The Date

By Heather Pullen

The wind felt chilly on her face as she waited at the crosswalk with the evening rush hour traffic streaming by. Finally she walked across and onto the well-known path leading to the zoo. As she approached the entrance, the last of the day’s visitors were leaving and she thought the idea to rent the monkey house for an hour was one of the more unusual places he had planned over the years for their Valentine’s date.

At the gate, she gave her name and destination and, after a list was consulted, she was permitted to enter the familiar grounds. It would almost be dark in another hour, she thought, as those inescapable feelings of panic, indecision and guilt began to rise within her as they always did on this day.

A date in the monkey house was certainly unusual, but over the years he had always been creative about choosing their rendezvous place and this was no exception. How she loved this place and, having lived nearby all of her life, it was a place full of happy childhood memories. Of course, these were filled with warm sunshine, and as she walked across the picnic area with its bare cold tables and benches and the shuttered ice cream stand, she could see herself and her brother licking vigorously at the melting cones before the sticky drips began to trickle down their arms. How happy those days were, she thought fondly, and the zoo had felt like their back garden.

A particularly sharp gust of wind brought her back to the present and she pulled her fluffy scarf closer around her neck. She stopped by the gorilla cage where George, the only one of his kind in the zoo, sat hunched in an ungainly lump of boredom, his bright, deeply set eyes watching her without interest. George had always been there for as long as she could remember. How amazing, she thought, that ninety five percent of his DNA was now known to be shared with his human relatives.

Finally, she entered the monkey house with its lighted cages on each side, which gave a dim light to the rest of the hall. The piercing shrieking of the monkeys cut through the air and brought her back to think clearly about herself. Did she really love this man she was about to meet? How patiently he had waited for her over the years, even when she went back to school to get her degree in comparative zoology. Every Valentine’s Day since she was 20, and he not much older, he had proposed, but she had always put him off with the promise that next year would be the right time. She thought she loved him and he was a comfortable part of her life. He was kind, considerate and not unattractive, but his devotion often made her feel claustrophobic.

She found herself watching one group of monkeys nestled together, grooming each other, and thought how simple their lives were. This year she had to tell him she had been offered a research position in Kenya to study reproduction of bush babies in the wild, and to let him know of her decision. The sharp, familiar smell of this place once again brought her back to reality and she noticed a small round table and two chairs at the end of the long hall. On it was a single red rose, a bottle of champagne on ice and two tall glasses.

As she walked down the hall, he stepped out of the shadows, the light from the nearest cage highlighting his slightly receding hairline but revealing his warm smile. Without a word, he kissed her lightly and indicated she should sit. Nervously she did so, feeling the cold iron of the seat and being aware of the shrieking monkeys that seemed to add a mocking quality to the whole scene.

Holding both her hands in one of his, he reached into his pocket with the other and withdrew a small, black velvet box. Never before had the Valentine date proposal included this aspect. For a moment, utter confusion almost overwhelmed her, yet in the next minute her mind cleared and she knew exactly what she was going to say.