Monkey business

– Don't look them in the eye, she said. They find it confronting. With your build you scream dominant male.

She was flattering me, as women often do. I tried to look at everything else, at the unpickable locks on the cages, at the newly disinfected floor, at the Fisher-Price toys that were changed once a week.

– They take six months to adapt to cage life, she said, pushing her hair off her pretty forehead. It was warm in the lab and her skin was glistening.

– Are all the researchers women? I said. I haven't seen any blokes.

– There's probably a reason for that, she said, flashing me a smile. Her teeth were so straight I found myself staring.

– How much do you charge per experiment? I said.

– Around three times what the Chinese charge, she said.

She paused in front of Sophie's cage. They all had names.

– We like to think our methods are superior to theirs, she said.

I'd seen monkey farms in China. I told her she wasn't wrong.

– I wonder how much they know? I said. I tried not to look at the monkey while my guide placed a raisin on the floor of her cage. Sophie didn't move except to turn her head towards the wall.

It was only when I glanced back that I saw her staring at me in her Fisher-Price toy mirror, for so long and with such shame that it was me who had to look away first.


This poem was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.

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