Great Grandmother Gorilla

Randall D. Brown

The Pre-K teacher—or maybe it was a video, a book, Rugrats Gone Wild—taught Raven—Ray as we call her—that we “came from gorillas.” At around the same time, my wife explained where babies come from, simply saying “a penis goes into a vagina.” These two ideas merged when, from the backseat of the Sienna minivan, Ray said, “Dad, my great-grandfather must have put his penis in a gorilla.”

He might have. Who knows? After two generations, you disappear from the world, so Ray knows her grandfather but any great relative—an aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother—all gone. In Ray’s mind, the family tree has bananas hanging from it, a gorilla shaking its booty at her great-grandfather, flashing purple, pink.

How, I wonder does Ray picture this meeting of great-grandfather and gorilla. I picture her great-grandfather swinging down from his house in the jungle canvas, a banana bouquet in his hand, slicking his hair back with spit, holding the bananas out. Ray’s great-grandmother snatches them, pops them into her mouth by pushing the bananas from the bottom.

What a girl, what a gorilla, her great-grandfather whispers.

She sizes him up, thinks him not gorilla enough for her, wonders how he’ll provide anything, this thing made of sticks and skin. A doll, perhaps, she would think, if she knew such a word. His sweetness, his fruity smell, his berry-red cheeks all win her over. They shag right there in the trees, among the loud cries of toucans. He beats his chest afterwards and she thinks him ever so sweet, for at least trying to be the gorilla of her dreams.

In Ray’s evolutionary tale, her great-grandparents are the banana of each other’s eye. She only got the fruit wrong.

Ray’s great-grandfather, Edward Bell Simpson, met her great-grandmother Lucille Marie Rainey when he walked his applecart through the dust of the Depression and knocked on her door. He stood on the uneven slats of her porch, rubbed the apple on his shirt, and who should sashay to the door but this red-headed, freckled, pig-tailed gal. She opened the screen, reached for the apple, bounced it three, four, a dozen times before turning back around. The flowers on her skirt flip flopped, swayed back, forth. He opened the screen door, peeked down the hall, saw the kitchen covered in flour, the dough for crust spread out among the sliced apples. The breeze from the window flicked her skirt, here, there. The screen door shut with a slam, smacked against the frame, over and over it banged, as Ray’s great-grandfather Edward Simpson entered that floury kitchen for a slice of Lucy Rainey’s apple pie.

Randall has fiction appearing or forthcoming in several journals and has recently begun Vermont College’s MFA in Fiction Writing program. He lives outside of Philadelphia with his wife Meg, a cabaret singer, and their two children, Jonah and Chloe. He’s currently working on a short story collection. E-mail: boscovbrown[at]

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