How to Keep Animals from Defecating in Your Closet
BY MARY SHEFFIELD
Install a screen door. String a chain and lock it with a combination lock, the kind you used in middle school. Turn the lights out. Turn them back on. Try to find 1000 watt bulbs. Complain to the manager that this is an emergency; complain to the manager’s supervisor that the manager is a dick; swear you will never come back to this home improvement store again.
Reason with the animals. Threaten them with expulsion. Smooth back their feathers and their fur and look into their glassy eyes; see only echoes of your own desperation. Mew at them. Bark. Caw. Translate your fear into grunting noises. Run with them after letting all loose to maw the wet earth in your backyard. Bleat at them. Neigh.
Take all of the clothes out of the closet. Wash them by hand. Hang them to dry along the wall separating yourself from your cop neighbor who has threatened to call in a code violation on the ducks, chickens, gophers, rabbits lined up sad in too-small hutches. Breathe deep the acridity of bunny piss. Pull the clothes down; they have been dried by the sun and the animal shit smell from your backyard will cling to them even though you’ve so far kept all the animals out of the closet. Wash the clothes again.
Hide inside the closet for hours at a time. Howl whenever you see a hoof or paw click by. Howl again if a wet nose stops to sniff the combination lock.
Forget the combination for the combination lock. Grimly set up shop in the closet. Begin calling for goats; they eat anything.
Waiting for goats draw your hands along the hems of your dress pants, shirts. Fondle the socks and underwear. Rub between thumb and pointer finger the cuffs of your father’s old jeans. Press your face into mothball darkness. Breathe again and wait to be delivered.
When the animals knock the door down, wild with hunger and fatigue, find yourself finding something in their eyes other than an echo of your own desperation. Find maybe empathy, a pool of sadness so deep as to drown all of you. Writhing animal bodies not really any different covered in hair in fur in pinprick coils of wiry black; how small oh how small can you can you; the slats of the closet letting in lines of light not enough to illuminate anything besides wild animal eyes and the stench of them and the feel of their coats and the quality of near darkness which doesn’t separate you from anything – which separates you from everything; all of them all of them shitting at once, glorious, raining down; boring through tunnels of the shit to escape to escape to try again to try again.
Rule number one – don’t keep so many animals as pets. They are unruly. They become angry and feel misrepresented by you. Remember when they lifted their heads to be pet? That was years ago and now they are tired and now they are tired and now they are hungry and now they are hungry and now they are a mob throttling you for not attempting to attempt to understand them to understand them.
Rule number two – if you must have so many animals, you have to keep track of their names. Here is a list I made for you: Stan, Elizabeth, Henry, Mr. Bubbles, Anthony, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Angelica, Hooligan, Duchess, Miss Bean, Polly, Jesus Fucking Christ, Goldie, Lizzy, Blackie, The All Encompassing Darkness, Burger Buddy, Queenie, Holly, Amy, Lester.
Rule number three: they watch you they watch you they watch you they watch you while you sleep. They see you they see you they see you and know who you really are. They want to they want to they truly want to eat your heart and your liver and your kidneys and your face and your intestines; eat your intestines like spaghetti; they watch you and know your stupid dark heart, your stupid wet dreams, your stupid, impossible hope to know anything besides yourself.
Rule number four: I can’t remember this one, but it’s something about making sure to lock your doors? Or don’t bring in any strays? Listen, you already have so have so have so many animals; animal bodies teeming like lice in my fucking hair what the fuck is the matter with you?
Rule number five: be thankful you are still even alive.
They have dark eyes and they are beautiful. Sleek, trim bodies moving in unison, as if together they are one animal; a wild horse charging down North Carolinan beaches; a bobcat tearing through Loxahatchee swamp; a thousand blackbirds shifting through the atmosphere.
Oh, you silly goose. You roosting chicken. My puppy love. Sex kitten. What are you waiting for? You have to start to start to start again. From scratch.
Or let them all go at the park. Hermit crab slow, inexorable escape. Turtles clutched by turtle doves. Cats riding goats hanging their heads. Dogs bounding in circles around the lake at the park where you went as a kid and threw rocks threw rocks as far as deep as you could; you remember the sound of the sound of the sound of them hitting the water as you throw them now. Gathering leashes, guilt, gathering courage, water bowls. Animals don’t even need to be told; they file into line behind you.
Once home, turn on porch light. Check mail. Stoop to pick up the halfdead body of a kitten. Nurse it back to life. Lock your bedroom door. Just never go in there again. Just never go in there again. The thought you had that there is something of you distinct from them is flawed; syngenetic inclusions formed when you were.
Mary Sheffield’s work has been published or is forthcoming in PANK, Blip Magazine, Fiction Southeast, and The Florida Review, among others. She lives in South Florida with her husband and her pets. Her cat keeps a blog here, wherein he discusses popular culture, literature, and his abiding despair.