubricant.
The door opens on the second floor. It’s the Silvas of no. 4, the family in the flat directly downstairs. Husband, wife, teenage daughter, grade-school boy. The little one’s eyes light up, he grins purely. The other three are astonished and afraid. They all huddle in a corner.
Mrs. Silva turns to her husband and says, Se esse macaco passa a noite aqui, é isso. Eu tive isso. Eu não posso mais.
Staring straight up as if meant for God’s ears, Mr. Silva mumbles, Irreal.
Chimpy poorly dances in place his best version of a carioca: snatching the air hand-over-hand, feet pitter-pattering as if on hot coals. The boy snorts. His sister clutches his mouth.
Eve greets me at the door, trails me down the hallway, nostrils pulsing with questions.
Raat! Let me put on my face! Wait!
I hold up the bag for Electra to see. I got us a new friend, I say.
Raat! I didn’t know you knew anyone famous.
The clownfish falls into the tank with a *sploot*.
I ask, What do you mean.
“Heeeeeee don’t pay for nuthin’ not even a nickel / he don’t crack a smile but he’ll give you the giggles / he don’t eat bananas but he’s got a big ol’ — / Hooray! Mr. Chimpy McPickles!”
Electra’s tambourine, kazoo, whoopee cushion, and cowbell tell me that this is the well-known jingle of a show.
You’ve watched his program?
I’ll show him in.
The moment I turn the knob, Chimpy pushes the door open. He ambles past me, here and there on all fours.
Raat! “Jinga-linga-ling! / Fat tail fling!”
He looks at me and signs, Who’s the fox?
Three feathers float to the bottom of her cage as Electra’s wings beat wildly. “…Hohhhhh! Sweet mystery of life, at last I have found yooouuu!”
He signs, Atta girl. Make it sing for me, Baby.
Raat! Grab yourself a cold one from the fridge.
Chimpy makes his way to the kitchen with no delay.
Simultaneously voicing a tuba and high-hat, Electra chants, “Crabs! crabs crabs crabs / Crabs! crabs crabs crabs / Carefully dab, pick off the scabs / Crabs! crabs craaaaabs!”
These are certainly, most certainly, not my own words issuing forth on my own behalf. This is no longer me making my way into the world by making my way into the word. 10,686 words into my existence and there can be no question that I have lost control of my discourse. This Song of Myself has, now, a life of its own. Lives of its own, it would appear.
Why is she in the cage? he signs.
Well, I, I figured she would be more comfortable in her own space. Besides, she hasn’t complained.
Let her out.
Electra, would you like me to let you out of the cage?
Raat! Yessss Sirrrr.
Why didn’t you say so before?
Raat! “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
I open the cage. Electra shuffles to the edge of her perch and dives through the aperture, spreading her wings, gliding through the room, soaring near the ceiling until she lands on top of the grandfather clock.
I feel as if I’m splitting. Like the end of a hair, like a molting moth.
I can feel my language doing the same. My words are splitmaking.
(Kenning, n., a periphrastic expression from medieval poetry that unites two words into one term to express a new meaning, e.g. hronrade ‘whale-road’ i.e. sea. Old Engl., from Old Norse, kenning ‘mark of recognition.’)
(Portmanteau, n., a word that blends the sounds and combines the meanings of two words, e.g. smog, brunch, motel, karaoke. From Mod. French, portmanteau ‘trunk’ via Lewis Carroll, 1872.)
A telephone rings. The antique one with the brass fittings and the rotary dial on the oak desk in the living room. Chimpy gallopalavants to it on hands and feet. Before I can protest, he lifts the receiver, puts it to his ear, and grunts, Who-hoo her-haa?!
Raat! Ungrateful children. You never visit your mother.
No. No. No. No.
Chimpy tosses the receiver onto the desk, it thudclacks loudly.
He signs, She says it’s your mom.