Rachel in Love by Pat Murphy



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Winner of the 1987 Nebula Award!

Rachel has the mind of a teenage girl, but the body and the innocent heart of a young chimp. Sometimes when she looks at her gnarled brown fingers, they seem alien, wrong, out of place. She remembers having small, pale, delicate hands with painted fingernails. Memories lie upon memories, layers upon layers, like the sedimentary rocks of the desert buttes.

Aaron Jacobs, the man Rachel calls father, was a neurologist who discovered how to capture the electrical pattern of a living brainís thoughts and memories. When his daughter died unexpectedly, the grieving father imposed the electrical pattern of the girlís brain on a young chimp, creating Rachel, a chimp he recognizes as his daughter.

Rachel knows that she is a real girl Ė but when Aaron Jacobs dies, she must make her way in a world that treats her as nothing but an animal.

Excerpt:

It is a Sunday morning in summer and a small brown chimpanzee named Rachel sits on the living room floor of a remote ranch house on the edge of the Painted Desert. She is watching a Tarzan movie on television. Her hairy arms are wrapped around her knees and she rocks back and forth with suppressed excitement. She knows that her father would say that sheís too old for such childish amusementsóbut since Aaron is still sleeping, he canít chastise her.

On the television, Tarzan has been trapped in a bamboo cage by a band of wicked Pygmies. Rachel is afraid that he wonít escape in time to save Jane from the ivory smugglers who hold her captive. The movie cuts to Jane, who is tied up in the back of a Jeep, and Rachel whimpers softly to herself. She knows better than to howl: she peeked into her fatherís bedroom earlier, and he was still in bed. Aaron doesnít like her to howl when he is sleeping.

When the movie breaks for a commercial, Rachel goes to her fatherís room. She is ready for breakfast and she wants him to get up. She tiptoes to the bed to see if he is awake.

His eyes are open and he is staring at nothing. His face is pale and his lips are a purplish color. Dr. Aaron Jacobs, the man Rachel calls father, is not asleep. He is dead, having died in the night of a heart attack.

When Rachel shakes him, his head rocks back and forth in time with her shaking, but his eyes do not blink and he does not breathe. She places his hand on her head, nudging him so that he will waken and stroke her. He does not move. When she leans toward him, his hand falls limply to dangle over the edge of the bed.

In the breeze from the open bedroom window, the fine wisps of gray hair that he had carefully combed over his bald spot each morning shift and flutter, exposing the naked scalp. In the other room, elephants trumpet as they stampede across the jungle to rescue Tarzan. Rachel whimpers softly, but her father does not move.

Rachel backs away from her fatherís body. In the living room, Tarzan is swinging across the jungle on vines, going to save Jane. Rachel ignores the television. She prowls through the house as if searching for comfortóstepping into her own small bedroom, wandering through her fatherís laboratory. From the cages that line the walls, white rats stare at her with hot red eyes. A rabbit hops across its cage, making a series of slow dull thumps, like a feather pillow tumbling down a flight of stairs.

She thinks that perhaps she made a mistake. Perhaps her father is just sleeping. She returns to the bedroom, but nothing has changed. Her father lies open-eyed on the bed. For a long time, she huddles beside his body, clinging to his hand.

He is the only person she has ever known. He is her father, her teacher, her friend. She cannot leave him alone.

  • Published by: Untreed Reads


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