When Gorillas Sleep by Frankie McMillan

I never touched the gorilla, I say. I got better things to do. Then the park ranger plonks his canvas bag on the table and pulls out a tranquiliser gun and we all stare at the gun and I know it will have my finger prints all over it and then he’s saying, funny how you target the adolescent males, none of the  silverbacks are shot and I just about blurt out that’s just chance, that is, but I hold my tongue and I’m thinking of fingerprints and even nose prints  because each Ugandan gorilla has got its own, nobody else like it.  Listen up! The park ranger bangs the table with his fist. A drop of sweat runs down his forehead.  You think we’re going to sit here, twiddle our thumbs while Rome burns?  He leans forward, tells me the whole conservation programme is under threat, the government can pull its funding just like that and he’s not going to see his job go down the tubes.  Listen up!

I never touched the gorilla, I say. And then he tells me to think back to Lake Bunyonyi reserve yesterday afternoon and what was I doing there? He knows I was there, he has proof. Didn’t I know there was cameras in the trees?

All the trees? I ask. I’m just stalling for time. I’m just stalling. I’m just. I stare out the window. The Burning bush is the shape of a heart.

You ever laid your hand on a gorilla’s chest? You ever felt the warmth of wiry hair, the roughness under your palm? Ever lain down with your brother, your ear listening to his heartbeat ?

Frankie McMillan is the author of ‘The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories’ and two poetry collections, ‘Dressing for the Cannibals’  and ‘There are no horses in heaven’. Her flash fiction has been published widely in journals and anthologies including the Norton anthology of Flash Fiction International, Shenandoah and Flash Frontier. In both 2013 and 2015 she was the winner of the New Zealand Flash Fiction Award. Frankie McMillan was awarded the Creative New Zealand Todd New Writers’ Bursary in 2005 and held the Ursula Bethell creative writing residency at Canterbury University in 2014. Her forthcoming book, ‘My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions’ (Canterbury University Press )will be published in August 2016.  She currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.

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