Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Lincoln Park Zoo

“Life is like a tin of sardines we’re all of us looking for the key.”
Alan Bennett

Howling with grief
Its February, cold and quiet in Lincoln Park zoo and a middle aged Hispanic couple stand in front of a cage containing a pair of rare monkeys.
The woman keeps tapping the glass walls, making strange noises in the back of her throat trying to attract their attention. They ignore her.
Meanwhile her partner is bored and preoccupied, hands thrust deep inside his trouser pockets. He keeps glancing around wondering if she will ever tire of her fascination with the Monkey House.
Later they sit down in the almost empty restaurant.

He buys her popcorn, two pizzas and a super-size coke.
He eats a small hamburger and drinks water.
The meal over, he puts his hand inside his jacket and takes out a brown envelope.
“What’s this?” she stops drinking the last of her large coke.
“You’ve got a surprise for me? You mean a holiday?” she half laughs at her own joke.

He avoids eye contact.
He lets her open the envelope.
Her face contorts in horror, a silent scream, and her hand flies to her mouth as if to protect her from the words written on the opened letter in front of her.
“You wanna divorce me?”
He nods.
“ I don’t believe it...why?”

He shrugs and mumbles something.
“It’s simple,” he says. ” I don’t love you anymore.”
And he has used this very public place on a cold Chicago February day to end their relationship.
She sees her life disintegrating before her.
“The house...the kids.... the dogs.” she starts to plead.

He shakes his head.
“Let’s go to a marriage guidance counsellor...anything you say,” she pleads.
That’s when it starts. At first it’s silent sobbing, then the pain within her finds its voice and she gives out the most bloodcurdling howl.
The animals in the nearby Monkey House sense the fear, pain and agitation and add their voices too.
Soon the whole area is a cacophony of wailing, and leading the howling, like the diva in some grand opera, is the Hispanic woman.

The few customers in the restaurant, like myself, find us cast as the unwilling audience in this unfolding human drama.
Every so often she pauses from her weeping to read and reread the divorce papers yet this only induces another round of sobbing.

She has lost her man.
He sits there motionless refusing to comfort her, ignoring the hostile looks of the other women who feel for this woman.
She doesn’t deserve this public humiliation.

She is obese and the grief traumatising her body causes her fat to roll and shake undulating like small waves around her.
He starts to explain the financial arrangements ignoring the crying from his wife and the howling from the agitated monkeys.
He tells her how the home will within them be divided up, who would have the two cars, the dog, two cats and hamster and he points out that the children have already left home so that would not be a problem.

Far from consoling her this only fuels more weeping. It seemed to come from some unknown deep well of feeling within her. She sits there rocking and shaking with grief, hurt, lonely and all the time she keeps up this dreadful howling.
By now the alarmed monkeys are in full voice as if some deep primordial button has been pressed within them too and they howl in sympathy with the human sorrow of the stricken woman imprisoned in her grief.
I pick up my bags and leave.


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