Lamarckian Evolution

Amy Benson


Once upon a time, a long time from now, there are monkeys who feed at ancient landfills.  They swallow the parts they need to wire or pad or decorate their bodies—foam fill, glass beads, plastic baby bottles, spiral phone cords (the kind that, for a brief time, teenage girls would wrap obsessively around their fingers), sequined upholstery fabric, pumps to fill and pumps to empty.  They lap at the silicone they need to coat their sockets and cavities.  They are both tender and territorial with one another.  They do as their parents taught, clean the worst of the garbage from their white fur, pluck rebar and fiberglass and staples from each other’s paws.  One pauses, considers a string of plastic beads, adds it to his haunch.  Their babies, they are pleased to note, are born part flesh, part rubber, wire, and watchworks.


This is what we saw when we walked into the gallery: tableau of these monkeys, their fur incompletely stretched over their bodies, not quite covering their jaws or joints.  Some creatures’ bellies or trachea were entirely exposed or covered with translucent domes or replaced with upholstery that looked scavenged from a bordello.  Their breasts, genitals, and mouths looked fancy and painful.  But they were also bubbling with what might have been tumors.  Spray insulation frothed from the gaps in their fur.  They didn’t seem to see us or need us; they were carrying on with their relationships, a nuzzle here, a puncture wound there.  And those familiar items—tube, cord, drinking straw—seemed both to be holding them up and making them terminally ill.  They have loped back through time on their composite limbs to hold very still for us.


In our group in the gallery there were several babies, all walking and talking, a few nursing still, the oldest among them not yet three.

            The babies circled the groups of monkeys holding their poses, asked to be held up so that they might peer more closely at their faces, their rumps, and their bellies full of treasure.  One said upon entering, “I don’t like this,” then looked and looked and said, “I like this.”  Then they found a darkened room in the back that was showing a stop-motion film with a calliope soundtrack.  The babies filed in of their own accord and, as if by agreement, felt their way to the bench in the center of the room and crawled up on it.  The monkeys moved jerkily, enacting the story of a couple in their glittering, dry ice cave.  They have a dog that grows weak and is eaten, they have silent rivalries and fantasies about their own goodness.  They have vicious sex and then gestate a monkey child.  When it has come to term, the mother slits her own belly with a sharp fingernail and the baby slides out in a cascade of iridescent glass beads.  The final shot is of a clear plastic monkey breast filling with milk and the baby’s mouth working toward it.

            When the end of the film played, the babies said, “Mommy’s milk,” sternly at first, like a demand or even a reprimand.  The film looped and they murmured “Mother.” It looped again and they remembered their mothers as if they were something that had happened to the babies long ago. “Mother,” they felt the word with their mouths. “Mommy… Mama.”  It began to dissolve on their tongues like a tuft of cotton candy.  “ma… mmm,” they said, smiling, wistful.  They reached for each other’s hands, hugged, tried to push one another from the bench. The oldest leaned over to the youngest and said, “I love you” in a stage whisper.  The movie began anew every 6 minutes, and the babies sat there in the dark a long time. 


We took turns peeking through the heavy velvet curtains at the doorway to make sure no child was being devoured.  We wondered if we had swallowed the things we needed, if we had swallowed the things they needed and passed them along.  We wondered what would happen if we left.  How long would they sit with the glistening, mutated monkeys in the dark?  How long would they hold hands, turn and offer each other pathogens on their wet lips?  How long would it take them to realize they were on their own?