You are ten years unborn on the evening of the day that will soon become known as G-day. I am washing dishes in the kitchen of our newly bought terrace, cleaning the residue of dinner from our finest boot-sale porcelain. I bring two glasses of wine over to the sofa, where your mother is yawning contentedly, and touch my glass gently to hers. The clink sings through the stuffy air.
“Cheers, fellow homeowner,” I say.
Your mother grins, takes a sip of her wine. Then her eyes focus on something behind me. Her glass falls; she screams; I turn to see them for the first time: two hulking things, arms thick as tree trunks, barrel-chested, those beetle-browed primate eyes focused so intensely on us. I shout, curse, push your mother back, my head ringing like the resounding clink of the wine glasses but an alien moment ago.
Soon enough, we find out the gorillas aren’t just there for the two of us. They’re everywhere, following every living person, and they’re here to stay.
Everyone has a different theory about what exactly the gorillas are: outward manifestations of our souls; angels, watching, but forbidden by laws of free-will to interact. According to one TV physicist, the gorillas are higher-dimensional beings that manifest for some reason in our time-space continuum as great apes.
Each person’s gorilla is like a fingerprint. Mine, whom I call Gordon, is a smaller-than-average silverback, with a forehead as dark and cracked as a loaf of over-baked sourdough. Your mother’s, Selene, is a pot-bellied female, with warm caramel-coloured eyes and a white moon-shaped patch above her brow-ridge.
Whatever they are, we soon get used to their perpetual presence, their inscrutable stares. After all, what’s one more form of surveillance in this day and age?
For years, life goes on, our joys and sorrows no less intense for being watched over by the hyper-apes. The tears your mother and I cry over not being able to conceive are no less bitter, the toll of fertility treatments no less destructive, almost but not quite tearing us apart. The joy when we finally see those two blue lines is no less wondrous, and the embrace we share, pressing that pregnancy test between us, is no less an outpour of all our pent-up hopes that everything will surely be all right.
It is a Wednesday in the March of G10 when you come into the world, screaming your woeful head off like any other Wednesday’s child. Your mother and I cannot stop grinning like two mad fools, but our grins fade as the realization seeps through the room, permeating each of us, the nurses, the midwife, in turn. Gordon and Selene are present as always, but a third gorilla, one that should be yours, is nowhere in sight.
They probe your little body as if you’re some thing from another planet, mapping your neural activity, scrutinizing your bio-chemistry. When you’re older, they measure your IQ, ink-blot you until your eyes ache, perform every kind of exam imaginable, hoping to find some glitch in your makeup that will explain why you lack what every other living person has. They find only that you are a sweet, smarter-than-average girl who likes making collages and reading Roald Dahl books. We try to keep prying eyes at bay, but short of locking you indoors, we cannot keep you away from the whispers that follow you wherever you go, your lack of a watcher like a beacon drawing the world’s attention, and its judgement.
When you ask us why you don’t have a gorilla, we give you a plush one instead, and you clutch it to you as if nothing has ever fulfilled you more.
Every day I pray for just one other person to be born without a watcher, but you remain alone, more so with every day that passes. I see it, that swelling loneliness, as you sit by the window clutching Charlie, your toy gorilla, watching everyone walking by accompanied. I see it opening up like a cavern inside of you, and I wonder if you’ll ever feel you belong in this world, and what will happen when that loneliness overcomes you.
It happens on a sunny afternoon in June of G20, the air full of wildflowers and the drone of bees. We’re home-schooling you, but you’re ten now, curious as a naturalist, and curiosity burns so fiercely at your age. When I leave our books to make peanut butter sandwiches, out you go, sneaking like a fox into the field, Charlie, your gorilla, tucked beneath your arm.
What happens next I can only guess. I imagine a crowd, children who have grown up always knowing their gorillas, knowing only that you were a freak for not having one. I see them tearing away Charlie, ripping his head off and laughing as you scream, imagine how intensely you must have yearned to disappear.
And then, in a flash that fried every device for half a mile around, you were gone, leaving behind a tear in the universe, the shape of a scared little girl.
Your mother trawls the news every day, quietly hoping to find an extinction-level disaster—an asteroid hurtling unstoppable towards the Earth, a supervolcano dead set on blowing us all to smithereens, so we’re forced to go through that portal, forced to take that leap into the unknown, into some utopia where we can all live happily ever after, all thanks to you, our misunderstood savior.
Maybe it’s the plan those apes—who, when you disappeared, vanished too—had in mind all along.
Well I say fuck that. Fuck all of it.
I won’t resign your fate to hope and hunches.
Because, you see, there is one thing I do know for sure: that in a world where gorillas can appear out of nowhere and a little girl can will herself out of time and space, I, her father, can sure as hell will her back.