Authors: Pat Murphy
Tags: #Science Fiction
Rachel in Love
By Pat Murphy
Copyright 2012 by Pat Murphy
Cover Copyright 2012 by Ginny Glass
and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold, reproduced or transmitted by any means in any form or given away to other people without specific permission from the author and/or publisher. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Also by Pat Murphy and Untreed Reads Publishing
A Cartographic Analysis of the Dream State
Exploding, Like Fireworks
Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates
Rachel in Love
By Pat Murphy
It is a Sunday morning in summer and a small brown chimpanzee named Rachel sits on the living room floor of a remote ranch house on the edge of the Painted Desert. She is watching a Tarzan movie on television. Her hairy arms are wrapped around her knees and she rocks back and forth with suppressed excitement. She knows that her father would say that she’s too old for such childish amusements—but since Aaron is still sleeping, he can’t chastise her.
On the television, Tarzan has been trapped in a bamboo cage by a band of wicked Pygmies. Rachel is afraid that he won’t escape in time to save Jane from the ivory smugglers who hold her captive. The movie cuts to Jane, who is tied up in the back of a Jeep, and Rachel whimpers softly to herself. She knows better than to howl: she peeked into her father’s bedroom earlier, and he was still in bed. Aaron doesn’t like her to howl when he is sleeping.
When the movie breaks for a commercial, Rachel goes to her father’s room. She is ready for breakfast and she wants him to get up. She tiptoes to the bed to see if he is awake.
His eyes are open and he is staring at nothing. His face is pale and his lips are a purplish color. Dr. Aaron Jacobs, the man Rachel calls father, is not asleep. He is dead, having died in the night of a heart attack.
When Rachel shakes him, his head rocks back and forth in time with her shaking, but his eyes do not blink and he does not breathe. She places his hand on her head, nudging him so that he will waken and stroke her. He does not move. When she leans toward him, his hand falls limply to dangle over the edge of the bed.
In the breeze from the open bedroom window, the fine wisps of gray hair that he had carefully combed over his bald spot each morning shift and flutter, exposing the naked scalp. In the other room, elephants trumpet as they stampede across the jungle to rescue Tarzan. Rachel whimpers softly, but her father does not move.
Rachel backs away from her father’s body. In the living room, Tarzan is swinging across the jungle on vines, going to save Jane. Rachel ignores the television. She prowls through the house as if searching for comfort—stepping into her own small bedroom, wandering through her father’s laboratory. From the cages that line the walls, white rats stare at her with hot red eyes. A rabbit hops across its cage, making a series of slow dull thumps, like a feather pillow tumbling down a flight of stairs.
She thinks that perhaps she made a mistake. Perhaps her father is just sleeping. She returns to the bedroom, but nothing has changed. Her father lies open-eyed on the bed. For a long time, she huddles beside his body, clinging to his hand.
He is the only person she has ever known. He is her father, her teacher, her friend. She cannot leave him alone.
The afternoon sun blazes through the window, and still Aaron does not move. The room grows dark, but Rachel does not turn on the lights. She is waiting for Aaron to wake up. When the moon rises, its silver light shines through the window to cast a bright rectangle on the far wall.
Outside, somewhere in the barren rocky land surrounding the ranch house, a coyote lifts its head to the rising moon and wails, a thin sound that is as lonely as a train whistling through an abandoned station. Rachel joins in with a desolate howl of loneliness and grief. Aaron lies still and Rachel knows that he is dead.
* * *
When Rachel was younger, she had a favorite bedtime story.—Where did I come from? she would ask Aaron, using the gestures of ASL, American Sign Language.—Tell me again.
“You’re too old for bedtime stories,” Aaron would say.
Please, she signed.—Tell me the story.
In the end, he always relented and told her. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Rachel,” he said. “She was a pretty girl, with long golden hair like a princess in a fairy tale. She lived with her father and her mother and they were all very happy.”
Rachel would snuggle contentedly beneath her blankets. The story, like any good fairy tale, had elements of tragedy. In the story, Rachel’s father worked at a university, studying the workings of the brain and charting the electric fields that the nervous impulses of an active brain produced. But the other researchers at the university didn’t understand Rachel’s father; they distrusted his research and cut off his funding. (During this portion of the story, Aaron’s voice took on a bitter edge.) So he left the university and took his wife and daughter to the desert, where he could work in peace.
He continued his research and determined that each individual brain produced its own unique pattern of fields, as characteristic as a fingerprint. (Rachel found this part of the story quite dull, but Aaron insisted on including it.) The shape of this “Electric Mind,” as he called it, was determined by habitual patterns of thoughts and emotions. Record the Electric Mind, he postulated, and you could capture an individual’s personality.
Then one sunny day, the doctor’s wife and beautiful daughter went for a drive. A truck barreling down a winding cliffside road lost its brakes and met the car head-on, killing both the girl and her mother. (Rachel clung to Aaron’s hand during this part of the story, frightened by the sudden evil twist of fortune.)
But though Rachel’s body had died, all was not lost. In his desert lab, the doctor had recorded the electrical patterns produced by his daughter’s brain. The doctor had been experimenting with the use of external magnetic fields to impose the patterns from one animal onto the brain of another. From an animal supply house, he obtained a young chimpanzee. He used a mixture of norepinephrin-based transmitter substances to boost the speed of neural processing in the chimp’s brain, and then he imposed the pattern of his daughter’s mind upon the brain of this young chimp, combining the two after his own fashion, saving his daughter in his own way. In the chimp’s brain was all that remained of Rachel Jacobs.
The doctor named the chimp Rachel and raised her as his own daughter. Since the limitations of the chimpanzee larynx made speech very difficult, he instructed her in ASL. He taught her to read and to write. They were good friends, the best of companions.
By this point in the story, Rachel was usually asleep. But it didn’t matter—she knew the ending. The doctor, whose name was Aaron Jacobs, and the chimp named Rachel lived happily ever after.
Rachel likes fairy tales and she likes happy endings. She has the mind of a teenage girl, but the innocent heart of a young chimp.
* * *
Sometimes, when Rachel looks at her gnarled brown fingers, they seem alien, wrong, out of place. She remembers having small, pale, delicate hands. Memories lie upon memories, layers upon layers, like the sedimentary rocks of the desert buttes.
Rachel remembers a blonde-haired fair-skinned woman who smelled sweetly of perfume. On a Halloween long ago, this woman (who was, in these memories, Rachel’s mother) painted Rachel’s fingernails bright red because Rachel was dressed as a gypsy and gypsies liked red. Rachel remembers the woman’s hands: white hands with faintly blue veins hidden just beneath the skin, neatly clipped nails painted rose pink.
But Rachel also remembers another mother and another time. Her mother was dark and hairy and smelled sweetly of overripe fruit. She and Rachel lived in a wire cage in a room filled with chimps and she hugged Rachel to her hairy breast whenever any people came into the room. Rachel’s mother groomed Rachel constantly, picking delicately through her fur in search of fleas that she never found.
Memories upon memories: jumbled and confused, like random pictures clipped from magazines, a bright collage that makes no sense. Rachel remembers cages: cold wire mesh beneath her feet, the smell of fear around her. A man in a white lab coat took her from the arms of her hairy mother and pricked her with needles. She could hear her mother howling, but she could not escape from the man.
Rachel remembers a junior high school dance where she wore a new dress: she stood in a dark corner of the gym for hours, pretending to admire the crepe paper decorations because she felt too shy to search among the crowd for her friends.
She remembers when she was a young chimp: she huddled with five other adolescent chimps in the stuffy freight compartment of a train, frightened by the alien smells and sounds.
She remembers gym class: gray lockers and ugly gym suits that revealed her skinny legs. The teacher made everyone play softball, even Rachel who was unathletic and painfully shy. Rachel at bat, standing at the plate, was terrified to be the center of attention. “Easy out,” said the catcher, a hard-edged girl who ran with the wrong crowd and always smelled of cigarette smoke. When Rachel swung at the ball and missed, the outfielders filled the air with malicious laughter.
Rachel’s memories are as delicate and elusive as the dusty moths and butterflies that dance among the rabbit brush and sage. Memories of her girlhood never linger; they land for an instant, then take flight, leaving Rachel feeling abandoned and alone.
* * *
Rachel leaves Aaron’s body where it is, but closes his eyes and pulls the sheet up over his head. She does not know what else to do. Each day she waters the garden and picks some greens for the rabbits. Each day, she cares for the rats and the rabbits, bringing them food and refilling their water bottles. The weather is cool, and Aaron’s body does not smell too bad, though by the end of the week, a wide line of ants runs from the bed to the open window.
At the end of the first week, on a moonlit evening, Rachel decides to let the animals go free. She releases the rabbits one by one, climbing on a stepladder to reach down into the cage and lift each placid bunny out. She carries each one to the back door, holding it for a moment and stroking the soft warm fur. Then she sets the animal down and nudges it in the direction of the green grass that grows around the perimeter of the fenced garden.
The rats are more difficult to deal with. She manages to wrestle the large rat cage off the shelf, but it is heavier than she thought it would be. Though she slows its fall, it lands on the floor with a crash and the rats scurry to and fro within. She shoves the cage across the linoleum floor, sliding it down the hall, over the doorsill, and onto the back patio. When she opens the cage door, rats burst out like popcorn from a popper, white in the moonlight and dashing in all directions.
* * *
Once, while Aaron was taking a nap, Rachel walked along the dirt track that led to the main highway. She hadn’t planned on going far. She just wanted to see what the highway looked like, maybe hide near the mailbox and watch a car drive past. She was curious about the outside world and her fleeting fragmentary memories did not satisfy that curiosity.
She was halfway to the mailbox when Aaron came roaring up in his old Jeep. “Get in the car,” he shouted at her. “Right now!” Rachel had never seen him so angry. She cowered in the Jeep’s passenger seat, covered with dust from the road, unhappy that Aaron was so upset. He didn’t speak until they got back to the ranch house, and then he spoke in a low voice, filled with bitterness and suppressed rage.
“You don’t want to go out there,” he said. “You wouldn’t like it out there. The world is filled with petty, narrow-minded, stupid people. They wouldn’t understand you. And anyone they don’t understand, they want to hurt. They hate anyone who’s different. If they know that you’re different, they punish you, hurt you. They’d lock you up and never let you go.”