Matt Lee 日 11/09/2018 · agentcooper89 No comments

THE JEW APE

A gang of us used to hang downtown by the old fountain whenever the city actually bothered to turn the water on.

The fountain had been there long before any of us had bothered to exist. A three-tiered urn sat in the middle, decorated by pucker mouthed fish that spat ribbons of water into the air. Sculpted faces surrounded the earthen colored rim, little horned men with eternally fixed grins.

We pilfered loose change from the rusty depths. A nearby vending machine kept us fed. I was forbidden to have sugar at home, but the fountain was a lawless place.

When we weren’t throwing rocks at the abandoned green house, we took pleasure in harassing the foot traffic that filed endlessly in and out of the Public Works building across the street.

Sometimes a security guard would try to chase us off, threatening to arrest us for loitering. But we knew the alleyways and the back streets. Evading the overweight, middle-aged man in his sweat-stained white uniform was never a problem.

Winded, the guard bent at his bloated ponch, hands gripping knees.

‘Don’t—let me catch—you little—pricks.’

As if he ever could. The young are quick. The law is slow. We didn’t need school to figure that much out.

We liked talking to the bums. Leathery, deeply creased, they all had the same sweetly fetid stench, the same yellowed fingertips, teeth. They told us the things we weren’t meant to hear and we treasured them for it.

We assigned them different names: Drummer Man, Club Drugs, Dancin’ Dan.

The Jew Ape usually came by just before dark.

He was at least six feet tall, nude except for frayed, cut off jean shorts, the worn denim always crusted with traces of condiments and grease.

His body hair was prolific, but his head was completely bald. If you asked him why he shaved his eyebrows, he’d explain that it was so nobody could tell how he was feeling.

He claimed to be an African albino. We understood that he had actually bleached his skin.

The Jew Ape used the old fountain as a bath. He would haul his massive body over the edge and plop down into the shallow, green water.

He dunked his head for a long time then came shooting back up, gasping for air, his splotchy off-white face gone bright red.

We told him the water was full of bird shit, but he never seemed to mind. Occasionally we even saw him slurping handfuls of the stuff.

One day after we showed up, he was already drying himself on a bench. He asked us what we were up to. We told him the usual, looking for quarters.

The Jew Ape stood, towering above us. He dropped his shorts and stuck his hand up his ass. After rooting around, he extracted a fistful of slick, foul smelling coins.

He asked how much we needed. We declined his offer and promptly evacuated to the Freeze King, hoping for a chance to ogle the high school girls who worked the counter, perfectly manicured hands doling out soft serve salvation.

Near the end of the summer there was a string of attacks in Staley’s Park. A kid we knew from school told us that his sister had been beaten so badly she went into a coma.

The Jew Ape said the cops would never catch the guy. Not in a million years. He bought a soda from the vending machine and poured the whole can over his head, the best way to stay cool he told us.

Our parents warned us about traveling alone. We were all expected home before dark. I started carrying a pocketknife.

I carved a cool S into a sweet gum tree on our block. I spent a long time trying to get the lines perfectly straight. A girl that lived nearby said I was killing the tree. I laughed and told her that it didn’t matter. Trees were already dead to begin with.

The fountain had been dry during the last week of summer break. My friends started going down to the reservoir instead. I was scared of deep water, so I stuck around the square, even though my friends called me a pussy.

The attacks continued sporadically, all in or around Staley’s Park. An old man was the first to actually die. Blunt force trauma to the skull. The rumor was he’d been stomped to death.

The newspapers said the man’s face had been pulped to the point that the cops were only able to identify the victim through his dental records. Neighborhood watch groups started forming, but still no arrests.

Something about the park was calling me, drawing me in. One night I rode through on my bike, gliding along the path underneath the pale light of the sodium lamps, the cold lump of the pocketknife pressed against my thigh.

I stopped and listened. There was only the whine of cicadas, the buzzing of the lamps. The whole time I could feel eyes trained on me, but there wasn’t a soul in sight, only a familiar smell hanging in the air, sweet, stale, a rotten perfume.

I rode home and got in bed. Still, I felt the eyes, smelled the rancid odor. I didn’t sleep.

In the morning I caught my mom watching the news before she went to work. There’d been another attack. A jogger had been found on the very same footpath I’d ridden down the night before, whipped to death with a length of chain.

My mom silently shook her head, sipped her coffee, changed the channel. I went to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet.

The day before school started, the Jew Ape offered me a dipper. I took a pull, felt my brain heat up, melt. The Jew Ape finished the rest in one drag.

The fountain was still empty, the Jew Ape especially rank. I was breathing fast, hyperventilating. I started to laugh, barking at the burnt orange sky as my head spun.

The Jew Ape asked me what I was doing in the park the other night. My brain went numb. I looked into his bloodshot eyes. He told me it was dangerous, that I was stupid to go out alone. He warned me never to do it again. I nodded, drooled a bit.

Suddenly he was crying, long, low moans from deep down in his doughy gut. He rose, lumbering over to the fountain, gripping the edge of the worn wrought-iron lip.

‘How’s a man supposed to live if he can’t keep himself clean?’

He marched over to the Public Works. It was already closed for the day.

He rattled the door, pounded the frame with his sticky, hairless head. He put his hand through the glass.

‘I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me.’

I watched three cruisers pull up.

‘Where’s the water at?’

I watched the cops use pepper spray.

‘Where’s the water at?’

I watched the Jew Ape climb the façade of the Public Works building.

‘Where’s the water at?’

I watched a small crowd gather below.

‘Where’s the water at?’

I watched the cops draw their guns.

‘Where’s the water at?’

I watched the Jew Ape remove his filthy jean shorts.

‘Where’s the water at?’

I watched the muzzle flashes.

‘Where’s-’

I watched the red and blue lights.

‘the-’

I watched the red.

‘water-’

I watched the blue.

‘at?’

I watched the Jew Ape fall, loose change spilling from his necrotic crack like a slot machine.

A quarter rolled along the sidewalk and stopped at my feet, heads up. I pocketed it for good luck, took a long shower when I got home.

Summer soon dissipated. The attacks stopped as abruptly as they’d begun. I never went back to Staley’s Park. Or the fountain. Still, that putrid honey smell followed me wherever I went. I scrubbed and scrubbed myself raw, but it was like the stench was imbedded in my skin. I took to breathing from my mouth.

On the first day of school, our teacher assigned us a paper: “Describe something fun you did during summer vacation.”

I couldn’t think of what to write.

There was the girl, still in a coma, or the old man resting forever underground, in the same cemetery as the jogger, whose legs would never again cross a finish line, and of course, there was the Jew Ape, his elephantine body cooling off in a police meat locker, a little evidence tag looped around his big toe. They were all special to me for different reasons, all those trips to the park at night, all the friends I made there, and we were all connected now, all of our stories intertwined.

Still, the words wouldn’t come.

Matt Lee’s writing has previously appeared at SOFT CARTEL, Philosophical Idiot, and fluland. He has also written and produced numerous works for the stage at Maryland Ensemble Theatre. His twitter handle is @Gallows_Ticket.