Wear it or you’re fired, they said, and now here I am, sweating in my big head. The fan at the top isn’t working properly, no doubt because my long, wavy strands of hair keep getting caught in it, ripped away at the roots. Each time this happens I jump a little, here inside my furry suit. The Girls in Yellow lead me from the service corridor into the indoor pool area and I get a glimpse of myself in the poolside mirror. One of them has me by the paw, another by the tail. My eyes are ovoid, heavily eyelashed and dewy, my smile and buck teeth so big they verge on demonic. I am Gabby the Gopher. Take of me what you will.
For, what is money? Nothing but a construct, a thing invented to aid us in our suffering, but which adds to our suffering in innumerable ways – and I need it bad. Art school doesn’t pay for itself, you know (or at least that’s what Dad tells me). It’s sweltering, Autumn, easily triple digits, wet and sticky, particularly here by this vapor-spewing jacuzzi. When the Girls in Yellow announce my presence the younger children yell and crawl over each other to get out of the pool. They know Gabby by name, and they use it. Though my vision is limited to the million little pricks punched through the metal saucers representing my eyes, still I see them all. My breathing is heavy and sounds heavier, like a deep sea diver, in my bubble. When I graduate I will have a cottage in the countryside, and I will paint there.
I am taken to the outdoor area and the kids are not upon us yet. They are small, and slow. The time is 4pm, and 4pm is when Gabby emerges to do her dance. Through my pinholes I see Missouri – ‘Misery’, as they pronounce it here – splayed like a Lichtenstein beyond the brickwork patio and the Fun Zone House, falling away and rolling past a row of condos, all mosquitoes and hickory, Paw Paw and lakeside bluffs, an immense flooded hollow drenched in an endless haze. It is infinitely hotter outside than it was inside.
But there’s no time for stopping. The Girls in Yellow continue to lead the way. Joseph Beuys once spent a week locked in a room with nothing but a stack of newspapers, an umbrella, a coyote and a roll of felt. I Like America and America Likes Me. People filed in, safe behind a windowed wall, to watch the coyote tear at the newspapers, tear at the felt, be held at bay with the umbrella. He once covered his face in honey and gold foil and explained art to a dead hare cradled in his arms. I can do this.
There are more kids in the outdoor pool than there were in the indoor pool, and they too shriek when they spot me. Their parents, rotisserie red, turn and laugh.
“It’s Gabby time everybody!” says Girl in Yellow Number 1. “Is everybody ready to dance?” The kids from the indoor pool have caught up to us, and are bouncing with glee. Yes they are ready. Girl in Yellow 2 goes to plug the phone into the speakers.
“And are you ready, Gabby?” says Girl in Yellow 1. I’m not allowed to speak, and so I nod, but to make Gabby nod I have to enter into what is essentially a slow-motion headbang. The kids from the outdoor pool have joined the others, and they all now face me, jumping.
The music comes on and I begin the Gabby Dance. This comprises a left-foot kick across the body with jazz hands, then a right foot kick across the body while continuing jazz hands, followed by a booty shake while making running movements with the arms. The kicks and jazz hands are fine, I can handle this, but a booty shake in the Gabby suit is no laughing matter. Gabby is meant to be bent over a fair bit while she’s doing it, to show just how into it she is, but the head is heavy and the tail is long, so to get the whole thing into a proper flowing motion takes a heap of energy, and soon I am completely soaked in sweat. In the corner of a gallery, Felix Gonzalez-Torres installed a number of hard candies in bright metallic wrappers equal to his own weight. Visitors were allowed to take as many pieces as they wished, but with the sweetness came an odd guilt. It was as though you were stealing a piece of him, eating a piece of him. After his death this guilt increased manyfold.
The fan pulls a few more hairs and I jump. A new, faster-paced song begins, and I up my speed. The Girls in Yellow, on either side of me now, take a paw each and join in the dance. Many of the parents seem to have wandered off to the Cocktail Hut. Bright candy smears circle the children’s mouths. Already wired, the upbeat song works them into a frenzy Gabby is obliged to oblige. Through my mesh eyes I see a little girl come for me. She clamps onto a big furry Gabby leg and I can no longer dance-kick without launching her into the pool. Another girl is inspired to join her on my left leg. “I love you, Gabby,” she says. Love and obsession ooze from her eyes.
The Gabby Dance has been relegated to a shuffle, and the Girls in Yellow don’t seem to notice that we’re getting too close to the pool. Hockney does the best pools – so serene, so crisp, so full of meaning. But boys do not show their excitement by hugging. Boys show their excitement by punching, or at least these boys do, and their little fists are right at the same height as Gabby the Gopher’s crotch.
They strike. The Girls in Yellow gently try to dissuade them but their main concern is the happiness of the children, and their admonishment comes couched in fun. “Not so hard, boys,” they say. “Love him with your words.”
The fan inside my head is powered by a battery. Can a battery electrocute a full-grown man, or should I fear only drowning? The blows lead me closer to the pool’s edge, and the girls keep their grip. I am no longer able to dance, though the music plays on. Another boy grabs my tail and pulls, and I head backwards faster still.
“Gabby, I love you!” the girls shout. More pile on.
On foul days I will paint inside my cottage; on fair days I will venture out. I’m teetering on the edge. A few more hairs are lost to the fan. The children love me and beat me. The Girls in Yellow have me in their hands.