The iPhones were out in force. The video clips went onto YouTube and Facebook. People say that things drift around in cyberspace forever, so if there is still a cyberspace when all the people who went to the party are dead, even if there are no people anywhere to watch, even if there is no heaven and no earth, somewhere the moment will still be playable, supposing there were intelligent life that cared, and a working device.
It was only a small thing, in what is called the scheme of things.
A well-dressed capuchin monkey disappeared from a children’s party in Melbourne. The events leading up to his disappearance, and the last view of this agile creature, were caught on camera. His alarming grin, his great dark eyes, his bottom. The story became legend among the families of the children present.
It was Charlotte Rose’s fifth birthday party. If Charlotte, known as Charlie, lives to be ninety-five or so (providing her planet also survives) she will probably tell this story to her drooping, dying day. It was, as it turned out, a very big day for Charlie.
The children at the party loved the antics of Munto the monkey. Little red fez and braided jacket. No pants. Cute! Cute! They squealed in their kissy high-pitched way. Munto, after dancing with his carer Riff, executing a few melodious steps on the xylophone and playing cricket with the children, came indoors to the party table.
Ah, the party table. The cake had been made by Charlie’s aunt, iced in green jungle leaves with a cavorting monkey in a fez at its centre. The aunt was clearly gifted with an icing bag. When they sang ‘Happy Birthday, Dear Charlie’, Munto beat time with a baton. Cute! Cute! He drank a tiny glass of bright pink lemonade then reached down from his carer’s shoulder and scooped up an exquisite red velvet cupcake which he nibbled swiftly. His eyes were huge and wild.
The iPhones flashed until Munto went berserk. He leapt from Riff’s shoulder and, bounding as if airborne up the long marble staircase, knocked over a glass table of Art Deco Meissen figurines along the way. Jumping wild in the jungle of the mansion staircase. As it happened, one of the casualties was a red stoneware monkey that bore some resemblance to Munto himself. There’s coincidence for you. Insurance would cover the breakages, but the figures themselves were irreplaceable. You could say they should not have been sitting there exposed to the world of little monkeys.
Fifteen five year-old squeals of ecstatic hysteria. ‘And then,’ each and every child said later to their amazed or horrified audiences, ‘and then it stopped in front of a big statue and did a poo on the rug.’ Cute! Poo!
The monkey flew across the landing and leapt from an open window into a tall ornamental palm. Then he was gone. Gone. Out the window and into the trees. The wide blue yonder. The space that had been Munto was an empty space. Oooooooh!
The party descended into chaos and hysteria; the guests were hastily given cake and gift bags filled with clickers and whistles and bright red and green things to chew, and sent on their way. The guest of honour ran sobbing to her mother, clung to her, was given a sedative and a bath and a number of toys.
In PJs and robe Charlie was confined to the home theatre where she and Indigo the nanny tucked into a tray of party food and watched Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang. (No perceptible similarities between Indigo and Nanny McPhee. Indigo was fairly young and extremely pretty with extra long legs and a fantastic tattoo of a rat on her right shoulder, shiny black finger and toe nails. She also exuded a strong aroma of tobacco.)
‘I loved that naughty monkey, Indigo,’ Charlie said. ‘He’ll come back, won’t he? He will come back. He was so naughty. Do monkeys go to heaven, Indigo?’
Indigo said they probably did, but she also hoped he would come back. Maybe, if he had been wearing pants, things might have been different, who knows?
Indigo didn’t know about anything much. But she somehow sensed that everything was somehow unravelling, going, as her grandmother would say, to hell in a hand basket. Indigo had been educated at an ‘exclusive’ school for girls where, at the expense of science and history and grammar, she learned principally how to survive and prevail in the treacherous millrace that is the female common-room. Heaven was as good a place as any for the monkey. Munto’s handler Riff was Indigo’s brother, and a lot of things depended on Munto. Most important of all, Indigo felt that her standing with her employers, Vanessa and Chip Rose, barristers, counted on a swift return to the status quo. Which kind of depended on the return of the monkey.
The status quo was thus: while Vanessa was conducting an on-and-off love affair with a neighbouring environmental scientist, Chip was enjoying a delicious dalliance with (you guessed it) Indigo. Forget about Charlie. That was the status quo. Which was not going to return, as it happened, for poor little Munto was never seen again, and an almighty row broke out between Vanessa and Chip. Somewhere in the middle Vanessa scooped up the fragments of the Meissen figurine and showered Chip with them as he turned on his heel and stormed out of the Tuscan limestone kitchen. Some surfaces of the house were very unforgiving; some, such as those in the dreamlike home theatre, were soft as melting marshmallow. Oooooh!
Munto was never ever seen again, and his absence was the focus of loud and widespread chatter in the general community, including cyberspace. A small red fez and a mound of monkey business go a long way on the web. People claimed his breed was on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. (It wasn’t, but rumour is a wonderful thing.) Riff cleared out to North Queensland where he got work on a butterfly farm and gave up the idea of working with performing monkeys. Chip moved into a riverside apartment where Indigo looked after him instead of looking after Charlie (who visited every second weekend, leaving Vanessa and Gerald, the aforementioned environmentalist, to patter back and forth between their two large houses, separated by lawns and garden beds and trees – quite a few tall ornamental palms where a monkey could make his escape into the blue. Was Munto the lucky one?)
So,’ said Gerald, ‘so you could say the monkey became the symbol of the breakdown in the marriage.’
‘Oh stop talking like a speaker and a conference for eco-shrinks, will you?’ Vanessa said.
Gerald laughed. He had a great laugh, and gleaming teeth and sparkling eyes. Large hands.
‘I make a point of never speaking at conferences,’ he said in his soft environmentalist’s voice. ‘Here’s to monkey business. In any case, the creature was on the way out, you know. He’s on the Red List.’
They proceeded to drink their tall glasses of Krug in Gerald’s jacuzzi before a nice lazy afternoon in the bedroom, and dinner on the terrace. Under the stars. Was that Munto singing somewhere up in a neighbouring monkey puzzle tree? Probably not.
When Vanessa and Gerald went to live in Southern California, Chip and Indigo moved back into the house with the Tuscan limestone kitchen and Indigo got some more tattoos. Charlie moved in with them. She made an adorable flower girl in floating silver chiffon at the wedding which was at a very fashionable and romantic church (where Charlie had been christened when she was a baby in antique lace). A tall, slender grey-gold spire, a lych-gate wreathed in roses. The wedding reception was at the Windsor Hotel, as was only right and proper. The circumstances! Indigo decided to embellish her image by dropping her surname and taking Chip’s. So she became Indigo Rose.
It was strange for Charlie now that Indigo had taken her mother’s place in the house. But children, you know, are famous for their resilience and their ability to adapt. A new nanny came, one selected, in Indigo’s wisdom, with a few of the characteristics of Nanny McPhee. (Not, it has to be pointed out, the dental problems. Sharon, as she was called, had nice teeth and a rather pretty singing voice. She had short legs and she stayed for years.) Sharon and Charlie would go to the park some afternoons, and Charlie liked Sharon to push her slowly, like a baby, on the creaky old roundabout. Slowly Charlie circled – the chipped red cap in the middle of the roundabout holding the world together. Push now, Sharon. Slowly. The world spins. The swings and the trees are a gentle blur. The old horse and his flower cart at the corner of the park just drift along the rim of the circle of the world; the cars zipping up and down the road in the distance are ribbons of glitter, rivers of steel. Molten steel. Charlie’s roundabout never makes her dizzy.
As I write, Charlie is still a child, and the planet is still trundling along, the story of the party, a monkey, still cheerfully floating around out there in the lovely ether or whatever it is of cyberspace. Munto had his few minutes of fame, and continues to have them. The lives of Chip and Indigo, Gerald and Vanessa, Riff and Charlie are fairly routine in their way. The butterfly business in North Queensland seems to be booming. Then there was Sharon – her life too, you realise, was changed by the disappearance of Munto the Monkey. The only really interesting thing I can tell you about them is that Indigo Rose became a force to be reckoned with in the Melbourne real-estate business, and rightly famous also for her fabulous tattoos of which there came to be many more than that original rat.
Charlie is intensely interested in animals – collects dogs, cats, guinea pigs, horses, chickens, lizards, unicorns – and I predict that she will become a vet, or an animal rights activist. Time will tell, as it usually does. For now, things are fairly settled. Status quo.
And so, in the end, Charlie Rose lived happily ever after. Life had its ups and downs. She did in fact live another ninety years after the party, and she often told the story of Munto the monkey. It seemed to be the turning point, the focus, the high, the low. In the end, everything that was Charlie Rose turned slowly around that central point. Among her treasures was a small framed photographic print of Munto with the red velvet cupcake in his paw. Dear little Munto, with the dark burgundy crumbs of the sponge on his lips. Poor little Munto. Look at his sweet teeth, his crimson fez, his tail, his glee. The terror in his eyes.