Rosemary writes that the reader probably doesn’t know that Mary is not a human girl, but a chimpanzee—as is Fern. Rosemary has so far chosen to hide this because for the first 18 years of her life, she was defined by the fact that she lived with a chimpanzee. More importantly, however, she wanted the reader to see Fern as truly her sister. Rosemary’s parents promised to love Fern as a daughter, and Rosemary still wonders if they kept that promise. Before Fern disappeared, Rosemary had almost never spent a moment alone. Rosemary’s first memory is the touch and look of Fern’s body after Fern had been given a bath.
All the hints about the Cookes’ abnormality and Rosemary’s relationship to animals now immediately come into focus, as Fowler finally provides this major “reveal.” Rosemary’s admission that she deliberately kept secret Fern and Mary’s animal status confirms that she is just as guilty of dishonesty and denial as the rest of her family. However, her explanation suggests that strategic dishonesty and denial can actually be useful, particularly in the construction of a narrative.
Another early memory consists of the two of them playing games with some of the graduate students. Fern is playing “Same/Not Same,” a matching game, whereas Rosemary plays a more challenging game in which she groups sets of animals together. Rosemary enjoys chatting to the graduate student she’s playing with, but Fern quickly gets frustrated with Same/Not Same and comes over to press her head against Rosemary’s. Rosemary can “smell” that Fern is unhappy but tells Fern to leave her alone. Fern runs around the room, requesting food in sign language, and when Rosemary joins in and falls over, Fern laughs. “Mocking laughter” is a human characteristic, not a chimp one, and Rosemary’s father and the graduate students are so excited by Fern’s laugh that they do not notice that Rosemary’s arm is broken. Rosemary is always trying to discover things she can do better than Fern, and invents Mary out of this sense of frustration.
There is an extent to which Rosemary’s relationship to Fern is presented as idyllic. Their intense affinity and affection, and Rosemary’s animalistic understanding of the cues of Fern’s body, demonstrate a moving effect of the experiment of raising Fern in the Cooke family. However, there is also a decidedly sinister element to Rosemary’s relationship with Fern. Rosemary feels jealous and competitive, and her father’s attention to Fern at times means that he totally ignores his human daughter’s needs, even failing to notice when she breaks her arm. Moreover, Fern exhibits human qualities (such as mocking laughter) that are distinctly harmful and cruel.
The narrative returns to the period after Fern’s disappearance. Rosemary and Mary are climbing the maple tree in Russell’s yard. Russell, annoyed, calls Rosemary “monkey girl.” Rosemary accidentally slides out of the tree and the leaves stain her crotch red. She feels humiliated. A few days later, Russell throws a Halloween party at the Cookes’ former home and is arrested by the police. Rosemary wonders if Fern somehow cosmically managed to punish Russell for his violation of their home.
This passages introduces further ways in which being raised alongside Fern had a damaging effect on Rosemary. Her affinity with animals puts her at odds with human children and leaves her vulnerable to teasing. At the same time, Rosemary’s abnormality as someone who has animal characteristics is still far better than Russell’s deviance, which involves destructive behavior. Deviance from the norm is not necessarily harmful (although it can be).