The Black Monkey by Edith L. Tiempo
Two weeks already she had stayed in the hunt on the precipice, alone except for the visits of her husband. Carlos came regularly once a day and stayed three or four hours, but his visits seemed to her too short and far between. Sometimes, after he had left and she thought she would be alone again, one or the other of the neighbors came up unexpectedly, and right away those days became different, or she became different in a subtle but definite way. For the neighbors caused a disturbed balance in her which was relieving and necessary. Sometimes it was one of the women, coming up with some fruits, papayas, perhaps, or wild ink berries, or guavas. Sometimes the children, to grind her week’s supply of corn meal in the cubbyhole downstairs. Their chirps and meaningless giggles broke the steady turn of the stone grinder, scraping to a slow agitation the thoughts that had settled and almost hardened in the bottom of her mind. She would have liked it better if these visits were longer, but they could not be; for the folks came to see her, yet she couldn’t come to them, and she, a sick woman, wasn’t really with her when they sat there with her. The women were uneasy in the hut and she could say nothing to the children, and it seemed it was only when the men came to see her when there was the presence of real people. Real people, and she real with them. As when old Emilio and Sergio left their carabaos standing in the clearing and crossed the river at low tide to climb solemnly up the path on the precipice, their faces showing brown and leathery in the filtered sunlight of the forest as they approached her door. Coming in and sitting on the floor of the eight-by-ten hut where she lay, looking at her and chewing tobacco, clayey legs crossed easily, they brought about them the strange electric of living together, of showing one to another lustily across the clearing, each driving his beast, of riding the bull cart into the timber to load dead trunks of firewood, of listening in a screaming silence inside their huts at night to the sound of real or imagined shots or explosions, and mostly of another kind of silence, the kid that bogged down between the furrows when the sun was hot and the soils stony and the breadth for words lay tight and furry upon their tongues. They were slow of words even when at rest, rousing themselves to talk numbingly and vaguely after long periods of chewing. Thinking to interest her, their talk would be of the women’s doings, soap-making and the salt project, and who made the most coconut oil that week, whose dog has caught sucking eggs from whose poultry shed, show many lizards and monkeys they trapped and killed in the corn fields and yards around the four houses. Listening to them was hearing a remote story heard once before and strange enough now to be interesting again. But it was last two weeks locatable in her body, it was true, but not so much a real pain as a deadness and heaviness everywhere, at once inside of her as well as outside. When the far nasal bellowing of their carabaos came up across the river the men rose to go, and clumsy with sympathy they stood at the doorstep spiting out many casual streaks of tobacco and betel as they stretched their leave by the last remarks. Marina wished for her mind to go on following them down the cliff to the river across the clearing, to the group of four huts on the knoll where the smoke spiraled blue glints and grey from charcoal pits, and the children chased scampering monkeys back into forested slopes only a few feet away. But when the men turned around the path and disappeared they were really gone, and she was really alone again. From the pallet where she lay a few inches from the door all she could set were the tops of ipil trees arching over the damp humus soil of the forest, and a very small section of the path leading from her hut downward along the edge of the precipice to the river where it was a steep short...
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