Bewildering Stories

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The Monday Penelope Thought Twice

by polycarp kusch

Once upon a time there was a Monday. The day the East Wing workers dosed the monkeys up with cough syrup and tested their driving reaction times. And through the grand security entrance that led on and slightly off to a hall that went vaguely right and down a ways, Penelope staggered swaying unsteadily against her 3 martini breakfast and bounced between the arrays of counters fondling her way past the cages of bluish semi shaven monkeys to the day room. In the doorway, she held her headache and there about in the purplish-blue light play of the large screen televisions her eyes glazed over the day's trainees strapped in their tiny high chairs. Some eyes were fixed up intently on "The A-team" while others were forced onto "MASH" depending on whether their Encouragement Teams leaders were trying to get them to emulate the grander behavioral aspects George Peppard or Alan Alda.

As Penelope entered the test bay, Ermile jumped behind the wheel of an Audi sedan and some how set off the air bag by moving too quickly or breathing too hard. The exploding safety appliance immediately set him on fire. Thinking quickly, Penelope beat out the flames with the handle of a broom that was wedging open a viral containment door to get a cross breeze. Ermile was one of the "short bus monkeys" who chose to dress in LA gang colours and smoke menthol cigarettes even though Swisher Sweet cigars were passed out freely to all at the medication desk.

We don't ask questions about what we don't ask questions about here. Use the systemic monkey brain poisons when they've figured out which keystroke pattern works the front doors. Dress them in cute mismatched pastel smocks when they misbehave in more minor offenses. We're here to follow procedure. Punch in. Punch out. Allowing emotion to enter in only makes ones life sticky. And when you work with 200 monkeys on IV Viagra, things are sticky enough.

Penelope rushed Ermile to the trash bin, not checking or even really caring about pulses or brain waves or deeply held monkey family ties. Like mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia in a high school restroom sink, this was merely an experiment gone terribly wrong in which the victims needed to be incinerated before their net values could be assessed and docked from her monthly pay.

His tiny frame vibrated in her arms and a thin stream of breakfast cereal spilled carelessly from the corners of his mouth. Some of the more obstinate monkeys would hide their morning Frosted Flakes under their tongues in a vain attempt at avoiding the company's "Humanization" programs.

As Penelope opened the incinerator doors, Ermile clutched her white smock and expanded his body in the way some cats will do when you try to force them into carriers for cross-country car trips. The little fellow was taking the whole matter so personally. His arms and legs flew out in a rigid X, too large to stuff through the opening. No matter the angle she aimed him nor the blunt object she used in wide arcing swings to provoke his relaxation, Ermile would simply not go easy into that good night.

A half hour passed trying to wrestle the little two-week pay cut into oblivion, but to no avail. Penelope fell back against the brick encasement surrounding the furnace, exhausted. Their chests heaved in unison, as if two gladiators of equal might were finally forced together in the arena.

She stared down into his deep brown monkey eyes. The reddish-yellow light of the furnace flames danced across his face, elongating his features, distorting them into a set of humanesque caricatures that began to pluck loudly away at Penelope's pity strings. His eyes were thick and cloudy with what Penelope glimpsed for a brief moment as some infinite sadness or some longing empty pity for her. Then she realized it was probably just the perfume she'd sprayed in his face earlier as a cheap method of simulating driving in heavy fog. His little body went limp in her arms, except for a single finger pointing to the darkness.

In the struggle, Penelope had failed to notice the growing crowd of test monkeys behind her gathering just outside the ring of the fire's light. Tacit balking protests emerged in the group, breaking them into various factions, each with their own various personal concerns based on wrist bone length, skull width or simply not wanting to be burned up alive anymore at the whim of some member of the graduating class of '98. And seeing how quickly an organized group so much more powerful than the evil force with which they were confronted could fall into such a state of division, Penelope had to pause. Her heart broke at the anguish and incapability of the faces surrounding her. All these new found thoughts quickly folded in with her own selfish desire of not wanting to have yet another black mark on her permanent file reading - "She let all the monkeys go. Again."

Then, from out of the darkness, stepped a pretty young, half shaven and catheterized monkey in a dress wearing a long blonde wig and carrying a baby no more than a few weeks old. Tears broke in Ermile's eyes. His finger shook more violently and uncontrolled at their approach.

Penelope looked down as if using her eyes to ask Ermile, "Who are these creatures who have come to comfort you in your last moments? Friends? Family?" But she was really thinking about how bad traffic would be on the thruway home leaving this late.

Ermile's body slid from her grasp and landed at the feet of the now sobbing wig monkey. He tottered to stand using her shoulder as a crutch and embraced her in a way Penelope had only seen the heroes of Harrison Ford films do with lavishly paid models who would provide those forms of faux love when offered fame, money or an alcoholic drink with a somewhat foreign sounding name. Yet, all this here before her seemed so real. So tangible. It was as if all the subjects she'd lit afire in a ketchup study or held under water until the bubbles stopped bubbling or locked in the freezers to test sun tan lotions in a simulated Minnesota summer had now gained some surrogate humanity.

The bitter crowd disbanded, splintering into meaningless caucuses and vague political discussions that held no relevancy to the current situation. Ermile's strength slowly returned as the two limped off towards the "night cages" where the all the monkeys would retire after becoming a bit randy from the after-dinner aperitifs provided as part of their wholesome and nutritious "night meal".

And so Penelope left things as they were and killed no one to cover her mistake. She knew she'd be fired tomorrow, because she didn't even bother to put any of the monkeys back in their cages before she left, which is a big NO NO. She could've simply left a note saying the entire floor had had a syphilis outbreak and incinerated the lot. But she didn't. She couldn't.

Then at home, Penelope started thinking how stupid she'd been. How she could no longer believe it was fair for animals to use the fact that they had eyes capable of producing sad looks to make her feel bad for protecting her ability to afford basic cable. She didn't think it right to have to feel bad, or even to pretend to feel bad to make a living.

And Penelope was right to have these feelings. Because let me tell you, I've worked on those very same bays for 18 years. I've seen those eyes and when it comes right down to it, don't delude yourself for a second, they'd stuff you into a furnace to protect whatever their version of NYPD Blues is without thinking twice.

Copyright © 2003 by polycarp kusch