My burrow smells like animal shit and typist underarms. There is also the earth. Sigmund greets me with a hiss and I take him from the glass and let him slither around my body. Other creatures peep and flit around the room, or are nestled in grooves. They are all free to come and go except Sig. I couldn’t stand the thought of being without him.
Rani, my housemate, got used to the idea. She has a rabbit, and had a wombat for a time. She’s an animal herself, all rat’s tail and camouflagic layers. She works in a shop selling two-dollar items. We are each in our hovels at night. Sometimes she is with others, I say hello then shy back. Their skin is often bright and smooth, and they smell like leaves.
‘Hi Mum’. Mum wonders about my dreams on the phone, as if I have some. She says she’ll put my stepfather on. I can’t protest, though I want to.
‘Going well in that job, hey?’
‘Still got those stupid animals around?’
‘You know your sister just bought a new motorbike?’
‘No. That’s cool.’
‘Yeah, and she’s second-in-charge now at the surf shop.’
I remember a pier and a fishing rod. A horrified fish, tail slap, slap, slapping, wet and stinky. A wrong father’s face, proud and bearing down.
A boy can be too sensitive. A boy should fish, and play football, and get into scruffs, and not want to hug anyone. Grey eyebrows stayed permanently down around me. He will always look sideways when I say something. My animal facts are useless. I must be some kind of gay boy. I am too skinny, why don’t I do weights? Sometimes a blow used to come quick if I dared say something. Mum would go and do fifty laps in the pool. I learnt not to speak, but still, it took me a long time to get away.
Mum thought I could be Steve Irwin. But my hands go clammy when too many people look at me. Still, I wish I’d thought about Cairns more. It’s too cold for Sigmund down here in Melbourne.
I reach forward to turn on the computer but jolt back because Sigmund clamps down, hard, into my bicep. The pain is exquisite. The walls heave and press in on us. We are one. He lets go, eventually, and I place his exhausted form back in the glass. Enough excitement for one day. I open my bar fridge and pull out a vial. Already my muscles are beginning to constrict. I can feel the sick at the back of my throat. I extract the antidote, shaking, tap the needle, then find that goodly vein in my right elbow-crook. It’s becoming a bit crusty. I should probably go see about it. I slip the needle in and press, then lie back on my furry covers, and slip into rest.
Mrs Graham’s dog, George, ended up dying, after inhaling the Bertelmann window spray. We would offer no compensation. I try to continue reading the other emails but they blur. I stare at the profit chart on the wall, winged curves. It’s hard to not find myself on the wall, in the corner, slithering by the desk of Lola, imagining Sigmund wrapped around her, squeezing her chest so her breasts heave up and pop out, my mouth meeting the nipple, our tails getting lost beneath her skirt. But people freak out when I crawl on the walls.
Instead, I open my browser. I enter the back-end of my blog. I need to put this outside of myself. I begin to write. I hate the consequences. I hate the white walls and the wooden floor. I hate the daily hisssss.
A cavalcade of ants enters the edge of my screen and march across the page. I brush at them with my hand but they’re inside. I open my drawer and find my BertelJuice deodorant. I spray it at the screen and they drop, coating my keyboard like tar. I see little legs kick here and there. I look at the can in my hand and then throw it at Mr Bertelmann’s sliding glass. It bounces. Everyone goes on with their work. How smudged the windows are. I wish it were time for lunch.
That night, my dream mixes with musty smells. There is Lola up against a fence, unable to escape the snake tasting the flesh of her thigh. She has no choice but to spread her legs open for me so I too can clamp down.
Then there are whales, and the must becomes fresh. I’m released and yet pulled under the waves, toppling over every time I have a glimpse of the island on the horizon, two green furry lumps like breasts.
I wake and can’t move. I need a whirlwind to come in and pick me up, and pick up the place while it’s at it. I am sick of the smell. Undecided if a burrow is my home. I stare across into the black eyes of Siggy. What’re we doing bud? There are a million things I would rather do – work with one of those kid farms that went around to schools and supermarkets, work at an animal park or zoo, be an exhibit in some alien zoo myself – homosapien.
‘Hi Mum… yeah I’m okay, same old. You?’
She’s just done a few laps in the pool, butterfly.
‘No I’m not doing much exercise, just a bit of walking round the park and that, bit of slithering and climbing too.’
She’s glad. She says she knows a guy from Cairns. He’s coming through town with his circus. She talked to him about me.
She says she doesn’t like the thought of me all cooped up. She says me and Sig should be on the road. I can feel my stepfather’s eyebrows. He’ll never make a living being a bloody circus freak. She says she’ll give me his number.
I hang out on the roof for a little bit. The budgie makes a perch out of me. When I call the man from Cairns with a trembly voice, I ask, if he needs me, what will I be doing? He says I would look after the animals and my throat constricts so much I have to check Sig hasn’t secretly bit me in a soft spot. He asks my qualifications and I have to tell him truth. I didn’t get into zoology. I’m self-taught. He asks me some things about animals and I answer them all. I ask if he has an elephant and he says that it’s in the room. I tell him to say hello.
I am allowed to bring along my pet snake and pet computer.
Quitting is more than difficult. Mr Bertelmann is ‘very disappointed’. He looks at me and sighs the way my stepfather did when the fish wriggled back through my fingers. I feel my neck is too long and my upper lip sweats too much. I have flashes of guilt for not being what he thought I was. I scratch at the inside of my elbow.
On the way out I see Lola. She wears a red dress so tight it almost cuts off her circulation. Her bangles coil around her arm. Run away with me a stupid voice says at the back of my mind. But that is just a dream. No girl like that would just flip a good job and join the circus. That’s for slithery compulsive freaks like me. She says goodbye politely and I wish for her dress to rip and spill those breasts for me, just once. I long for claws. But they stay within. And I walk out, looking back and wondering if it’s a hint of longing in those wet eyes of hers. A creature has never looked at me like that.
Animal Cracker is the most widely read traveling circus blog, and the readers have been introduced to Womyn the wombat, Dilly the elephant, Milhouse the monkey, Shamus the donkey, and many others. Sometimes the animals don’t get along, but I learnt their tics and how to mediate. Conflict is always interesting. Sig has to be kept quite separate when he’s in a bitey mood, but then we all do have our bitey moods. Monster is a woman with big fat green tattoos and when she caught me once relaxing on the main tent pole she decided I’d be a natural at the trapeze. But I don’t like too many eyes on me.
Monster says I’ll get over it as she takes me inside her trailer and coaxes the animal out. I press her against the ceiling. She bites. The many eyes on her tattooed skin watch me from different angles. And I don’t mind.