The grateful monkey by James Goodman


When there is time I will tell you about the monkey that lived in the mountains

east from here: that there was a man walking through the forest who saw a

monkey caught between the branches of a cedar, and he pulled apart the

branches to free it. Though some say the man was walking through the forest

and saw the monkey ill, its red face bleeding and purple, and gave it salving

leaves. Though some say that the monkey burned its hands in the man’s fire

trying to reach the chestnuts that were cooking there, and the man applied

miso to relieve the wounds. Though some say that the man was stalking the

shore for seaweed and saw the monkey fighting an octopus, and freed it from

the sucker-grip. Or was the monkey drowning in a rockpool with its feet

pinched by crabs, as some say, and the man lifted it out?


In any case, I will tell you that the grateful monkey encountered the man

months later and led him away from a path that was slipping into a gorge. Or it

brought fresh persimmons to the man when he had guests in his house. Or it

washed the man’s hair with ricewater when he was bathing in the river. Or it

fetched the man’s daughter from an eagle’s nest in the highest branches of the

black pine. Or it killed a snake that was sleeping in the man’s gown. Or it freed

the man who was trapped under a dead horse. Or, when a band of robbers

arrived in the valley, it made armour for the man from resin and sand, as old

monkeys do in times of war.


It is said that in old age, monkeys grow to resemble humans and become

vicious.


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James Goodman is from Cornwall and lives in Hertfordshire. His first collection is Claytown

(Salt Publishing).