by Ann Capozzoli

What she needed was a chimp.  Then her whole life would change.

She would do her homework the minute she got home from school.  She’d help her mother in the kitchen; she’d chop, stir, measure.  She’d vacuum, pick up toys, put stray socks back where they belonged.

Being good would be fun with a little boy chimp holding her hand, chattering to her.  He’d help her clean the bathroom, scrub the tub.  He’d stand on the tips of his long-toed feet peering down into the sink, watching stray hairs swirl in a clockwise spiral around and down until they got trapped in the aluminum basket.  She’d explain why, even though he might be tempted to pick up the basket and let the hair wash down the drain, he mustn’t.

“You see, hair clogs the pipes.  And when that happens, the water can’t flow down the drain.  It just stays there at the bottom of the sink.”

She’d show him the cracked rubber implement propped in the corner of the bathroom behind the door.  “We’d have to use the plunger.”  He’d stick out his tongue and splutter.

“Yes, I know, it’s disgusting, but we’d have to do it, and if that didn’t work, we’d have to tell my parents and they would have to call the plumber.  Plumbers cost a lot of money.  Mom and Dad would hate it.  They’d yell at us.  Take away our allowance.  And we wouldn’t want that, right?”

The chimp would shake his head “no” so hard his baseball cap would slip off his head.

If she had a chimp, she would never get hair in the drain.  She’d even eat marmalade sandwiches.

If only she her very own chimp who would sleep with her, eat with her – but what would the chimp do when she was at school?  She could bring him with her for show and tell, but what about the rest of the time?  Maybe he’d just have to stay quiet in her bedroom, wait for her to come home for lunch.  She’d play with him.  Checkers maybe, or Old Maid, or War – he’d catch on to a game of War pretty quickly.  Chimps are smart.  She’d make a peanut butter and banana sandwich for him, pour him a glass of milk, kiss him goodbye when it was time to walk back to Lincoln Elementary for the afternoon session.

If she had a chimp, she wouldn’t even care that she’d never been chosen to be a safety patrol, to wear the white belt with the silver badge, the pride of the street crossing monitor who stood at the corner of Washington Street and Westfield Avenue, holding back a swarm of children with his arms outstretched like an umpire.

She was in the fifth grade already and she’d never been a patrol, never been given the white safety belt to wear, the power to send kids to the principal’s office.  True, not many girls were.  But she was bigger, taller, bulkier than most of the boys.  And she could talk loud.

“You sound like a fishmonger,” her father would tell her when she got excited or angry or was calling out to someone in another room.  “You’re eleven years old and you have yet to learn the virtues of the well-modulated voice.”

If she had a chimp she wouldn’t care anymore about being a patrol.  Or, who knows, maybe they’d make her a patrol once she had her chimp.  The chimp would change everything for her.

With the chimp by her side, she’d be so happy, she wouldn’t need to tease Sally.  No matter that her younger sister was a spoiled brat who got everything she wanted.  She would be having so much fun with her chimp, she wouldn’t even care.

On Saturday, just after lunch, her mother drove the station wagon off to the A&P to do the weekly grocery shopping.

She found her father in his bedroom relaxing, digesting.  His head rested on the pillow of the fully-made bed.  His forearms were folded over his eyes, blocking the midday sun that streamed through the bedroom windows.  His feet were crossed at the ankle dangling off the side of the bed.

“Dad,” she said softly.

He lifted his right arm to peek at her from one dark, almost-black, iris.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I have to talk to you about something important,” she took a few steps into the bedroom, closer to her father.  He lowered his arms to his chest.

“I figured out how I can be a good girl like you’ve always wanted me to be.”  She pressed her palms together.  “I know I can do it, Dad,” her voice was getting louder, words spilled out of her mouth like water from a tipped bucket.

“I only need one thing and I’ll be the best girl you’ve ever had, better than Sally even.  I’ll be good at school, good at church, good at home.  Mom will be happy, you’ll be happy…”  She was running out of steam, had to stop to inhale.  “Wanna know what’s the one thing, the only thing I need to be good?”

Her father made a noise in his throat.  She couldn’t tell if it meant yes or no.  She decided to take it as a yes.  She opened her arms wide and said, “A chimp!  A chimpanzee!”

She clutched her hands to her heart the way she’d seen good girls do on TV.

“Oh, Dad, you’ll never regret it.  I’ll be so good, you won’t believe I’m the same girl…”

“No,” he interrupted her, crossing his arms over his eyes once again.

She waited for him to say something else.  When he didn’t, she ventured in a small voice, “So, do you need some time to think about it or something?”

“No chimp.”

He rolled over on to his side, away from her.

ANN CAPOZZOLI writes stories that take place in Westfield, New Jersey, where she grew up. She now lives in Kingston, New York, with her husband, two standard poodles and a Quaker parakeet.

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