By Alexandra & Cruz Alicia Kort
This story was inspired by Maurizio Cattelan’s banana-taped-to-the-wall art piece at Art Basel Miami.
It’s the afternoon right after lunch and everyone’s feeling drowsy. The sun peeks through the messy and broken blinds hitting the eyes of a few unlucky children. Some kids are talking to each other, while others are fighting the urge to sleep. In front of the classroom, the art teacher Ms. Collins is rambling about the end-of-year project that’s due tomorrow. She’s just running down last-minute things, like how each kid needed to have some talking points about the piece ready during the presentation.
One student in particular, a black-haired girl with a beige cardigan and white shirt tucked into her light wash jeans, is busy scrolling through a webcomic on her phone. Her finger moves lazily as she rereads the last couple of panels one more time. Her friend Farah looks over and sighs, tapping her arm.
“Remi, you should be paying attention instead of playing games on your phone.”
Remi rolls her eyes before turning off her phone and resting her head against her hand. She turns around, almost slapping Farah with her ponytail and puts the phone back in her bag.
“For your information, I wasn’t playing games on my phone,” she mutters. “Not like it matters anyway. Ms. Collins hates me.”
“Come on, no she doesn’t.”
“Yeah right. She always gives me low scores based on nothing but her personal preferences.”
Remi remembered the project two months ago that she poured her heart into. It was an assignment on painting landscapes, and she was excited to paint the view of the beach she went to with her family. She had the picture for reference and bought paintbrushes to work on it at home, even researching shading methods. The whole thing took her a couple of days, but it amounted to nothing. Ms. Collins thought it was boring and that was that.
“Well not this time. I’m just gonna give her trash and see how she reacts.”
Farah sighed at her friend’s antics with defeat. “It’s your grade.”
When Remi walked into class the next day, her heart started pounding when she realized she forgot to bring something in for class. She rummaged through her backpack trying to find anything that wasn’t considered school supplies. At the very bottom of her bag she felt something like plastic and quickly pulled it out. It was the crumpled remains of a Sour Patch Kids bag that still had remnants left. Inside was a ball of Sour Patch Kids that had melted together, forming an oddly discolored ball of multicolored candy. It looked like a tie-dye experiment gone wrong and she could hardly decipher where one Sour Patch Kid began and another ended. By pure luck there was a single blue Kid that remained intact that was stuck at the top of the ball. The large ball was sticky from the inside of the candy being ripped in halves exposing their sticky gummy texture and Remi heard the faint sound of sugar hitting the desk. She looked down to see both her lap and desk dirty with flakes of white gritty sugar that had fallen off.
“Yikes, this is what I get for leaving a bag of candy in my bag during summer,” she thinks.
Remi shrugged, setting the baseball-sized monstrosity in front of her. She wiped her hands of excess sugar and waited until her name was called.
Remi took a breath before grabbing the sticky ball, leaving a trail of sugar from her seat to the front of the class. She held up the ball and started to sweat.
“So, what do you call this piece?”
“Uh, well, I call it…” Remi darted her eyes around the classroom. “Sour…ball?”
Ms. Collins hummed. “I like the simplicity, continue.”
“So you see, this mass of Sour Patch Kids represents society.” Remi resisted the urge to slam her head against a desk and continued with the narrative she made up on the walk to the front of the class.
“I am the blue Sour Patch Kid.” Remi pointed to the Sour Patch at the top, pretending it had a special meaning. She looked over to Ms. Collins and she could see the teacher’s watery eyes light up.
“It’s so obvious, yet so ambiguous.”
“You see, I am stuck in this mess of a society represented by this ball of Sour Patch Kids. If I do try to get out, I’ll break myself.” Remi gave a tug to the blue Sour Patch Kid and shook her head.
Surprisingly, Ms. Collins was impressed.
Of course she’d be wowed by a forgotten candy mass in Remi’s backpack, rather than a painting that she’d put a lot of love into.
“I think you have a real masterpiece here, Remi,” Ms. Collins says. “This is the kind of piece galleries are showing right now—actually, I’m going to call an art enthusiast I know. I think he’d enjoy this piece.”
Remi smiled politely, but inside she was cackling with glee. She couldn’t believe Ms. Collins was falling for this.
When Remi walks into the turpentine-smelling art room the next day, there’s a silver-haired man in a navy suit. Remi doesn’t know much about suits, but she knows that it looks expensive. He’s also slightly too tan, in a fake way, and his teeth are painfully white. The mystery visitor flashes a megawatt smile in Remi’s direction.
“You must be the artist,” the man said gruffly, reaching out his hand for a handshake. As a high schooler, Remi wasn’t accustomed to handshakes. His hand was surprisingly smooth—maybe he was one of those businessmen who got manicures.
“Yes,” Remi said with a nod.
“You’re really talented, you know,” he continued. “You’ve got a long career ahead of you. This piece is so thoughtful and unique. I’ve never seen anything like it. Banksy wishes he could do stuff that’s this derivative.”
Remi nodded like she knew what he was talking about.
“What do you do exactly?” she asked.
“He works in finance,” Ms. Collins interjected. “But he’s an art collector.”
“I want to buy your piece,” he said, “I want to add it to my collection. I’ll also of course promote your piece to the press. My apartment is being featured in Architectural Digest next week, and I’d love for this artwork to be on my wall when the photographers are in my home.
Remi looked around the classroom, where her fellow students were slowly drifting in. Was she being punked right now? Was she on some weird reality show and, any second now, someone would jump out and tell her it was all a joke? Her classmates seemed as confused as she was.
The mystery man, whose name Remi still didn’t know, sensed her confusion.
“I know this is all a little overwhelming,” he said. “I’d like to buy your work. Can we discuss the details in the hallway?”
As if on queue, the school bell chimed, signaling the start of class.
“Everyone, just start to plan out your next project—your interpretation of the wealth gap in New York City,” Ms. Collins said, as if she didn’t realize the irony of standing next to a man so rich that he was nameless.
Her frizzy haired teacher ushered the wealthy man and Remi out into the now-empty hallway.
The man reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a checkbook.
“I’d like to buy your Sour Patch Kids piece for $100,000,” he said.
Remi’s jaw dropped to the fall.
“What?” she whispered.
Remi never thought much about money in her lifetime. She knew her parents wanted her to get a job but that was mostly to save up for college and build character. Whatever that means.
“$100,000,” he repeated.
“Uhm, yes, absolutely,” Remi stuttered. She didn’t even care if she was being punked anymore or that Ms. Collins was glowing with pride, clearly taking credit for discovering one of New York City’s up-and-coming artists. Whatever made the woman sleep better at night.
“Wonderful!” The man grinned. “I’m so looking forward to displaying it. Is it meant to be hung up on the wall? Encased in glass on a table?
“Encased in glass.” Remi said with surprising certainty. This doofus was buying her Sour Patch Kids, which probably cost $4.
The man wrote out the check and handed it over. This was the beginning of Remi’s art career.
Remi wouldn’t tell the truth about her origins as an artist until years after both the man, who was a hedge fund manager, and Ms. Collins had passed away. She did pivot back to her first love, landscapes, after her few viral pieces had given her a foothold in the industry.
Alexandra wanted to write a story about a crime, so we brainstormed what story could fit into that category. They debated many possibilities but they also wanted their crime story to involve deception, so that is how they landed on this story about an accidental candy masterpiece. Alexandra wrote the first half of the story and Alicia wrote the second half.
Alex Cruz is a junior in high school in Brooklyn, NY. She likes to write fiction across multiple genres. She was born in Brooklyn.
Alicia Kort is a writer and editor living in New York City. She’s a shopping writer for SheKnows and StyleCaster and the associate nonfiction editor for Carve magazine. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended the University of Missouri before moving to Brooklyn. In her time in New York, she's discovered New York City pizza is superior to her hometown’s and that she’s actually a cat person.