Et Tu Bruté

(This story was a finalist in Geist’s 2010 Postcard Story contest, and was printed in the Fall 2010 issue of Geist.  This story is included in The Angels of Our Better Beasts.  The illustration is mine.)

Et Tu Bruté

IMG_2903Brutus, our multi-million dollar signing gorilla, slumps behind glass, pining away for my ex-boyfriend, Pete.  He hasn’t eaten for days.  He shoves all the food we give him to the observation window—offering it back to us in exchange for Pete.

Pete’s not coming back, and I’ve gotten used to it.

Brutus draws a policeman’s badge, Pete’s symbol, in the dirt of the Outdoor Facility.  I want to tell him that Pete broke up with me.   I never pushed him away.

Primatologists record everything Brutus does to show us he misses Pete.  When he draws a badge on the glass with his feces, they say, “Look how he loved him.”

“Shelly, maybe Pete could drop by,” Dr. Jim suggests.  “Just for an afternoon.  You could take the afternoon off if you wanted.”

I feel invisible.  We all want to know of Brutus’ grief, as if we’re bored by the human version.  How blessed to have a team of caring observers!

“If you don’t want to write the letter, I can,” Dr. Jim says.

Well, it’s unanimous then.  Everyone wants Pete.

Honestly, Brutus is making us write you, I write Pete.  He won’t eat.  Pete, I’m not asking for me.  Just for him.

This irks me on a deep level.  Like I’m begging.

I’m not begging you.  One afternoon, then it’s over.  Visit a gorilla—Save some primatologists.  If I were going to ask you back into my life, I’d be more creative than saying The Gorilla Made Me Do It.   

I picture Pete’s mouth in a smile under his bushy cop mustache.

He used to wrestle with Brutus.  Yes, wrestle.  Brutus was gentle with him, he knew it was play, and would sometimes kiss him softly on the forehead after he’d worn Pete out.  We’re pretty sure Brutus is gay.  Jezebel, the female gorilla shipped over from the Primate Institute, is pretty sure he’s gay too.  She went back very disappointed.

It’ll make your gorilla happy, and everyone here needs a Happy Gorilla.

I picture Brutus giving me a thumbs-up, his leathery eyebrows conspiratorial.

I wish I’d had enough dignity to walk out on you first.  You called me a ‘lab rat’! You were embarrassed to be with me in public.   I can’t believe I tried to be ‘worthy’ of your affection, I write.   But I crumple up the sheet and try again.

Hello, Pete.  I’m writing on behalf of Brutus, who is holding a hunger strike in our lab.  He’s demanding you.  Dr. Jim has asked me to write you—see if you’d drop by.  It would be good to see you.  I erase the last part, suddenly afraid of scaring him off.  Again.

I look away to see Brutus flipping through a picture album, stopping at Pete’s pictures.  He sighs heavily.  Should I tell him Pete wouldn’t stay?  No.  I can’t even tell myself.

Pete won’t fall for this, I know.

Maybe I’ll let Brutus smear some feces on the card for emphasis, for love.

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