The Astronaut

Assignment: A story told from an animal’s point of view

We often forget that despite our intellect and our grand ambitions and achievements as a species, we are animals, too. Maybe we’ve forgotten on purpose. But why? What are the advantages? Well, we get to pretend that the world we live in is external to us as something to be used, rather than something to be truly be a part of. But, what do we lose in the process?

The use of chimpanzees in the space program by the early 1960s seemed to be a good platform to explore this idea; a creature of the forest shot into space, as far away from his home as it’s possible to be. What does this reveal about humanity and our pursuits to escape our own origins?

***

chimpanzwee

I have dreamed of the green world all my life.

I do not remember being there. But, my family was born there, many tens of thousands of years ago. When I dream, I am with them. When I am awake with the smooth ones, I am alone. I am only a child.

I am surrounded by smooth surfaces here. Everything around me is the same. I do not like it here. I do not like the smooth ones, either. And they do not like me. All but one. He is the one with the shining eyes. I call him that in my mind – Shining Eyes. He calls me by a name that is only mine when I am awake. When I am asleep and I am in the green world with my family, I go by another name. It is my true name.

I wonder if Shining Eyes has a name like that. I wonder if he dreams as I do.

The others have me play games with buttons and lights. When I play wrong, my feet are stung. When I play the games right, I am given special food. It is strange food, but it is sweet. The taste reminds me of another food that I cannot quite remember.  Perhaps it is the taste of longfruit. Yes.

The game of buttons and lights repeats over and over again. I don’t understand these things they want me to do. But, I like the special food, and I do not like when my feet are stung.

I have learned to play the games well.

I am brought back to my sleeping place when the games are over. Shining Eyes smiles at me and he holds my hand. He makes sounds that I like, that remind me of my dreams. Sometimes, I feel that the smooth ones are not so different from me. But, I am afraid for Shining Eyes sometimes. His kind are flat. They must dream hard, flat dreams if they dream at all.

Sometimes, I wish I could bring Shining Eyes into my dream, into the green world with me. We could talk there. We could learn so much from each other there. We could understand each other, finally. And I would not have to play the games of the smooth ones.

But, that is not the way dreams are. I only remember that just as I am falling asleep, and just as I am waking up. Then, it is gone. And I am back to the games that the smooth ones want me to play.

I have learned to play them well.

I eat the special food.

My feet are not stung.

And I dream of the green world for which I yearn, where my name is my own. There I am not alone.

Now Shining Eyes is taking me back to the sleeping place. The sounds he makes are different than the sounds he normally makes.  They are a different color. The warm orange of Shining Eyes’ sounds have turned cold blue instead. He puts me in my sleeping place. He kneels so that I can look back at him. He takes off his shining eyes and looks at me with his eyes that lay underneath. Those eyes are wet. And we are connected in a different way than ever before.

I love Shining Eyes.

I too make the blue sounds, although I don’t know why.

Something has changed.

I sleep again.

I dream of the green world. I dream of it more clearly than I ever have before. Everything is clear. I can hear the voices of my family. They tell me things I need to know.

They tell me of the smooth ones.

Yes, the smooth ones did dream of this place once, just as we do. But, they have forgotten that dream. They have left the dream behind and play their games instead. They play them because they are afraid of the green world. They cannot control it. They think of nothing else but control. That is why they play their games. They have forgotten that they too come from the green world, and that their family calls to them, but are not heard. The noise of the games they play is too great.

I wake from my dream and things are different. I do not see Shining Eyes as I usually do upon waking.

I see the strange smooth ones I have never seen before. They take me away to a place where I have never been before. They cover me in strange bark, like I wore when I played their games. They put me in a place where there were buttons and lights. But, it is not the same place I know. They close me inside of a great fruit husk made of the hard smoothness of their world.

There are voices.  There is movement. There is silence. There is a roar. I see nothing. Then, there is a great pressing down, and I can feel the world tumbling away below me although I cannot see it.

I press the correct button and the light comes on. None of the special food tumbles out of the tube. But, my feet are not stung.  I press all of the right buttons, for even if there is no food, I feel as though there is anyway.  All the lights come on at the right time.

I play the games well, even though I am afraid.

I am yellow with fear. I make the yellow sounds.

I feel far away suddenly.  I feel everything drift away from me. I am more alone than I have ever been.

This is what it must be to be one of the smooth ones.

I feel like I am jumping from one foothold and handhold to another. The one I jump toward seems to be too far away to grasp. Suddenly, it is clear to me that I am dying. I have played the game well. But, the game cannot save me. It has been the wrong game all along. No special food or stinging of my feet can change it.

I begin to fall asleep.

As I do,  I know that the green world is fading out of reach. It is too far away, even for dreaming. And I know that the smooth ones don’t understand what they have done. They can escape the green world alive no more than I can. It is a part of them as much as it is a part of me and my kind. To leave it behind would be to leave life itself behind.  I wish that I could warn them of their mistake. I wish I could tell them. But, I am falling asleep. I feel myself turn blue on the inside until I cannot even make the blue sounds. There is no one to hear me even if I could.  I will die, and they will continue at their games so cleverly, yet so much in ignorance. I remember Shining Eyes and the eyes beneath that are wet.

But, I do not die.

I feel myself fall.

There is a loud noise that does not stop. I feel hot in the husk of bark that the smooth ones had wrapped me in.

Then, the fruit rind made of smoothness that houses me rattles, shifts, and jolts.  I hurt my nose. Then everything stops.

But still, I do not die.

They come for me again and take me out of the fruit rind, and the strange bark they have wrapped me in. They give me longfruit and a new sleeping place. Shining Eyes is not there. But, I take the hand of a smooth one who makes the warm orange sounds as Shining Eyes does.

I am in a new place now. It is an impression of the green world of my dreams. There are real trees here. I swing from branch to branch, listening for the voices of my family tens of thousands of years old.

The branches I reach for are never too far away.

I keep the dream close.

It is all that I have.

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