“You deserted Mother and me,” the woman said, as they watched the baboons huddle together. The sun was high. If the animals heard her accusation, they paid no notice.
“No,” said the old man. “It was the other way around. She took you, left Kansas City, and went back home to New York City. I only ever saw you once after that.”
The male baboon shrieked at his mates and they moved closer to him.
“You could have tried,” she said. “I grew up thinking you didn’t care. Mother said so in so many words.”
“I could have tried,” he answered. “But here is how it was. I visited you once in New York when you were about four. We sat in your grandfather’s living room. Your mother wanted her child support. Your grandfather guarded the door. I knew then she would never let us be close. Do you think that means I deserted you?”
She pushed a wayward strand of hair from her eyes and watched the baboons, thinking.
“They mate for life,” she said, as if she’d missed out on something because her parents hadn’t.
“The truth is your mother and I should never have married. It was during the war and everything happened quickly.”
The heat of the summer day trickled down their necks as they stared at the baboons.
The male had a mane of hair that gave him the look of an Egyptian. The females had buttock areas that were red and swollen, a sign they were ready for lovemaking.
She wondered about the lovemaking of her mother and her father. Having lived with the one and not the other, she was certain who had been the initiator.
“No, you didn’t desert me. I knew how it was. Besides, you were always there because you were not there.”
“Don’t be coy,” he said.
“I’m serious. I never felt deserted, just unacknowledged.”
They wandered away from the baboons, to the right and up a small hill. At the top they stood at the edge of a dry ravine. They squinted into the sun, focusing on an expanse of rocks and trees. In the distance, two giraffes nestled together in the available shade, the baby seeking comfort from its parent.
The woman stopped.
“Mother’s gone now. So is your wife,” she said. “And you found me after all these years. Funny how things turn out.”
She turned half circle, her gaze moving past the giraffes, momentarily catching her father’s eyes as he watched her, and finally coming to rest again on the baboons at the bottom of the hill. He had gone to considerable length to bring the animals and his daughter here.
“I hope you like it,” he said. “It’s the closest I’ve come to peace.”
She put her hand in his and squeezed. Slowly they retraced their steps, down the hill, past the donor plaque with his wife’s name—HOPE—on it. He’d given the donation for the zoo’s baboon exhibit in her memory. And when he’d found his daughter, he invited her to visit, for there is always hope.
Slowly they walked toward the exit, pushed through the turnstile, and headed for the parking lot.