Floating Garden

Mary LaChapelle, 2015 Fiction Prize Winner
| Fiction

I called in my language to a man who was approaching me, “They are taking them!” I pointed to the box. He looked angry and moved toward me, shouting words I didn’t know. But he made me aware of my naked body. I ran away from him and hid behind a gigantic yellow tractor on the dock.

I saw the white truck across an open, paved space with stacks of boards and barrels and ropes. One of the men finished fastening the box and went around to the rear carrying a plastic water jug. He pried the wooden board partially open and handed it through. He stood there for a minute, said something, and reached in. He pulled out the baby monkey by his little arm and in one motion threw the infant into a pile of refuse at the side of the road.

When I looked back, the man had covered the opening and was walking quickly to the front of the truck. I saw the red taillights brighten for a second, heard his door slam, and then they were driving forward.

I ran after the truck, but did not call out, following directly behind it so the men couldn’t see me in the side mirrors. I felt the hard bones of my feet beating on the pavement and tried to reach the back step to attach myself somehow, but the distance grew too quickly. After it disappeared into the traffic of the city, I realized that there were people by the side of the road laughing at me. “Help us!” I howled in my language. Only later did I picture my jiggling balls, my skin covered with dried and browning banana pulp, a mad dog that no one wanted near them.

I found the baby monkey in a pile of dead fish and shells and graying kelp. He was still diapered in his banana leaf, his legs curled up. He smelled of putrid fish and clung to my neck as I carried him. “They took them! They took them!”

My legs brought us to the edge of the closest pier. With no thought I dropped into the water and swam. The baby clenched my hair and wrapped his tail around my neck tightly, and the pain of his claws encouraged me. I thought, Yes, you hang on or you die.

The water was thicker than lake water, but softer and more familiar than the cruel strangeness of the city. I washed myself clean, and the monkey, too. I pulled off his banana leaf, avoiding the sight of his frightened eyes.

The ships around us were taller than any structure I knew, except the temple in the mountains. A nearly naked white woman with round sunglasses was stretched out on the roof of a smaller boat anchored off a buoy near me. Tied to the railing was a large orange and turquoise towel. It lifted and fell in the breeze. I watched her pick up a glass and then climb down into a hole in the boat. When I raised myself up, I saw on the deck a worn brown towel in a heap. I would use it as my long wrap. The rag would draw less attention than the bright towel and it would cost my Karma less.

In the distance, the tall buildings stood like giant guards in the direction that my mother had been taken. I couldn’t begin to find her.

On the boardwalk I watched some boys with painted lips, dressed only in shorts. They played and teased each other and when men walked by them, they struck different poses. One boy pulled his shorts down and bent over to show his bottom to a man who stopped for a moment and smiled at him. They exchanged words in their language, and then the man walked away.

Mary LaChapelle is author of House of Heroes and Other Stories and recipient of the Katherine Anne Porter, PEN/Nelson Algren and Whiting Foundation Awards, as well as fellowships from NYFA, Hedgebrook, Edward Albee and Bush foundations. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

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