Finally, on a Wednesday they walked through the door at the
bottom of the garden. On the other side, all identity was erased. No longer
defined by race, or gender, or religion, or nationality … anything. This meant
the pros as well as the cons. It all had to go. Now just a number, X17359 was a
little sad, because some of the old identities were useful and conferred a bit
of priviledge. But there was no way to separate the wheat from the chaff with
this process. It all had to be burnt away in the purifying fires of re-branding.
Even the new “name” was as un-unique and vague as possible, with no accompanying
meaning for or against. The “names” were even randomized so people couldn’t
brag about how long ago they had walked through the door. Not like they wanted
to, not after that experience, but this way there was no chance of temptation.
For you see, nobody was forced to walk through that door, a
nobody who had gone through mentioned it to others. It wasn’t advertised, but
everyone knew about it, one way or another. Some thought about it every day
until they finally just did it, and for some it barely registered with them and
they never did. But they all knew. It was encoded in fairytales and scripture.
It was woven into pop lyrics and advertising jingles. It was never overt, but
it was always there. It was kind of like a pattern you could only see when you
had polarizing sunglasses on. It was hidden in plain sight, but only those with
eyes to see noticed.
Papa brought his gun everywhere he went. It wasn’t a small gun,
either, no sir. It was a shotgun, meant for bears and the like. Gardening or
the grocery store made no difference. He toted it all over Grandville, in the
elbow-carry position most of the time. Sure, he got some strange looks when he
was off his property, but everybody knew he was a retired Colonel (full bird,
not Lieutenant) and cut him some slack. He’d never shot anything or anyone his
whole service career, but that didn’t matter now. He’d been an electrical
engineer before the World War started and he signed up as soon as he could. He
wanted to do his part to help out his country. Maybe deep down he also wanted
to make right the shame his father had brought to the family all those years
ago when he left his family the permanent way.
But now he was at his new home, his two children (the requisite
boy and girl) waving at the edge of the forest. They had just moved there, the
3 bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath, 2288 square-foot house they came from just wasn’t
enough for him anymore. Maybe he was like a hermit crab and had outgrown his
shell. He’d had to find a new one and fast or he’d die. That unsettledness was
his inheritance from his Pa.
Papa was a tender soul in a hard world. Deep down he would have
preferred to walk in the woods, without a care or obligation. He married out of
social expectation, but had requested they have no children, but his wife had
snuck two in on him before he’d insisted on separate rooms. He didn’t want
children because he couldn’t bear to think of a child having to undergo what he
and his sister had – the hardship, the skimping, the growing up fast after
their dad died at his own hand. The family story was that it was during the Depression. It was a depression alright, but not the
capital-D kind. More of a personal kind than a public one.
Yes, that was why he carried a rifle. His father had used a
revolver. And while you could kill yourself with a rifle, it was a lot harder.
You’d think he wouldn’t carry a gun at all, but he needed a
reminder of the weakness that might affect him. He wanted to never succumb to
weakness – whether inside or out. He needed a reminder to never forget how easy
it was to go astray. Some former cigarette smokers kept their favorite ashtray,
while some ex-drinkers kept empty bottles on display. It was all for the same
reason. They kept their old sin before them so it wouldn’t become their new sin
all over again. He never knew if suicide would sneak up on him like it had his
father, but he was determined to not let it get a chance.
Jayne sure loved her monkey friend Sergeant Jangles. He wasn’t
friends with just anyone, as he so often told her. He couldn’t afford to be,
not with his position. He oversaw a regimen of Simian Soldiers, all raised like
him to be different from the average monkey. In many ways they were different
from the average human as well.
You see, they were educated from birth to be self-sufficient and
quite capable. They were given training on how to cook, how to drive specially
designed cars, and how to communicate using sign language. Some were assigned
to assist humans with disabilities, while others were assigned as soldiers.
They were all quite intelligent, insightful, and wise, capable of making
And yet they weren’t citizens. Unable to vote, to marry, to own
property, they were beneath the law, an invisible slave workforce. Their owners
thought nothing of it. Why would they? They collected all their salary without
having to provide any more than food and lodging, both of which were minimal
for their charges. When pressed by members of the Monkey Liberation League (whose
motto was “Monkeys are People too!”) they would bring up the expense of
training and clothing, saying that the fees had yet to be recouped. When
pressed further, they hemmed and hawed about exactly when that date would be
reached. They’d say things like “Well you see, new uniforms have to be
custom-made, and that don’t come cheap. They tear up their clothes so often,
you see. And then there’s the hats. You can’t imagine how expensive they are,
and they lose them all the time. Just when the debt is about paid up, there
they go needing something else again. Why, they should be grateful we take care
of them at all, as much bother as they are.”
Meanwhile, their owners never worked and lived in the better
parts of town and ate at the better restaurants. You could always count on
finding at least a dozen of them in the fancy hip coffee houses downtown during
the day while their charges worked.
Jayne wasn’t a member of the League – she was much too young.
She had not even heard about it and most likely never would. Her people didn’t
waste time on such shenanigans as liberating others. They barely had time to look
after their own selves – and when they had a spare moment to think about the
plight of the less fortunate, generally thought it was the for the best for
them to take up their own fight. It wouldn’t be right to do somebody else’s
work for them, now would it? Nobody marched or rallied for them and they were
just fine with that.
Jayne first met Jangles when he was a private in the Simian Army
Corps, back when he was first starting out. Many monkeys made it up to
sergeant, but never any further. It wasn’t for lack of ability. They had that
in spades. It was the simple fact that if they became Lieutenants they’d expect
to become Colonels, and that was unthinkable. Then it would be even more
obvious that they were capable of being full citizens, and that wouldn’t do. So
they were kept low to avoid the question even arising.
Not like Jangles ever worried about such things. He was content
to do his work as long as he had to. He didn’t count down the days until he
could retire. He didn’t look up his pension amount every few months, when
things got stressful. He got used to not being listened to, not having any real
authority. Sure, his superiors told him that his happiness mattered, but when
it came down to providing concrete solutions towards creating said happiness,
they were silent. And any suggestion he offered was immediately discounted as
being unfeasible. They were all talk and no action, blaming their employee’s
dissatisfaction with the unequal work/life balance on the employees and never
on themselves. They had fulfilled their required duties by having the “happiness
talk” and left it at that. Once Jangles realized this was his reality, he accepted
it. It was the monkey way – that which cannot be changed must be accepted.
One thing that was changed was his name. Of course his true name
wasn’t Jangles. That was randomly assigned to him by his “caretaker”. Owner,
manager, boss, slave master, however you wanted to think about it – it was all
the same. Some titles sounded better than others, but they all described the
same person. “Caretaker” was probably the most deceptive and sugar-coated, or
to put it honestly, the most untrue. They didn’t take care of the monkeys at
all. They cared for them just enough to keep them working, not out of any concern
for the monkeys well-being, but for their own wallets.
The “caretakers” didn’t bother to ask the monkeys what their
names were. They didn’t even consider the question. To them the monkeys were
dumb animals, barely more intelligent than the family dog. Dogs got demeaning
names like Spot or Scout or Snowball, so why shouldn’t monkeys? In the same vein,
the monkeys were taught a sort of sign language so they could answer their
keeper’s questions but it was never used to ask them anything. That would be
Jayne had learned the sign, same as everyone else in the town.
They all had to, so they could give orders to the monkeys. But she, being a
child, and a female one at that, instinctually understood the position of the
monkey workers. She understood the dynamic of lesser-than, of powerless. She
understood what it was like to be talked at
and never with. Thankfully she didn’t
follow the usual course of passing on the oppression. Lesser-thans usually
treated their perceived inferiors the same as how they had been treated, handing
down abuse the same way poor families handed down clothes. Thankfully, Jayne
knew better, and acted better. So she asked Jangles what his real name was when
they first met. This was done privately of course, and the name was kept
secret. She never spoke it aloud or used his unique hand-sign within the
presence of an adult. It was critical that she kept up the illusion of
hierarchy, or else their friendship would have been terminated.