Nobody wanted the pink monkey. I cried when she won the lavender unicorn with the silver tail. I wanted it. But I got the monkey.
If you squeezed its paw hard enough, it trembled violently. It looked as if someone had said, let’s design a monkey that looks like it’s got mange. It stared at you like it wished it didn’t. So my sister slept with a unicorn, while the pink monkey with the mournful face sat on the shelf in the back room, gathering dust. Until Alex came to visit.
“Go on,” my sister says, “Ask Auntie.”
Alex comes to me. Reluctantly.
“I want the monkey.”
I have to lean down to hear what he’s saying.
“Can I have the monkey?”
What monkey, I think? He’s watching me. I blink. He points back at the shelf. The monkey that nobody wanted peers at me from between long forgotten stuff. Sadly.
We pull it down and shake it off, and as Alex grasps its hand to make it feel better, it begins to shake. He holds it close until it stops.
“That’s better,” he says, not to me, and fingers the label that was never removed.
“Did you ever see that old movie, Toy Story?” I ask.
“Yes!” He’s not looking at me, but at the letters on the label. It says, Made in China.
“Well, you remember how the toys are really sensitive about getting forgotten and being left behind?” The monkey begins to vibrate violently again. A twinge of guilt as Alex stares up at me, unblinkingly. My sister’s busy collecting his stuff. I don’t tell him I won the monkey at the fair but left it on the shelf to die because it looked like it had mange. Alex’s eyes look right through me.
“He wouldn’t like that.” He hugs the monkey.
I’m admonished. Change track. “What will you name him if I let you have him?”
“I don’t know… I need to think about it.” He’s not going to be rushed.
“Where would he sleep?”
“In my bunk bed. I sleep on the top. He’d sleep with me. On top of the bunk bed.” He stares back at the Made in China label. “Is this his name?”
“No. He doesn’t have a name.”
“Why not?” He demands an answer. I don’t have one. I simply shrug.
His mother has collected his shoes, his socks, his Lego friend, his piece of blanket that used to be blue but is now the color of washed-out nothing. She stands with her hands on her hips. She’s remembering how I cried when she won the lavender unicorn with the silver tail.
“Tell Auntie thank you for the pretty monkey, Alex.”
As he leaves, he turns to me and says in a quiet voice that makes me lean down again and pay attention, “Do you mind if I think of a name for him in the car?”
The monkey stares at me as it’s strapped firmly into the car seat with Alex, and quivers at being hugged so hard. From where I stand in the driveway, I feel more good than I should. I wave while the car pulls away from the curb, and my sister shoots me a sideways look as I turn back to my house, where there’s a gap on the shelf where the invisible monkey sat.
Alison Cooper is a UK artist, and resides in Los Angeles.