She Wants You to Kill Your Animal Soul
BY ALYSSA PROUJANSKY
IN THE FORM OF A YOUNG GIRL WITH BLONDE HAIR
A ring on the ground: outside, on a sidewalk, somewhere uptown. Knowing about the ring means knowing everything, and she knows, but so does the man with the briefcase, standing there in the lobby, watching. She steps on the ring to hide it. It is active, mobile, burning with light. It presses right up against the sole of her shoe. She’s not fooling the man in the lobby. He pushes the doorman aside. Rushes the exit, briefcase swinging.
ETHAN HAS A FRIEND
A heavyset man in a rumpled shirt. He tails the glittering, the fabulous. Takes their pictures for celebrity magazines. Pillages the scraps they leave in their wake. To know him is to know greasy Chinese food, grubby kitchen. Sticky telephone, fly-littered light. For extra cash he hangs event posters. Today’s are for a summer rom-com about dolphins. He huffs and puffs, hurries down the sidewalk. Getting by, getting through. He’s happy this way. Always has been. Has never sunk into a depression.
ETHAN TELLS ME ABOUT THE SCHOOL OF DOLPHINS
How wonderful it is to swim among them! Dive deep underwater, flit and skim. But when he resurfaces, the school has expanded. The new ones are sinister, hard to say how. It’s like they’re not real dolphins—no, they’re not real at all. He sees a control panel, breathes a sigh of relief. He can leave this scene, move on to the next. But as he gets closer, the fake dolphins throng past. They pull levers, punch buttons. Type commands. Orchestrate everything.
A diagram of what is supposed to be a dolphin. Next to it, two more drawings: a person, an alien. This study would like to convince us of a common ancestor. But whoever’s in charge has cheated the lines, fudged the scale. Whoever’s in charge is more of a cartoonist. The drawings loosely resemble Huckleberry Hound.
ETHAN EXPLAINS THE POINT OF IT ALL
Get the ring from the young girl with blonde hair. Use the ring to jump from body to body. Use the ring to circumvent tragedy.
ETHAN SHOWS AN EXAMPLE AND IT’S HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
Someone throws a book from a window. He cycles from one body to the next, trying to catch it. Closer each time, but it’s never enough. “If it’s this difficult to catch a book…” He shakes his head sadly. The book crashes to the ground, pages flying. It crashes. It crashes. It crashes again.
NOT A FLAT-EARTHER
“Ghosts cling to this planet,” I say, “but she decided to leave. So maybe she exists somewhere between person and ghost.” Ethan insists he’s not jealous, but I think he is lying. I should really be quiet, but once I start I can’t stop. “I know our planet is round, but here’s what I can’t stop thinking: one day she just walked off the edge of the earth.”
A GIFT HORSE
He switches to a woman’s body because he thinks I will like it. He seems innocent, hopeful, eager to please. His new body is pleasant enough, but she isn’t my type. A grad student with pinprick eyes and a vast, horsey mouth. I liked him better before, but don’t want to seem ungrateful. I hug him tight and pet his strange face. He says the body was the best he could find at such short notice. He wanted to try it out first before committing to anything too extravagant.
WALKING OVER PLANKS AND GRAVEL
I know I am in love with a woman who is dead. When I say her name, I quickly correct myself. “My friend,” I say, but that’s not right either. “She,” I try, then nothing at all. We pass a chain-link fence, moths figure-eighting the streetlights. Our hands swing by our sides under the moon.
WE GO TO A PARTY
A large warehouse filled with people. Filled with animals. Filled with sinks, all lined up in a row. The animals are filthy, their fur patchy and matted. Dogs, mainly, a few sheep and goats. The sinks are stacked with dirty dishes. Food in the drains, slimed with decay. I wander around, asking questions. “Why so many? Why so dirty?” Ethan trails behind with a sympathetic expression. People laugh nervously and avert their eyes.
The host, it turns out, is a former friend who now hates me. She hates dreams in particular, memories in general. Plus I’m always naming things she thinks shouldn’t be named. As I approach, an animal trots over. “A dog!” I say. “Or—is he a goat?” “He’s a sheep,” she says. “If you really must know. I’ll keep him a year, like the others, and then I will eat him.” I open my mouth, and then I shut it. I can’t hide my surprise: she’s been vegan for years. She shifts and preens, fluffs her hair. It’s clear she believes she’s beaten me at my own game.
PIN THE TAIL ON THE
Everyone sits in a circle, trying to relate. “Of,” I say to the person on my left. “With,” they correct, furrowing their eyebrows. “Has,” I try, but this isn’t right either. Similar conversations wax and wane all around us. People gaze down at their laps, smiling desperately.
A narrow young dog slinks through the room. A walking apology, his nose to the ground. He rummages in a trash can, comes up with nothing. “Who is this guy?” someone asks the woman who hates me. Their festive interchange makes everything worse. I feel like I am being stabbed with tiny knives. I close my eyes, imagine him elsewhere. A soft bed, purchased expressly. Dangling tags etched with his name.
ORDER FROM DISORDER
I lose track of time, and then I find it. “And me?” I say. “What on earth am I doing?”
Well, I am just standing by the filthy sinks, washing dishes. Polishing the hardware. Wiping the basins. The woman who hates me saunters over, smirking. More animals follow, so I try again: “Why so many? Why so dirty?” She turns on her heel and walks away.
Ethan’s mouth gapes wide like an exit. He stamps on my foot and I let out a sharp cry. He leans in quickly, something glowing on his tongue. The ring falls into my open mouth.
HE ALWAYS GOT AWAY WITH IT BEFORE
We’re in a pre-fab house, laundry everywhere. Cheap, flimsy walls and he’s switched again. In the past, he was always completely distinct. Unaffected by the maladies of the bodies he inhabited. But now he’s gone and done it more than he should have. Too quickly, without resting in between. His new body is lanky and aging, throwing a tantrum. Having a meltdown. Having a breakdown.
“Hide,” he wails. “She’s coming, she’ll get you.” Hiding won’t help, but he is hysterical. So I crawl under a cupboard in an adjoining room. He screams and screams, his hands raw and busy: “She wants you to kill the animals within you. She wants you to kill your animal soul.”
SHE CUTS THROUGH THE WALL AS THOUGH IT IS NOTHING
Hiding is laughable, like I’d known it would be. The cupboard doesn’t matter: she sees into my cells. She is the little blonde girl and then she is the grad student. A dolphin who looks like Huckleberry Hound.
A STRANGE KINSHIP
She calls me by the name I use on my computer. She repeats it in different voices and laughs like a bell. I see that she is making a joke about energy. A joke about naming. A joke about hiding. I see that she doesn’t want me to kill anything. The point being: we can only fly parallel. We can travel forever and we won’t intersect.
Her energy is vast, but it isn’t destructive. She is more powerful than anything, but I don’t feel afraid. “And me?” I say. “What on earth am I doing?”
Well, I am back at the party, admiring my cleaning. Admiring the sinks. Admiring the animals. I am just standing here watching the doors swing open. Animals with no names flood out of the room.