Webber Holley lives and writes in Wyoming. Contact author.
He Aspired to Become Art
He aspired to become art.
He possessed a large mango for a head. He would remove his mango head and display it next to him on a park bench, within the walls of a sand castle he would build at the beach, or downtown atop a mailbox outside a supermarket.
A short writeup in a local weekly gained him some recognition and a small gallery agreed to exhibit his art for a few weeks during the fall.
The gallery owner apologized. The best location she could offer him was a small table at the end of a hallway near the stairs. He did not mind the spot, though, for it encouraged people to look more closely at the mango than they had before, when he’d been but a street artist.
He had broad shoulders, thick chest, rough hands with paint in his nails. He walked with confidence, swaggered almost. Extreme enhancement of intuition in place of senses will do that for a man. A kind of mango magnificence had he, from his perspective.
He might have been handsome except for… well, you know.
His art required discipline. For hours he would practice a blank meditation, emptiness, dark space, nothing, nothing, nothing until at last he stirred and groped and found and restored to its place the metaphysical fruit:
Could he have spoken, he might have invoked Magritte’s Son of Man. Or Parvati and Lord Shiva, wed beneath a mango tree in Kanchipuram. And don’t forget son Ganesha of an elephant’s head.
Not that anybody drew such connections. Most just saw personal sacrifice. Found headlessness creepy, mango mute and dumb. Where was the verve, the life? They lingered in front of the art of Miss Prixie, whose bold, acrylic strokes hung on three of four walls at the front of the gallery. A laminated card accompanied each of these pieces. Each card bore the title of the piece, a figure with a comma, and a red sticker denoting sale.
Among these works was an eight-by-ten-foot tangle of orange and yellow entitled “Banana Jubilee.”
In others, Miss Prixie’s primary colors swirled into a primordial shitstain. These pieces in particular elicited breezy commentary over pinot noir at her big opening:
She must have been depressed when she did those.
Yes, quite depressed. But why? About what could Miss Prixie possibly have been depressed?
Miss Prixie, standing somewhat less than four feet tall, mugged toothfully and with wide gums for a television camera, her simian small hand held by a good-looking gentleman in a tuxedo. Some suggested a link between her shitstains and the topic of a video presentation playing in a loop in the corner. An actor famous for his gravelly Scottish voice intoned in the video about hardwoods, palm oil, destruction of the rainforest, and proceeds for a new nonprofit initiative.
Few who left the gallery that night, stepping out across slick cobblestones beneath big, black umbrellas to sedans and cabriolets with heated leather seats, did not feel reassured from having done their part.
The artist with the mango head had no grand opening and aspired not to causes, which anyway would have been absurd. Few visitors to the gallery ventured beyond the restroom to the end of the hallway. Most who did were turned around. Instead of returning to the front of the gallery after using the restroom, they found themselves with lingering dampness on their washed hands gazing down at the mango, which had no laminated card.
Drawn into the corridor, couples with interlocking pinkie fingers may have had their mutual preoccupation punctured by the mango. Or maybe not.
Few sought the mango out, aficionados of cultural phenomena so obscure as to shield judgment of their taste. On the rare occasions when somebody told them they too had been there, done that, they would have to say:
Well, wasn’t all that great. Not worth the trouble.
And in this tone of voice many people would mumble their mumblings over the mango in the hallway:
Crazy piece of crap.
Hush, it can hear us.
Hear us? Seriously. The mayor should fire everybody at the arts council for sponsoring this nonsense.
But it’s his head! A real, live, actual man’s head!
It’s a mango, for chrissake.
Turning to shuffle away, they would see only then the artist sitting on the stairs. He wore always a silk shirt and tweed jacket. Women in particular would squeak like hamsters, screams squelched when they realized that to scream in front of the artist and his art in an art gallery would be most insensitive and rude. Women and men alike would smile through gritted teeth, nod their heads.
Maybe say something, try some small talk. Get no response.
Was he offensive? Sometimes the gallery owner would give him a ride back to his apartment.
In this way people experienced the mango by itself, not defined by the presence of its creator, lower case, though perhaps not undefined by the one upper-cased, whom an intelligent observer might suggest had infused beneath the rind all the knowledge and meaning and understanding one would care to claim for herself and humankind should she dare bite.
Not that she ever did.
One afternoon of unseasonable heat, the gallery owner led him up the stairs of his building and inside his door. She sat him down. She put on water for tea. She sat across from him at his kitchen table.
An awkward silence imposed. As before, the sounds of the other apartment dwellers murmured through the walls. Children thumped down the hall. A boy yelled neeeeeee-yuuuh. Somebody’s toilet flushed. But this time, as Yvonne’s eyes wandered around his bachelor’s clutter, she saw neon green. Neon green was painted on the wall near the floor, on a houseplant, on the doors, on the furniture, carpet, ceiling, a halogen lamp, and on a flat-screen TV on the wall. A paintbrush lay on the rim of an open paint can on the living room floor.
He must have wanted her to see this. Why?
Yvonne had been thinking lately about mind-body dualism and the eastern notion of a soul that resided in the heart. Heart transplant recipients sometimes adopt idiosyncrasies of the donor. They might take up gum-chewing, for instance. A Buddhist might place consciousness at least in part in an ether or dimension beyond the body or self.
The DNA mutiny within the cells of Frank’s pancreas had persisted and spread to his liver and brain. Machines had kept Frank alive and therefore Frank’s cancer alive. The kind old wrinkles at the edges of Frank’s pale blue eyes had grown deeper and more expressive, even as the eyes themselves had sunk into his skull and become shadowed and dim. He appeared sad that they would share only a few more good, meaningful conversations on art and culture and life, and this sentiment must have been manifest upon the firmament itself. For Yvonne not only felt it within her heart and stomach and bones and brain, she listened as Frank described their mutual sorrow in painstaking detail. Such empathy to the point of telepathy had become familiar to her over the years. It was love itself, and what is love but one’s own perfect essence reflected in the mirror of his or her beloved?
Yes, but toward the end it made Yvonne feel as if she were the one about to die. When the moment came, it was as if somebody flipped a switch. And although there was a switch, and somebody could have flipped it, that was not what had happened.
Last he said was: Yvonne, take good care of Jackson for me. He had died as naturally as possible under the circumstances.
Yvonne stood and walked around the kitchen table to get a closer look at the artist. She had thought to peer within the collar. Would she see a severed esophagus, trachea, carotid arteries? The teapot shrieked and a simple answer came to her. She shook the artist by the shoulder.
Frank! … Frank! … Frank!
His response was as mild as the reflex of a sea anemone. Yvonne stormed out, downstairs and outside, drove off in her Mercedes.
The gallery had some unusual visitors while she was out.
One was a balding man with bushy moustache and bifocals, white socks and khaki shorts. His jaw dropped when he saw the mango six—no seven, maybe eight—times bigger than any he had ever seen before.
A species new to science!
He heard the gallery assistant chatting with people up front. He glanced in that direction. Nobody would be coming. He picked the mango up.
It was sticky. His nose wrinkled at what he theorized was cat piss.
He took out a Swiss Army knife, unfolded it, and cradled the mango like an infant. With rapt anticipation he wheezed. The rind resisted just a bit and surrendered to the tip of the blade, oozed a drop of clear fluid. He extracted a cylinder of yellow-orange flesh soft and ripe. His fat fingers dribbled with juice. Yes, word about the mango had gotten out, but here he was. He was here first. He put the sample in a sandwich bag, stuffed the bag in his pocket, put the mango back in place so that the hole would not show. With smelly hands he left through glass doors.
Another visitor half an hour later wore a name badge. By phone she summoned a man who must have been waiting outside, for he arrived right away. He wore a police badge, and watched and took notes while the agricultural inspector wrapped the mango in cellophane. She pointed out a hole in the fruit and the police officer scribbled something about the small hole. The gallery assistant tried to call Yvonne while the inspector placed the tightly wrapped mango in a Rubbermaid container, taped down the lid, then passed the roll of tape three, four, five times around the edge of the lid. The officer picked up the container and carried it out to his patrol car.
The inspector explained to the assistant texting in a fury of purple fingernails that no such mangos grew in California, and unless the gallery could produce an authentic inspection certificate, out of well-founded concern concerning fruit flies she would need to have this exotic fruit incinerated at once.
Also the gallery would need to be fumigated.
An hour later, the assistant gave up trying to reach Yvonne. She had no idea how to reach the artist. She gathered up Jackson, put him in a carrier, and got her purse while the inspector taped a NOTICE inside the glass. To the locked doors the inspector added a California Department of Food and Agriculture ribbon.
Complex chemical reactions and a daily ritual involving osmosis had sustained them in symbiosis. Now something had happened to his mango. He could tell by the sudden melancholy. He felt little will to move, to think.
He had aspired to become art.
The artist almost was done with the first coat. Tough to do without a head but he figured the windows were dark by now. Cold, slimy drops dribbled from the ceiling. Carpet suckered to his bare feet. The paint would harden but he planned to add more each day until he lived within a latex mud cave. He had hoped to invite guests over from the gallery, though today it seemed he had offended the owner somehow.
Exposed now in his depression were problems he should have realized sooner. No normal person could breathe such paint fumes. Also he remembered a house in Wyoming, the one a New York artist years ago had covered inside and out with melted cheese. Slopping up a living space had been done already, maybe even inspired him subconsciously.
Vile! … Lame! … Pathetic!
He drop-kicked an empty paint can across the room. He did not yell, grunt or even breathe. The pain in his toe shot through his groin, chest and shoulders and tangled up in his biceps and triceps.
He considered rummaging through the guest bedroom closet. There, on the floor, in the corner, behind a guitar he never learned to play, two awful wooden phallic sculptures from his school years, a didgeridoo, and six fishing poles, and buried beneath musty linens and beach towels, was a large glass jar with locking lid.
He limped out the door instead, felt his way downstairs and outside. He left handprints and footprints. He could not see, taste, hear or smell. Yet the horror and disgust that people felt at the unmitigated sight of him, drizzled in green on the sidewalk, made the blood cells in his veins and arteries sizzle at a frequency he too could feel, and perhaps now he would enter his minimalist phase.
Webber Holley Bio:
Webber Holley lives and writes in Wyoming. Contact author.