"Guess what, Uncle Francis."
"Guess what I learned about today."
"Uhhh . . . Communism."
"At’s uh . . . likea ant hill. But lotta times more lika bee hive."
"Oh. K. well so today, in school, we learned about platypuses."
"Yup. And know what? They got hair, an wings, an milk, an eggs, an bills, an beaver’s tails, an webbed feet with claws on em that shoot poison! An under water, know what they do?"
"Nopah don’t thinkah do."
"They shut their eyes an they feel their way around with their beak! An theyc’n smell ‘lectricity!"
"Well’f at ain’t neat."
"Isn’t that neato! An spiky anteaters only eat ants an termites. So if there were no more picnics or trees, they’d die."
"Hope that don’t never happen."
Stigmar often went to the zoo. Sometimes with her mother, who could pay, other times she would just sneak in at night. She liked most any animals, but few people interested her much. So the night was better, like nature. Sometimes she would wake the animals and look into their eyes, which looked more human to her than any other eyes, but also sadder, somehow.
On Saturdays she would sleep there with the animals. She could, since her mother wouldn’t be back until next morning. She grew to like them more than anyone she knew and she wondered if one day she would love one. And they would be married.
It was a Sunday morning in late September when she brought one home. She also brought home its eyes, in a Zip-Lock bag with the crumbs of the peanut butter cookies with the little criss-crosses, eaten on the way.
Stigmar’s mother had been reading Stigmar’s diary–which was filled with lies and dirty words on purpose; (Stigmar knew her mother as well as she knew anyone, and she knew her mother would not ask about the things in the diary, however scary or gross). Under the mattress, with the diary, Stigmar’s mother sniffed out the Zip-Lock. With further detective work, the animal.
"Why, Stigmar? Tell me why."
"It asked me to do it."
"Did your uncle Frank tell you to do this?"
"What in God’s name is the matter with you?"
"Christ . . . Don’t you know that you can go to hell for things like this?"
"You better believe it."
"It wanted to be blind."
"Where in hell’d you get an idea like that?"
"It told me."
"You think you can talk to animals."
"What in God’s name’s the matter with you?
A few weeks later the second pair of eyes was found, this time in Stigmar’s jewelry box, which twinkled with delicate music when you opened it. Her mother could not say from what sort of beast they came, and did not ask; but their size made her dizzy, and she shut the box, which she threw in the big trash can in the garage.
(later that evening, during Johnny Carson–he is being pawed about by a monkey):
"Are you blind, girl? Can’t you see that this is wrong? That it’s a sin?" (with each lash).
"Sometimes it’s fun to be blind," Stigmar answered tonelessly. She didn’t know "wrong" or "sin," but she knew "blind." "Can I watch Johnny now?"
"We’re not through yet, young lady."
The lashes used to make her cry. But you got used to it, like a hot tub. Now it was just kind of neato. Sometimes, though, she would pretend it hurt real bad, otherwise she knew her mother would switch to something bigger and harder than the spatula. Sometimes she thought it was fun. She didn’t know why and she didn’t care. But she dare not let on.
Stigmar had always wanted to be blind. More precisely, she wanted to be like her Uncle Francis. Uncle Francis had been blind as had Stigmar’s mother in many ways. One of his eyes stood still–her mother told her once that it was glass, and for a long time Stigmar thought he had been born with it–and over the other one he wore a piece of cloth on a string which Stigmar always found humorous. The cloth was some prize he had won for almost being killed in some war.
"Do it, Uncle Francis! Do the thing!"
"Now what thing would that be."
"AArrrrrr." And in a wink Frank was a pirate. "Shu’yur gob, ma wee lassee, er ah sh’ll make ye woke thah plahnk. Blimey! Shiver me timbers!"
"What about the bottle a rum, Uncle Francis?"
"Shu’it ya wee twit!"
Stigmar used to rediscover her mother’s house through blindfolds. She liked not having to look at her mother or at her self in mirrors. And she liked the feel of things, even things that hated her when she could see them.
Uncle Francis had taught her about people, since she never understood them. There are cat people and dog people, he would say. Stigmar’s head used to erupt with pictures of cats with people heads and people with dog heads and old men urinating on fire hydrants and young women hanging from screen doors and much scratching and licking in obscenely comic or comically obscene ways and she wondered what her mother was and imagined her mother with a wet snout and sharp teeth and a shag tail and floppy ears and tongue on someone’s leg and it got so that every time she saw her mother Stigmar would twitch with giggling which she could not contain even during the spatula and it got so she could not ever look at her mother and she felt in a side show. After she had learned about marriage and babies it was all even sillier but also creepy somehow when pictures of pets and mothers in beds stroked themselves luridly onto the tempestuous canvas in her head and she wondered if she were a pet and whether she owned herself. She didn’t think so, because Uncle Francis had said that nothing could ever be owned really. Only in the head could a thing be kept, and some would die there and some yelp and scratch and claw to get out and some just whine and cry. Until one day you’d wake up and find them lost, find yourself the keeper of empty pens.
"Are you a dog person, Uncle Francis?"
"Naw. Ya don’t look like one. Are ya a cat person?"
"Naw. Not so much."
"Well, what are ya, Uncle Francis?"
"Couldn’t say. Mole I guess. Er a bat."
"Whad’ya think Mom is?"
"Yur ma’s a flea person."
"Yaw. I’d say so."
"Oh. . . . What am I ?"
"You got ta ask yur self that."
"Ma?" (eyes thrust on linoleum)
"Mom’s busy now." (from somewhere near the stove)
"Oh. That’s O.K. I’ll clean it up."
Stigmar only felt the leer, felt it as she felt the sweat beading, the eyes moistening, the heart tattooing the underside of her skinny chest with throbs of dread and something else she did not understand. She felt all the blood in her body jellying in a hole in her chest, oozing down into a vault in her stomach. She did not need to see any of these things. Seldom could she clench her eyelids without feeling her mother’s upsidedown smirk, as if it were a part of her, inside her, twisting around, a worm. Even blindness could not cure her.
(scrubbing): "Christ. Your father’s gonna have a word or two to say to you, young lady."
"Oh." Father would not say a word. Father never said a word. Not ever.
"Goddamn it. This is gonna stain." (just above her breath, to be sure Stigmar could hear)
"It most certainly is."
SCRUB, CHRIST, SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB, CHRIST, SCRUB, SCRUB . . .
Stigmar liked the word "christ." Maybe because it sounded like other things she liked like nice and rice and mice and lice. She liked lice, although she had never seen one. (She liked Uncle Francis’s idea that lice had little things living in their hair too, and went to little tiny supermarkets to buy little bitty bottles of special shampoo, and that no matter how small a thing got even though you couldn’t ever see it there would be something smaller.) She liked lice because they meant her mom would touch her head. It was like petting. It hurt and itched but at least Mom would touch her–not touch her with something from the kitchen but touch her with herself. Dad would touch her too but that was a different kind of petting and she was used to it so it was not quite as neato.
Sometimes she didn’t like "christ" because it meant feeling the thing she did not understand. Later Uncle Francis would call it "guilt" but he could not explain it. (She could remember not feeling it but could not remember when she first felt it.) Later she learned of Christ and wanted to be him. She would draw a beard on her face with marker and pictures of him on her walls with Mom’s lipstick since she couldn’t find posters of him and Mom would belt her when she saw the pictures but she didn’t know if it was because of the lipstick or the pictures and Mom would say "christ" to her which she liked. After she had learned about what people did to Christ she liked the belt more because she felt like whipped Christ and that made her happy. Mom would try to clean the walls but the pictures only smeared and never came off completely and she would try to clean her backside but it only smeared and left marks and she felt even better and more like a "christ" but she wished she could grow a beard. She asked Uncle Francis once if he had grown his beard to be like Christ but he said no he’d never cared for him much. One day she would go to a neighbor’s church and see a big neat Christ on the wall behind the talking man who told of people watching other people in holes being eaten by big lions which she thought was neato. She wanted to be up there–not up there in front talking but on the wall. So then people would point and say oh would you look at that up there it’s so very sad and big. She wanted to buy the Christ for her room. She asked the talking man after. Mom belted her when Stigmar told her the talking man said it was not for sale.
The sound of rag on rug scraped and scoured Stigmar’s eardrums. Somehow this hurt more than the spatula. It felt like another rag was in her chest, scrubbing and pushing real hard. She wished to be deaf as well as blind. She could be happy that way. She would still knock things over but would not hear them fall. Things could break and spill in peace and quiet. She could say neat words like christ and lice in her head; she did not need to hear them. She did not need her mother. She wondered if people could live without hearts and wished she had someone to ask. She could be happy. Somehow she felt that they could not but she didn’t know why. Later Uncle Francis would explain to her that most people can and do. She would not ask her father, not because he was cross but because he would not answer. They did not talk. Even when he took her into his office downstairs they did not talk. They always wound up doing other things. She wondered if Mom knew that Dad never gave her a talking-to when he was supposed to. Probably not, or she would be upset.
(scrubbing) . . .
"Oh, to the devil with it."
"Did it stain? Did I stain it?"
"You stain everything. Everything you touch. You are a stain, Stigmar–an ever present blemish."
As the rushing faucet stopped up abruptly at the dam of silence, as though both had just drown, Mom swallowed hard and gurgled: "Mom didn’t mean that, honey. You know I didn’t mean it."
Mom wipes her eyes on her apron. Stigmar stares at them.
"What kinda plant would I be?"
"You got ta ask yur self that."
"Oh. Well, so what plant would you be?"
"Awh, I never thought on it. Ya mean what would I like ta be, or what am I?"
"Mmmmm–what are ya, I guess."
"Well, I ain’t muchuva plant person. But, I’d say a wilted plastic narcissus."
"A what kinda scissors?"
"Narcissus. I’ll tell ya ‘bout him some day. Let’s jest say a weed."
"Oh . . . Do weeds live forever?"
"Nothin’ lives ferever. But there’ll always be weeds."
"Oh. Good, cuz I like dandelions, and Ma says those’re weeds, not flowers."
"They’re weeds cause people don’t want ‘em around. But they’ll never kill ‘em all."
"Oh . . . K. well so what plant d’ya wanna be?"
"Ain’t got the foggiest."
"Oh. . . . . Uncle Francis?"
"Where’d yur eyes go to?"
"Ah, . . . I gave ‘em away. Didn’t want ‘em anymore."
"Oh. . . . That was nice-a-ya."
I grew up in a perpetual state of mutation, metamorphosis, one might even say reincarnation. I would tell Uncle Francis about every change, and he would always like the changes no matter what. He always said that changing is far more important than what is changed into. He also said that making mistakes was better than not making, and that making believe was best of all. And that seeing inside was what mattered and not seeing outside. Later I knew what he meant, and I started going outdoors again. I studied people for a time. That became tiresome quickly, so I studied animals.
At fist I fancied myself a dog because I was mangy and liked to bite but I learned to despise the leash and the muzzle that they had on me so I couldn’t bite anybody anymore and when I heard that dogs were man’s best friend well that was it.
I was a cat until I stopped licking my filth off. I used to like to do it, but I never felt clean though some thought I was. Even my mother, and for a time I could look at her but only briefly. But one can only binge on one’s self and hide the dirtiness in the gut and throat for so long before clogs erupt. (Mom never let us have pets, but I had seen neighbors’ cats cough up things and it looked neato but not all that fun.) I found that filth only nauseates when internalized, and there is enough inside without swallowing more. Best to let it stay out.
I was too slimy to be a snake for long since they are actually too smooth and dry but I liked the molting. I also liked the venom, which may be why I turned into a scorpion for a good while.
Right now I’m a vulture. I’m just waiting for everyone to die.
Uncle Francis says now that he was wrong and everyone is a flea, but I have decided to be an armadillo in a cocoon and partially I dread the next metamorphosis for I will likely emerge a mosquito rather than a butterfly or a wasp or such. Mosquitoes don’t live long, which is good, but they are obsessed with sex. Uncle Francis told me that they live on plants and only bite us so that they can have sex, and then they die. And bees can only sting once, so when I am a bee I’ll have to plan my sting carefully. I think I’ll sting my mother. She’s allergic. Maybe I am already a bee; I can almost fly I found out but mostly downward not upward and I can make the sound for seven hours straight except breathing (I counted) and Mom still says I hurt her and make her gag and break out in hives whenever I go to visit her. But I don’t do that much. If I was in a hive, I’d want to break out. I don’t like sweet smells, or monarchies. I should not be a bee. Or a mosquito. But you can’t always help what you turn into. Just have to wait and see. But if I am swatted or smeared I will be happy not to have been netted. I think I will be happy regardless. I am happy in all things. I think the duck billed platypus is best, the best of all worlds. Plus they have one hole for both babies and feces, which is neato but Mom thinks it’s sick. But she’s real sick now so I don’t think she thinks right. I hope to leave the zoo before I die, or at least the cage, should I find my self in one. I don’t know if this is a cage or not. If I turn into a bat, I think I wouldn’t mind dying right in the cave. Bats are nice. Bats are blind. If I make myself blind maybe I’ll be a bat quicker. Maybe I’ll do that. Either way, you know, I will be happy to be free.
copyright 1998 by dustin hansen