Word of the Day: Pulchritudinous

Word of the Day: Pulchritudinous

In this series, I will take the Word of the Day from Dictionary.com and craft a short piece of creative writing around it.  My goal is to embrace the meaning of the word in some unique way, all the while trying out different styles, rhythms and characterizations.  It is as much an exercise in creativity as it is an exploration of grammar. Enjoy!

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By Alex Seise

I stared at the baby ape for nearly twenty four chirps of the shrill bird nestled high in the tropical canopy overhead. Unblinking, unmoving, unafraid.

If I could have said the same about my own countenance, it would have been a moment of sizzling, magical delirium.

The last silverback I’d seen had been some three or four days before. I’d lost count of both time and distance, a wanderer in the unfamiliar jungle of vines and heavily filtered dappled sunlight. It always seemed dark among the trees and the insects and the howling beasts whose faces remained obscured by great papery leaves with outstretched veins longer than my own meaty femur. Nightfall just meant that things got a bit darker, and dawn signaled a shrugging glow overhead. High noon and midnight’s inky blackness were not polar opposites this deep in the forest; they were closely related cousins with more in common than many human siblings.

The primate stirred in its furry resting place, cooing and gurgling softly. It reached for its mother’s cold, stiffening breast; but the heavy flap of flesh would not produce milk, no matter how voraciously the babe suckled.

It was broken. It was all broken, and terrible, and wrong.

The tiny ape let out a mournful cry, a vocalization dripping with sadness and hunger and a sense of worldly injustice. For something so young, it seemed bizarrely intuitive to its own plight.

“Ooh, ooh, it isn’t fair!” the tiny beast seemed to squawk. “Why? Why? Waa! Waa!”

The thing was so pitiful, so ugly, that I almost wished its suffering would find itself done and over with, like getting a shot at the doctor’s office, or touching a hot clothes iron as a childhood dare, or waiting for the end of a bad date drenched in cologne from a cheap mall cart. The coarse heavy hair of adulthood was absent from its flat, wrinkled face, and the great big nose was shaped like a malformed heart, or an alien head like you’d see in a 1950s sci-fi flick.

But then I scanned those eyes, those bright, thinking eyes, and they stared right back at me, shifting in their sockets as they took my entirety in. And suddenly, it wasn’t a hairless ape moaning and yearning for milk. It was a thing of pulchritudinous wonder. A living, breathing, processing beauty; a beacon of hope and the allure of adoptive cross-species maternal instincts. The affection it could not stir in its own rotting mother’s nipples was tugging at my own firm tips.

I reached out and watched breathlessly as it stretched its tiny, wriggling hand to meet mine. But before we could feel the roughness of one another’s skin, a coolness rushed into my head and slapped at the ventricles of my beating, throbbing womanly heart. I yanked my arm back, stood and turned on the moist pile of leaves.

It was unfair. It was terribly unfair, and mean, and horrible. But so was the plane crash, and waking up caked in my fiancé’s blood in a strange world halfway around the globe, and having to chew bits of his muddy shoe leather for sustenance, and fighting off the raging fever that came with a broken arm that’d pierced the skin. I shouldn’t have been alive, but I wasn’t ready to stop fighting, for myself, for my future.

“No one came to save me, baby girl,” I said over my sling-strapped shoulder, the little ape screaming and bawling, just like a scared infant. In truth, I didn’t know if it was a male or female, but it didn’t matter. “In this world, you have to fight to survive. It’s cruel, and heartless, but…”

My delirious conversation with the baby monkey had stirred something else in the dense shrubs beyond where I stood. Something with heavy footprints that snapped twigs and sent branches quivering, a beast that hummed a deep, throaty growl that shook my sternum and turned the tiny bit of slosh in my stomach from side to side.

The baby yelped again as I grabbed it by the still-outstretched arm and ran as fast as I could toward the leech-infested pond a few dozen yards up the trail.

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