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Portrait of an Ape

Story by Jiaqi Kang (Read author interview) March 20, 2023

Art by Kiki Falconer


Before I was brave enough to look you in the eye I sent you links to things I found online. Like this 2015 Tumblr post I think about all the time, where a high schooler goes into the art room at lunch to paint gouache orang-utans. They were reddish-brown with white eyes and open mouths, hands hidden or held up next to their ears. Put there by bristles overloaded with pigment and splotched onto poster paper, the auctioneer might say impasto, might call it outsider art; when the painter is naïve their work can sell for a million dollars just because it’s ugly. I need primates to be hideous, or else I’d want to reach out and brush their soft pelts with my fingers, hold their fleas between my thumbnails and check the ripeness before I crack them open to eat. I’d want to wipe the tears from their faces, like on the train in the summer, before we were together, when I cried and you were afraid to do anything in case you scared me off. As the weather started to turn, you took my hand one evening and when I looked at you, you shrugged and said, I want to touch you.



According to my housemate, a couple is always constituted by one person who is terminally online and one who knows nothing. But you and I agree that we merely come from different onlines. I explain Caroline Calloway while washing the dishes, noting that she would have left Cambridge around the time you arrived, and, in my bed, where we spend the majority of our time, you show me viral videos on Bilibili that I can’t even begin to find funny. I take off your top, run my tongue around your nipples. I suck a bruise onto your tits. I wanted it to be darker, but you don’t like it when I bite. You tell me that, more than anything, you find great comfort in your mammality. Sometimes you look at yourself naked in the mirror and imagine that you are an ape, sitting on the ground, nursing your young. Isn’t it beautiful, you think, to be the same as an elephant, a dolphin, a cat. No, I reply, laughing, being human is better. I give in to the urge to lick your skin.



I thought I would hate Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but my ex made me watch it, and when James Franco left Caesar behind, I started to cry so hard I thought I was going to throw up on the carpet. Since you and I broke up, I’ve begun to check if you’ve seen my Instagram stories. You always have. Knowing this has influenced what I post, and I wonder if you feel this way about your WeChat Moments. Lately, I’ve scrolled there every day in search of the public you, the version of you your friends in China know. You rarely post, but yesterday, you wrote: All you need in life is to be able to sit at the window on a train, watching the sheep pass by. I’ve heard you say this out loud before. I can’t tell you about the sheep I saw on the way to York; I’d dozed off and when I lifted my head I was struck by how many of them there were, how green the grass they grazed. I can’t tell you that last night I dreamt we were friends again. I let you put your lips on the corner of my mouth, not a real kiss, never your real girlfriend, but second-best, and good all the same.

About the Author

Jiaqi Kang is a doctoral student in art history and the founding editor-in-chief of Sine Theta Magazine, an international, print-based creative arts publication for the Sino diaspora. They are the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2022.

About the Artist

Kiki Falconer is a photographer from Los, Angeles.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Nine

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