Mammals are sociable. They establish hierarchies in order to ensure their survival. A more complex social organization is typical of mammals with higher brain function. Gorillas, dolphins and chimpanzees all exhibit traits that can be likened to homo sapiens behaviour. They are, however, not Sapiens. Anthropologists and Zoologists painstakingly try to document the link. Does this influence their research results? Some would argue yes. This anomaly is called anthropomorphism. The attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to an animal or object. They say that the dog looks sad. It is a dog. It is not capable of being either happy or sad. The dog is a pack animal and understands how to behave in its pack. If that means wagging its tail and sitting to get a treat, then that’s what it will do. It is no philosopher. Society is ordered.
She had taken the time to program the Nespresso machine. The Venti button produced a double espresso. The multi-colored aluminium coffee pods were neatly arranged by strength and then by origin. Origin! Devil woman. I knew that she didn’t drink coffee. Everything was manicured. The serviettes matched the tablecloth and the crockery, and as I sat sipping, I had a passing thought that she may very well colour coordinate the food. For Instagram. It didn’t make the coffee taste any worse, its bitterness was appropriate. The kitchen faced the canals so that, through the large bay window, the early morning light gently irradiated each surface. In a few minutes the guests would begin to come downstairs and be served fruit salad with chia seeds and goji berries, or whatever the latest health fad dictated. I should poison the paw-paw. It would be healthier than clinging to the resentment. I had not prepared for my displacement from the social hierarchy that was so obvious within the house. I felt like a teenager at a house party that my cousin insistently dragged me too. It’s for your own good she would say. Sitting alone in the kitchen. Waiting to be invited to speak about the topic du jour, probably this cursed virus on which everyone was now an expert.
Snow leopards live in the mountains of the Himalayas. They are a pinnacle predator and easily hunt prey three times their size and weight. They are solitary creatures. They hunt and live on their own throughout their lives, only coming together to mate. Males and females will mate and stay together briefly before the male leaves without caring for the cubs. The cubs stay with the mother for about 18 months before leaving for their own solitary life.
Another solitary animal is the Hawaiian monk seal which is native only to the waters of Hawaii where they live and hunt alone. They may live in close proximity to other monk seals, but not close enough to form groups, make contact or interact in any way.
It was her fourth marriage. I considered this. How one would cope with the repetitive implosion of such an intimate and fundamental relationship. I considered that she had never birthed children and that in the years that I had known her, I had never seen even one message of love or fond wishes for Christmas, or for her birthday, from any of her numerous stepchildren. It was no surprise. Empathy cannot be falsified. You need to commit to experiencing the raw emotion. To taste it. To feel its weight. To let it bond to you, like a skin. Why did I need to do it? For a moment I could touch her pain. I could feel the insecurity and vulnerability. The need to curate. The fear that husband number four would figure out what husbands one, two and three had already. In that moment I saw her clearly. The opaque screen did not fall away, the figure behind it just became clear in her obscurity. The wages of sin are death, but the wages of intimacy are loss. I caught her seeing me, see her, clearly. It was an error.
Gray wolf couples, an alpha male and female, pair for life. They lead a pack of anywhere between 10 and 36 members. It is only this duo that breed during breeding season, and they only breed with each other. They only mate once per year and give birth to between 5 and 8 pups. The rest of the pack isn’t allowed to mate, and all of the wolves help to raise and care for the wolf pups when they are born.
It was subtle, at first, and then overt. The debt always falls due. Seats were rearranged at dinner, proximity to the hosts paired on the cooling relations. An invitation to join the sunset cruise did not find its way to our room. She preferred not to exist outside of the world that she could not control. A life lived in vignettes. What life? It is an arrogant thought, given that it presumes the existence of an alternative. Trust is risk. Risk invites pain. More pain. Humans reach their pain threshold much too easily. They find themselves estranged before they have the opportunity to become familiar. Perhaps for the best?
It is said that a Swan’s love for its partner is so deep that they mate for life. They are creatures of myth that only sing when they are dying. In reality swans often do stay with their partners for life. This loyalty is a strategy for maximizing the number of cygnets that they can raise. They defend their young with extreme prejudice. They remate if their partner dies.
The card arrived sometime after we had returned to our lives. The liquid sunrises and effervescent botanical drinks had faded into memory, perhaps only an illusion. It was written beautifully and said: “I do trust that you are well and that the past few weeks have offered you time and space to reflect, to heal and to find some island time for much needed emotional and spiritual restoration.”