J.W. McCormack


J.W. McCormack

I have a planet in my apartment and it may be a nasty, inhospitable planet but it is mine. Leeches squirm in the heating vents and the windows are cracked with ancient coral. Our kingdom is not peaceable and neither am I some child of the forest unfurled in the bud of a flower. I am, rather, a wild boy, a feral child bound by a mottled length of rope to the side of my mistress as we doze on a mattress overgrown with grass and fennel. She is an evolutionary exception, a proto-sapien enormousness of hands and feet; nothing of the primitive about her, her conquests are recorded in the paintings that peek out from behind the balustrade, stencils of oxen, atavistic horselings and sabreteeth, while her wardrobe of pelts drip in the closet opposite, blood pooling out from under the slats to mix with the bracken below.

I wake up hungry, interrupted from a dream of my old wolfpack, still imagining rough tongues and snouty nuzzlings to find I have been gnawing at the leg of my Cro-Magnon queen. It is the middle of the night but the stars barely penetrate the bedroom and the light fixtures are too high for my claws. My cave-wife stirs in her sleep, vast rumblings as she turns on her side and kicks me loose from where my teeth are still fastened to her thighs. The rope that binds me snaps and I plummet from the sheets of greensward to the swamps below. I yowl as I search for a raft of carpet. My hunger is a beast inside a beast. My only chance is to rove over the wilderness of our domicile. Perhaps the fridge at the far side of the Artic wastes of our kitchen contains some unfinished morsel, an incompletely clubbed seal or a subdued trout, even a leg of mutton. I require nightfood before I can return to my pastoral blankets and dream easy again.

But for now, I am the one being made a meal of. Swarms of mosquitos and other bloodsuckers coat my legs and shoulders as I swim beneath the bedsprings, the bedroom bayou punctuated by islands of laundry that drift past me as I pull myself into a huge boot lying forgotten beneath a grotto of mossy linen and, plucking a reed from the inside of a marooned soda carton, row myself to the edge of the boudoir. There, at the intersection of the carpet and the creaking baseboard—for this planet is of railroad assembly and the only place to go is forward—lies the bleached skull of my old roommate. So that’s where he got to. Alive, Patrick was a querulous critic of the chore wheel, a demon with the thermostat whose hair clotted every drain and whose leavings decorated the toilet bowl into which, if you stared deeply, you would see the lambent flickerings of an anglerfish deep inside the pipes. Now he is a feast for maggots, bearded with snails, stray bits of skin flapping from a face almost completely skeletonized by piranhas. As I row past, a corpulent centipede uncoils from an eyehole and extends itself winsomely in my direction. Patrick deserved better than to bloat crepuscular at the undertow; ex-roommate, ex-lifeform, he paid the rent on time, bought plenty of beer, separated the towels, fed sacrifices to the gods of the oven to keep their wrath at bay. But, alas, cohabitation is no rampart against the elements and we all have to feed the worms sooner or late.

Now I am in the library and can breathe without my throat becoming clotted with flies. Our scholarship has neglected the shelves and so deciduous trees have grown up around them. A jungle of spines and bark, pages make a canopy as their tatters catch in the leaves. I wash my hide with rotted volumes of Brontë, Borges, Balzac, and lesser Trollope. I have made my way to the tropical climes of the office when I hear the hooting. Half-hidden by the overgrowth, monkeys squat above the furniture, poring over dictionaries and incorporating Latin pronunciations into their repertoire of gibbering shrieks. Now that some prey has caught their attention, they discard their cruel study and begin hurling books flecked with their feces in my direction.

A howler descends from the boughs and lands on a swivel chair with such force that he begins to rotate overhead, slavering every time his orbit brings us face to face. I have scant time to clamber up a desk and hide in a drawer of pencil shavings and paper clips before the primate can tear my face off. I wonder for a minute what he would do with it once he had it, how he might improve it or use it to improvise a crude puppet show, before I pull the cabinet shut. After a while, satisfied that he has left to seek amusement from the caterpillars that crawl amid the armatures, I slip out and proceed to the living room.

Here sofas, lamps, and chairs populate a trackless desert. Sand cakes the cushions and long-eroded portraits decorate the wasteland, while vultures circle overhead. Exhausted, I recline for a minute and watch the seasons subtly change while I steel myself for the remainder of my journey fridgeward.

Further on, the living room becomes a reptile room. Chameleons take the color of a staticky television set, scales turning the colors of a test pattern. A blobular Gila monster squats atop a power strip while skinks droop from the cables and flick their tongues carelessly into outlets. A horny toad spins atop the record player, going round and round with reptilian indifference to the screeching vinyl.

As I wander the dunes of an unkempt dining room, I am assaulted by mirages that gradually bleed their way into substance. Shadows become snakes slithering across dinner plates, feathers begin to fall from the air. Suddenly I see a bird cage crashing through their air and rush toward the bars to free its captive. The bird is easily my size, as I have shrunk in the environs of my apartment and am little more than a grub to this raptor of a parakeet. He pins me with one zygodactyl foot and brings his beak close. When I am sure that I am to be pecked to death, he speaks instead: “Like the owl, I fly in the night over my own misfortune,” and then after two sub-verbal squawks, he continues, “I am in harmony with my annihilation.” This household dinosaur quotes Georges Batailles! He is a prodigy among parrots! I clutch at the feathers of this bird of the night as he takes wing and together we soar over a mountain range that gradually gives way to kitchen tiles.

Deposited upon a frosty cliff I shield my eyes against snowblindness and descend to the glacier below. Across the tundra the fridge is within sight. I shiver as I make my way across the dormant volcanoes of the stovetop.

Someone has left the freezer door open, revealing the wrecks of ill-fated explorations and a lunar cold robs me of the last of my humanity. I am only an animal now, seeking shelter, warmth, and food. Fridge magnets spell out my fate, but I ignore them for I exist in a place beyond language, I answer only to growls, howls and the odd mating call. I pull the fridge open with what strength remains in my limbs only to find a polar bear feasting on a carcass of takeout, something days-old and rank. Irate at this interruption, the bear lopes over to the produce drawer and opens the eternity of his teeth to devour me. But before he can, I howl into his throat and the sound that results fills the apartment, causing cups to clatter from their cupboards and wine glasses to explode across the permafrost.

An avalanche engulfs us and before I know it, a shape comes trundling out from the snowstorm. For my mate has awakened and the cave-wife comes running across icebergs that shatter at her passage. She swings her club and fells the bear with a single thump. My rescue is at hand and the order of nature restored. Through a series of grunts, we reaffirm the terms of our union. It is love between wild things, unfit for any ecosystem we cannot conquer with ideas. For we two creatures are distinct among wildlife by virtue of two things alone: first that we have symbols and second that we make sandwiches. In the garden of delights that grows up around us, we fold bread and slather mustard. At last I am fed and contented. I paint a pine cone in the likeness of my cave-wife with braided flowers for hair and she makes me a wreath of thistle and barley.

And after consumption comes the best part, the deposit. That is when we give back to the earth and enrich the soil with our waste and refuse. I flush the toilet and an ocean pours forth. In my overzealousness, I have created a clog and now we are at sea. We swim against the tide, carried blissfully over faucets, soap dishes, and purposeful turds until the bathtub begins to spout. A great blue whale, ancestor of everything, swims out from behind the shower curtain and with giant blue lips swallows us whole. In the heaven of its stomach, we curl up together, safe in the velvet belly of something that has never heard of humans and thinks only big thoughts as, blubbery and serene, it swallows small things. Soon will come the calls of love, the music of the deep. We make a bed together in its gullet. With a few chairs and a folding table, this could be a nice loft. The planet may be shrinking around us, but we are resourceful creatures and will make a home inside this murky address for as long as it lasts, living on the fishes that wander in and fasten their suckers around our toes. Everything in the world eats at night.