Chimpy clicks on the aquarium light.
The flat has been growing. Spreading, developing as of late. Opening up. Areas have been coming into focus the more they’re needed. Before a need there is nothing but vagueness around what space of my home has been put to use. Like the Bonsai and the window alcove before: how that came into being (although I’m unsure of what need was fulfilled). Closets, rooms, mirrors all come into being only at their mention.
We settle into the Eames chairs. Chimpy places down ashtrays.
I tell him, So, you’re a native New Yorker.
He flicks his cigarette and nods.
I ask, Is there a good story behind that?
He signs, It’s got the birds ‘n’ the bees in it so maybe, but you’re eighteen now, Ray, so, no more earmuffs on the grownup shit for you.
Baby’s all grows up.
Get on with it.
Raat! ‘You can’t handle the truth!!’
The room flashes red.
I rub my eyebrows and ask, Why must you all go on like this?
Beethoven buzzes in my head, Jailbait isdead.
The red ends.
Chimpy signs, Everyone pipe down.
Thank you, I say. I point my finger and add, I swear I was going to lose my shit.
Chimpy holds up both hands and frowns.
I’m sorry but you know I’m, I mean, I—
I know, Chimpy signs.
No you don’t, I say. I am getting sick of this. I drew every single one of you damn things into existence and this is the fucking respect I get?
Chimpy drops his hands, takes the nakedest posture possible. You do not need to be talking to us like that.
Like that. You know what I’m talking about. I know you hear yourself if you’d take a minute and listen to yourself and the words you’re saying. That is not right. You know it.
What do I know?
Take that shit back.
Take what shit back.
That brought you into existence shit back.
Raat! Send him back to oblivion.
Don’t be acting like you’re the boss here, Chimpy signs. Don’t make me bring up the invisible hand here. You don’t even know why you love her. So settle down.
That’s not—, I start, then tell him, I don’t know what to say.
Chimpy pulls on his cigarette, waves away a wisp of smoke that touched his eye. You asked me a question.
Oh yes, right.
I was born in captivity.
He sets down his cigarette, to free his hands to speak. Have you read anything about circus chimpanzees?
You mean like the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey?
Fuck, man. I mean about the workers. The animals. Not the tweeds. He slaps his eyes, then signs, Sure. Barnum.
Yes I have, I say. I have in the past. I have in my past. I have a past.
Fucking terrific, Ray. That makes two of us. Which is what I’m going to tell you now.
Chimpy frogstares at me the entire time he takes to reach and pick up his cigarette, drag it, set it back down, and blow the smoke up into the swirl of the ceiling fan.
My parents were from Africa. They came from the Congo. When they were babies they both lost their families because oil companies cleared away their forests. So they were taken in by sanctuaries run by the state and eventually sold to traders who sold them to New York to work in the circus. They were both still infants, still drinking out of bottles. They were taken to Coney Island in Brooklyn, put up in a carnival that travelled back and forth between Coney Island and Atlantic City. That’s how they met. They grew up together. Even though my mother was Eastern chimpanzee, so she was in the chimp act, and my father was bonobo, so he was in another act. She did the tea party, he did the knife throwing.
You don’t say. You are actually half-chimpanzee, half-bonobo.
That’s right. I’m mixed. I’m biracial.
I had no idea.
When I was born they knew I was his because they already knew they had a thing for each other going on. Plus my face was dark so they figured I was his.
What do you mean your face was dark? Your face isn’t dark now.
I know. That’s because my mother used to bleach me.
Yes. She used to bleach my face. She would get hair bleach bottles with the sponge applicator and she would sit me in front of her with her legs wrapped around me so I couldn’t get away and have me face her and she would wipe the black off.
Why in the world would she do that?
So I could look more like her and less like my father. She was light. Their plan all along was to get me to look more chimp and then maybe if I was healthy enough they would sell me to the zoo. To get me out of the circus. To get me out of the game and into a healthier environment.
To give you away?
Yes to give me away. Coney Island was no joke. So, they did that and it worked. When I was old enough I started performing in a magic act. Then my father told me I shouldn’t be so good at it in order that the show wouldn’t want to keep up with me and then sell me.
And it worked.
Yup. They sold me to the Bronx Zoo. I was there for like ten years, with the chimp set. Then one day there was a huge field trip full of kids with the Make A Wish Foundation, so, bored, I got out in front of them, started performing, doing flips, whatnot. News reporters came back next day, I did it again, and the rest is history.
A network bought me. The Legendary Mr. Chimpy McPickles Variety Show.