Monky Wonky at the Pleasure Dome
The hour was between four and five, a desperate and hazy time in the Pleasure Dome. Too late to go swimming again, to venture out into the softplay land, or even to trek back to the holiday cottage, a good 15 minutes’ distant, across the windswept plain. Yet also too early to go for dinner, though I noted with concern that the queue at the burger place was already swelling.
In the Pleasure Dome, nothing is as it seems. The trees are plastic, the rocks are fibreglass, and the fun never ends. But in the Pleasure Dome, everything is also precisely as it seems, incessantly, all the time. The lord of this place makes no attempt to trick you. It is all very obvious. If you have been made a fool of, it is because you have fooled yourself.
The hour was between four and five. My children were restless from their exertions in the swimming area. Wave pool, death slide, white water, too deep, almost drowning, stand on tiptoes, taste of chlorine, nothing but bodies, everything so hazy and blue.
“Look,” I said. “It is the Monky Wonky Show.” A stage, perhaps a bit dingy, but parents sitting on benches and children on the floor before them. “And it is starting in just 20 minutes. After it is done, it will be time to eat.”
“OK,” said Finn, who led his little sister down to the front, though not too close to the stage.
“I will stand here and watch,” I called out after them, looking at my phone.
The benches and floor seating began to fill up, as the stated hour approached. Then, with little fanfare but with more grandeur than most could have mustered, Mr Plush stepped onto the stage, enormous gold shoes shining, baseball cap pushed back, just jauntily enough. “I am Mr Plush,” he said, “uncle to all children at the Pleasure Dome.”
The Pleasure Dome is that kind of place.
“We like to begin the Monky Wonky Children’s Show by collecting your dummies. If you want to give your dummy to Monky Wonky, please do so now.” Mr Plush, who is a practitioner of magic, pulled out a tremendous vine of pacifiers, sucked on and enjoyed by perhaps hundreds of children, now disused, sullen and dull, unwanted, discarded, part of Monky Wonky’s hoard. “Please give your dummies to Monky Wonky now.”
And how I had not seen it before, I do not know. Perhaps it was Mr Plush’s artful distraction. But looming behind him was an enormous monkey, fuzzy, long limbed, yet strangely stiff. Monky Wonky. Our host, our benefactor, lord of this place. He held out his hands, palms up, waiting to receive the pacifiers, as Mr Plush pranced about, the court fool, seeking to draw dummies from out the mouths of babes.
None materialised. No tiny hands reached out to touch Monky Wonky’s giant hands, to gift him the emblems of their early childhoods. Perhaps all the children were content to remain babies a bit longer or were already too old for this. Or perhaps Monky Wonky’s authority had begun to wane. He did not speak. He did not look at the children. He just stood there, waiting for that which was his due.
Mr Plush and Monky Wonky retreated wordlessly backstage.
When they returned a few minutes’ later, it was to sing a song. “You can find the words on YouTube,” Mr Plush said. They were accompanied by Monky Girl, who I took to be Monky Wonky’s wife. There was no obvious affection between them. Not once did Monky Wonky reach out his hand to touch hers, or the other way around, no shy glances, no tender monkerly caress. They remained always staring forward, with Mr Plush between them, whether ministrating for them or pulling their strings, I no longer knew.
Although Monky Wonky and Monky Girl appeared to be singing, it seemed to me that their voices came from elsewhere, a faraway place, in the back of my mind, or possibly just from the speakers above our heads. The song proclaimed their dominion over the entire Pleasure Dome, but also that the Pleasure Dome existed for the children. I wondered, really, how Monky Wonky felt about this. Was he a figurehead? Is this what he wanted? Had it been his plan all along to build the Pleasure Dome and then pass it on to the children once they were ready? Once he was no longer needed.
Mr Plush was smiling, always smiling.
The show continued, the songs were sung, the jokes were made, and at last it was time for the children to come up and greet Monky Wonky. Monky Girl went back behind the curtain, while Monky Wonky stood there onstage, not quite alone – for there was Mr Plush and then all the children – but it seemed to me forlorn. He stood looking straight ahead, as ever, a kind of fuzzy nobility, the largest monkey in all the world, reduced to this, in his own Pleasure Dome.
Finally it was the turn of my children. They were near the end. Only one other little girl remained beside them, and what she truly desired, I could not say, for she never did approach Monky Wonky. Mr Plush stood to the side, so as not to appear in the photos or be implicated in the crime.
“Go on up,” I said.
My children went to Monky Wonky. He stretched out his arms. For all that he had sung before, he was silent now. Monky Wonky seemed not to know where to look. His eyes were plastic. My children hugged him from either side. My son smiled for the camera, but my daughter’s face was buried in Monky Wonky’s overalls, which were stitched directly into his fur.
“Look at me, Lena,” I said.
She looked at me. I took a picture.
Monky Wonky looked in my direction, after my voice, but also through me, past the masonry pillars, past the shops and swimming pools and burger places, through the walls of the Pleasure Dome, out beyond the holiday cottages and the little field with the goats, even past the ferry terminal, settling in the cold dark February sea, where he might at last be alone, out of the noise, out of the performance, out of responsibility, though perhaps a bit wet.
“Say goodbye to Monky Wonky,” I said.
The children ran down to me without saying goodbye. Mr Plush departed the stage. Monky Wonky stood there a moment longer, lingering in the spotlights. Then he turned and left.
I never saw Monky Wonky again.
But I often think of him.
* image provided by author