The new botanist wasn’t attractive. He was fun, however, and Marin was so frustrated with her work these days that being around fun people was the only time that she ever had fun anymore.
His name was Nolan Yap. He was a twenty-seven-year-old Malaysian-Chinese from K.L. He’d studied for the past seven years in Dublin, and his accent tended to change mid-sentence from the rounded, buoyant clucking of his Malaysian youth to the wide-lipped jawing he’d picked up in Ireland. Like his predecessor Si-Chee, Nolan had come to Borneo to do research for his doctoral dissertation.
At breakfast that morning in canteen, Nolan had been very excited about some bushes growing in the jungle outside his bungalow.
“Look what I found just two meters from the back of my bungalow!” he’d said, showering a bunch of twigs and leaves onto Will and Marin’s table. “Malaysia is the most incredible... a country of botanical wonders! What have I been doing living in Ireland the past seven years?”
Will didn’t like him.
“He’s too enthusiastic,” Will said, during his and Marin’s hike later that day alone. “He’s over-compensating for something, obviously.”
“You think he’s gay?” Marin said.
“No,” Will said. “More like high-functioning depressive.”
“If Nolan’s depressed, then I need to be more depressed,” Marin said. “I can’t get any traction on anything. The Green Action Fund says that they’re already working on an oil palm initiative. I didn’t realize that rainforest conservation and rainforest conservation were mutually exclusive activities. The Primary Growth Alliance keeps forwarding me to their $5,000 grant program. I talked for one hour to a PR rep from Néstle yesterday, trying to wear her down, but I think she forgot the conversation as soon as it was over.”
Marin’s voice caught a little on the word “forgot.” She wondered what neurobiological connection between the subconscious and speech caused one to start a sentence in full control of one’s emotions, everything compartmentalized and rational, and six sentences later find one’s self on the verge of tears.
“You need a hook,” said Will. “Something to get them to filter us out of the noise.”
Marin considered this. “Just don’t tell me that people ‘don’t know what they don’t know,’” she said.
“They don’t,” Will said. “Except truth, which is known by power. Power is just good at pretending not to know.”
“And I thought that I couldn’t feel any more tautological,” Marin said.
“You’re not redundant,” Will said, “certainly not to me.”
“And when you come out of the closet and marry Nolan?” Marin said. “Then what?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Will said. “Don’t even joke about me and Mr. Happypants together. That is just wrong.”
Marin knew that it was wrong to blame Will for her failures and frustrations, but she didn’t think that she bore full responsibility either. Will’s irrational dislike of Nolan was certainly a symptom of the same pathology that prevented Will from revealing his sexual orientation to their other coworkers, the same pathology that prevented him from taking Marin’s work complaints seriously.
What was it that he had said about failure in their first phone conversation over one year ago? That because she was young it wouldn’t matter? In her more paranoid moments, Marin thought that that was how Will saw her: young and full of disposable energy and time.
Will and Marin went to O.Q. when they got back to camp. Will was taking the one- to two-year-old ex-caps out for a climbing lesson in a jungle clearing near O.Q. The other “teachers,” Malik and Dilip, were at O.Q. when Will and Marin arrived, letting the “students” out of their cages and corralling them in the corner opposite the door.
Even from a distance, there was no way to mistake the group of young apes for a less evolved species of mammal. Their proportions and carriage, the elevated capability and intelligence inherent in the extra architecture in their tiny hands—there was something fearsome about each of them, young, small, and vulnerable though they were.
In the process of teaching the orangutans skills for surviving in the wild on their own, the orangutans had to be taught the somewhat contradictory skill of following the O/URC staff’s orders. After opening the back door to the clearing, Malik and Dilip used simple commands and gestures to instruct the ex-caps to head to the clearing. The orangutans did so in a relatively organized fashion. It helped that none of them were new students, so they possibly remembered that these exercises in the clearing involved good fruit planted in the trees.
Will and Marin held up the rear, shooing the stragglers out the door and closing it behind them. When they got to the clearing, Will began speedily rearranging and retying the ropes that had been left by an older, more advanced class to form easier climbs for the one- to two-year-olds. Marin sat on the ground cross-legged, watching the ex-caps play-fight in the clearing as the three humans finished setting up the ropes. One of the orangutans sniffed out a few lychees stashed within easy reach on a low branch, and as he peeled and ate all seven of them in a manner of seconds, an audience of five of his classmates gathered around him, sniffing the air and trees around him for more easy food. When they realized there was none, they dispersed and went back to the clearing.
Marin stood up. She’d had enough procrastinating for the afternoon. Perhaps there was some good email waiting for her in office. She walked the short path back to O.Q. and came upon Nolan inside banging the chain link fence.
“Oh, hey, Marin! I can’t seem to work this lock right,” Nolan said. “Do I turn the key clockwise?”
Marin swung the lock over to her side of the fence and tried to turn the key. It was jammed slightly, but Marin jiggled it, the key turned, and the lock slid down and open with a smooth metal thwack.
Nolan opened the door and stumbled out clumsily.
“What’s that English phrase for getting the hang of things?” Nolan asked.
“Um, ‘getting the hang of things?’” Marin said.
“No, it’s kind of mathematical... the something slope?” Nolan said.
“Oh, learning curve,” Marin said.
“Yes! Yes! Steep learning curve at this place,” Nolan said. “Or maybe it’s just me.”
“No, I’m right there with you,” Marin said.
“You?” Nolan said. “But you’re, like, best friends with Dr. St. James, and Dr. Tsai loves you. You know the orangutans by name, and I can’t even tell the boys from the girls. You know so much more than me about my own country, and you’re not even a scientist.” Nolan’s voice caught on the word “country.”
“I sincerely doubt that,” Marin said. “I’ve been here more than a year. You’ve been here five days. Cut yourself some slack. So what were you doing out in O.Q. by yourself anyway? Did you want to meet some one-year-old ex-caps?”
Nolan nodded sheepishly, and Marin walked back with him to the clearing.
There were young orangutans in the canopy, picking open and nibbling on the bananas, rambutan, and lychees that had been planted at the top. The air was sweet and bitter with the flesh and peels of fruit. Dilip was prodding some orangutans in the trees to swing across a large gap in the canopy one by one. Malik watched him and recorded observations in a small spiral notebook, and Will worked with five stragglers on the ropes: Gia, two other girls, and two boys.
Will reached in his pocket and pulled out a handful of some kind of nut. The five orangutans on the ground watched his hand with the nuts closely. Will called out to Malik to send him an orangutan named Khalid. Malik reached into the trees, pulled out the young Khalid, and shooed him in the direction of Will. Khalid ran towards Will, but ran up a nearby tree instead of joining in the lesson.
Will called Khalid by name several times, to no avail. Finally, Will popped one of the nuts in his own mouth, crunching it loudly, and Khalid came running down, play-fighting with the two male ex-caps upon his arrival. Will tossed one of the nuts up so that it arced above the slope of the main climbing rope net, and Khalid quickly ran up the net on all fours, catching the nut in his mouth and chewing it with the back of his jaw.
Will waited until Khalid disappeared into the canopy and threw another nut up the slope of the net. Gia raced up the net like Khalid, and she caught the nut in her mouth and chewed it furiously. She ran along a long branch at the top of the net, and joined some other ex-caps eating from a papaya that had been stashed in a neighboring tree.
They heard the metal chain door of O.Q. open and close, and, five minutes later, Linda and Wan came into the clearing, Wan shouldering a large black duffel bag. The ripe sewage-onion-rotted-banana smell of durian warmed the air. Wan had spent the past few days in an Iban village outside Belaga, helping the villagers peaceably deter the wild orangutan population in the jungle around their village from raiding their farms. The village had a legendary two-hundred-year-old durian tree, whose fruit, if shared among friends, was supposed to bring incredible prosperity to its consumers within one year.
Before Wan had left for Belaga, his staff had all pestered him to bring back some of the “magic money fruit,” and it appeared that he had. Commotion immediately broke out among both the human and orangutan contingents in the clearing, and Marin explained to a confused Nolan what was going on.
Wan put his bag down on the ground and zipped it open, revealing eight spike-covered fruits the size of soccer balls. Linda had put on a pair of gardening gloves. She picked up one of the durians, walked to a nearby tree, and hit it once against the trunk, making a large Y-shaped crack on the other side. She pried it open, took out a pocket knife, and sawed it in half. She handed one half to Malik and Dilip and the other half to Marin and Nolan and Will.
Will held onto the bottom of the shell as Nolan picked up one of the slimy yellow-green pallets first. He took a bite. “Wow,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of durian, but this is—” He took another bite. “That is the most incredible,” he said, and slurped up the rest of the fruit on his seed.
Marin had tried durian once on a trip to Hong Kong ten years ago. She remembered thinking that the taste, although unfamiliar, hadn’t been that bad, but she’d hated the mushy, oily texture of it. Although Marin had seen durian a couple of times at the O/URC, she hadn’t felt compelled to try it again with her more mature palate until now. Marin unstuck a small wet nugget from the shell Will was holding and took a big bite.
It was warm. It tasted cultured, fermented, and had a garlic-like burn to it. And she actually liked the texture. It was like a piece of slow-roasted meat, so tender it melted in your mouth.
“How is it?” asked Will, looking skeptical.
“Interesting,” Marin said. “I think I like it.”
“Does it feel magically magical?” Will asked.
“I can hold the shell for you,” Nolan said. “You try for yourself and let us know.”
“Yeah, okay, ‘us,’” Will said. He pushed on the edge of one of the nuggets with his thumb, it slid up with a squish, and he picked it off easily. Will handed the shell to Nolan and took a bite of the fruit. He chewed and swallowed. “Tastes like onions,” he said. He sucked the last bit of flesh off the seed in a few bites and then pitched the seed deep into the jungle behind himself. “Magical onions,” he said.
“What’s wrong with you?” Marin said.
“Huh?” said Will.
“You’re so bitchy today,” she said.
“Interesting word choice,” Will said. “Damn, now I want a shot of tuak. Too bad Gandau’s not around.”
Gandau’s uncle had died a few days ago, and he had gone home to his family’s longhouse for the funeral.
“Oh, I don’t drink anyway,” Nolan said.
“Oh, I didn’t know, sorry,” said Will. “May I ask why?”
“I’ve just never seen the point of it, to tell you the truth,” Nolan said.
“Not even after seven years in Dublin?” Will asked.
“There’s actually a lot of Irish people that don’t like to drink,” Nolan said. “They’ve seen so many people from their family struggle with alcoholism, and it kind of turns you off the stuff, you know?”
Wan came over to their group cradling a whole durian over his belly, followed by four ex-caps. The O/URC’s digital SLR camera was hanging against Wan’s hip on a strap hooked diagonally across his chest. Wan laid the durian down on the ground in front of Marin and Nolan, and two of the orangutans, Gia and Datok, pawed ineffectually at its shell. The other two orangutans hung back.
“Nolan, can you bang the durian against the ground to crack it, lightly yeah? The orangutans can open more then,” Wan said.
Wan picked up the camera, unhooked the lens cap and let it dangle, and put the viewfinder up against his eye, turning the lens slightly to focus.
Nolan handed their shell to Marin and picked up the new durian and lightly smacked it down. He raised it to look at the bottom: only the tiniest crack had pierced the shell.
“One more time, lightly-lah,” Wan said.
Nolan did as he was told, and, craaack, the durian shell splintered open.
“Leave it. Down like that,” Wan said. “They can turn it themselve.”
Nolan left it on the ground, and the four orangutans approached it for inspection. Gia and Datok turned it over together, and mounted it to tear off small pieces of broken shell at the top. Within one minute there was a nice five-inch hole, and Gia loosened a large piece of flesh. She scurried off to the side to eat.
Wan walked over to Gia and squatted in front of her, raising the camera to his face. His finger pressed down on the photo button, and the camera snapped on a photo of Gia eating lustily.
“Two pieces left,” Marin said, holding up the half-shell in her hands. “Wan? Nolan? Will?”
“I had four pieces in canteen,” Wan said. “That’s for you three finish.”
“If we cut a third off both of them, we can each have two-thirds,” Nolan said.
“That’s okay,” Will said. “One was plenty for me. You kids knock yourselves out.”
Will went back to his rope. He picked up a loose strand of rope near the net, tied it to itself, undid it, and tied it to itself using a different knot.
Marin held the durian shell out to Nolan, and he unstuck a piece from it. Marin unstuck the last.
She held hers up. “Cheers,” she said.
“Cheers to the most awesomely fantastic amazing two-hundred-year-old durian fruit, yeah?” Nolan said.
Marin giggled: he was a weird, lovable dude, and she would never be able to sleep with him. Nolan held up his piece of durian, smiled wide, and Wan snapped a photo of them.
Not ten minutes later, the skies changed abruptly from sunny and blue with white clouds to dark-gray and green with gathering spreads of black in the horizon.
“How many ex-caps are out, Will?” Wan called out across the clearing.
“Twenty-three!” Will called back.
“Okay, everybody take three ex-caps and go to O.Q. hurry before it starts raining. Will and Linda, take one more each.”
“Is he serious? I don’t think I can even take one!” Nolan said to Marin.
“Dilip and Malik will help you,” Marin said. “It’s just the easiest way to get the count right. The orangutans certainly don’t listen to me.”
“Marin, I’ve got seven, let’s go!” Will called out to her.
“See?” Marin said.
She followed Will towards the path to O.Q. and left Nolan immobilized and confused about whether to chase down the ex-cap to his right or cross the clearing towards Malik and Dilip for help.
Will and Marin were the first ones back to O.Q. Their seven young orangutans squawked at their caged elders upon their arrival, giddy from their durian feast and the chaos outside.
“It’s going to be a bitch to get everyone back in the right cages,” Will said. “Wan shouldn’t have panicked like that.”
He switched on the lights—four bare incandescent bulbs hanging from the roof from their wires.
A loud, low growl of thunder sent some of the more temperamental orangutans into a tizzy. They rattled the bars of their cages, yelped, and kiss-squeaked.
“I just hope the residence paths don’t flood again,” Marin said.
Nine more orangutans pattered up the path and into O.Q., followed by Dilip and Linda.
“They can’t get Datok and Samira down,” Linda said. “They need a torch.”
Marin went to the storage locker and pulled out a large yellow flashlight by its rubber-covered handle.
“I’ll go back out,” Dilip said.
Marin handed him the flashlight, and he turned it on and went back outside to the clearing.
“Let’s put Gia, Fatima, Thimbe, Gertie, and Micah in cage one, Joanie, Deirdre, Sammy, Hedda, and Katja in cage two, and the boys in five,” Linda said. “We’ll sort everyone out tomorrow morning.”
They did so, and were herding the boys into cage five when an orangutan named Lyle came bounding up the path into O.Q., followed by Wan, Malik, and Dilip each holding two ex-caps in their arms. Nolan, aiming the flashlight into their feet, brought up the rear.
Not a second too soon, because as soon as Nolan shut the door behind himself and looped and clicked the padlock secure, water splattered loudly onto the roof and down in thick streams all around them.
“Typhoon!” Malik sang out. He laughed. “Typhoon! Typhoon!”
The apes went apeshit.
“Malik...” Dilip scolded. “I don’t know why this storm making everyone so crazy.”
“It’s not the storm,” Malik said, “it’s the magic money fruit, man! We getting crazy from the magics!”
Wan and Linda herded the last seven orangutans into cage eight and locked it shut.
“We can all fit on the three trucks,” Wan said. “Will, you drive Marin. Linda, you drive Nolan. I’ll drive Dilip, and we’ll come back and get Malik in the morning.”
“Tchh... yeah, right,” Malik said. “My nose can’t take the wet ape smell, sorry.”
“Come on, let’s go before it gets frea-king muddy out there,” Dilip said.
They hurried single file out to the road and piled into the mini trucks as instructed, Dilip and Malik both squeezing onto the bed of Wan’s.
Rain poured down during the whole ride to the parking lot behind med, but the trucks held up. Water soaked, smothered, and slicked onto and off of Marin with indiscriminate force and volume. Life, death, joy, pain, love, heartbreak, regret, confusion: it all happened in an instant, as far as the infinite forces of nature were concerned.
They all gathered soaking wet in canteen, squeezing out their clothes as best they could (and Marin her ponytail) on the porch, where they left their water-logged shoes as well.
Marin went into the kitchen and filled all three electric water kettles to their maximum fill lines and turned them on to boil. Will brought four large bottles of Tiger beer out to the dining room and started pouring glasses and forcing them on people.
Marin took out seven mugs, and opened and placed a tea bag in each mug. When the water finished boiling, she started filling the mugs one-by-one with hot water.
Will came in carrying two glasses of beer.
“Your beer, my lady,” Will said, placing one glass on the counter next to her.
The faded peach-colored cotton-acrylic blend of Will’s shirt hung wet and slack against the dense rolls of his arms and chest. He smelled dirty and wild, like earthworms and decomposing weeds. He drank a third of his beer in one long trough.
“I thought hot tea would be in order considering how wet and shivery everyone is,” Marin said.
She was wearing a black tank top made of a thick spandex-like material. Her upper body wasn’t any more exposed than if she’d been wearing a swimsuit, but she was still envious at this moment of Linda’s bulky and waterproof jacket.
“There’s no law saying you can’t mix beer and tea,” Will said. “Oh my god, I just had the best idea! Tuak boilermakers. Am I a genius or am I a genius?”
“Genius is a loaded word,” Marin said. “Mad scientist, maybe.”
Will pulled out his cellphone and called Anwar and asked him to come to canteen with Gandau’s tuak.
“It. Is. On,” he said.
Marin laughed. “Oh boy,” she said. “Be very afraid.”
Marin brought her tray of tea out to the dining room, which exactly only Linda and Nolan were grateful for. Everyone else was drinking Will’s beer.
Among the durians’ many powers seemed to be an acceleration of metabolism: everyone in the group got hungry one hour before their normal dinner time. Dilip and Malik led a movement to raid May’s prep and storage refrigerator. They doused cold soup noodles with soy sauce and ate them straight from the pan. They stir-fried chopped vegetables meant for that night’s curry and ate them with chopped boiled eggs, ikan bilis, and coconut rice leftover from that morning’s nasi lemak.
When the foragers emerged with fuller but not happier stomachs from the kitchen an hour later, Anwar ran up the steps of the canteen porch wearing an enormous hooded blue plastic poncho. As he lifted the poncho over his head and it fell to the ground, they saw his left hand wrapped around the neck of the guitar strapped across his torso and a large bottle of clear liquid in his right hand.
The rain-battered crowd in canteen couldn’t have been more excited to see Bruce Springsteen himself.
Will crossed the dining room and took the bottle of tuak from Anwar, who strolled to the front of the room, pulled a chair up, turned it around, sat in it, strummed a few random chords on his guitar, and then played the opening bars to and started to sing and play one of those American eighties power ballads whose pop emotions and nonsensical rhymes (“howl” and “plough,” “toad” and “road”) sounded like the most trenchant, soul-defining piece of music when sung or heard while a little bit intoxicated in a foreign country.
Will poured a glass of beer for Anwar and then walked around the room with the bottle of tuak, pouring a large shot in each of his coworkers’ beers. Anwar played the entire song and then segued immediately into the next, a similar rock-classic-turned-karaoke-catnip number.
When song two had finished, Marin had somehow finished both her tea and her tuak boilermaker.
As Anwar drank a sip of his beer and adjusted the tuning on one of his strings, Will started a chant: “N-D! N-D!” O/URC shorthand for Neil Diamond.
Everyone joined in, even Nolan, who couldn’t possibly have known what they were chanting: “N-D! N-D!”
Anwar dropped his head dramatically, arranged the fingers on his left hand into a chord, and started picking out the deceptively tentative beginning to that classic N.D. anthem to no-frills love, Forever in Blue Jeans.
Everyone cheered and clapped, excited to get what they’d asked for. Will said “Yes!” and punched the air with his fist once, and Nolan jumped up and down, hugging himself.
“Money talks...” Anwar sang.
Everyone joined in a few lines later, singing the eponymous words together: “forever in blue jeans...!” Malik sang the synthesizer part—doo doo doo do—at the end of each phrase.
Without any prodding from Will, beer and tuak bottles began circulating around the room, and everyone topped up their own glasses, feeling compelled to match the proportions set during the first round. Linda even poured a little bit of beer in her empty tea cup and sipped at it in between verses. Only Nolan stayed dry.
Nolan passed the bottle of tuak to Marin, who poured two glugs into her beer. She passed the tuak on to Wan.
“This makes me want to learn to play guitar,” Nolan said to Marin.
“I’m sure that Anwar would love to teach you,” Marin said.
“So are you and Dr. St. James, like, dating?” Nolan asked.
Marin smiled, closed her eyes, and shook her head. She said, “Everyone thinks so, and the more we protest the more they think we are. I think that it’s one of those things that looks right on paper, but we’re pretty different.”
“Yeah, you are,” Nolan said.
This hurt Marin. She’d always thought of herself and Will as having a lot in common, but Nolan was right: there wasn’t that much between her and Will except that they both were from North America, were relatively young, were a little bit sarcastic, and knew that he was gay.
“What about you, are you dating anyone?” Marin asked.
Nolan sighed. “I have dating-related drama,” he said. “Kind of a love triangle, and there’s this whole messy immigration component too because the girl, Sandra, is an Indian citizen and she’s almost finished with her Ph.D. in Ireland? So if she doesn’t find a job the only way she can stay in Ireland is to marry her boyfriend?”
“Wow,” Marin said.
“Yeah, and so I was hoping that after coming here I’d just magically get over it and move on, but I think about her all the time,” Nolan said. “She’s just the most incredible...”
“Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” Marin said.
Nolan laughed and shook his head with a hint of disgust. “Maybe you and Dr. St. James aren’t so different after all,” he said.
Marin drank voluptuously from her glass and went out to the porch. The music had suddenly lost its charm and sounded like what it was: an amateur musician with a Malaysian accent covering a song from an album that her father owned in vinyl. The rain had slowed slightly, and Marin could see small birds in the distance flying through it from tree to tree.
Will and I do deserve each other, Marin thought. We both don’t have lives, and are jealous of anybody who does—even if that life involves the pain and bureaucracy of international love triangles.
She finished her drink. She slipped her feet onto the lower rung of the porch railing, each foot just fitting in a gap between the vertical wood posts. She balanced there for a moment, holding onto the smooth ironwood top of the railing with both hands. Then she let go, came back to the ground.
“So I was right!” Will said, stepping onto the porch. He said in a low, but sing-song voice: “Happypants ain’t so happy.”
“How do you know?” Marin said.
“When I asked him where you were he said that he thought he might have depressed you by moaning about the state of his love life, and then he went on to describe said love life in great detail,” Will said.
“Ugh, stop gloating,” Marin said. “Don’t you feel bad now that you said you didn’t like him?”
“I never said that I didn’t like him,” Will said. “I just thought that his happy act was just an act, which it was.”
Will was suspiciously dry: not as in sober, but as in his clothes and hair were no longer wet. Marin grabbed the front of her shirt and felt the right hip of her shorts, and they were cold but she couldn’t gauge their moisture content. The nerves in her fingers had been drained of their sensitivity by the alcohol.
“Are my shorts still damp?” Marin asked, reaching under the bottom hem of the front of her right shorts leg and rubbing it between her fingers and thumb.
“What?” Will said.
“I can’t tell if my shorts are still wet or not,” Marin said.
“Oh my lord, Marin,” Will said, laughing with more than a little admiration. “I never realized what an enormous tease you are.”
“What? I’m not trying to be sexual!” Marin said, laughing. “I just literally can’t tell if my shorts are dry or not.”
“Well, there’s no way for anyone to help you figure that out without molesting you,” Will said.
Marin held out her right hip to him. “Just touch the seam with your ring finger or something,” she said.
“Marin, why do you even need to know?” Will said.
“Because you’re dry, and if I’m still damp, then that means that somehow you dried faster than me and that’s kind of weird, don’t you think?” Marin said. “Come on, just touch it for three seconds. I don’t have cooties.”
Will reached out with his right hand, his ring finger extended and his other fingers locked behind his thumb. As soon as his finger touched Marin’s hip, they both exploded with laughter.
“So was it dry?” Marin said, before breaking out into an even more uncontrollable peal of laughter.
“I have no idea!” Will said.
The moment passed, leaving Marin feeling off-center.
“Hey, we haven’t played Boggle in forever,” she said.
“You want to play?” Will asked.
“It would be kind of fun whilst intoxicated,” Marin said.
“I’m not intoxicated,” Will said.
“Uh-huh,” Marin said.
They smiled at each other for a moment and then put their sandals back on and walked in long strides single-file through the soft mizzle wetting the air to Will’s bungalow. Will unlocked the door and turned on the lights, and Marin realized that she hadn’t been inside his bungalow in a long time. He had moved his dresser to the back wall of the room by the bed and put up framed photographs of his family above his bookshelf: Mom and Dad St. James in skiing gear on some snowy mountaintop; a trés chic black-and-white of Will’s sister smoking and drinking a latte at an outdoor café in front of a thick stack of law books; and Will and his grandparents on a quilt-covered couch in an old-person living room.
Will rummaged through his wardrobe, pulling open and shutting drawers.
“Are you sure that I have the Boggle?” he asked.
“I think so,” Marin said. “Hey, can I change into your Gore-Tex? I’m freezing.”
“Yeah, sure,” Will said. He pulled the jacket off its hanger and tossed it to her.
She turned around and pulled off her tank top, put her arms into the jacket’s huge, long ones and zipped it up to the top. She sat down on the foot of Will’s bed, shook her sandals off onto the ground, and pulled her feet up and under herself.
“Is it in your dresser?” Marin asked.
“I only really put clothes in there, but maybe,” Will said.
Squatting over the bottom drawers of the wardrobe, he looked over his shoulder briefly at the dresser. The unplanned wetting, drying, and partial re-wetting of Will’s hair over the past few hours had only made the beauty of his clean Trojan features that much clearer. And that damn peach shirt.
Will felt stared at. “What?” he said.
“You’re just so darn handsome,” Marin said. “It’s not fair.”
Will turned around. He was kneeling in front of her by the side of the bed and looking at her in a way that she hadn’t been looked at for over a year. “And you’re la plus belle fille,” he said. “It’s crazy, I’ve been so jealous of Nolan all week—I didn’t know... I mean, I know I’ve never...”
He touched Marin’s right hip and leaned the whole steady mass of himself over her. His lips touched hers, and she tasted his small, cold, wet tongue.
Marin leaned backwards, pulled her face from his. She didn’t understand. “Are you—bisexual?” she asked. Her heart beat about twenty times as she looked into his tea-brown eyes and waited for him to answer.
“Who knew?” Will said.
He unzipped the Gore-Tex.
In a dark and directly inaccessible fold of Marin’s brain, among a childhood visit to an amusement park that had ended in a vomited corn dog in a flower bed and a racist epithet from a park attendant, among various lies, betrayals, inconsistencies, and meannesses that Marin herself been liable for throughout the years, was stashed the undeniable fact that she wanted Will, unavailable and impossible a possibility as she’d thought he was to her. She’d known what she hadn’t wanted to know.
Will’s hand slid gently over her breast, and the peach shirt came off, followed closely by Marin’s shorts and underwear. Marin could feel Will’s four-chambered blood-pumper thudding softly in his cobblestone chest, and he kissed her neck. His sweat smelled like pond water, and his stomach was warm. Will’s cargo shorts dropped to the floor, the last sand bag. Will mumbled Marin’s name as he pushed inside her, and it all felt so familiar, like instinct, like dipterocarp bark in the hands of an orangutan, that Marin couldn’t believe that she’d had enough self-control up until this point to keep her mouth and hands off of him.
Marin woke to the sound of Will banging his wardrobe door open. It was morning, and there was some light outside, but it was still early—not later than six-thirty. Will put on his robe and pulled his shower caddy off of a shelf.
“Hey,” she said. She wiped dried eye goo from her eyes with the back of her hand.
Will sat down on the bed beside her. “Morning, Cali,” he said. “I have a hike with Linda in Section C today. You’re going to be in office most of the day, I assume?”
“Assume away,” Marin said.
“Okay, I’ll look for you there then when I get back,” he said.
He closed his eyes and kissed her once on the lips.
Marin waited for him to leave and shut the door behind himself before starting to panic.
She had been so stupid.
Of course Will wasn’t bisexual.
She found her muggy, cheese-smelling clothes on the floor and dressed.
She was almost to her own porch when her cheeks wetted with two tiny saltwater brooks. She hurried onto the porch and could hardly see the key shaking in her hands as she slotted it into the padlock on her door. She closed the door behind her and drew the shades.
She stood there in front of the drawn shades as her face leaked more saltwater and mucus, and she hugged herself. Her body felt foreign to her; she was a changeling unto herself. What the fuck did I do?—she thought, although she remembered every part of it. The hand placed carefully where half an hour before he’d not even wanted to touch a finger. The kiss. His non-answer to her very important question. The most intense orgasm she’d ever had: a year’s worth of sexual tension crashing inside her in gorgeously receding waves. No, no, no, no, no. The wrongness of what had happened lodged itself in the hard wooden throne of her brain and refused to abdicate its position to reality.
At first she thought she’d imagined the scream. She’d gone crazy. It was the sound of her rational mind shutting down and screeching in exodus. However, that scream would have been wordless, animal pain. This scream had words, a grammatically correct sentence even: “HELP! SOMETHING HAPPENED IN O.Q. LAST NIGHT! HELP!” Then names: “WAN! WILL! LINDA! HELP!”
It actually hurt Marin’s feelings that Will had been called by name and not she. She pulled two tissues out from the box on her dresser, blew her nose, and dried her face. She opened her wardrobe, pulled a clean T-shirt off the shelf, and changed into it. She brushed her hair, braided it quickly into pigtails. She left her bungalow, stepping into the fresh, cool morning for the second time that day, numb to the dread that she should have been feeling after that scream, and took a left towards the back path that led to O.Q.
When Marin arrived at the chain link fence of the quarantine cages, Anwar, Daru, Wan, and Nolan were staring ineptly at—the word came to her and didn’t leave, like death itself—corpses, thirty orangutan corpses in cages one, two, three, four, and five: about a fifth of the O/URC’s total population. The corpses of the young girls that she and Will had shooed hurriedly into cages one and two the night before—Gia, Fatima, Thimbe, Gertie, Micah, Joanie, Deirdre, Sammy, Hedda, and Katja—were sprawled out with unaccountable limpness and smallness on the floors of the first two cages, along with the corpses of seven older female apes, including Bea, the orangutan they’d brought back for further rehabilitation after she’d buckled herself into the pilot seat of the helicopter at release a few months ago. Bea’s long, muscular corpse arms were drained of power. Renegade patches of reddish hair were sticking up from the corpses. The thermogenic stink of rotted vertebrate choked the air.
There were balled-up pieces of plastic wrap in the floors of the cages. The O/URC did not ever use plastic wrap. The back door to O.Q. was ajar, and Marin saw that Anwar had the pieces of a sawed-open lock in his hands.
“Oh my god,” Marin said. “You don’t think Jo-Jo...”
“If it was, I’ll fucking kill him,” Anwar said.
“Nobody’s killing anyone,” Wan said. “We’re moving the bodies to med, and Linda will do autopsies so we can find out what happened here last night. Marin, can you go look for Will? He’s not picking up his cellphone, and I need to speak with him.”
“Okay,” Marin said, already thinking about the best way to walk back to camp without running into him. If she timed her text properly, and if he hadn’t already heard about the O.Q. break-in from someone else, she could manage it.
Wan’s phone beeped, and he clicked open a text message. “Okay, no, here he is. He’s coming now,” Wan said. “Okay, new job for you, Marin. Call The Star and The New Straits Times to report this terrible tragedy. Tell them we’ve been fighting with Indo-Oil over land in the rainforest.”