"You can't write about the monkey."
This was the first thing the woman — I'll call her Janet — said to me. This was 10, 12 years ago; I was a reporter, coming to interview her about something totally unrelated to monkeys.
"The monkey is off the record," she said.
The monkey was in a cage just inside the door. It was a spacious cage, big enough for a person to climb inside of. The monkey was smallish and dark. It had pendulous, hairy breasts.
"Why is the monkey off the record?" I asked.
She told me. When she was done, I agreed not to write about the monkey. But I never forgot about it.
Last week, I tracked her down to ask if I could finally tell the story, after all this time.
She said yes. So here it is.
Janet had wanted a monkey for years. "I just think they're awesome creatures," she said. She had a few animals already, "pet-store exotics" — a chinchilla, a few tortoises. She felt that a monkey would be a great addition to the household.
A word about Janet: she's not the kind of person you think of when you think of crazy ladies who adopt monkeys. She loves animals, but she has the temperament of someone who keeps horses. She's a practical, no-nonsense New Englander, the kind of woman who can put up drywall.
So when a friend hooked her up with a monkey breeder in New Hampshire, Janet drove up to check it out. "It's always good to see something face to face before buying one," she said.
The breeder dealt in capuchin monkeys — these are the little guys you see helping out organ grinders and paraplegics. The breeder told her that one of her monkeys was expecting. "Any day now," she told Janet. Janet left a deposit — about $250, a quarter of the price — for a baby monkey.
Then things got a little weird.
A few weeks later, Janet called the breeder to see if the mama monkey had given birth. No, not yet; maybe the breeder had miscalculated. A few more weeks went by, and she called again. Now the monkey had given birth, but the babies were too small to be handled.
The next time she called, the baby monkeys were having a hard time letting go of their mom.
This went on for five or six months.
Finally, the breeder agreed to deliver the baby monkey. She came to Janet's house with a cardboard box.
"She told me the baby was in the box," Janet said.
The baby monkey, the breeder explained, had become attached. She didn't want the baby monkey to see her, the breeder, walking out of its life. It would be too traumatic. It would be best for the baby if Janet didn't open the box until the breeder was gone.
Janet, no fool, told her that she wasn't paying that kind of money until she actually saw the monkey.
The breeder finally agreed to wait in a different room, and left Janet alone with the box.
She took the box into the cage she'd bought for the baby monkey, opened it, and looked inside.