The Gorilla in the Room by Maggie Nerz Iribarne
Updated: Sep 17
When the gorilla arrived at the front door the last thing Edna expected was this desperate hollow feeling inside. She lived day to day with a steady hum of depression, but this hollowness was a pit dipping deep down to her soul. Maybe it was the forced feeling of this party she was cornered into hosting. Maybe it was the gorilla’s silence, its blank eyes and lack of expression, that triggered the emptiness.
The gorilla appeared in the foyer and everyone stopped talking for a moment. In the pause Edna spoke.
“Hi,” she laughed a little. “Can I help you?”
The gorilla tilted its head, hunched, its fingertips grazing the floor, made its way into the living room, the crowd opening to accept it before laughter and conversation resurged. It groped its way around, examining knickknacks and rooting out a cheese and cracker tray. Edna noticed the melting ice bucket, spied Del chatting away, ignoring his husband duties, as usual.
“Del, who is this gorilla person?“ she said, wishing she’d put on her lipstick. She straightened her cardigan.
“Just someone being funny,” he said, smiling, always smiling, talking to that Missy Wagner. Edna followed the gorilla’s trail. She felt the darkness at the windows pushing in, a kind of pressure in her ears, as though cotton had been stuffed inside.
The Gorilla stood at the bottom of the stairs. It turned, its dull expression meeting Edna’s. She wanted to scream out, say, “Stop him! Get this weirdo out of my house!” She knew if she did, Del would give her the Edna didn’t take her pills look. Concerned the gorilla might disturb Lillis, Edna hurried urgently through the sea of partiers, following the sturdy animal as it trudged step by step, up, up. In the master bedroom, it mooched its way around in a similar style as before, touching things, opening doors and small boxes, turning every so often to glance Edna’s way. She caught sight of her packed duffle bag at the edge of the closet, ready, always ready. On cue, the gorilla moved to the spot, picked it up to examine.
“Put that down!” she seethed. The gorilla dropped the bag and moved to Del’s side of the bed, a place Edna never ventured. The gorilla bent and pulled at Del’s nightstand with its clumsy gorilla hands, the lamp wobbled and crashed to the floor.
“Stop!” Edna said, “Enough!”
When the gorilla arrived at the front door the last thing Del expected to feel was courage. Who does that? Del asked himself, watching the gorilla enter, move about the room, taking what he wanted, ignoring everyone. Typical Edna, following him around like a nervous dog with a scent. Nothing new there, Del thought, his wife, stuck in her own little bubble of worry. He disliked this party, all parties, this woman whose name he couldn’t recall standing in front of him talking about composting.
He watched Edna and the gorilla disappear up the stairwell, relieved she would at least check on Lillis. Edna can do it, he thought, she wants to be in charge of everything. Del allowed himself to exhale, held up a finger to interrupt the woman’s steady verbal stream.
“Excuse me,” he said. His thin body moved through the crowd. He entered his study, closed the door.
All the moments leading up to now played in his mind: his lonely childhood, his quiet, suffocating marriage, the terrifying birth and care of now 10-year-old Lillis. He pictured himself spooning orange mush into his daughter. When he finished, wiping her cheeks and saying, “Good girl,” she made a small gagging sound and spit it all up in one burp. This prompted Edna to rush over with her towel, “You fed her too quickly. You can’t do anything right, Del.”
He sat down at his desk, opened the drawer, removed the letter from its envelope, read it once more. When he finished, he dug deeper in the drawer, reached for his Rosary beads, made the sign of the cross, knelt down on the floor, began to pray.
When the gorilla arrived in her bedroom the last thing Lillis expected to find were words. The door whined open, causing a slit of light to stream onto her bed. Two flat yellow eyes floated around in the darkness. She was not frightened. She’d been more afraid of the party sound beneath, the din of endless adult conversation, their sharp squeals, deep chuckles. Under the blanket, her hand gripped her black voice box, the device she used to make words, but she refrained from using it. She could hear the gorilla’s breath, its thuds as it investigated the room. The Gorilla pulled back the drapes, opened the window. From her bed, Lillis could see an abundance of stars lighting up the fall sky. She beheld the full moon. She wondered vaguely about her parents’ whereabouts, not really caring. She didn’t want their worried faces spoiling this.
The weight of the gorilla strained her bed springs as it sat down. Lillis’ breath remained steady as she laid there, feeling the heat from its large body. It sat peacefully, looking around, clumsy hands laying in its big lap. Lillis’ eyes scanned her room, seeing all the shadowed parts of it as though for the first time. A baby’s room, despite her ten years of age - pictures of herself with Mom and Dad, a diaper genie, the slight smell of excrement. Her Dressy Bessy, the doll her mother loved so much, meant to help Lillis practice buttoning and zipping and tying, sat in the corner chair. Its perpetually cheery eyes caused Lillis’ smile to fade. The gorilla stood and tossed the doll to the closet. Then, it sat again on the bed, took Lillis’ hand, held it gently. Lillis propped herself up a little, thought she might be sick but instead found the words that had been lodged in her throat her entire life.
Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 52, living her writing dream in a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. She writes about teenagers, witches, the very old, bats, cats, priests/nuns, cleaning ladies, runaways, struggling teachers, and neighborhood ghosts, among many other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work athttps://www.maggienerziribarne.com.