Underneath a billboard beside the highway, an imperious impression of a gorilla spun a banana-shaped sign which read “Free cable & HBO & air conditioning.” It was early spring and the air cool and crisp, but the gorilla had been at it for several hours—throwing the sign up in the air, swirling it around his limbs, passing it around his back—the man underneath undoubtedly hot from the body heat trapped in his fake polyester furs. Cars filled with people on their way to work would occasionally honk hello, and the gorilla man would wave and point at the sign. The cars would then slowly pass, the occupants smiling and nodding but not looking directly at him.
Around ten in the morning, the gorilla took his head off to reveal a man underneath, sweat plastering his short, straight, blonde hair to his forehead and his cheeks red and white in alternating blotches. Vending machines stood near the office, rust no longer showing with their new plastic casings, and the man walked the short distance to them and dug around in his gorilla suit’s pockets for a few crumpled-up dollar bills; a dollar for a can of Sun Drop. He smoothed the bill out and the machine ate it, popping out the can which he snapped open, taking half of it in one swift chug, water rising in his eyes and breath laboring as the pronounced syrupy sweetness coated his throat. Breathing was difficult initially but calmed down shortly. With yellow teeth, he ripped off a gorilla paw, producing a Newport and lighter from his other pocket. Careful not to light the suit’s hair, he inhaled on the smoke and sat down on the sidewalk, itself raised only a few inches off the parking lot’s asphalt. He might as well have sat on the ground. When he finished his cigarette, tossing it down a storm drain, the gorilla man walked back to the vending machines and bought a pack of gummy worms and ate them slowly, chasing them down with the remaining Sun Drop.
The pores on his face and neck were obvious now that they were fully revealed in the glow of late morning sunlight, his skin left ravaged from old boils and pimples and blackheads, looking like he’d been shot with a gun filled with rock salt several times. One pit on the back of his neck was so large that he could sometimes fit his pinky fingernail inside, necessary on occasion so that he could clean out the thick, sweaty paste of dead skin that accumulated in it. But he didn’t do that now.
He finished his snack, then put his gorilla glove and mask back on to go toss the banana some more for the passing cars. Sometimes it felt like it went quickly, but other times he felt embarrassed to be wearing his gorilla suit.
Standing in the full sun, the time did not move quickly, likely because there wasn’t that much traffic. When there were a lot of cars, he could forget with ease that he was himself.
Lunchtime came, though, he went inside to ask the manager if it was all right to take off for a few minutes and eat his food in the motel’s small lobby. He said it would be okay, not bothering to look up from his small television set playing the showcase from “The Price is Right.” The gorilla man, now without his face and hands, went across the road to a fast food joint where he stood in line and then ordered by giving them a number. Inside it smelled like grease and salt and sugar. He had to fill up his own soda, and they didn’t have Sun Drop, so he pressed the flimsy paper cup against the Mountain Dew spigot, no ice. Ice was how they made you cheat yourself.
After his number, 312, was called, he walked back across the road with his brown bag and drink and sat down in the plastic chair in the lobby. Chicken fingers and French fries. He wished he got a milkshake, but there hadn’t been enough money. He was also thirsty, and milk wasn’t good for that.
Just as he’d set his cardboard box on top of an old collection of Sports Illustrateds and Maxims, two girls walked into the lobby. Each wore a skirt made out of the same material as sweatpants, and also wore t-shirts, but one had on flip flops while the other stood in platform heels. Both had giant hoop earrings in, and their hair pulled far from their faces into tight pony tails that made them appear to be slightly balding. On the one in heels’ thighs was a giant bruise ineffectively covered with concealer.
“Where’d you get that?” asked the one in flip flops.
“Cross the street.”
“We’re stayin’ here, we need a spare key to room 242,” said the other to the manager who, without looking up, handed her a spare key.
“What is it?”
“Chicken. Chicken and fries.”
“That looks good.”
“Do you work here or something?”
“That looks good. Can I have some?”
“It’s my lunch.”
“Only one! Come on. Only one, please?” she batted her lengthy eyelashes, little black pebbles stuck in them, and squatted near him. “Please, one? Please?” Up close, through the make-up, he could tell that she was still a teenager.
“Oh, hell,” he said, grabbing one of the chicken tenders and handing it to her.
“Thank you!” She tore it off and gave it to her companion.
“Why are you wearing that suit?”
“Guess I should ask why you’re dressed like you are.”
“I asked you first.”
“I’m working,” he said.
“So are we,” she smiled. “We’re gonna be in a movie.”
“Just on the internet, but Carl, who’s making the movie, says we might be able to be in real movies too. Actresses do that, you know. They go from making movies there to real movies.”
“Money’s good,” said the one standing, evaluating him to her displeasure.
“Mister, do you think I could get just one more? Please?”
“Oh, now hell, kid—”
“Don’t you call me kid,” she said, laughing.
“And why not?”
“Cause I’m not one. Least, I don’t act like one.” She smirked at this.
“You look like one,” he said, not looking at her.
“That’s why they like her,” said the one still standing by the manager’s counter.
“That’s why they like me.”
“Let’s go get paid, honey,” said the girl by the counter playfully.
They walked up out of the office, and the manager grumbled a bit about him going back out to spin the sign.
He did go back outside in full uniform, but figured the manager was so interested in watching T.V. that he could do whatever he wanted, and so he leaned up against the dumpster out back and smoked another cigarette. Two left for once he got off shift. Then, quietly, he sneaked up to room 24 E. The shades were drawn but the lights inside were exceptionally bright—they had other lighting, clearly, flood lamps or whatever they used. Through a sliver, he could see into the room: an ankle with a blue-dye tattoo of a flower, moving back and forth rapidly and then slowly. Sounds of slapping and choking and furniture squeaking drifted out, as well, and he felt more like a man covertly viewing a show for free than someone spying on a sexual act. He’d watched pornography before, and always thought about how strange it was that it never looked like the real act and didn’t make him feel like it was the real act either—except that it focused on sex, which the man thought would be nice
When a man’s voice cried, “Jesus, Jeff, don’t come yet!”
“Fuck! Aw, hell.”
“Christ, Jeff, at least hit her with it. God. I told you to take a bump.”
“Just everyone stay the fuck quiet. You’re not done. Here, Jeff, here, take this. Girls, do whatever the fuck. Back in five. No, you don’t get paid yet.”
Before he could move, the door opened. He knew it wouldn’t work, but the gorilla man spun around quickly and pretended he was resting against the wall.
It was the girl in flip-flops. Her mascara had streaked down her face, lipstick removed in blotches to show peeling pale lips hiding underneath. She wasn’t crying, and her pupils didn’t look dilated, but her eyes did look rounder.
“Got a smoke?” Her voice stunned him because, though now slightly hoarse, the question was delivered in almost the same giddiness as their previous conversation. He took of his mask.
“I… Sure.” Ripping a paw off, he took out the pack, handed her one and lit them both. After exhaling, he crumpled the now empty pack in his still-pawed hand and threw it a few doors down. “How’s it going in there?”
“Think you know… said I looked like a kid, but that didn’t stop you from peeking in, huh?”
“No, no, wasn’t like that. Just… I don’t know. I was curious.”
“Don’t mind me saying, your face looks real messed up, mister. You in the army or something?”
“Nope. Had it real bad when I was a kid. Zits and stuff.”
“My brother did too. He always says he was in the army.”
“Yeah, but that’s not true.”
“Nobody knows that.” She giggled. “If people think you weren’t supposed to look like that, it makes it better. It’s just true.” She took a puff and stamped the cigarette out half-finished. “I’m gonna head back in. You be here tomorrow too?”
She looked at him, then walked back inside.
The gorilla man decided it was best to walk back to his post with the banana.
No other cars pulled in for the rest of the day, but he still spun the cardboard cut-out a bit and looked at all the people driving home from work. They didn’t look beat, like people always say, but looked slightly tired while at the same time happy to be headed back to do nothing—to stay up late with their families or their pets or with no one and be consumed with nothing, to be fed nothing.
The manager told him to keep the suit for tomorrow, but he took it off before walking home, draping it over his arm. There was a gas station along the way with a freezer, so he stopped to pick up something to microwave and wanted to buy a few beers, but the gorilla man needed to save his money. When the cashier handed him his change, the gorilla man noticed that the man’s name was Sonny from his nametag. The cashier’s teeth looked gold, but he wasn’t so sure.
He then realized he didn’t know the girl’s name who was acting in the movie and wished he’d asked her. It could get lonely, not knowing people.
Banner Image: By Juanedc from Zaragoza, España (Gorila dormilón Uploaded by juanedc) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons