Pam flipped through her phone looking for the address to Jazzajuice as the toilet whooshed automatically below her. She wrapped the toilet paper into a glove around her hand, slipping her phone back into her purse that was hanging on the stall door below an advertisement wanting to know “do you want your art featured here?” in rainbow letters. Pam wiped and used a finger to open the door and slide out of the stall and into the mall corridor in a stream of men and women in cut suits, purple canvassers, and twittering girls in baby coats looking on their phones for a place to get their UGG boots washed. She pushed past them onto the street and walked south on Jarvis for fifteen or twenty minutes, stepping into the alley beside Mystic Muffin to light a smoke she had bummed off someone earlier. A man came out the back door and poured brown batter into a compost bin. Mystic indeed. Her pits were already soaking through her blouse.
When she stepped back onto the sidewalk she ran into a smart-dressed woman with earrings shaped like globes. The woman stepped back and had her hands up like she was ready to take Pam’s arm and break it behind her back Chuck Norris style. She had barbecue sauce on her face, an open wet nap in her hand.
“Sorry, but is there an atelier on this street, five-oh—-”
“There is no damn atelier,” the woman said, stepping past Pam and crossing the street. Pam walked until she saw the juice bar and the people gathered around the windows waiting to get in. Some kid threw a handful of cereal oh’s at Pam’s feet. The brat was clinging to his father’s shirt, curious and glaring. Two women stood like pillars on either side of the juice bar’s entrance doing crowd control. Pam zipped and unzipped the zipper on her coat and walked over.
“Hey, I’m Pam Boutlier, supposed to interview the artist.”
“Magazine?” the first Crowd Control asked, looking down her clipboard. Her hair was slicked back but she had a Hello Kitty clip in her hair.
“You represent them?”
“I am writing for them.”
“But do they represent you?” The second Crowd Control asked.
“I’m writing an article on contemporary art.”
“So the magazine has its finger on contemporary culture.” The first asked, taking off her sunglasses to reveal one eye with an eye patch.
Pam wouldn’t bite. “Is that my pass there?”
The second Crowd Control passed her the lanyard. “Hey didn’t you do that article on that drag king? Hung Doris from Honduras?”
“He’s not a drag king,” Pam said.
Two Chihuahua girls with tinseled hair held their breath as they entered the juice bar. Pam’s card said Press on it and she put it around her neck and went inside. The place was small and cramped and lined with the artist’s paintings. Twenty or thirty people coming and going lit around the room, picking at a table of food or pointing, putting their hand gently on their friend’s shoulder. A bouffant was picking at different cold salads that sat in an ice bath. Between each bowl she would glance up, look around the room and smile to nothing. But the lighting was beautiful. A fly whispered in Pam’s ear. She just didn’t know. A couple browsed two pieces of art near the front window. Pam examined everything over their shoulder. Each piece was on identical canvasses and each piece was heavy on the brown. The first, labeled “Sa Na Ra Sa Sa Na Qwa” had tiny handprints and green blotches. The other was a brown slur of mud with an orange fleck. The woman with the red hat repeated the title significantly, squeezing her companion’s arm.
“The colours,” she said. “They must be a diptych representing a jungle memory.”
The man looked at the wall. “They aren’t attached though, not diptychs. Or else there’s a play on form going on.”
The woman just loved that. “Let’s get a crawsant then. I’m starving.” As they left, the woman craned her neck, taking in the paintings one last time. Pam saw the paintings too. They looked like psychiatric Rorschachs. Some had things stuck into the paint. People called it “texture.” One series of paintings looked like storm clouds, labeled “Reckoning 1-5.” Another, people called a “mixed media piece” It had two purple beads stuck in it. Some gatherers said it fetishized fashion. One woman said it was an actualization of the artist’s basic fears and then went into a rant about the psychological implications of purple. One woman’s mouth crooked like a worm in the rain before she threw her arms up in a crescendo. She didn’t have the words. She was just happy to be able to say she was in a room with Pockets Warhol.
He was sitting in a cage at a table in the corner of the room. Two women were at his side. People gawked at him. One woman yelled “don’t stick your fingers in!” to a kid from Thinktank. The kid had a yellow notepad with ART MUTTERS on the cover and was writing all the valuable things that fell out of the woman’s mouth. Pam stared at Pockets as he scratched his white beard. She turned red and thought about doing something terrible to Karen. Pam looked at a few more paintings above the food table where a tureen of red punch glistened, tapping a pen on her palm. She poured some punch into a glass and almost drank it before she noticed shit or hay was floating in it.
“Are you here for Pockets?”
Pam turned to a small bird-lady. She looked like she was going for that electrocuted look. “Yeah, interview. I didn’t know he was a monkey.”
She smiled and touched Pam’s hand. “You didn’t know he was a monkey.” Pam saw the guy with the notebook leave. “Who are you here with?” the woman asked, tilting her head like it was an urn water could fall from.
The woman poured some punch and left, gliding through the crowd on a wave of, “Are you a writer?”
Pam pulled out her pad and sat facing the two women. The blond one, Ronna, wrapped his leash tighter around her hand.
“Oh. He’s. So. Excited.” Ronna said, “This is Nicole. She helped us set the show up,”
Nicole did not smile. Her near-unibrow made it hard to know what she made of the whole thing.
Pam sat down as the bouffant came to the table to deliver two adorable salads to the women, took Ronna’s keys, and said she’d be in the truck. Ronna almost patted her ass and the woman left. Ronna looked at her. “So.”
“So when did you decide that Pockets had an interest in painting?” Pam asked.
“I didn’t decide,” Ronna froze.
“Well, when did Pockets express an interest in painting?”
Ronna continued eating. “Seemed like he was kinda depressed after his mother died.” Pam scratched a twitch in her eye. Ronna looked up from the salad into Pam’s face. “It was his release. His way of articulating a world he couldn’t understand.”
“So what, without his mother he couldn’t make sense of the world? What world? His monkey world or our world?”
“Isn’t it the same world?” Ronna asked, biting into the egg like she had said something big and mysterious. Nicole sucked in her cheeks like there was a black hole at the back of her throat.
Two women were looking at the largest canvas. One woman turned to her friend. “Oh my god, Stephanie. I didn’t tell you. Guess what I found.”
She waited for a second. “Pens with highlighters on the bottom.”
“They have those at the bank,” Stephanie said.
Pam turned away. “Sorry, so how long has he been painting?”
“Over a year now.”
Pam nodded. “And I hear you’re looking for someone to write a book about him or something.”
“Well we had hoped Enid Brandon would do it.” Nicole stated.
“And she refused?”
“Well we invited her here to meet Pockets, and she came and left.”
Ronna pushed her plate away. “She was a bad choice. All she writes about is sadness. We need someone to capture the vibrancy of Pockets’ life. After Miss Brandon left, Nicole went out to the truck to get something and she saw the Enid Brandon stuffing her face on the Hooters patio.”
“Chicken wings,” Nicole smirked.
“I only read one book of hers,” Pam said. “People gotta eat, I guess.”
Ronna wiped her mouth. Pockets took the napkin and mimicked her, crawling up her arm.
Pam thought for a couple of minutes, watching him. Ronna smiled.
“So how do you feel about a monkey who paints? Do you think that he doesn’t deserve the attention, that the work around us isn’t serious? Does a struggling human artist deserve to get grants like the one Pockets just received?”
Ronna sipped her lemon water. She had blue paint under her nails. “Well he got that money for a reason. People see that in his painting he is trying to articulate a human world that he has no words for. And this. Has not. Been done. Before.”
“By monkeys,” Pam reminded. Why did Ronna talk like that? Jesus Christ.
She had this feeling on the back of her neck that this wasn’t going to be the break in her career. She took a sip of water and cleared her throat. A woman took a picture of Pockets and he clutched Ronna’s hair and screeched. Nicole pulled the monkey off, covered his face, and put him back in his cage. Pockets shit himself. Nicole threw a sheet over him but Pockets pulled it into the cage and pulled it around him, screaming. Nicole looked at Ronna and picked the cage up, heading down the aisle of sympathetic faces (one woman literally with her hand over her heart) to the truck parked across the street. Little brown dots of shit trailed after them like something to be continued.
“People.” Ronna said, wiping something out of the corner of her eye. Someone had to mop up the shit dots. The people turned back to the art and started milling around again. A man started putting down little red cocktail napkins to cover the shit. Nothing could cover the shit Pam was seeing.
Pam closed her notebook. “So where does all the money go anyway, from the art?”
Ronna looked past Pam then answered. “It goes to maintaining the monkey sanctuary. Otherwise there would be nowhere to keep. The monkeys. Facilities like ours are desperate for money these days.”
“Okay, so the paintings fund the sanctuary. What would you do if Pockets died? Would you replace him with another monkey? All monkeys look the same. It would be so easy.”
“Never.” Ronna said.
“Would you paint them yourself?”
“I could have never painted something this meaningful.” Ronna said, looking for Nicole.
“They aren’t exactly criticism worthy, though. The novelty is they’ve been painted by an animal.”
A fly buzzed in Pam’s ear.
“Arguable,” Ronna said.“The paintings are really. Really. Popular. A guy from Germany just bought one for four hundred fifty.”
“Well it’s lucky the sanctuary has a painting monkey or there would be nowhere for them to live.”
Ronna folded her arms. “His work is opening a dialogue about diaspora culture and how it affects creatures in the world.”
“Diaspora isn’t a culture. I’m not writing any of this shit down. How many paintings of these are yours because some of them seem pretty advanced for a monkey. The one over there that guy’s standing under looks like a building and flowers.”
Ronna was waiting for Nicole to come back. Ronna hated this girl. Her pug nose and the way she kept fixing her bra strap. Pockets was probably asleep now in the back of the truck and Nicole was probably tapping her hands on the steering wheel waiting for her with Marel.
“If you needed money for the sanctuary why wouldn’t you raise it like a normal person?”
Ronna started, then chased a fly away from her face. She wasn’t listening to the girl and started getting up. She was tired and had to get back to the sanctuary. Marel still had to dose the animals and Pockets needed to sleep off the attention. Ronna stared at the painting Pam pointed out that looked like buildings and flowers. It didn’t look so bad. Ronna gathered her stuff up and made for the door. Pam stared at the fly that landed on the edge of Ronna’s water glass. It looked like it was playing the violin.
Pam opened her notebook, turning as Ronna disappeared through the crowd to the bathrooms.
“Well what is his favourite colour? Can I say that it’s blue?”
Pam walked out into a blare of people and stragglers who were moving to coffee houses and side streets. The blue paint was pretty funny. Yeah. She just didn’t know. Dads and their kids swarmed in to see the stuff on the walls. In a few weeks most of these people will have gotten sick from being at Jazzajuice juice bar, some hospitalized with crippling fevers and crazy diarrhea. But right now, they were all smiling, content at experiencing something, smiling and nodding. They all leaned on each other, really listening and really understanding. Pam looked at the missing pages in her notebook. She lit a smoke, passing Ronna’s truck with Nicole resting in the front with the seat back and her arms folded over her chest. She opened her eyes as Pam passed by. Along Adelaide the blue and red gumballs of a police car erupted like an arcade win. She left before the champagne glasses came out so she didn’t have to see their heads leaning so close to one another in that public/confidential “notice us we’re really creating something here” way that they had.
The street was closed for the Italian festival and the patio across the street was packed with people. Most of them looked like the kids from an Apple commercial. Pam found a place outside the bank beside a statue of a man giving advice to a kid to sit. Italian women in their best gold and breezy dresses walked up and down College with their grandkids, sister’s kids and their kid’s kids. The smell of street vendor food stank in the sun. Pam’s phone rang.
“Bad news. I didn’t get a picture because the artist shit himself and was escorted out of the place.”
Pam looked across the road. Under the awning a band played some kind of Italian folk music. There was just the smallest square bordered off for dancing. Karen was babbling in her ear.
“Yeah,” Pam said, bouncing back, “cause he’s a monkey and monkey’s shit themselves and play with it. So seventeen words should cover it. Here they are. Ready?”
An old woman in a red sweater lifted her black skirt and kicked her heels to the music, a smile on her face as broad as her shoulders. People clapped to the beat, slapping their thighs as the old woman and a little girl do-si-doed. They got blurry as Pam looked at them.
Pam did something she hadn’t done in a while and bought cigarettes and smoked one as she glared at the dancing old woman. Pam felt the muscle behind her eye. She needed a drink. She butted out her smoke and caught a streetcar across town to Anomalous where Doris bartended. It was dark and cool inside. Just what she needed. She took off her lanyard. The bartender raised his eye at her.
“An Earthquake.” Pam said, “Is Doris working?”
“They have a show tonight.”
Pam nodded. Doris did a thing upstairs on Wednesday nights with their friend Tran Nessa to Soft Cell songs.
“Hey what would you do if you thought you were going to interview an artist and the artist turned out to be a monkey who finger paints?”
“I saw him in the paper,” was all the bartender said before he went back to counting bottles.
Pam made her way up the spiral stairs that reminded her of a double helix to the second floor, hoping that Karen would show up. Doris was onstage, sliding a pair of plain grey slacks up their calf to Street Life. Behind them, Tran Nessa blew sparkles into a fan. A girl turned her head and became Karen. Pam went to sit with Karen. She had her hair combed into a Grecian wave. Her mole was in a different place than yesterday, her lips turned up high. She was reading David Hume, or at least David Hume was on the table. Karen twirled the draw in her drink. It was too dark to be reading.
“And no story.”
“Oh, please, come on. Waste my fucking time, why don’t you?” Pam said, sitting down.
“Well it might have been interesting. A lot of people are talking about Pockets. Did he look like Andy Warhol in person?”
“More like Robert DeNiro, really.”
“Did you hear Pockets Warhol died?” Pam picked up Karen’s book and flipped through it.
“He’s not dead you idiot.” Pam leaned back in her chair and looked around. Doris must have gone home and the bar seemed to be filling with people.
“He’s dead. That woman was on the news.”
She supposed the woman was Ronna. “Well how am I supposed to feel about that? Jesus.”
Karen shrugged. “It’d make a good story.”
“Things happen and they don’t make stories.”
“Things happen and they make stories.”
“Well it’s not difficult, Karen, get someone else to write the thing. Call that monkey sanctuary and talk to that woman.”
“Talked to her and I guess that book about him is gonna happen.”
“You’re acting like you have your finger on the pulse of publishing.”
“With social media and the internet there are so many voices coming at us. Let your expert work stand before you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t let the world live without the immeasurable wealth of language.” Karen said taking Pam’s hand.
Pam snapped it back. “Have you been talking to Doris?”
When Karen went to the bathroom Pam looked in her bag and found a small vial of white pills that she pocketed and left the bar. Outside she thought she saw Doris across the road smoking outside a bar on the other side of the street but didn’t stop to talk. What did it matter that a painting monkey was dead? Pam pulled a pack of smokes from her pack and smoked one as she walked down to catch the streetcar. She felt the exhaustion pool at the back of her head. She unscrewed the top of Karen’s pill bottle and let them fall into a storm drain as she took the last drag from her smoke. She was the last person in the world who needed them. She waited for the green lights to shine in the distance in a stream of bar stragglers and late night shoppers. She didn’t even remember leaving the house as she waited outside Phang Milk, and when she put herself to bet later it had felt like she hadn’t left. But now she just leaned her body against the convenient store, closed her eyes and thought of the little monkey one last time.