Friday 12 October 2012

'Predictions' by Cathy Lennon

The capuchin unfurls its grip on the token and proffers it to Li who remains blank-faced. My pen hovers over the clipboard as I observe them. Something in the monkey’s hooded, bright-eyed gaze says ‘hope’. This is not a scientific observation, however. Li dips his hand into the black polythene bag and presents the capuchin with what looks like three white coins. I know these to be pieces of apple. Hands, rougher than mine but just as dexterous, snatch them up. The monkey turns away into the corner of the observation chamber, cramming the fruit into its mouth, throwing a glance at Li who nods and looks over at Professor Korning.

Korning shifts on his stool beside me. Even seated his tall, broad frame dwarfs mine. One arm crosses his upper abdomen and he uses the fingers of his other hand to stroke his concave cheeks. Under the fluorescent lights the lenses of his steel-rimmed spectacles glint violet, flashing his glee. His predictions about the behaviour of the capuchins are proving correct. Korning presses the door release button and another capuchin tumbles into the chamber, its halo of white fur like thistledown. Black eyes take in the token on the floor and the bag in Li’s hands.

‘You have not marked the sheet.’ Korning’s voice has a teutonic undertow, something sibilant and vaguely threatening as he addresses me. I write the number three in the correct box. In the chamber the monkey palms the token and edges, tail flicking, towards Li. This time when Li’s hand emerges from the bag there is only one piece of apple. The capuchin snatches it with a sound that could be a shriek of disgust.

‘Monkey one gets the prize and monkey two gets the clipboard.’ Korning sniffs with laughter and my pen scores the number one in the box. Li upends the bag and shakes it, staring imperiously at me through the window. ‘More apple’ he mouths.

In the preparation area I take two apples, split them in half, remove the cores and cut even slices. The letter confirming Li’s appointment and my redundancy still lies on the side. Korning’s signature is large and unapologetic.

Li has his back to the observation glass when I return. He is shepherding both capuchins towards the trapdoor. Korning is hunched over his phone, a slab of hard, pink flesh beneath an expanse of bespoke white shirt. One loafer is hooked over the foot bar of the stool while his other leg stretches out like felled timber, jiggling with some of his famous energy. The blade is not as sharp as I would like. It requires more force than I anticipated but the look in his eyes is exactly what I’d hoped for. Surprise.
Li runs towards the glass, his mouth a round black O. The capuchins are shrieking, turning somersaults. Korning slides off his stool, a gurgle emitting from his throat.

‘I’m not quite so easy to predict as you thought, Professor,’ I say, smiling.

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