Martyr Ape

Will Dunlap

He looks the part, hunched there in the cab of the truck he drives daily. A mail truck, the driver seated where the passenger should be. In England all cars are made like this. Of this Bungaboo Kana is certain, though not for any experience of his own. It is something he heard once and remembered, like a cure for the hiccups, or a recipe for buttered yams. An ape, he has never had the hiccups, and his tastes do not extend to yams, buttered or not. But the truck with its peculiar seating appeals to him. He leaves town under a cloudless sky. On a day like this, he thinks, it is good to be English.

Bungaboo Kana switches on the radio. A station plays classical music, a symphony by Mozart. He turns the volume up, glad for the sound. He is not alone when Mozart is with him. This is merely a feeling, an instinct, yet the same cannot not be said for Bach; he cannot help but find Bach unnerving. To hear Bach is to hear the world in its entirety, arranged and rearranged with every passing moment. Listening to Bach he feels there is nothing he can know which Bach does not. Not so with Mozart, whose pleasing sounds, brilliantly complex as they may be, do not subsume him.

Bungaboo Kana cannot know the story his life will inspire, cannot see out of that hot cab filled with sound to the well-lit stage where Richard Dreyfuss will accept an Academy Award for his portrayal of a big-hearted ape mailman. Well into his acceptance speech, midway through the thank-yous, Dreyfuss trails off from the words he has so carefully prepared. Something has filled him, something of the inner-quiet he associates with sadness. Yet, it is not sadness he feels but a sensation of clarity, of looking over the side of a small boat into clear, deep water. He cannot help but conjure up the film’s opening shot: a haze of heat and dust, an unpaved county road. Then the truck, its interior. The ape, in uniform, bent there at the wheel, Mozart blaring from the speakers. Whatever others may say, it is his favorite scene, this simple portrait, before the story has even begun.

About the Work

Will Dunlap

Will Dunlap grew up in Indiana, studied music at the University of Michigan, and spent three years as a fellow at the James A. Michener Center for Writers. His work has received the Keene Prize for Literature, appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and was chosen for inclusion on a program of “Arts and Letters Live” at the Dallas Museum of Art. A devotee of historical fiction, he recently set aside his long-suffering Civil War-era novel to complete a libretto for American composer William Cooper. The opera, Hagar and Ishmael, premieres in November, 2012.

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