“The Quest” by Ken Poyner


I now use electric shears.  I have a set of various sizes, bends of scissor, length of blade. All are rechargeable cordless models. I have both a home recharger and one that plugs into the car AC outlet.  The problem with the car charger is that you have to charge one set of shears at a time, and often you just cannot get all the ones you think you will need done when you need them.  You have to predict what series of shears you are most likely to use, what conditions you think you might most likely find in the wild.

But it is better than when I had to use manual clippers.  More awkward, more time consuming. I don’t know how I ever got a monkey shaved.  But I did. I got so many monkeys shaved that one day I lost count. I held one monkey nearly shaved and thought to myself, this will be … will be ….   I realized I could not remember how many had come before, could no longer fathom the simple mathematics of my conquests.

I am faster now with the power clippers, but before the upgrade I was fast, too.  The longer it would take, the more likely the monkey would squirm away, the animal would land a solid punch or bite, or I would be caught.   Speed has always been prized. I’ve heard the wardens thrashing through the brush, certain they were going to slap cuffs on me and send one more monkey shaver to be fined and his shears confiscated – but, by the time they made the clearing or game path, where the monkey hair was spread all around like the leavings of a celebration, all they would find is a newly shaved monkey.

I’ve changed my method since the electricity was introduced.  I start now at the head, work down the back. Used to, I would always use a harness to keep the animal from biting me; but now, while I use the harness with most shavings, quite a few I can whip through with dexterity alone, abandoning the harness to harvest more speed.

The object, of course, is not always the cleanest of shaves.  So what if there is a tuft left here or a tuft left there? Sometimes you get down to the skin, sometimes there is a half inch of fur left.  The wardens getting close, or even a particularly unruly monkey, can cause you to speed up, to rush the process as much as you can. Nick a monkey good and proper, and his or her resistance goes up several notches, you had better hope you had used the harness and that it holds.  I’ve nearly lost a finger to an angry monkey, been kicked so hard I thought some of my ribs had been displaced.

But it is worth it.  Worth the near misses of the wardens.  Worth the ire of an uncontrollable, incensed monkey before or after the indignity of shaving.  Worth the small injuries, the long road trips, the treks through the brush, the hubris of the jungle.  Worth learning which shear is best to use on what species of monkey, what combinations of blades are properly combined for rough and detail work, worth learning the delicate angles of restraint.

It is all for the enlightening result:  that newly shaved monkey, howling, picking at the hair left, the look of unknowing in its eyes slowly becoming the shielded look of an animal that understands that it has been mastered, utterly mastered in a way beyond its widest understanding.  Some men might capture or hunt or cage, but the animal understands that. The wardens understand that. But we monkey shavers, we ask for more out of our efforts, more out of our lives. We look for the dull disbelief, the lost connections, the rootless alienation.  In our wake, we leave both men and monkeys completely perplexed, mysteriously astounded. It gives us that precious visceral, almost sacred, understanding of our overlord achievement: a shaved monkey racing away, and our strange dominance is again for a while undeniable.


Ken’s collections of short fiction, “Constant Animals” and “Avenging Cartography”, and his latest collections of speculative poetry, “Victims of a Failed Civics” and “The Book of Robot”, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, www.barkingmoosepress.com, as well as Amazon and most on-line book outlets.  He serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs, where she continues to set world raw powerlifting records.  His poetry lately has been sunning in “Analog”, “Asimov’s”, “Poet Lore”; and his fiction has yowled in “Spank the Carp”, “Red Truck”, “Café Irreal”.  New books annoying potential publishers:  “Gravity’s Children”, speculative poetry; “The Revenge of the House Hurlers”, brief fiction. www.kpoyner.com.

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