The camp was deserted when they trekked into it. The tall canvas tents were zipped and the big table in the midst of the glade was clear but for a monkey that looked up when Simon approached. The monkey bared its teeth and screeched. Simon stepped back. One of the creature’s eyes, he noticed, was partly closed. A line of scar tissue ran from brow to cheek, over the corner of the eyelid. Rayyan picked up a branch and jabbed at the animal until it climbed off the tabletop and loped in the direction of the trees on toes and knuckles. “Bad monkeys in this park,” said Rayyan. He took a cloth from his pocket and wiped the table before he invited Simon to sit. It was a rough wooden table, made of felled saplings knotted together. They sat opposite each other in canvas chairs and resumed their conversation about Rayyan’s favorite topic: Manchester United. “Antonio Valencia,” Rayyan said. He exhaled and shook his head slowly and sadly. “Always they put him in the wrong position.”
Nigel and Mike returned from filming an hour later, tramping out of the jungle, breathing heavily with the weight of the camera gear and the midday heat. They’d been in the jungle two days already. They’d set up the camp. They’d begun shooting. This was the first time Simon had worked with either man. Nigel was the boss on the job, a big guy who led with his gut. He’d all but sweated through his T-shirt, and damp patches spread from his armpits down from his collar and over his belly, leaving a bra-shaped dry patch across his chest. Mike was smaller, neater; fashionable despite the jungle. His hair was styled. He pushed a pair of Ray-Bans up onto his forehead when he greeted Simon. Neither man mentioned the reason for Simon’s late arrival, and he was glad of that.
Two days previously, Simon had stood in a Kentish churchyard, under an autumnal sky, and watched as his father was lowered into a hole in the silty soil. Now he was out on a job. He felt the strangeness of this, of course. He’d thought of telling the producers that it had been his grandfather’s funeral, to downplay this sudden return to the field. But in the end he’d simply told them, and they’d made arrangements without comment
Mike nodded at Simon’s bag. “Nikon?” he said. It was important to start a working relationship with something solid, and what was more solid than tech?
“D3100,” Simon said.
“Yeah?” Mike said.
“It does a job,” Simon said. “Just for personal stuff, you know.”
They were filming a documentary about lizards. They were in the middle of a Malaysian jungle in search of the Blue-eyed Anglehead Lizard. Later, they’d try to film the Giant Gliding Lizard. Two years ago, Simon was filming baby bear cubs. Now he was doing lizards. Everything fluffy and playful had been done by some other outfit. They needed a niche, and so here they were, working with these nigh-on prehistoric things that looked most of all like leaf litter.
“How’s the job?” Simon asked.
“Fine,” Mike said. “The monkeys are fucking nuts. The monkeys are out of control.”
“They’re always scrounging around the camp,” said Nigel. “They’re after our food and they’re territorial. They’ll try and intimidate you, but just stand your ground.”
There was supposed to be a scientist with them. Simon fumbled for the correct term. “Where’s the reptile guy?” he asked. It came to him. “Where’s the herpetologist?”
“Your herpes playing up?” Nigel said, and winked. His bulk and age allowed him to carry off a wink. Simon offered a laugh. “He’s around,” Nigel said. “He’s off on a personal project. Snakes. He’s a German, postdoc. Clemens. He likes to be called Cley.”
It came back to Simon then, the sense of a new project looming ahead, a mix of excitement and apprehension for which probably only German had a word. It was going to be tricky, uncomfortable: clambering through the bush, getting bitten by God knows what, swapping out memory cards, all that endless backing up. All the bullshit. In this heat. This was what he did, though, what he liked to do, what he was good at.
The days before had been fallow, blank days. When he had the coffin on his shoulder, he hadn’t felt the particularity of it being his father. He felt something, holding part of the box and knowing it contained a body, but that seemed just the normal jitteriness that came with such proximity to death. He looked
at the undertaker’s men lowering the coffin and lost himself in the mechanics of the act, the way they were able to hide the strain, the four of them letting down this heavy man on big black ribbons, the effort never showing in their postures.
There were worse men in the world than Simon’s dad, but there were also many more who were better. Maybe in the grand scheme of things his death was not unfair. That had been Simon’s working hypothesis up to his arrival in the village where his father had been living, after which, he came to doubt the mechanics of that reasoning. Simon had been ushered in to see his father at the undertaker’s, and it struck him that the flight of blood from the face and the slackening of muscles had given his father a look of doubt he had never held in life. The body was nothing of what his father had been. It was surprisingly smaller on the slab. Death, of course, was not just a final event of life, but a transition into another province to which the tallying of what had happened in years before could not possibly, Simon felt, be carried. Simon’s father had suffered a massive heart attack while he sat on the sofa watching the snooker and drinking a can of Boddingtons, a plain and slightly grubby death that already seemed to site him in a category, mark him as any other septuagenarian divorcé. Now he was gone and there was a body that had learned nothing, could learn nothing.
Rayyan opened his pack and began setting out food: wrapped pancakes, small pastries, cold chicken. The three Englishmen took their seats at the table. “Fresh from the market,” Rayyan said.
“Fucking winner,” Nigel said.
Cley arrived halfway through lunch. He put his pack down and squirted Purell onto his hands. He shook hands with Simon and Rayyan and then Purelled his hands again.
“Find anything?” Mike asked, through a mouthful of chicken.
“Yeah,” Cley said.
“You keep me out of the way of those bastard snakes,” said Nigel.
Cley nodded in response. “You’re fine,” he said. “They’re not, as you say, ‘bastards.’ They’re just doing what they do.”
The food brought the monkeys back.
“Bad habits,” said Rayyan. “These monkeys have bad habits. No fear.”
“Long-tailed Macaques,” Cley told Simon. The monkeys chattered in the tree canopy, thrust their faces out of the foliage, watching the men eat. A few of the monkeys dropped to the forest floor and approached the table. One of them went over to Cley’s bag and pawed at it. Nigel stood, walked over and swung his leg in the monkey’s direction, as if to kick it. It ran off panicked, turning only when it was a safe distance from Nigel and offering a defiant squawk.
When they had eaten, Nigel turned to Simon. “What do you want to do?”
“I’m good,” Simon said. “I’m good to roll.”
“Yeah?” asked Nigel. “Not jet lagged?”
“Big boy,” Nigel said.
The others waited for Simon to collect his things. Rayyan shouldered his bag and walked to the head of the trail that led back to the Jeep. He turned before he left and nodded solemnly at the group.
It took some time to find the lizard. The four men reached the saddle of a hill, then doubled back on themselves, cutting down where they had come up, re-walking the swampy soil with more care, stopping just before a streambed they had crossed already. Cley moved haltingly, studying the trees. “He’s thinking like a lizard,” Nigel whispered.
“There’s one out ahead,” Cley said under his breath. He pointed. They hefted cameras from shoulders. They unfolded tripods as quietly as possible. Simon could see the lizard, still against the bark of a large tree, committed to its camouflage.
They came back into the camp with sunlight to spare. “It comes down like a curtain here,” said Mike. “You have to be careful.” Nigel cooked on a gas stove in one of the tents while Simon and Mike backed up what they’d shot. They ate at the table. They could hear the forest all around them, waking up with the fall of night.
When they had eaten, Simon got out his gift, his apology for his lateness: a duty-free bottle of Talisker. “Good boy,” said Nigel. “Top marks.”
They served themselves like they were drinking wine. Cley loosened right up. “What’s your favorite lizard?” Mike asked.
“I like all the lizards,” Cley said, and cackled.
Later, something beat past in the dark air above them. “Bats?” asked Simon. Mike shrugged, and Cley seemed too drunk to really care. Against the sounds, and against the feeling of the jungle pressing in on them, they sang, first “Dirty Old Town,” then “Let It Be.” Cley did the chorus in German. “Flüster weise Worte,” he sang. “Nimm’s dir nicht so zu Herzen.”
In the morning Simon woke well before the others: a combination of his jet lag and his asthma, which was exacerbated by the humid air of the jungle. He felt the whisky of the night before behind his forehead and on his tongue. He climbed from his foldout cot and exited the tent he shared with Mike, zipping the door behind him. The sun was just up, and out on the table there was a macaque. It held the empty whisky bottle in its hands, which were skinny and long, fleshless and haughty, like the hands of an old lady. The monkey hissed. Simon lunged at it, hoping to scare the animal. It didn’t back away, though. Simon recognized the eye, half-shut in a permanent expression of distaste. The macaque dropped the bottle lazily and raised its arms. It screeched a warning. Simon went toward the edge of the camp circle, seeking a stick. When he turned back, the monkey remained in its posture of defiance. He approached carefully and jabbed at it. The monkey moved reluctantly out of reach, then clambered down from the table with care. It walked to the edge of the clearing and settled, regarding Simon with a look of annoyance.
Simon sat at the table and waited for the others to rise. The jungle was alive in every respect, from the light split and tinted by the foliage to the noise of creatures and the fecund smell of damp earth and underbrush. There was a makeshift ashtray on the table in front of him, the jagged-edged bottom of a can that had been cut away, containing the butts of half a dozen cigarettes Mike had rolled and smoked the previous night. The smell recalled childhood for Simon: his house, the woods behind, heavy, gray skies. He thought of his father’s large hands. Golden Virginia, same as what his father had smoked. Fathers always have a smell. He was circling the old man still, susceptible to the smallest suggestion. Simon wasn’t finished with his father, of course, though he had thought he would be by now. He remembered treks he had done on past jobs, where he believed that behind each rise lay the destination, walking for hours in the perpetual expectation that the hike was almost done. This illusion was important, he thought. He often would have given up without it.
Simon went back to the tent and retrieved his Nikon bag as quietly as possible. He took out his camera and took pictures of the forest canopy, the sun rising behind it. He returned to his bag and searched inside for a filter. His hands brushed against an object lodged awkwardly in one of the pockets. It was his father’s key ring. Bethany had insisted he keep it. She had just begun sifting through their father’s possessions, trying to make sense of them. Simon wouldn’t have cared if she’d dragged the whole lot to the curb in black bags, but that wasn’t the way Bethany had wanted to do things. She talked of reflection, closure. It was true that what their father was, exactly, was hard to pin down. The key ring was made from a lion’s tooth. Their father had grown up in Kenya. Simon remembered a girl at a university party saying, “White Africans are the worst people on Earth.” Perhaps it was true. His father sometimes ascribed his heavy drinking to his African upbringing. He was an empire man, one in a line of frustrated gentlemen whose good manners and precise habits were merely a rebuke to the world beyond their circle.
Simon held the key ring in his palm. The tooth was set into a brass base with a metal ring attached. There were no keys on it. The enamel was yellow and there was years of grime caked into the embossed decoration of the brass. His father wan’t just a product of his birthplace, though. He was original. That’s something Simon could have said at the funeral. He could have stood up and said, “He was original,” and then sat back down. He closed his hand around the tooth, opened it again. He could just throw it into the bushes. He put it in his camera bag. He leaned back in the canvas chair. The monkey was still looking at him.
Cley was ill and contrite. He came slowly out of the tent and took a seat.
“Hungover?” Simon asked him.
Cley nodded. He stared at the table in front of him to anchor himself.
Simon cooked him eggs and mixed a drink: lime, water, sugar, a little salt. Cley looked up, cautiously grateful, when Simon arrived with the plate. “Eat it,” said Simon.
Cley muttered something in German. “What am I doing?” he asked then.
“You need something in your stomach,” said Simon.
“Yes.” A phone’s marimba tone sounded from one of the tents. “What am I doing?” asked Cley again.
“We need you to find the lizards,” said Simon.
“Yes,” said Cley wearily. He poked at his eggs with a fork.
“What?” asked Simon.
“You are not interested in the lizards as lizards,” Cley said. He put a mouthful of egg in his mouth, chewing it and then swallowing with some effort. “You will anthropomorphize.”
“We just film them,” said Simon.
“You will do so as if they have your own motivations.”
“What else can we do?”
“But they are lizards”—Cley cast his hands around in exasperation—“not little men in scaly skins.” He drank a large gulp of the mixture Simon had served him. Simon did not feel great himself. He took a puff on his inhaler.
They filmed a lizard all morning. It crept across the bark of a large tree. Its body vibrated, tensely. Eventually, it fled into a tangle of branches and creepers, out of the shot.
They went back to the camp to eat lunch and back up the files. When they returned to the forest, they couldn’t find the lizard, and after a couple more hours decided to end the day early.
The men settled into a pattern: They sought the lizard and, if they found it, filmed it. They had lunch and completed their technical drudgery. They repeated the practice in the afternoon. In the evenings they drank whisky, no longer the Talisker, but bottles of Famous Grouse, which Nigel had somehow acquired in plenitude. They masturbated or talked about masturbating. When, in the field, Nigel got a particularly good shot, he’d make a tossing gesture to indicate his satisfaction. They were waiting for what Nigel called “the arc.” They wanted enough shots of the Blue-eyed Anglehead Lizard to complete a segment: a behavior with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the evening, they sat and set the world to rights. Filming, they valued silence above all else, and this carried over to their conversations in camp, which were sparse, to the point. There was something military about their way of life, Simon observed as they sat drinking. “This kind of thing is a human need,” said Mike. Nigel suggested that the government should reintroduce military service and the others tersely agreed. They retired to their sleeping bags and fought themselves to sleep amid the thick air, the cacophony of the trees, the creaking of other cots.
The monkeys moved in and out of the camp and the men learned to do a better job securing their belongings from nimble fingers. Often, they would return to the camp to find the macaques milling around, playing on the table and chairs. The monkey with the lazy eye was always there, and continued to pay particular attention to Simon. It would lope up to him when he sat alone. It went for his camera bag so often he took to keeping a stick nearby whenever he sat outside. Simon once tried to take a photo of the monkey and it reached and grabbed at the lens as he did so. “You’re its bitch,” said Nigel. “Did you let it boss you?”
“Once,” Simon said.
“There you go,” said Nigel.
“These things are nuts,” said Mike. “We should be filming the monkeys, not the lizards.”
“I’d rather the lizards,” said Cley.
“Give me one good reason,” said Mike.
“Simian foamy virus,” said Cley.
Five days after Simon’s arrival, Nigel wassatisfied enough to announce that they had completed filming the Blue-eyed Anglehead Lizard. Rayyan, after dropping off more food and passing on recent football results, delivered the hard drives to the town, from where the footage would be sent back to London. “Now for the flying one,” said Mike.
“The Giant Gliding Lizard is common,” said Cley. “I don’t know why you do not choose a more unusual lizard.”
“It flies, doesn’t it,” said Nigel. “It’s a fucking flying lizard.”
Simon’s asthma was persistently bad, and to make matters worse he was developing a skin condition. He borrowed a tube of ointment, labeled in Malaysian, from Nigel, and rubbed it onto his arms daily. He was still waking up early, waiting for the others each morning. He thought often of Bethany in their father’s house. Simon wondered whether those at home were seeking to contact him. Perhaps he should have felt a guilt, but he did not, just a blankness, the blankness of exam halls, of questions called out to him from the front of a classroom. He took many photos of sunrises. He just could not have tolerated staying, giving so much time to the man. Bethany did not think that way. “You’ve got to make things right as best as you can,” she had said before the funeral, and Simon had nodded though he had little idea what she’d meant. He was sorry for the work Bethany was doing—for the lifting and scrubbing—but he felt no need to do it himself. There was some notion of individuated needs in Bethany’s words, and he held to that. This was where he should be, he told himself.
Simon’s father had traveled—not taking nature snaps, as he described Simon’s job, but as a sports journalist. He had been an expert on cricket. He outgrew the role, was quoted widely. He had a particular style, a way with the plummy put-down. He traveled with the English cricket team, went to the bars frequented by diplomats, bankers, and postcolonial chancers. “Don’t ever go anywhere you can’t at least get Johnnie Walker Red,” he said often.
The Giant Gliding Lizard segment involvedmore of a walk each day. The men trod paths into the coffee-ground dirt. This shot needed elevation, so they harnessed Mike into climbing gear and dangled him from a tree. The lizards just scuttled about on the branches. Mike hung below the tree canopy, training the camera on them. Simon belayed him, pulling up or letting out rope according to Mike’s gestures. “He’s like a hipster spider,” said Nigel.
“Why won’t these fuckers fly?” Mike said after they’d lowered him to the ground, on the second day of filming in the trees. “It’s their thing. They just have to do their thing.”
“They have many things,” Cley said. “Flying is just what you’re interested in.”
“It feels like we’ve gone to see Motörhead,” said Nigel, “and they won’t play ‘Ace of Spades.’”
Back at the camp, the men moodily went aboutbusiness as night came down. Mike cooked on the gas burners. Cley worked on his notes in his tent. Simon sat outside, listening to the sounds of the forest. He could do this for a long time now, and wondered whether it was a skill or an affliction. Nigel came out of a tent with a cigarette scavenged from Mike. He took a seat at the table next to Simon. The end of the cigarette
glowed as he inhaled. Simon enjoyed the smell.
“You good?” Nigel asked.
Simon nodded, though it was too dark for Nigel make out the movement. “Yeah,” he said.
“Your old man?”
“It’s okay,” said Simon. “I’m okay with it.”
“He was a bit of a fucker.”
“What kind of fucker?” Nigel tapped ash into the cutoff beer can.
“He was selfish,” said Simon.
“Yeah?” said Nigel. He waited for more.
“He wanted what he wanted. He’d do anything for that. But anything else…” Simon ran his fingertips over the table in front of him. He felt the rough wood, the gaps, the grain. It all sounded weak. He thought of a spring day when he was somewhere between five and ten and he and Bethany had gone to visit their father, who by then had a new girlfriend, Lavinia. It was warm. The four of them went to the park. From the moment they arrived, Simon had sensed that something was different, wonderfully so. He recalled his father wading into the playground, through the swarms of other kids. He remembered those big hands, a comic roar as his father pursued him. They all went on the roundabout, their father spinning them faster and faster. Simon felt that they were watched, going around and around until they must have been nearly invisible. Briefly, he pitied the other children who stood there, looking at them, kids whose fathers were weaker than his. He remembered stopping, and the mother of another child coming over to tell them that what they had done was dangerous, and he remembered the thrill of watching his father listen to her and then turn away without a word, just a silly face as if to say, What a nag. Then Lavinia had to leave. Simon could recall her huddling with her father to tell him and the way he looked at her and tugged at the elbow of her cardigan. The four of them tramped to a tube station, and when she descended the steps it was as if a light had switched off. The great loping ape of a father was gone, and Simon and Bethany were left with a man who took them home and turned on the TV news. He feigned interest in a drawing Simon had done and shown him. He called their mother to have them collected early.
People thought Simon’s dislike was a claim of damage, but it was not. His father simply wasn’t a nice man, and Simon refused any appraisal of him that occluded this essential truth. For Simon, the deliberateness of the change that afternoon was what got to him—the switch, that was all.
“He’s still your flesh, I guess,” said Nigel. “Got to feel it a bit.” A bat flapped past above them.
“It’ll come some time.”
“If you say so,” said Simon.
The next morning, Simon fell asleep at the table. He had been up before the others, as usual, but the morning light cutting though the trees made him feel woozy rather than awake. He slept a thin sleep in the canvas chair. He was shocked back to consciousness by a commotion. There was a monkey on the table in front of him. He recognized its expression. Its long hands clasped something. It turned and climbed from the table, moving away toward the trees. Simon saw a flash of blue, some silver in what it grasped. The table was empty but for the ashtray upended by the macaque. It had taken his inhaler. He stood. The monkey, looking back, screeched. It reached the trunk of a thin, young tree and clambered up it, three-limbed, holding the inhaler in its right hand. When it was a couple of yards above the ground, it turned and looked down at Simon. It chattered: a sound like someone prying open a rusty gate.
Cley came out of a tent. He looked at Simon standing beneath the tree. “There is a problem?” he asked.
“It took my inhaler,” said Simon, pointing.
Cley studied the monkey. “It’s a he,” he said. “The males have mustaches. The females have beards.”
“It’s my only one,” said Simon. “I lost my spare on my flight here.”
The macaque shifted its grip on the inhaler. Simon thought he heard the inhaler discharge. He thumped at the trunk of the small tree. The monkey padded coolly along a branch, which bent down as it did so, and then leapt, landing in the crux of a larger tree, then climbing upward to a higher fork in these branches, still holding the inhaler. It turned and looked at Simon again. “I think you need another plan,” said Cley.
Mike unzipped his tent and he and Nigel emerged. “What is it?” Mike asked.
They got out what they named the “man-sack.” It was a duffel bag that contained the climbing gear, the first aid kit, a flare gun, and a jumbo bottle of antiseptic fluid. Simon took a harness out and Nigel threw a rope up into the branches of the tree in which the monkey sat. Mike caught the other end, hoisted a pulley up. Simon was conscious of his breathing, worried that he would give himself an asthma attack trying to retrieve the thing that could relieve it. He stepped into the harness, tightened it. Nigel yanked rope through the pulley and Simon left the ground, inch by inch. He felt the harness take his weight, his toes rested lightly on the floor, then he was in the air. Three faces looked up at him. The monkey looked down. He could see the forest canopy above him, shot through with light. The straps of the harness cut into his flesh. He ascended with jerks. The monkey screeched at his approach. Simon waved a frantic hand. “Stop!” he said. “Stop!”
Mike went up instead. Simon sat in a chair trying to push his breathing back to the charge of his subconscious. Mike reached the upper branches of the tree and the monkey fled away from him. He swung into place where the macaque had just been sitting. It had left Simon’s sight line. “The fucker’s headed to the other side,” said Mike. “It’s like it knows I’m stuck on this cord.” He settled himself in the crux. “I’m unclipping,” he said. “We’re just going to have a tangle otherwise.”
“Don’t do that,” said Nigel. “For fuck’s sake.”
Mike undid the carabiners attached to his harness. He wrapped the loose rope around a branch and secured it. Nigel turned to Simon. “How important is this inhaler?” he asked.
“Pretty important,” said Simon. Nigel nodded.
Mike clambered out of sight. Simon heard the chatter and screech of the macaques and then nothing more. He waited. There was the slap and crack of foliage broken through. Eventually, Mike reappeared. “They moved to another tree,” he shouted. “But it dropped it. It’s somewhere on the forest floor.” He reattached his harness and Nigel lowered him. When he reached the ground he doubled over. “That was something up there,” he said between breaths.
They looked around the forest floor. They fanned out and brushed aside bushes looking for a flash of light blue. They covered and re-covered territory. Eventually, after an hour of searching, Cley came up with the inhaler. “I suggest you wash it,” he said. It was lunchtime already. Simon ran some water over the plastic mouthpiece, used it, and then helped Nigel stuff the climbing gear back into the man-sack.
They walked to the location in the afternoon. Mike and Nigel stayed together at the head of the group, talking unusually quietly. They didn’t look back at Simon, and seemed not to notice that he walked within earshot.
“I just want to get out of here,” said Mike.
“We need some civilization,” said Nigel.
“The fucking thing might have flown already today,” said Mike.
The last time Simon had seen his father they’d gone to an Indian restaurant. The waiters knew him, and they’d given him the table he liked at the back. Simon and his father drank tall, fizzy beers. The bear show had had a BAFTA Award nomination, and Simon wondered whether his father had seen the news in the paper, which he worked through so thoroughly each morning. There was no mention of it, though. Instead, his father talked about a memoir he had decided to write. “I was there,” he told Simon. “I’ve been to every country worth a damn.”
“Every cricket-playing country,” said Simon.
“Exactly,” his father said. “I’m thinking about titles: Come On In, The Water Is Lovely.”
“Pardon?” asked Simon.
“You mean ‘what?’”
“What?” asked Simon.
“Personal Paradise?” his father said.
They finished without mention of the BAFTA, which was natural, probably. “Don’t take it personally,” Bethany had said. It had seemed impossible, though, that Simon couldn’t one day do something or make something that cast a shadow so great it must be acknowledged. Bethany had given up. When they’d parted after dinner, Simon had looked back to see his father cross the road, stepping into the street, assured and correct in his belief that the taxi advancing toward him would slow.
The lizard they found didn’t do much. It darted through the upper reaches of a tree. They hoisted Mike up. At one point, it opened its wings, but hopped, barely gliding at all, to a branch just below the one it stood on.
Cley got restless. “You have it,” he said. “I will go and do some other research now.”
“Snakes?” asked Nigel. Cley nodded. When he was out of earshot Nigel said, “I’m glad he’s gone. He’s a heavy presence. Perhaps the fucking lizard will relax.”
Simon nodded. It was a ridiculous idea, but somehow deeply true. He didn’t like such a thing being said behind Cley’s back, though. They were supposed to be a team: men together, mute in regard to one another’s faults.
“He’s infectiously constipated,” said Nigel.
“He’s okay,” said Simon.
“The thing about national stereotypes…” said Nigel.
The lizard didn’t fly all afternoon, and beforethey were ready to wrap up Mike began swearing from the treetops. When they lowered him down, he descended holding the camera out. “It’s not registering the memory card,” he said.
They trudged back to camp, and Mike went at the thing with an instruction manual and a small screwdriver. The camera was still out the next morning, however. Mike sat at the table, working steadily away at the camera. The
others tried to amuse themselves.
“This is the last thing we need,” said Nigel. “It’s a clusterfuck.”
Cley went looking for snakes. Simon took out his D3100. He walked a little into the jungle, away from the swearing of Nigel, the diligent silence of Mike. A butterfly floated ahead of him, swimming forward with an uncanny wobble. The faces of the butterfly’s wings were brown, yet the backs were electric blue. The butterfly settled on a branch and closed its wings into a single fin. The blue disappeared. Simon padded toward it. He settled on a log, raised his camera, then took four shots in quick succession. He wished the animal would open its wings just a little, give a hint of the brilliance of its wing tips. Simon waited. He breathed shallowly, moved only when necessary. He did not feel the time pass. Eventually, the insect’s wings sprung apart and Simon saw the electric blue. He raised the camera and shot. It was dark in the forest, and he wanted to get a full measure of the color. He adjusted the exposure on the camera. The image came out blurry, though. Simon’s hands weren’t steady enough. He slipped his camera bag from his shoulder and shook out its contents onto a patch of dirt behind the log: his lens cases, a packet of chewing gum, his father’s key ring, his flexible tripod, and his remote shutter release. He set down the bag and took up the tripod. He screwed it to the camera and then, watching the butterfly all the while, he raised himself so that he could reach the branch of a small sapling and begin wrapping the legs of the tripod around it. The leaves in the canopy above him cracked with motion: wind, he thought, until he heard a screech. He looked up to see a macaque jumping into the upper branches of the tree on which the butterfly rested. Another monkey cried. Simon pressed the shutter too late. The butterfly bobbed away. Two monkeys descended toward Simon. Behind him, he heard more movement. He turned to see a third monkey, a familiar one: that asymmetrical expression. It was right behind the log. It opened its mouth, balled its eyes, screeched. Simon jumped away. It screeched again. There were no sticks at hand. Simon lunged at the monkey, thrust his hand at that livid fist of a face, those menacing little teeth. The macaque jumped back, finally. It clasped its left hand in a familiar manner, holding something. Simon looked at the place it had been, at his camera bag, the things spread on the ground. It had taken something. He took time to calculate it: the key ring.
The macaque reached the lower branches of the tree in which the butterfly had been sitting. It settled itself in a crux between branch and trunk. It looked down at Simon and gave a cackle. Simon looked around. Four-hundred yards away, he could see the camp. Light collected in the clearing and it shone out, like a lantern amid the rest of the forest.
Simon ran back to the tents. The monkeys were settling into the tree, calling out and clambering around. In the clearing, Mike and Nigel both crouched over the camera. They glanced up only briefly as Simon passed. They asked no questions. He retrieved the man-sack and walked back into the jungle, loping a little with the weight of it.
When Simon retuned to the point at which he had tried to shoot the butterfly, the monkeys were still in the trees. They chattered together. Simon patted the inhaler in his back pocket. He unzipped the duffel bag and considered it, gutted open on the forest floor. He looked at the climbing gear. He looked up into the trees, wondered how he would throw the rope up, how he would get among the monkeys without causing them to flee. Did he really need the key ring? The monkey, his monkey, was still up there, still looking down at him from his secure perch. It was his to get rid of, Simon thought. He considered the contents of the man-sack, trying to bend his mind around the configuration of ropes and carabiners that could safely transport him into the canopy. He felt very tired. In the duffel bag, poking between the ropes, was the little orange flare gun. Simon squatted, picked it up. The orange paint was chipped and faded. He wondered how often it had been fired. The barrel was hinged, it could be flipped forward to reveal its back end, the space for the flare. Simon fished in the duffel bag and found three red flares. He unwrapped one, pushed it in. The barrel clicked back into place. Simon pulled back the hammer of the gun, as he had seen cowboys do in films. He felt the satisfaction of such a simple machine. His monkey leaned forward and gave a rattling cry. Simon pointed the gun at it, sighted it. Why not? It seemed so unlikely the thing would fire. He pulled the trigger.
The flare gun made a flat pop. The flare flew surprisingly straight. The monkey jerked back suddenly, shifting like in a silent film—stalled and then released. It slumped back against the trunk of the tree, barely balancing on the branch. The flare fizzed in the fur of its chest until its thin elderly hands beat it away. The creature screamed, and the intensity of this sound flushed birds from the trees. The flare landed in leaf litter where it continued to vomit out its iridescence. The monkey swayed, grasping at the branch beneath it with its toes. One arm seemed inhibited. There was a huge welt on the left side of the macaque’s chest. The other monkeys had fled up the tree, but now they looked down, began to descend cautiously toward the solitary wailing macaque. Its mouth was agape. It was flailing, scared, all animal. It struggled to keep its eyes open. It did not seem to be still holding the tooth. As the other macaques approached, the monkey looked up with an expression of warning. Simon felt for a second that he shouldn’t watch, that his gaze was now something fearful to the macaques. He walked over to the flare, which was spitting now. He trod it into the soft earth. He could not see the tooth anywhere. He went back to the bag and dropped the flare gun into it. He hefted the duffel bag onto his shoulder. The monkey was still crying out; the others close to it, watching. Simon began to walk. When he wiped at his face, he smelt a trace, on his fingers, of the explosive that had propelled the flare. He stopped. He dropped the man-sack to the floor and stood for a while, then, with an effort, he picked it up again and began walking. When he came into the light of the clearing, Mike and Nigel looked at his reddened eyes. They studied his expression silently, and it seemed to him that they were satisfied by it.