by Brandon French



I had hoped Ariadne would be a good companion, like the capuchin monkeys I’d seen in movies and on TV, but she was even more terrified of me than I was of her, biting me on the hand several times when I tried to pet her. We ended up like prisoners in solitary confinement, her crouched in her cramped little cage in my one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, combing her fur for bugs that she popped into her mouth like M&M’s, and me on the sofa staring glassy-eyed at summer reruns on the TV screen.

Every so often, when my guilt overcame me, I let her out of the cage. She flew around the living room like a bat with faulty radar, screaming, defecating, and leaping away from me until I finally had to put on the heavy gloves I’d bought to handle her and tackle her like a linebacker to get her back behind bars. Afterward, she’d glare at me from beneath her little blonde crew cut with her lips rolled back from her tiny white teeth, forming a kind of horrific grin. I imagined her saying, Are you happy now, bitch?

Around Thanksgiving, I began to date Danny. He was the traffic manager at the advertising agency where I worked as a copywriter, the person who makes sure, at practically pain of death, that the ads get to the newspapers and magazines on time. Danny was a lanky Indiana boy with big, gentle hands and shoulder-length blond hair like an Afghan Hound, and absolutely nothing seemed to rattle him. He came from a long line of Midwestern men who kept things running—from John Deeres and Maytags to Chevy pickups and Falcon fighter jets, and he had a down-home manner, which let his native intelligence sneak up on you like a friendly squirrel. He moved in with me over Christmas, with two suitcases for his clothes and one cardboard box half-filled with DVDs, his Mac, and some toiletries, and by New Year’s we’d decided that Ariadne would be better off at a zoo.

The Bronx and the Central Park Zoos turned us down, but the Staten Island Zoo agreed to adopt her. We managed to get her into Danny’s cardboard box on a cold, clear Saturday morning in January with the help of Danny’s stoner friend Armando, an art director at our agency who was covered from head to ankles with tattoos and curly black hair like an unsheared sheep. We took the subway downtown and were only three stops from the ferry when Armando decided to peek into the box. Ariadne sprang out like a jack-in-the-box before we could stop her, and in two leaps she was on the overhead bars, swinging and screaming through the car and scaring holy hell out of the old ladies and the snoozing bums. Luckily, a short, beefy fireplug of a fellow with a Silly Putty nose jumped up onto the empty seats and grabbed Ariadne by the tail, earning a sharp bite on his right hand for his heroics.

For some reason, I started to cry and couldn’t stop myself. It was probably my hormones kicking in, because a few weeks later, I learned to my surprise that I was two months pregnant.


We received a very nice thank-you note from the zoo, along with an invitation to visit and see how happy Ariadne was in her new home with all her new monkey friends. But we were busy with work and never seemed to have enough free time on the weekends to leave the city. Or maybe we just felt too guilty about abandoning Ariadne to show our faces, even though we told ourselves that we’d done it for her own good.


Danny was excited enough about the baby to want to marry me, so we had a civil ceremony downtown, with Armando as best man, when I was six months along. But I held off telling my parents until after the birth because I didn’t want them to fly out from Arizona for such a nonevent.

By the time my water broke, we had the crib assembled, and a little white dresser filled with baby clothes and blankets, and a basket piled high with stuffed animals, most of which we got at the baby shower our agency friends threw for us. It took only six hours for “the bump,” as we called it, to be born, although I yelled bloody murder when the contractions grabbed hold of my guts until they finally took pity on me and put me out.

I was very disoriented when I came out of the anesthetic, and I couldn’t see clearly without my contact lenses, but when I glanced at the infant in a clear plastic box next to me, I thought I’d gone bonkers. It was Ariadne, looking exactly as she did when we last saw her on Staten Island, only smaller. Feeling certain that I was hallucinating, I forced myself to fall back to sleep. By the time I woke up, which seemed like many hours later, the baby had been moved to the nursery.


Danny was excited enough about the baby to want to marry me, so we had a civil ceremony downtown, with Armando as best man, when I was six months along. But I held off telling my parents until after the birth because I didn’t want them to fly out from Arizona for such a nonevent.

By the time my water broke, we had the crib assembled, and a little white dresser filled with baby clothes and blankets, and a basket piled high with stuffed animals, most of which we got at the baby shower our agency friends threw for us. It took only six hours for “the bump,” as we called it, to be born, although I yelled bloody murder when the contractions grabbed hold of my guts until they finally took pity on me and put me out.

I was very disoriented when I came out of the anesthetic, and I couldn’t see clearly without my contact lenses, but when I glanced at the infant in a clear plastic box next to me, I thought I’d gone bonkers. It was Ariadne, looking exactly as she did when we last saw her on Staten Island, only smaller. Feeling certain that I was hallucinating, I forced myself to fall back to sleep. By the time I woke up, which seemed like many hours later, the baby had been moved to the nursery.


“I had the strangest experience,” I told Danny when he came into my hospital room. “I thought I’d given birth to Ariadne. Isn’t that bizarre?”

Danny coughed a little and avoided my eyes.

“Did you see her? Did you see the baby?”

“Yes,” he said, still not meeting my gaze.

“What—?” I said, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. “Did something happen to her?”

“No. She’s—OK.”

“What’s wrong then?”

Danny looked at me like he wanted to say something but nothing came out of his mouth. It was as if he’d had a stroke and all his words had vaporized.

“Oh, dear God, no,” I said, pulling the covers up over my head and starting to sob. I realized then that whatever I’d seen in the glass box wasn’t a hallucination.


“Who is the father?” the obstetrician asked that morning, eyeing my husband suspiciously.

“He is,” I said, pointing to Danny.

“It might be a recessive gene, I suppose. Some things in nature cannot be explained,” the doctor said with a shrug.

But he was stern with the younger nurses, who giggled and stared and were reluctant at first to handle Ariadne. “A baby is a baby,” he snapped. “And this young lady needs her diaper changed.”


One of the older nurses, Carol, who was as stolid as a utility pole, brought Ariadne into my room for her midday feeding, swaddled snugly in a pink blanket like a child’s doll.

“At least she doesn’t bite anymore,” Danny whispered, but Carol must have overheard.

“She’s very sweet,” Carol said, handing her over to me. “But the formula we gave her upset her stomach and made her vomit.” She gave me Ariadne’s warm bottle, which she’d wrapped in a diaper. “We decided to contact a vet, and he prescribed a soy concoction that works much better.”

I was offended by the idea of them consulting a veterinarian. Ariadne was our daughter, not some exotic pet. But as I held her in my arms and watched her nurse, her bright brown eyes opening and closing with drowsy pleasure, I felt relieved that the vet’s “milk” agreed with her. An unfamiliar sensation began to ripple inside me, like a warm wave spreading from my lungs to my throat. I thought it might be nausea, but I didn’t feel like throwing up.

“Ari,” I said, cradling her tenderly in my arms. “My little Ari.”


We thought the best way to break the news of our special child to our families was to send them baby pictures. After we got home, Danny borrowed a camera from the agency and took several snapshots, some of me holding her and a few of her alone. Armando watched the three of us from the hallway, squinting and shaking his head like he couldn’t believe his eyes. Danny looked over at him and shrugged, almost apologetically. I wanted to strangle them both.

Danny’s parents didn’t say anything about their new granddaughter when they received the pictures. They simply sent us a stuffed elephant, some onesies, and a check for a hundred dollars.
“We’ll have to cut a hole in these,” Danny said, holding up the baby clothes, “for her tail.”

“Big deal.”

“I’m just saying.”

“She doesn’t look anything like our side of the family,” my father said when they called. My mother accused us of playing a cruel joke on them, which “wasn’t the least bit funny.”


Danny and I had discovered immediately that the crib was useless for a baby who could easily climb out of it—which Ari did the moment we put her down. She preferred to hang from me like a necklace day and night, her tiny fingers gripping my hair and clothing in a prehensile vise.

At the beginning, she slept most of the time, her breath a sweet little snore. I slept too, exhausted from the labor. Each time she awoke, I fed her—two ounces were all she could handle. As she nursed, I read to her from a pile of baby books I’d bought before her birth. Even early on, she had favorites, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight Moon, appearing to enjoy the rhymes and repetitions of the words. Three little bears sitting on chairs … Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs.

“Look how smart she is,” I boasted to Danny.

He smiled at me, indulgently I thought. I desperately wanted him to feel about our little girl the way that I did, but he hung back, claiming he couldn’t care for her as well as I could.
“As well, or as much?” I said, becoming tearful.


Ari and I were inseparable throughout my four-week maternity leave, as if an invisible wrapper encircled us, binding us together like sandwich halves. I had heard other women speak about maternal love, but I had never imagined the intensity of emotion that Ari inspired in me. It felt like some part of my heart had gurgled into life like a mountain spring, pushing through rock walls and gaining in force by the minute. I wondered if my mother had felt that way about me. What I recalled from my childhood was her worried face, as if she feared that at any moment I would reveal myself to be Linda Blair in The Exorcist.


Before I was scheduled to return to work, we interviewed a Puerto Rican girl from the neighborhood to look after Ari during the weekdays. But the girl screamed when she set eyes on our baby and fled through the front door, shouting her distress in Spanish. I had to scrounge around quickly for alternative daycare, hoping to find someone in lower Manhattan who’d accept our precious girl.

A neighbor in our building suggested Tante Sophie, of Tante Inc. on 10th Street. She was a German woman in her late sixties with a straight spine, curly white hair, and bright blue eyes that seemed to miss nothing, which was reassuring since she kept watch over eight children from infancy to age seven. But while she agreed to take Ari on a trial basis, she seemed to think that my daughter was a pet, a misunderstanding I was about to clarify when Danny pulled me aside.

“As long as she takes good care of Ari,” he whispered, “does it matter what she thinks?”

“Yes!” I said, becoming emotional, but I held my tongue.

After a few minutes and several anxious shrieks, Ari allowed Tante Sophie to hold her, and she hoot-laughed and squirmed with delight when Tante tickled her furry tummy.


“She loves stories,” I told Tante Sophie the next morning, handing her Ari’s favorite picture books, along with her bottles of primate formula and enough diapers and onesies to keep her dry until six. “And she can play patty-cake and peekaboo,” I added, wanting to ensure that Ari would be included in the other children’s activities. I sorely wanted my little daughter to fit in.
Tante Sophie smiled at me indulgently. “Ja, ja,” she said with a merry laugh, “don’t vorry, Mrs. Christina.”

Ari hung calmly around Tante’s neck, her bare feet resting comfortably on the older woman’s ample bosom. In her free hand, Ari gripped her “wa-waa baby” named Bonkers, a stuffed, once-white bunny that she dragged with her everywhere. But even though she seemed content to be in Tante’s daycare, I felt like a criminal when I tiptoed away.

I called three or four times from work that first day, just to make sure Ari was faring well. She had only been part of my life for a month, but she’d become as essential to me as air.
After work, I took a cab from Midtown to Tante Sophie’s and found Ari hanging from the neck of a slender, blue-eyed sylph named Ena, a languidly beautiful Teutonic princess of seven.
“Look how they luff each other,” Tante Sophie said with satisfaction.

Ari gave a shriek when she saw me, jumping down from Ena and climbing me like a tree. I began to cry and couldn’t stop kissing her, as if we’d been separated for days rather than hours.
I put her little yellow sweater on before we left because the autumn evenings were becoming nippy. But the sleeves were already too short for her long blonde tree-swinging arms.
On our way home, a Japanese woman approached, pushing a stroller.

“Ahhhh, cute kid,” she cried out. “Is that your only one?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Me too,” she said, tipping her head down toward the stroller.

It was empty.

“Mmmmm,” I murmured with a little smile, not knowing the right way to respond. Apparently, there were even more bizarre things going on in Manhattan than I’d realized.


I talked to Ari incessantly, and each day she seemed to understand more words. She could only make noises in response, little screams and squeaks and huffing sounds, but she quickly developed a series of pantomimes to let Danny and me know what she wanted. She’d pry our lips open with her fingers when she wanted us to smile, drum on the refrigerator when she was hungry, and leap onto the sink and suck on the faucet when she was thirsty. She also loved to dance and would jump up and down and screech beneath the CD player when she wanted to hear music. Her favorites were Pharrell Williams and Justin Bieber and some of the old Michael Jackson hits, especially “Billie Jean.”

Ari was also compassionate. When Danny banged his head on an open kitchen cabinet, she climbed up onto his shoulders and wrapped her little arms around his neck, whimpering and rubbing his forehead frantically until he pried her loose.

“She loves you—can’t you see?” I said, holding Ari protectively.

“Jesus, I’ve got a bump on my head as hard as a rock.”


I had heard about Koko, the gorilla who used sign language to communicate, and so I went on YouTube to learn how to sign. I made Danny practice with me each night until we were both competent enough to understand each other’s words and then we began to teach Ari. “Banana” was her favorite word. For a while, everything was a banana, including us.


I felt fiercely ambitious for Ari, all the more so as I recognized the enormous obstacles that stood between her and a fully human life. Danny was more realistic, and I hated him for that. It became the basis of all our arguments, my wanting to demolish every roadblock while he argued for reasonable goals. I wondered if other parents of “special needs” children became quixotic like me, battling windmills even before they came into view. Or were they pragmatists like Danny, not wanting to set their children up for the inevitable disappointments, believing that wanting more than their children could achieve was inhumane.

I read every book I could find on the capuchins, learning about their intelligence, their capacity to be socialized and to live happily in human society.

Happily,” Danny said, “that’s the key word. How does anyone know if they’re happy living in an alien world, separate for life from their own species?”

“We’re practically the same species!” I retorted. “99.4 percent genetically identical. We’re just a bunch of monkeys in fancy clothes.”

“You know that’s ridiculous, Christine.”

“No I don’t,” I insisted. “And Ari is not an alien. I gave birth to her. You fathered her. She’s just as much a human child as any other.”

“Chrissy, for Christ’s sake, Ari is a freak. A delightful, lovable, inexplicable freak.”


I threatened to leave Danny if he couldn’t love her the way I did. And when she watched us fighting, Ari became frantic, screaming and leaping between us like a boxing referee. We both felt like monsters when that happened, but the arguments continued.

“You don’t really love her,” I insisted. “You’re embarrassed by her.”

“You’re the one who doesn’t love her,” he said. “You’re in love with a fantasy of her. You picture her graduating from Harvard!”

“Why can’t she?” I shouted.

“Well, for one thing, we can’t afford to send her there,” he said.

I didn’t want to laugh but he caught me off guard.

“She’ll get student loans like everyone else,” I said, smiling despite myself.

But the rift between us continued to deepen. I wanted her to be tutored. I wanted her to go to preschool. I wanted her to wear shoes.

“She hates shoes,” Danny said. “Her feet don’t belong in shoes.”

“She’ll adapt.”

“How many baby shoes has she already destroyed? She tossed the last pair out the window. A bus ran over them.”

“So she’ll go to school without shoes. So what?”

“The schools won’t let her.”

“What about homeschooling?”

“Are you going to quit work?”

“If I have to.”

“Then you’d better move back to Tempe because we won’t be able to afford to live in this city.”

“Maybe I will move back to Tempe. At least then Ari will have grandparents who love her.”

“Oh, please. I’ve seen how delighted your parents are to have Ari as their granddaughter.”

“Fuck you!” I shouted.

“Oh, good. That’s great. Let’s see if we can teach Ari to sign ‘Fuck you.’”

A week later, Danny packed up and moved in with Armando. A month after that, I quit my job and flew back home to Arizona with Ari. I had to get a letter for the airline from a doctor saying that my daughter was my emotional support animal. I was incensed at the idea, but otherwise Ari would have had to be put in a cage and fly with the baggage.

Maybe I’d become a teacher, I thought, as the jet pierced the stratosphere at 600 mph. A special needs teacher for exceptional children like my daughter. Maybe that was my destiny.

*   *   *

“Hi,” Danny said, standing over me. I opened my eyes and there he was, without the beard he had grown after Ari was born. I felt dumbfounded, as if I had fallen asleep in France and awoken in Fresno. “You were out a long time,” he said. “We were really worried about you.”

“Out where?” I asked.

“Good question,” he said, laughing quietly.

“Where’s Ari?” I asked, suddenly anxious.


“Ari. Our daughter.”

“Is that what you want to call her?”

“That’s her name.”


“Is she all right?”

“She’s gorgeous. Wait ’til you see her.”

I managed to sit up, although my still-inflated stomach got in the way.

“Where is she?” I demanded, feeling suspicious now.

“She’s in the nursery,” Danny said. “I don’t know what anesthetic they gave you, Christine, but you’re still really out of it.”


I would learn that I had given birth to a normal, healthy, six-pound-two-ounce, twenty-one-inch daughter with blonde hair and blue eyes, whom Danny would eventually name Felicia. But I was unable to overcome the conviction that I had already given birth to another daughter, and that my other daughter had mysteriously disappeared.

My mother flew out from Tempe, and she and Danny had to do most of the mothering for our new daughter while I alternately slept and cried. I resented them both for making such a fuss over Felicia when they had been so unloving to Ari. I missed my little girl’s furry, sinewy arms and her immediate ability to cling to me. Felicia seemed so backward in comparison. All she did was sleep and cry. Even her smell seemed alien; it lacked the musky nuance of Ari’s little body. And Felicia showed no interest in the baby books on the rare occasion that I roused myself to read to her.

Danny insisted I see a psychiatrist, who prescribed an antidepressant called Cymbalta. The psychiatrist referred me to a therapist, Rowena, whom I had to see once a week. I told her about Ari, and she said I had something called a fixed delusion.

“Ari is not a fixed delusion,” I said, enraged. “She’s my daughter, my little baby. She’s the love of my life.”

Rowena urged me to tell Danny about the dream. She kept calling it “the dream,” probably so I’d accept that the Ari I gave birth to only existed in my mind.


I went back to work two months after Felicia’s birth. There was no Tante Sophie to care for her, just a nanny who also cleaned the apartment while the baby was sleeping.

I called this daughter “Flea,” which Danny said was unkind. I tried to love little Flea, to find things about her that I could care about. But I was very bitter. She would be able to go to the best schools like other so-called normal children. She would have the capacity to speak, to recite the alphabet and memorize her times tables and go to proms and learn to drive a car. She would have a career and a husband and a human life. She could even go to Harvard if she wanted to. It was so unfair.

Danny spent nearly every weekend with Felicia, wheeling her in her pram until she could sit up, and then pushing her stroller, first to our neighborhood Tompkins Square Park, and then across town to the jazz and bongo-filled Washington Square, with excursions to the pungent little kosher food shops on Orchard Street and the bohemian cafes in Greenwich Village, sometimes by himself and often with Armando, who’d become her unofficial godfather. (He even stopped smoking dope when he was around her.) Occasionally I tagged along, although my presence felt irrelevant. Mostly I stayed home and napped. After a while, Danny became so upset with me that he took to sleeping on the living room sofa. He kept threatening to move out and take Felicia with him if I didn’t shape up.

Finally, when Flea was eleven months old and could toddle competently, I bundled her up and we took a subway downtown to the Staten Island Ferry. As the train roared south, I recalled with a smile how Ariadne had swung from the overhead bars and bitten the game little fellow who caught her. Flea reached up and put her fingers on my lips, as if she’d never seen me happy until that moment. I noticed how long her eyelashes had grown and realized she was becoming beautiful, no thanks to me, of course. I felt sorry for her, as if she were some other mother’s orphaned child.

At the zoo we rented a stroller; Felicia picked one that was painted gray with pink ears like Dumbo the elephant. We visited the lions and tigers and gazelles and snakes and leopards and bears and zebras. We ate hot dogs and potato chips and frozen yogurt and freshly made fudge, which gave Flea a comical little chocolate mustache and goatee. After lunch, Flea had a pony ride, her first, which made her shriek with delight. Finally, we went looking for the monkeys. Past the gorillas, there were several cages filled with cavorting baboons and chimps, and then the smaller monkeys—howlers, tamarinds, and capuchins. There were a couple of big male capuchins, several females, and a few youngsters.

“Your sister Ari looked a little like that one,” I said, pointing to a small monkey with light-colored fur who was grooming a larger one with a baby clinging to her breast. I wondered if the small one was Ariadne. She looked at me once or twice without any recognition, and I was relieved. I didn’t want her to remember me or the miserable life she’d led caged in my living room. She seemed content and at home in the enclosure, designed to emulate the lowland forests of South America. I watched her merrily swing from branch to branch like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, and my eyes welled up with tears.

“Ari would have loved having a baby sister like you, Flea. She would have tickled you and combed the bugs out of your hair and taught you how to say your name in sign language.”

I signed her name for her. Then I signed “Ari” and “banana.”

Flea looked up at me and giggled, a little clear drool leaking from the sides of her mouth. She said “Maa-ma.” She’d probably said it hundreds of times before, but this time I heard it.



Brandon French is the only daughter of an opera singer and a Spanish dancer, born in Chicago sometime after The Great Fire of 1871. She has been (variously) assistant editor of Modern Teen Magazine, a topless Pink Pussycat cocktail waitress, an assistant professor of English at Yale, a published film scholar, playwright and screenwriter, Director of Development at Columbia Pictures Television, an award-winning advertising copywriter and creative director, a psychoanalyst in private practice, and a mother. Seventy-two of her stories have been accepted for publication by literary journals and anthologies, she’s been nominated twice for a Pushcart, she was an award winner in the 2015 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Short Story Contest, and her short story collection, If One of Us Should Die, I’ll Move to Paris is now available on Amazon.

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