Let us picture, for a moment, down a few houses in a certain ethnic neighborhood, an old man - a hurdy-gurdy grinder and the monkey that comes as part of the package.

The music produced by churning the crank in the side is lopsided and wheezy in the more frivolous higher registers, like a travelling circus going uphill and out of breath. It spirals and unwinds like a drop of petroleum diluting rainbow in a puddle on black asphalt.

The old man is quite typical, quite nondescript. Battered hat, grey moustache, slightly stained shirt. It is the monkey that holds both's share of description. Truly a mangy beast; all bones, fur, teeth, fleas, wizened prehensile appendages and even more wizened eyes, hinting at a wisdom held within in utter contradiction of its every action.

It wears a bellhop costume, perhaps the most contradictory part of the whole affair because it is so damned sharp; there's enough burnished brass on it to keep a murder of kleptomaniac crows interested far after the corpse would cease to ressemble anything more than something that could (and should) be subjected to a strict and severe dry-cleaning to remove its remains from that still-damned-snappy outfit. (In truth, the jacket might not be all THAT good, but its relatively immaculate condition compared to that of the monkey made the dichotomy all the more apparent.)

The monkey spends most of his time dancing, urinating or masturbating, with a special emphasis stressed on those last two. During his spare time, which is often, since the old man is prey to sloth and lethargy in the duties dictated and demanded by the hurdy-gurdy, which would play only for sporadic bursts of five minutes at a time unless it was not being watched, in which event its soft strains would penetrate plaster, glass and brick for hours at a time; during the monkey's spare time it roots around in dumpsters and potted plants for his favorite treats; ju-jubes, fish heads, radishes, used prophylactics, fish heads, soggy cabbage, fish heads, pigeon eggs, small rats and fish heads.

The first few times I passed this pair, I put some money in the monkey's tin cup, but the peculiar sound of the coin hitting what was inside made me reconsider my actions. The cup was always half-full of broken glass and cracked dice, generously given no doubt by reformed gamblers and those suddenly healed of cataracts; it was against those that my coin made the sound that bothered, and I resolved never to put anything so literal in again.

Coming down the stairs at an indeterminate hour of the morning today I came upon them. This was not unusual. Because I was so used to their surreal presence, I didn't feel awkward about sitting at the bus stop bench in front of the pair, so often deserted,and letting my mind trip the simple repetition of the hurdy-gurdy's simple melody and rhythm. But this time something was different.

    "You no looka so good, son. Whassa da matta?"
I sat for a further minute, lost in the tuneless tune, before opening my eyes and turning around to face the speaker. I say "speaker" in such oblique terms because, although I did not have any good reasons to believe that the monkey had addressed me, likewise did I have no good reason to think it was the old man. He had never spoken to me before, and I'd always entertained the notion that he was mute. Not neccessarily deaf, though the music of the hurdy-gurdy might make more sense that way, but the combination of his silence and his age had led me to consider him as either incapable or reluctant to speak. Either he could not or would not.

He took my silence in stride, cleared his throat, and repeated himself.

    "You no looka so good, son. Whassa da matta?"
I watched his lips move with the sounds, and regardless, the monkey couldn't have spoken - his mouth was full of fish head, an eye winking out while he fiddled his little monkey diddle. It looked at me, and I was uncomfortable. This uneasiness was compounded when I realized that the fish eye was also looking at me.

Despite being ill at ease, I replied. Perhaps I was simply being honest, or maybe I thought that the man's age and experience could lend some advice, if not neccessarily wisdom, to my current predicament.

    "I gave my heart (oo'er!) to a woman, whose was already pledged to another man!" (alas! alack! woe is me! went the studio audience in my head.)
He looked pensive for a minute while the monkey finished up, then started up the music and replied.
    "Issa universal problem. Why, in my youth I myself once gave my own heart to a girl who gave her own to a man with no heart! Through hers he was able to live and she through the donation of mine; I had no heart left to allow my own continued existence."
I was surprised how he had lost his accent so completely after not talking for years and years, but I paid little attention to his words. He went on.
    "Now, you may have remarked that I am here before you. This is only due to the benefit of surgery. They gave me a baboon heart, no, I see your raised eyebrows, look - "
He unbuttoned his shirt and indicated a scar running across his chest.
    "But you see, my body rejected it. There were too many incompatibilities in the comparitive anatomy. So they had, you see, they had to find a heart I was more familiar, more friendly with. So, I recieved the heart of my dancing monkey. This - I know you cannot believe, so look..."
He unbuttoned the vest of the dancing monkey and indicated a similar scar across its little monkey chest.
    "You mighta noticed I don't move around so much. Well, a monkey's heart is mighty small - it can't pump blood so good in someone my size so I can't do much more than turn the crank of this hurdy-gurdy."
He gave the crank a little extra twirl and flourish to emphasize his point. The monkey jumped up in the air and picked at his fur, grooming mindlessly.
    "My monkey - he got the heart of the baboon. That pumpa whole lotta blood more than a llittle wee bitty monkey heart, which is why he move around a whole lot. He's REAL strong, too. Here, lemme show you."
I don't know why I allowed the man to guide my pointer finger into the monkey's grasping hand, especially considering that I knew where its hands had been, but when its spidery little digits wapped around mine and squeezed, I instantly lost any and all incredulity I might have had in the old man's story.

I just sat own in dumb silence and stared at my swollen finger, that offending digit, for what must have been at least fifteen minutes. His point proven, the old man smiled smugly to himself, said nothing more, and ground the organ with renewed vigour.

My mouth had been steadily dropping and I like to think that I was about to utter something either profound or profane (I wasn't too sure which) when my bus pulled up.

Back in the real world, I got on the bus, paid my fare, and sat down. Still, as the blocks wore onward, I stared at the finger continually, and thought perhaps that I should acquire a hurdy-gurdy of my own, complete with a dancing...


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