Part 3 They were stronger than they looked. I’ll give them that. A thin strip of daylight blinded me as the lid began to lift. It was time to leave this shit behind. Literally. Mounting the pile I had created over the last few hours, I used my entire body, starting with the antennae, a useful levering device, even the shortened one. Pushing up with all my legs. Holding the lip of the lid with my front legs, I kicked and wiggled my way out of the dumpster.
It seemed adding an outsider to a research project wasn’t allowed. The boss had instructed them to get rid of me. I couldn’t be in the study he said. And so they squabbled. What should they do with such an animal? Matt had said it would be easiest to squish me, there was an incinerator in the basement, they could throw me in. Thankfully this was voted out and I ended up here. Wallowing in the fatty acids and squalid thoughts of getting what I had deserved, it was meant to be, I was finally where I had always belonged, animal or not, I recalled the urgency of finding answers. It wasn’t just my life at stake. I recalled Suzannah, her warmth, her books. That all things have force, have agency. And most of all, I thought about my moves. I had to show the world that Jane Bennet was right. We things matter, and are vibrant. For Alfie.
It hurts ones ego when you’re forced to make your way out of a bin. Especially one 1
for commercial waste. More than that, the food they had given me over the last fews days, whilst in the lab, a voluntary test subject, a guinea pig, had been shit. Mostly bin scraps. Could have been pulled from this same bin by one of the sheep, Tamzin or Harold. No doubt Matt wouldn’t want to credit himself with that type of task. Free from all that, I needed some decent food. Some Halušky for example. That would be very nice.
I had found a way of travelling around almost unnoticed. I had to, it was better to be invisible. Short and sweet was the best kind of human contact. Not much good could be said for humankind from the experiences I had had so far as a nonhuman. A flash of anxiety. Was I not human anymore? The only thing that hadn’t changed was my thoughts. But these too, how I thought about myself, seemed to be changing. Did I want to be human? Could I now choose? This felt too much, I couldn’t contain all this. I had never done much deep thinking when I’d been human. Food was the answer. I could think clearly if I had some food for sure.
Crawling along fences like a homeless squirrel, over roofs, diving across back alleys, I located the small eatery Suzannah had frequented, Cafe Maja. I could see it from the other side of Ruskin Road. There was no way I would be getting anything if I appeared at the front. The road was busy. I hastened under a parked car, along the curb, small spaces seemed no challenge for this shell. I looked out at the road. A few cars sped past. There were traffic lights at the end of the street. I waited until another
car stopped in front of where I was hiding and made a run for it to the other side of the street and the entrance to the alleyway. As I made my way out, a black Audi approached at speed, the driver sounded the horn, but it was too late, I was already in the middle of the road. I scuttled as fast as I could and somehow made it safely under another car. Not realising it was rumbling into life. I ran as fast as I could along the alley, up the fence.
Approaching the back of the row of shops and restaurants, I scrambled down the wooden slated fence and into the alley. It was a fairly open space. The only things to hide me were the bins outside the various restaurants. Someone had seen me. Cigarette in hand. She had been looking out, down the road, I was in her eye line. The chequered trousers ballooned around her, making it look like she had one leg. The tightly fastened apron suggested otherwise, as it hugged the tops of her large thighs. I stood still. She could easily choose to ignore me. Right? I couldn’t think of a time, when if a large insect had come into view, I would ignore it. There’s a chance when smoking with Tom, whilst playing The Legend of Zelda, a chance. I wished for a distraction. Something to take the pressure off. But all was still. Nothing moved except the smoke drifting from her lit cigarette. I was relieved when she turned away. Maybe she hadn’t seen me.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!” The pain was staggering. I couldn’t work out what was hurting. Neither could I
move. “Take that!” I felt a thump in my abdomen as the chef’s foot pushed its way underneath me before it lifted me up in the air. I landed on the other side of the alley on some bin bags. Old fish skins seeped out along with kilos of slimy noodles and meat packaging. This was not the problem. Towering above me was a very irate human. I watched in slow-motion as she swung a wooden post above her head. For a second I thought I was on ‘World’s Strongest Woman’ the strain and bulging features, seemed to be penetrating through her skin. The post came down hard on the bottom half of my body. Knowing this could be the end, I tried to force myself over, off the bags and onto my feet as once more the post was raised. I got onto my feet and tried to limp fast. My back leg trailed behind me. My balance was off. I couldn’t move fast enough. She was getting closer. “Oi! Chef! Order!” I caught sight of the chef turning towards the voice. “What the fuck man? I’m in the middle of something!” “Yea, well, customers!” Turning back towards me, I could see her once again raise the post. I kept running, looking for anywhere to hide. I felt pain all over, then my eyes closed.
Only a few seconds had passed. I could make out the chef’s back as she saunterd towards the restaurant. I took a few breaths and tried to wiggle my legs. One on the right jumped into life, the one nearest my head. And the last one on the right. On the
left, only the middle, out of three legs, was functioning. As I tried to get onto my front, pain shot through my body. I mustered the strength to pull myself over so I now felt the extent of my injuries. The three remaining useable legs buckled and I collapsed into the bags of what appeared to be overripe fruit. “Down there. Take them!” I burrowed into the pile, trying to conceal myself within the bags. “How can you sell us this crap?” I felt a vibration and the bags dislodged. “You’ll need to fill this out.” I could see papers being passed between two men, one of them walked back towards the back of a restaurant. The container holding the bags began to move. I was in the air. I closed my eyes, praying he couldn’t see me. The container was thrown down, the force tossed me up, some of the flaccid fruit pinned me to the container. The doors were slammed shut. I seemed to be in the back of a van. A few small crates of fruit and veg with a few other groceries in them sat in the back. I attempted to get myself free of the fruit as the engine started but I was too weak to move. I let myself merge into the festering matter.
I was jolted awake as my head hit the side of the crate I was in. I wriggled to get free of the fruit and hid behind it, just in time before light streamed in as the doors opened. I head the crunch of gravel underfoot. “I’ve got your delivery.”I heard from the van. “Hmm? Ahh yes! Brilliant.” “I was a little late, I was err held up.” “Not at all!”
“It’s in the van, do you want me to I carry it in?” “Thank you! That would be very helpful.” The reluctant driver came back towards the van and grabbed the other crate. As he turned back towards the house, I used my remaining legs to drag myself to the edge of the van. I dropped off the back and onto the gravel. Right side up. I could hear steps approaching from inside the expansive house. I dragged myself from the front to a large pot positioned next to the front door that had a wide spreading climbing plant in it that seemed to cover the whole house, although it was mostly sticks. “Was there anything else?” “That’s your lot. Sign this.” “Yes.” A women in her late fifties came into view. She had a colourful shall wrapped around her shoulders and wore sheepskin slippers with odd socks pocking out the tops. With her signature, the van driver hastened into his van, with a slam he was on his way. Spitting gravel as he left. “Oh dear, he was in a rush.” The woman muttered to herself. She attempted to level the gravel with her slipped foot. “I guess it’s not important. It isn’t. No.” There was something about this that suggested it would be alright if she saw me. I dragged myself forward from my spot behind the pot. The movement was slow and arduous. All I wanted was sleep. To not be in pain. “Ooo. Hello.” She kneeled down in front of me. Looking into my eyes, “What are you then? I’ve never seen anything like you.” She cast her eyes all over me, over my shell, broken off antenna, collapsed legs, the bits of smushed fruit that were stuck to
me. “You are in a bit of a state. Let me see now.” She bent right next to me. “Right, well, I think we can sort this. Maybe you need some food or water. Hm? What do you say? Yes, well, let’s go in then. I’ll carry you. Ok?” And with that she picked me up. I didn’t have a choice as such but she had asked, not that she could understand my response. If she could she would have heard me say, Wow, that is so nice of you. I’m so tired. People are… and my legs they… . If you have somewhere I could sleep a bit. That’s all I need.
Part 2 Adam was in the toilets. There were only a two cubicles. No one else was there, yet. I waited until he finished. And then I would show myself. I had thought as a scientist he would most likely look at me with curiosity, making time for Adam to see who I was. I’d try and show him the handshake we used to do. I was sure he’d remember even through it was fifteen years ago or so. The flush sounded. Still on the ceiling, I began to make my way down. Adam flicked the lock, the door opened.
As it opened my legs/arms touched something slippery. I seemed to stick to every surface but not this. I scrambled to get a grip but it was no good. I was going down. I hit the hand drier and fell into the bin. All those damp hand towels from the early morning toilet goers greeted me. I rustled around trying to find my way up, out of the cesspool of papery germs. I reached the top of the edge of the bin. I could see Adam was watching. He too stood still. Now was the time. I scurried down the side of the bin. He had gone. When I reached the ground he was nowhere.
I felt something fall onto my back and saw a roll of toilet paper was making its way towards the door. A few metres away was Adam, armed. If it wasn’t so tragic it would have been hilarious. We would have laughed at this as we passed a spliff between us. I tried to tell him it was me. I crawled closer so he could see the handshake. 8
Look! I gestured towards him. He swung his leg out, which clipped where once would have been my chin. It must have had some force behind it as my whole body went up into the air. Adam began to shout at me. Telling me to get out. To leave him alone. Upside down, I could see his face, eyes wide, nose flaring, holding a toilet roll in his right hand, ready to fire. I scrambled, remembering the earlier technique of rolling and tipping. It wasn’t easy as my head was spinning from the kick. It had been awhile since we had seen each other, perhaps I deserved this greeting. I hadn’t kept in touch. Things had changed, we were different now. Even after Covid I hadn’t asked him how he was, or his family. Maybe he was just angry at me. Another roll hit my back, I fled. *** I found an unoccupied lab. A chance to catch my breath. It was looking unlikely that Adam was going to be much help. That option had rolled away. Standing in yet another cable carrier, my knees, or what used to be my knees, were beginning to feel weak. I hadn’t eaten anything since before this. Nearly twenty four hours ago. I hadn’t tried to eat. Was this weakness from how stick-like my legs were, how much running or crawling around the’d been doing, and the size of my torso and body and head? I looked down at the lab below. There were two large white topped tables. One had a series of petri dishes lined up. The other, papers, a notebook and next to that an apple and a plastic bag with Cafe Maja printed on it. I made my way down. Once I was on the table I stuck my large head into the container. They looked like mini dumpling type things, in a white sauce with pieces of something. I could smell
a bacon type scent and potato and some kind of cheese.
My body still knew what to do. I could feel different parts of what was my mouth coming into action, although I didn’t know what each of them were doing. Somehow I was eating. I could taste still, and whatever this was tasted potatoey, floury, it was delicious. The small pieces of bacon tasted sweet and salty, fatty and had a crunch to them. No longer needing any utensils was freeing. It was a truly engrossing process. I become transfixed by this potato cheese bacon dish. A quiet sigh or was it an intake of breath came from across the table. I looked up and saw two big eyes peering down at me. They were deep brown and accompanied by thick lashes which looked fake, a tight narrow nose and thin but pretty lips. Hello, lovely to meet you, was this your lunch? I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help myself it looked so good! I said to the big eyed young woman. Who couldn’t seem to take her eyes off me. Will you forgive me? I asked. “Go on, eat some more.” She encouraged. “You look hungry.” With this she brought her arms onto the table, resting her chin in her small hands. No need to ask twice, I thought, and once again drove my head in the direction of the food. “Wow, what a beauty you are.” She cooed. “I’ve never seen anything like you before. You’re so… What’s the word..” Charming? Characterful? One of a kind? Chatty? “Big.” Still eating, I scoffed, Not what I was going for, but I’ll take it!
With this, she slowly brought her finger towards me. Unsure of her intentions I skitted backwards, nearly falling off the edge of the table. She giggled. The door to the lab was opening. Swiftly, she scooped me up and onto a stool, placing it gently under the table. The movement was so quick I barely had an idea of what had happened before I found myself sitting (I use the term broadly) on the stool. I couldn’t see what was going on. And wasn’t sure about how I felt about being manhandled like that. “Matt, how nice of you to visit.” She stepped towards him. “I thought we might have lunch. Ah I see you’ve started yours.” “Now’s not the best time. Tomorrow?” I imagined she was touching his arm. Leading him back towards the door as I heard their footsteps move further away. Yes and stay out! I added. “Oh, shame, what’s on the agenda today Suzannah? More petri dish work is it?” “Not quite. I’ll tell you tomorrow. Ok?” “Oo you tease! Tell me now!” “Tomorrow. Bye!” I heard the door shut. “That was close! Wasn’t it little one,… or not so little one. You wouldn’t want Matt to find you, trust me. Who knows what he might do to such a beauty!” She pulled the stool out and I crawled back onto the table, before she had the chance to lift me again. “Oh, ok, you’re a big boy are you, no need for a helping hand I see.” After a short pause, she went to the other side of the room and opened a storage cupboard. I
could hear her muttering to herself as she looked around inside the cupboard. “Right then.” She was walking back towards me with what looked like a cardboard box for storing documents. She put it down next to me and pulled off the lid. *** There was a bright light. The box was tipped and I was out. At first all I could see were small bugs, beetles or maybe cockroaches, spaced evenly across the surface. It took me a second or two to realise it was a table covering, the plastic kind that you can wipe but with pictures of insects all over it. “Do you like it?” I heard Suzannah ask. Well now you mention it, no! It’s freaking me out to tell you the truth. What sort of a place is this?! It occurred to me that I wouldn’t have minded so much if I myself hadn’t found myself as one of these creatures. It was much too close to home. “You’ll get used to it. Wait there, I’ve got something for you.” She left the room and my side eye caught sight of what was all around me. Both walls had big posters covered in different types of insects. One was above a throw-covered sofa with two cushions at either end. The cushions were both covered in images of brightly coloured insects. And another with diagrams of cockroaches. Why would anyone want to look at such a thing? To have it in, what appeared to be, a home? The other side of the room had two enclaves, both of which contained floor to ceiling bookshelves. From the table I walked tentatively towards the books. Most of the titles appeared to be related to ‘Entomology: the study of insects’.
Now an insect myself, this conjured a deep fear of what her plans were. Did she have a small lab back there, in the kitchen? Did she want to dissect me? Pin me up on the wall like an odd mixture of a ‘page 3’ and a stags head? Why didn’t she want Matt to see me? Because she wanted me all to herself? I scuttled down the table leg, the carpet hairs stuck to my legs, I crawled up onto the sofa to get to the wall. It was too late, she was coming back. “Isn’t it beautiful? I made it myself. Would you believe it!?” Something tells me that’s probably true. Call it a hunch. She picked up the cockroach cushion and fluffed it up. Before I could crawl away, she had once again picked me up. Hey, hey! What did I say about that! I wriggled to display my annoyance. She giggled. “You look great on there.” She gazed at me, clasping her hands. To my disgust she had placed me on the rancid cushion in question. Her handmade-cockroach-cushion. There are few things worse I can think of to cover something with. What is wrong with you?! I thought as I scuttled off. “No? You don’t like it?” Oh! I see. How disappointing. Too good to be true I suppose.” She turned around and reached for something on the table. “Look what I’ve got for you!” She place it on the top of the sofa so it sat on the top sofa cushion.
I tuned to face the thing she had brought out from what I assumed was an underthe-stairs type of cupboard, where things go that you know won’t be needed for some time, and the hoover – for similar reasons in my mind. It appeared to be an old
cat carrier. But inside she had laid out a bed of what looked like sheep’s wool and attached a water feeder to one side. The cage itself had openings at either end and consisted of thin strips of black metal rods that crossed over to make window like shapes. Meaning the entire cage was pretty much open. I ventured inside to see how comfortable the wool would be. Even though it stuck to my leg hairs, the smell of sheep was oddly comforting. “You like it don’t you! Oh wait, I know what would make it even better.” She hurried into the kitchen, I heard the fridge door open and various kitchen cupboards open and close. “Here you go.” She passed a small round bowl through one end of the cage. Which looked like it could have once fed a rabbit. Inside was a large mound of the same food I had schnaffled earlier in the lab which I couldn’t help but dig into. “There. You are definitely a Halušky fan! It’s not for everyone you know. Most none Slovakians that I’ve offered it to don’t like the cheese. Not you though! You’ll eat anything.”
I realised this was probably true. I also realised Suzannah probably knew more about me than I did even if she didn’t know the real me. If I was still a human, I doubt we would have had met, and I don’t think I would have been invited in if she knew the human me. If for some reason on a night out with Tom after a hard days work I had met Suzannah, even though I can’t imagine she’d go to the places we usually did, there’s no doubt I would have picked her out from the crowd. But it is
also very doubtful she would have wanted to talk to me. And yet here we were. I had practically moved in. “No one will get you here.” She came and sat on the sofa, next to where I was, in the cage, my new home. “You’re safe.” She said. And sighed, as if she had finally found peace in the world. Ignoring all the strange insect-ness, it did seem safe. Me up here, her there. She took up a magazine, ’Integrative and Comparative Biology’. From my perch on top of the sofa, I could see the page clearly. She turned to page one hundred and twenty nine, which read ‘ Wasp Voodoo Rituals, Venom-Cocktails, and the Zombification of Cockroach Hosts’. I think we are going to get on just fine Suzannah, you and me. With this Suzannah’s hand reached up from where she was sitting. “Heyyyy! You are tickling me with this antenna of yours!.” She said playfully. And she was right. As I was leaning over her, they were indeed stretching over her head and occasionally grazing the top few stands of her very straight light brown hair. But only one of them as the other was significantly shorter and merely twirled around in the air like a lost radar.
It wasn’t long before, that same hand found its way onto my shiny brown back, tracing her fingers across the lines or just softly caressing, as if I were a bald hard cat. I didn’t mind this at first. This was an understatement. It was the first sensation of
physical human contact I’d had since this, this change had happened, where a human interaction hadn’t resulted in some significant unpleasantness, violence and general fright to either one or both parties. I was reminded of my ex, even though it had been ages since we’d been together, the way she used to run her hand along my chest after we’d had sex. I’d often think about her, our bodies, since we broke it off a year and a half ago. I enjoyed it, revisiting the times she had taken me inside her. Feeling her large tits on my face, licking her nipples. Suzannah looked like she had smaller breasts, I wondered if she would ever place them on my back instead of her fingers? Would she dare let me crawl over her naked body? Bury myself inside her? Allow me to feel her wetness all over my shell? How far did her love for insects go? Was this stroking the end of it or would there be more?
There wasn’t. I did manage to ‘fall’ once onto her breasts when sitting behind her on the sofa. But she took it as clumsiness rather than a come on, to my intense disappointment. I found her limits. And discovered my own. The more articles she read, the more I did. Whenever she went to take her seat on the sofa. I made sure I was there. She had since moved my food bowl and water to the floor, as once I was inside the cage, there wasn’t much room for anything else. Also as I didn’t have a tongue, the lapping motion needed to extract water from the water feeder was impossible. Which in retrospect she should have known. Either way, I read. I got to read the news too, which was a much welcome distraction, even if see tended to only look at either the Guardian or BBC. Which as a scientist, was a surprise to me. I did
once catch sight of an article on the BBC about a suspected murder or manslaughter of a young women near Tottenham Hale, onlookers had claimed the last person seen on the scene had appeared to be on all fours, with multiple legs. Reminding me of my own state. Perhaps there were more like me, maybe there’d been come chemical leak near there, not that anyone had admitted anything like in the five years I’d been living there.
The wonderings around this article reminded me of how I had ended up here with Suzannah. That Adam had not been the source of knowledge I had hoped. That the twenty four hour timeline I had given myself on that day it all started, had long since passed. My daily eating of Halušky, which Suzannah made from scratch, had affected my ability to move fast. I could only just carry myself up the walls. Which I practiced when she went to work in the lab. She was a research fellow there, having seen her lanyard left on the stool each day. This very night I had eaten a shit-tonne whilst we watched the ‘It Crowd’, she had realised I particularly liked this. Every night Suzannah would clean out my cage. As the cage was also the place I felt most comfortable, it was the place there were the most droppings. I didn’t tend to notice when they came out. The first time I saw one in the cage, I hadn’t a clue what it was until I saw a picture in one of Suzanna’s books.
But on the night of the extra large Halušky portion, I did. Much to my despair and intense embarrassment, Suzannah found this out too. In poking her head into the
cage, she came across something she no doubt wished she hadn’t. She came back with a piece of toilet paper which I guessed because, as I sat there half asleep on my wool, I felt something softy poke around what would have been my arsehole. Only to discover it was Suzannah! Who had taken it upon herself to pull out a particularly large dump that was having some difficulty exiting. As soon as I realised what she was doing I hurried out the other door, which to my horror she had closed! So there I was, unable to turn around, unable to walk backwards, stuck. Whilst she performed this most humiliating act upon me.
I could no longer look her in the eye after that. I knew for sure how she saw me. How she would always see me. I began to have less and less of a choice. She stopped watching the It Crowd altogether. She trapped me so she could wipe a damp cloth across my back and over my legs at least once a day. I thought back to the lab. And Matt. No doubt he wouldn’t put up with this crap. There may be other labs there that would have a better idea of what to do to me rather than stick me in a cage and give me a rub down. And so I decided that was the way forward. I had been here too long. Basking in Suzannah’s kindness at first, which seemed to have morphed into some kind of twisted maternal/pet owner affection that I no longer wanted. It was time to get out of this flat. I needed my own space, I needed to not be sponge bathed!
I waited until she took her big bag to work. She always packed it the night before. I waited and when she’d gone to sleep, I took out all the books and journals, dragged
them under the sofa, replacing it with myself. *** I was beginning to get to know this place. And knew which places to avoid. How to get around and how to get through doors. Third time lucky I thought to myself as I once again arrived, crawling along the cable track, in the science department. At the end of the building, that’s where the soft sciences were. This may be where the answers to my condition were. This was the most time I’d ever spent in any university. Unless you count the SU bar. We used to drag Adam along, to legitimise our being there, Tom and I did. Adam had always been better at school than Tom and me. The only thing that I cared about then was getting as far away from home as I could after mum died. That and trying to get with uni students, which I wasn’t very good at turned out. I was a distraction.
Couldn’t be further from my aims as I entered the sociology lab. There weren’t many labs in this area, I spent a bit of time in each. The last of which seemed to be about finding out about rodent and human communication. They had rabbits, ferrets and rats in cages along one side of the lab and what looked like a perspex maze in the centre of the room, taking up most of the floor space. I watched as they tried to work out, through their various schemas and rules, if any of the animals were understanding. If I could get down there, be a part of this research, I know, I just know I could show them I understand. I’d be on the way to getting help. To getting a cure. To getting out of this shell.
I hadn’t seen the three doing most of the leg work attack or mistreat any of the animals of which there were about twelve. Even so, my debut needed careful timing. I needed them to not call pest control and instead let me be a part of this study. I needed to show them I was more than a large insect. The question was how could I show them there was a human in here? I needed to bring it out somehow. To make them see it, to enable them to see past the shiny brown shell, to visualise the human when all they could see was the insect. I could build something, at night. When the lab was empty and wait for them to arrive, stand proudly next to my creation? I could try and move around like a human? The difficulty was everything I could think of would result in them seeing what they thought they were seeing, what they wanted to see. They would always see the most obvious thing first. Perhaps I needed to hold their attention. Get them to hold off the blows, give them time to catch on to the idea that there was something else going on here other than a giant insect.
I could only see one way. Music. A different form of communication. I could show them I understood music. All I needed was the right song and they’d know. And so I waited. They had the radio on in the lab whilst they were running their tests, writing this on charts, inputting that into spreadsheets. I could see a lot from the cable carriers on the ceiling. And then it came on, I knew it was the one. This was it. The beginning of the end. “Paradise … is exactly like ... where you are right now” I crawled down the wall and placed myself centre stage onto the table where Matt and
the other two were working. “… Only much … much … better.” I started it off with a simple up and down motion to get their attention. Bending at what were the elbows and the knees in time with the beats. My whole body bobbing. “Saw this guy on the train, and he seemed to have gotten stuck, in one of those abstract jam suits.” I mixed it up with a two part lift: the legs and arms on the right lift up and down, then the legs and arms on the left lift up. Then back to the bob. “I think he’s in some kind of paain… . I think It’s a pain cry.” Two part lift again, but this time bringing the legs forward again instead of out to the side. One side, then the other and repeat. “Then language … its a virus. Ooooo.” A semi circle twist where I turned with two steps to the right, jabbing motion with the right arm, two steps to the left, jabbing motion with the left. I’ve never been so serious about a dance in my life. “And I was looking for you … . But I couldn’t find … I couldn’t find you.” Realising I was somewhat limited when it came to movement, I did a variation of the leg lift, this time only moving the front arm or leg and moving it from side to side. First the right, then the left. “Are you talking to me? … Or are you just practicing for one of those performances of your’s ha.” And back to the semi circle twist, same as before.
All the while, the three are staring, in awe or terror, I couldn’t tell. “And I had to tell the judge it was you.” Back to a bob, I tried to get as low and as high as I could as I bent and straightened my arm legs. “And list the times that I’ve been wrong.” Bob up and down, up and down. I next did a repeat of the two part lift followed by the
variation on semi circle twist. “Well I dreamed… there was an island … that rose up from the sea … and everybody on the island … .” Here I tried standing on my back legs and waving my front arms/legs in the air which I could only do in short bursts before I fell forward. “Is this little guy alright?” One of the onlookers said. “Looks like he’s dancing!” “Come of it, animals don’t… .” “Dance?” I knew I had them! All three of them edged closer to get a better look. “And everybody on the island… .Said look at me, look at me, look at me look at me!” And I punctuated each ‘look at me’ with jabbing motion from the right then left then right arm/leg. “Paradise is exactly the same as where you are right now… only much… . Much … better.” As Laurie Anderson whispered the last word I took a chance and aimed for a full roll, forcing all my effort to turn my whole body around. All eyes gazing at me. To my horror the force wasn’t enough. And instead of going all the way around I was stuck, in the middle. On my back! Legs/arms flailing uncontrollably. With this they all roared with laughter, Matt clutching at his head, the woman, stamped her feet. The other man stared at me, tilting his head to one side. “Guys, we have to use him!” He said. “What!? Are you kidding” Matt said between laughs. “Oh, wow. That was amazing, I really got the feeling he was going it for us!”
“You would say that Tazmin.” “No, guys, seriously. Let’s use him. In the study.” “We could keep the data separate. So the boss man wouldn’t know?” They both looked up at Matt. He seemed to have the deciding vote. Come on Matt, come one. You saw that! Pure gold. Let me in! Go on! Matt leaned closer, his face a few inches from mine. Bringing his hands either side of me he turned me up the right way. “Let’s do it.” “This is gong to be hilarious. You’ll see. We’ve found a scientific anomaly!” Scoffed the other man.
The initial excitement dissipated, and I now waited impatiently in my new cage. Not as nice as the one Suzannah had for me. I could only just move around and there wasn’t any Halušky. But here I was, ready for answers. Ready to show these goons what I could do, that I understood every single snide comment they made. I had to wait my turn. There were fourteen of us lining one side the room in our cages, seven on top and seven below. I waited for the rest of the afternoon. At just past five, Matt called it a day. I tried to signal my disapproval from my cage by throwing insults at them. Tamzin seemed to notice. “Ooo. It’s ok cocky, you’ll get your turn!” “Cocky?”
“Roachster?” “Somehow that’s worse!” They turned off the light. And left. The various lights flickered in the lab. My neighbour, a ferret, rustled in his cage. Hello? I don’t know what I had expected exactly but I thought I might as well see what happened. The ferret continued to rustle right up until the sun began to rise. Giving me only a few hours of sleep.
I used to be a heavy sleeper, unlike Gen who was always up before me as kids. I felt a sincere lack of security. I was up in the air. Legs wriggling. Someone had reached in, picked me up without me knowing. What time was it? “Off you go!” What was this? You expect me to listen to you after that rude wake up? I thought to myself. I opened my eyes fully and realised I was where I had spent most of previous day aching to be. Now I was here it looked different. The plastic walls were closing in on me. There was only a few centimetres between my sides and the sides of the maze. My feet seemed to be on a similar surface. It felt like the tiles that I fell from when trying to speak with Adam which seemed like months ago. It must have been. Had I really been looking like this for months!? As I was pondering the length of time, I felt a prod on my shell, coming from above. I used my compound eyes. They were all, Tamzin, Matt and Harold, staring down at me inside the maze cage. Guys, do you really expect me to just run when you say? To be under your command! Another prod, this time sharper on my shell gave me my answer. Yes. It was pretty
With only one direction to travel in, I scurried forward. Following the corners. When faced with a left and a right. I kept right. In the hope it would lead me to wherever it was I supposed to be going. “We could have been wrong.” Tamzin looked at the other two. “Give him a chance, he has only just woken up.” Thank you Harold. My thoughts exactly. At least there was someone with a logical brain around here. “But look. He keeps going the wrong way.” And how am I supposed to know the right way exactly!? Have you thought about that Tamzin!? “Maybe they don’t have such a great sense of smell.” “Hey Matt, don’t you know that girl from Entomology? Can’t you ask her? See if we’re wasting our time?” No! No! Matt don’t do that. There’s no need. Google it! “Here, look.” Tamzin was holding up her phone for Matt and Harold to see. I couldn’t see what it said but I knew. I knew that I was supposed to have olfactory receptors, and that I wouldn’t go for food straight away. I also knew I had a damaged antenna. “ We should give him another go.” “Let’s try him again after lunch.” Matt picked me up and back in the cage I went.
This wasn’t going as I had planned. I thought it would be easier for them to see, to understand. That there was a man in here. I can hear you! I wanted to yell out to them. For fucks sake. I tried to put my head in my hands, but having no neck meant it must have looked like I was cleaning my mandibles. As that’s what we did, us roaches. Now look what they’d made me, what they’d forced me into thinking. That I really was one of them, an insect. Perhaps that was want needed to happen. I needed to get into the frame of mind of being an insect, of doing what they expected me to do. That way they could properly quantify me, in their own understanding. In their science. If they wanted to see an animal, that’s what I’d show them. With that I began biting at the cage door. Trying to get my mandibles around the bars. “He wants another craek at it. Look!” “It’s behaviour does seem odd.” Great, as a man trying to be an animal that looks like an animal, you think I’m strange?! But a man who looks like an animal acting like a man isn’t strange to you? This was so frustrating and tedious. Suzannah was much better at this than any of you. Call yourselves sociologists! “Matt, put that ferret back. This little guy is coming out.” “Seriously!? It’s going nowhere. Fine, fine, if it will get it out of your system.” My neighbour was put back in and Tamzin, very carefully took me in her hands and placed me at the entrance of the maze.
I had to find the food. That’s what they wanted, that’s what they’ll get. I focused all my energies. I closed my eyes, looking for something, some instinct that would alert me to there being food somewhere. “That’s it, come on. Just go left, then you’ll have it. Come on.” She whispered under her breath. That’s more like it Tamzin! Keep it coming, I’m all ears. Now where? Come on Tamzin! I waited for her to give me a signal. She moved around the other side of the maze. I followed her, also turning left in the Perspex maze box. My hairs, skated on the smooth surface of the plastic. She stood still, I tried pointing my antenna in front, to see if it could gather any sense of food. There was a small scent coming from somewhere, seemed to be right. I followed it around the corner. My stick feet became separated from the ground. I was being swept up in something. I wriggled my legs, trying to keep my face above the water, that seemed to now be pulling me around the maze. “What are you doing! Matt stop! Are you trying to drown it!?” Tamzin tore the litre bottle from him. “ Just having a bit of fun. I wanted to see if he could swim.” He chuckled. “Not cool Matt.” The water seemed to be rising. As long as I could keep my mouth out of it. I was floating along the surface of the water. My shell seemed to keep me from drowning, like an in-built life jacket. Each time there was a ripple in the water, it splashed into my mouth, causing my arms and legs to wriggle, causing more water to splash into
me. I spluttered, or tried to. Water seemed to be covering my shell. I held my breath. I could hear Matt laugh as I felt myself becoming engulfed by the water.
Part 1 ‘I simultaneously felt a twinge in the back of my neck or head or upper back, it was hard to feel exactly where. Clenching my fist, eyes only half open, I looked up. A long strand that looked too thick, wiry and black to be my hair seemed to be hovering above me. But it wasn’t hovering. I jumped up in bed, clenching this wiry thing I had gotten hold of. Pulling this time. Harder. Why wasn’t it coming loose? Something seemed to have become properly lodged into my scalp in the night. I lost balance with the movement of jumping up and landed, nowhere. I hadn’t moved at all.
Undeterred, I continued to pull. The black wire-like string became taught and the pain in the back of my head grew. I kept pulling, and then there was a sharp release. It felt like a spot had given way to a double fingernail intervention. Instead of fluid on my fingertip, I had a shiny black piece of the wire in my hand. Still lying down, I studied this piece of wire that seemed to have burrowed itself into my skin. It was strong but very flexible and thin like a cat’s whisker.
A brown stick-like thing with hair-like bits coming out of it, was attached to the bottom of it. I still couldn’t move my neck. It seemed I had degenerated, well at least my neck and arms had. Was I paralysed from the waist down? How had this happened? Had the black wire done this? I was fine yesterday. A minor headache at 29
most, maybe a little achy. I tried to stretch my right leg and to my surprise something did move. And the left? Same thing. Perhaps it wasn’t all that bad. I needed a mirror.
I edged forward a little to get down from the bed. But these stick arms were too short. Instead of standing up on them, everything turned upside down and I could see the ceiling and part of the bed. I heard the crush of a can as I fell but felt a strange distance from the sensation of the crushing. My arms were shaking in the air despite trying to still them. I could see other brown stick things wriggling around. This was not good. My legs had changed too. Which must have been why I’d fallen. What were these brown stick things? They wriggled and wrangled in the air. The more they did so, the more the sense of urgency to move grew. I needed to move, I needed to move, I needed to do it right now! Nearly tipping over the other way I forced my way up. Everything was so high. I couldn’t be more than five inches off the ground.
I tried to move again. It was fast, I nearly fell on my chin. Nothing was as it should be. I was walking, but I wasn’t walking, it was more like crawling but in my mind I was walking. This was really bad. What had happened to me? Something really strange, a medical issue? An emergency? Do I ring 111 or 999?
It felt like more of a scurry as I approached the mirror. It was still a little dim in the room, as there was only one small window. The mirror was three inches or so from
the floor. I looked up and couldn’t explain what I saw. It wasn’t me. I stood very still, in case it moved. But it was a mirror. So there couldn’t be another explanation. It was me. But it wasn’t me. What was looking back at me was maybe the grossest thing I’d ever seen. This was impossible. I was me, I was a man, sort of, I was part hands, part legs, a penis for fucks sake. What had happen to it!? It had gone. I couldn’t see it. Where was it!? Where had it gone!? What had happened to me!? I’d only had two cans. I hadn’t even smoked last night. Or had I? I looked up at the mirror. No! No! This wasn’t me! No No. Ahhwgrrge. No! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaat! Nooo! NO! FuuuUUck! No No.!!! I tried going back. I didn’t move. I tried moving left. My feet were moving. I was moving. But it was no longer me. I wasn’t me! What was I!? AhhhhhwwwWWWW. What was I!!!! I tried running, running and running, as fast as I could. Around and around, not stopping. Whhhhhaaaaat!!!! Jhovfdhhofhofhof! Fhfewojfew!f jorge! Ghgr!!!! Fhfhjf!FHFHF FHJOJBOG1!! FHFJVFFD!!! CfFFFFFUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCK!!!!dtffvh FFFFFFUUUUUUUccKJKKK WGWEEHWGGEEWEWWE!!!EEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! I ran and I ran. I ran and kept running. All over everything. And when I approached a wall. I kept running not for any reason other than there seemed no reason to stop. And there wasn’t. Each time I approached a wall, instead of it being a barrier and forcing me to stop, I kept going, vertically this time, up the wall.
It went on like this for I don’t know how long. Eventually it got to the point when I reached a wall, and I collapsed. I closed my eyes tight. Hoping that when I opened
them something would be different. Wishing it to change back. But no, the skirting board stared back at me in horror at what I’d become, a beast, a disgusting creature. With sticks for legs. Shiny brown sticky stick legs. This was not going to work at all. I couldn’t do my job like this. How long was this going to last, and why had it even happened in the first place? Was it just me? I climbed up the end of the bed post and crawled to the upturned crate, piled high with layers of worn clothes and unopened post. On top was my phone.
I stepped on the home button, the screen lit up. Gen had sent a photo of Alfie eating his breakfast as she often did, a message from Tom asking about coming over this evening and a notification from Tinder. That’s something. If no one else had found themselves in this state this morning then perhaps there’s someone who can explain all this and sort it. Who would know anything about this? A scientist? A biologist? The nearest thing to that I had was Adam, he used to study a science based or biology course. Maybe he’d know someone.
If I could send Gen a message, she could get me there, to Adam. I wouldn’t look like this for long. Adam would know or he’d know someone who’d know what to do. And I’d be back to my usual self, in my own body before the end of the day. Just because I hadn’t heard of this doesn’t mean it hadn’t happened. Maybe there’s a vaccine or pill or something. I pressed the home screen again, and tried swiping left on Gen’s message. I tried again with a lighter touch. After trying all my legs or arms
or whatever they now were, on both sides, I realised this wasn’t going to work. There was no way this screen was going to accept these sticks as human. Animalproof. It occurred to me that there still was a chance that half the population were running around exactly like me.
I crawled back onto the bed, turned myself around so I was facing the window. It wasn’t much of a view, I’m on the second floor. I could see the tip of the bus stop on Tottenham Hale road, there were a few people with bags walking along. The shops were busier than ever these days. Across the road, the newly completed part of the large estate, more like a small village now, had a few people milling around. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Just me then.
Crossing the road was Gen, dragging Alfie along behind her! Gen would get it. I don’t know how or why but I know she would. And she had always been good with animals, she would see right through all this. She always understood me even when I didn’t. She visited uninvited, which I found annoying but also a relief. I ran down the end of the bed to the front door. I waited for Gen to come up the stairs, with Alfie in tow. It wouldn’t be long now. I was going to tell her everything. She would take me to Adam.
The key was in the lock
“Alfie, stop that. Pulling at my skirt is not going to change my mind. You are going to school after we’ve said hello to Uncle Greg.” I heard her quietly yelled to Alfie on the other side of the door. I turned around so as to be a decent distance from the door in case she missed me.
“Greg! Only us.”Gen opened the door. “Your tired sister and whiney nephew!” Her gaze met mine, before she had a chance to slam the door, I started to explain. She didn’t scream out. Alfie hid behind his mum’s legs. “What the fuck. Alfie, run! Go!” Gen stood still, so still, I could barely see her breathing. I began to tell here what had happened, to let her know about it all, that I couldn’t text her, that I had walked on the ceiling, that I knocked all the stuff off and that’s why it was such a mess, well that and all the running. As I spoke she was slowly walking backwards.
I sprang forward. No don’t go, I tried to say. Please, it is me. It is me. It’s Greg. It’s me! Don’t go. Don’t leave me. You have to help! Please! Just take me to Adam? You remember him don’t you? Please, it’s not far. You have to take me there. You have to! Still moving backwards, she started to talk.
“It’s ok, no need to get annoyed. I’m leaving. I don’t know what sort of pets my brother is keeping in there but don’t worry. I won’t hurt you. Just let me go. It’s alright. It will be alright.” Let you go! Don’t be so fucking senseless! Come on Gen! It’s me! I reached my hand. She shrieked. I can only imagine she thought I was going to hurt her, that I was going to eat her or kill her. “Mum!?” Alfie shouted up the stairs, “Stay down there Alfie, don’t move. You hear me!? Don’t come up!” She turned her head towards him. How can you say that? You know I won’t hurt him. I won’t, I would never! There was something wrong with my voice. Gen didn’t yell out this time. She was moving too fast. I couldn’t do anything. “Mum?” Alfie called up from the bottom of the concrete stairs.’
Part 4 A white un-chipped side plate was put down for me on the table in the kitchendinner. Half of which was covered in books, some in small piles. “Is this better?” She put a slice of cheese on toast, still hot from the grill on my plate. “It’s hot mind.” She said as she chewed the other half. “See, not poisonous!” She chuckled to herself. I began to eat, carefully at first. I didn’t want to put off Marina with my clumsy, unpleasant eating process. “It’s ok, it’s yours.” With this I scoffed sucking, grinding, masticating, the warm cheesiness. “I’m glad to see I’ve found something you like at last!” I cleaned the plate. Pleased to finally be allowed such a thing. Gen had tried to get me to eat takeaway pizza from a plate. I told her it only meant more washing up. She wouldn’t listen. Those quarrels seemed like they belonged elsewhere. Kept in a separate part of me. A part that was getting further and further away. “More sleep for you, I think. You need it, to regenerate those legs.” She lifted me from the table and carried me into her study. I tried to nestle into her arm. Once in the room, she laid me down into the small dogs bed she had had in storage somewhere. It was the ideal size. I felt cocooned but not constricted in the partially lined sheepskin bed. As I was about to close my eyes. Something large entered the room and made its way towards me. It was huge! It was black with some white wiry 36
hair and a large tail it was wafting around. It knew I was here. I looked over to Marina sitting at her desk. I was unable to run, to seek refuge on the wall. She hadn’t noticed the dog’s entrance. Marina! It began sniffing in front of me, wanting to get closer. Shooo! Go away! It tilted it’s head to one side and made a whiney noise. “Oh Rory! What are you doing in here!” Marina grabbed the dog by its collar and whisked him out of the room, closing the door behind it. She came back, and seeing my agitation, insisted the dog was gone and wouldn’t be coming back. An apology would have been nice but she didn’t go that far. I’d never been into dogs. I never knew what they were going to do. Not like cats. They were much more relaxed creatures. Marina, why don’t you have a cat!? I looked back at her but she was fully engrossed in her writing. He nearly ate me for fucks sake! What were you thinking letting him in here? She must have sensed my unease as she swivelled round to my direction. “Sleep for you. Sleepy time. Gosh I need to stop getting distracted, first the dog now you. This paper won’t write itself.”
She was right. I needed rest. I needed to get my strength back. From reading over Suzannah’s shoulder there was a likelihood that I would grow back the legs. The one on the right was the worst off, most of the leg was gone. The two injured on the other side would heal in time. This was the ideal place to heal. The study was quiet. Marina would talk to me, I liked that, even though I couldn’t talk back. It was more
that she was muttering to herself most of the time. She would read too, read aloud what she was writing. At first I found it difficult to understand, it all seemed so academic, so out of reach. But as time went on and my legs began to heal, it began to make some sense. She made sure the dog didn’t get back in after the incident. I’ve never felt so helpless. Not as a human anyway. This world was not made for me, that was very clear. It didn’t know how to react to me, to treat me. So instead I got violence. I got kicked, thrown toilet rolls at, thrown into bins, twice. And worst of all, I too had been driven to violence; the only person, perhaps ever, who had understood me, was dead because of me.
She sometimes held workshops online in her study. Some days I would sleep all day but others, I’d sit in my bed and listen. On one such day she spoke about a book she had written Fantastic Metamorphosis, Other Workds. The various places, in paintings, books, where transformations from beings into other beings took place. I only wished I could read this book, it seemed one way I could make sense of this. The experience of now being something else. I thought science would be the way out, of explaining it, but it wasn’t that straight forward. Even if it could, on a molecular, biological level unpick what had happened to me, it still wouldn’t help me make sense of this. Not really. Not in terms of my being, what it means to ‘be’. Things I had never had a reason to wonder, to think about as a human. The species that consider themselves at the top of all the chains and creator of them. The chains that is.
*** “You! Something’s up. I hear you clicking away there. Or however you would describe that noise. A sucking? No, that’s not right. Do it again.” Do what? “Churp? No”. I’m not a bird Marina. “You’re not a bird. What about a hiss? Or a tut? Yes. I like that.” Is that really what I sound like? “Maybe you get bored there, tutting away. You don’t have much to do. Mind you, nor does Rory. He does get to go out for walks though.” Please don’t take me for walks! I’ve managed to avoid it mostly as a human! “I’m not sure that would be a good idea in your case. I’m not sure I’d get anything published ever again! They’d all think I’d lost it completely! There goes Marina Warner, they’d say, out walking that giant bug again, I knew she’d loose it sooner or later. Something else then.” Like what? What could I possible do in this state!? Really Marina. She seemed to get distracted, pulled back into her own thoughts and turned to her desk. “Write this paper for me. I’ve been putting it off for months. That would be great. The bloody Nonhuman Turn Conference. God knows why they asked me. They have Judith Butler for God’s sake, and Jane Bennett! Don’t know what they were thinking. Why didn’t you say no? “It’s not like you can say no to that sort of thing. UCL give a decent fee, might get me
an introduction or two. But now I have to write this. This devil paper. Reminds me of that awful time I attempted a research proposal for a PhD. Yuck.” I’m a nonhuman and I do have something to say. If you could hear me. I don’t have any degrees but I’d say I could offer a pretty unprecedented perspective on this as it happens. “I’m sure you’d have a thing or two to say about that. Wouldn’t you? Hmm? Yes I hear you tutting away. What about difference you say. What about violence? Well my shiny friend, Judith has those covered. I could just make it an ode to Judith. But why bother? Everyone, even those who don’t agree with her, think she’s an incredible intellectually poignant whizz. And me? This is preposterous. Why am I even doing this? Why am I trying to do this? And why am I talking to you?” She looked across at me, on her desk. I had taken to sitting amongst her books as I found I could read if the book was already open. I was surprised at first that she didn’t object to me being there. The thought seemed to run across her face too, the first time she found me up there. Then like most things, the phrase ‘why not’ seemed to win her over. Why not? You’re a writer. You have the perspective of a writer. Someone who can play and talk about words. About what it means to say something, to understand. And the difficulties in not understanding. What it means to not be able to understand. Write about that. “You see. I’m sure whatever it is you’re tutting about is important to hear and yet I can’t understand. Elizabeth Grosz said something about that. About communicating with animals or about sounds. That they communicate in a different way. That there are more ways of understanding, so much we don’t know. I could write about that. Ok, I need to focus, I can do this. Would you mind moving down, I think you’re
sitting on Becoming Undone.”
Not wanting to get in the way and wanting Marina to succeed, I scuttled down the table and back into bed. I had helped her, just as she did me. I couldn’t explain how but I’m sure I did. “Coincidence. Must be. It’s just that I say, can you move down and then you move there. It’s a little odd.” She sat staring at me for some time. She seemed to be thinking things through. Perhaps wondering what to write, perhaps thinking about me. “What if? No.” She laughed at herself. “I’m getting distracted again!” She turned back to her desk, back inside her laptop, back to writing. “You must have seen me look at the bed. Rory does that.” I am not a dog! “But you’re not a dog. Ok.” She closed her eyes. Took a breath. “Why don’t you come back onto the desk and help me write this.”
She had been facing me, eyes covered. It was like playing peek-a-boo. She took a breath. “I must be crazy.” She released her eyes, her hands peeled away from her face. Facing my bed, her eyes focused. Focused on what wasn’t here. My absence. Her absence of understanding. She turned around to her desk, furrowed brow, still not admitting to herself what this meant. She looked at me, almost cross. Like she was
speaking to a child who had been accused of stealing sweets and needed to ask the child whether this accusation was true. Not saying anything she continued to look at me. Now what she said had to be more considered, thoughtful. No longer would it do to speak with words unchecked, unvetted and with an unconscious rawness. “Hello?” Hello. No doubt this so called tutting came out the same way as all the other words I had spoken. Even so Marina, drew a sharp breath in. Nearly choking on the air. She coughed and put a hand to her mouth. “Oh my god.” She stood up. Turned around as if to leave the room, the door was always closed to keep Rory out, came around full circle, gestured as if to say something but no words came out. Again she turned to the door, this time pushing down on the handle. Marina backed out of the room with eyebrows raised in astonishment, hand still clasped to her mouth.
I remained on the desk, I could hear the quiet mumbles from down the corridor. I switched between reading an open book on the desk and looking up at the door to see if it was going to open. Meanwhile, Rory had started scratching at the door, which he sometimes did when I was in the room alone. It opened. “Rory, go and lie down. Go on, in your bed.” There was a pause while she waited for Rory to do as he was told. She entered. Still with a look of astonishment but instead of cross she also had an eire of determinism about her. As if she was going to get to the bottom of this. I knew how she felt, I also knew she shouldn’t concern her herself
with getting to the bottom of anything. That there was an endless bucket of uncertainty when it came to this condition. “ I was going to call Marcus but I couldn’t tell him. I tried it out in my head. Heard how I sounded. I couldn’t. I, we should clarify things. Let’s do a few tests. That way we can rule out accidents.” I thought you were a writer not a scientist. I’d rather not think about my time in the lab thank you very much. It left me precisely nowhere. Well, not nowhere, in a massive bin. “Ok, so. Move a little to the right.” Your right or my right? “Oh, that’s not going to work. Hmm. Move to my right. But what if you’re dyslexic? What has happened to me, am I really talking to you and suggesting you may have a learning difficulty! Ok. I know.” She took down a few books from the shelves. And put them on the rug, face up. “So, here are three books. Let’s make it four, there are four. Go to the one that is by me.” Really? This is what you want me to do?! This seemed even more tedious than the lab work. But if it would bring Marina closer to accepting that I could understand pretty much everything she said and a chance to tell someone, then I would do it. “Ok, so you got that one. Still, could just be a fluke. What about, go to the on that has the word ‘violence’ in the title.”
It went on like this. By the end of it Marina had put down another ten books. Each direction she gave, I followed. And still she doubted. She couldn’t allow herself to believe what she was seeing. “This isn’t working.” I’m glad you’ve finally realised that. But you can’t give up. You’re so close. We are so close, you are so close. You can’t. She began putting the books back on the shelves. “I need to get back to this paper. This whole thing is probably some elaborate story I’ve concocted so I don’t have to write it. If you can understand me, please understand I can’t wrap my head around this at the moment. Please, let me work on this awhile.” I crawled down from the table and into my bed. Perhaps I would live out my days here, perhaps that was ok. Alfie probably had a nice foster family by now. “Oh fuck it. Ok. Come back up here.” She cleared a space on the desk and put down a piece of A4 paper. I bounded up. “Take this.” She held out a small wooden Ikea pencil, so that I could hold it in my mouth. At first I dropped it. “Try again.” I made a mark on the paper. It wasn’t easy. And took a lot of effort to get the pressure right. I had to hold half of the pencil inside my mouth, with my head close to the paper. “Oh wow. Ok. Now, write a letter ‘O’.” This turned out to be quite tricky and I dropped the pencil half way round. So it looked more like one side of an open bracket. But she could see what I was trying to do.
“Oh my god! Oh my god, oh my god. So you really can understand me! You really really can. Oh my god! I started writing a ‘Y’. “This is, this is. What is this? What does this mean? I can ask you. You’re going to need to practice. Ok, I’m going to write this paper now. You’re going to practice. I’ll put some paper down here. You can write on this book so you have a hard surface. There’s your pencil. Get practicing, I’ve got a lot of questions for you.” I scurried down, nearly falling off the table. It had taken months, but the time had come. I was going to tell my story. Someone would know who I was. What I was.
“And post! It’s up Greg!” It was so strange to hear someone using my name again. My human name. Although it also made no sense now. I didn’t feel like the same person I was the last time someone called me that. That horrendous moment. The moment when nothing could ever be the same. I often wondered how Alfie was, I often wondered if I could be his person. He needs me. And I was going to find someone who could help. With this post, more people would know what had happened. Post by post, people would hear another piece of the story. Sometimes we went backwards, and then swung to the beginning again, depending on how I remembered.
Each day I wrote down more of the story for Marina, and each day she posted another tweet with a thirty character segment. The aim was to have finished all the
posts by the conference which was the end of December, just under a month and half away. By then, the world would know all. Well, those who used social media.
“We should really have your photo on there. What do you think?” I dipped my head low in agreement. Writing was like a lifting off of this giant shell. I was no longer locked inside myself, I could share who I was, I could remember who I was. And everyone would know who was inside here. I started to think about music again. There was the possibility of being able to press buttons with theses sticks which meant that I could still mix, sample and create. There wasn’t going to be much else that I could do. I had begun to think about the future again. Even if I did it in this disguise, this mask, this facade. “Smile!” Very funny. “Oh! Hahah, ok, no smiling then. Come and have a look. I’m not sure about any of them.” Seeing myself, a representation, was worse than the real thing. The grotesqueness, the change, the oddness of it all seemed to be exaggerated and reminded me of the first time I saw myself in my bedroom mirror. People don’t want to see that. No one does. “I know, it's not you, the real you. But at least for now, it is you. I came to understand didn’t I? So others will. And I’ll help. Admittedly it does seem strange and otherworldly when you look at it as an image and completely farfetched and definitely like a hoax of some kind. But we’ll show them. The paper will help, at the
conference. The conference is going to be the ideal place.” I scribbled out ‘are you sure’ on a nearby piece of scrap paper. “We can do this. This conference, the Nonhuman Turn conference, it couldn’t be more right. The ideal ears for this to fall on. In actually fact, it is you who is the one who will be helping. Especially me. Like with the writing of this blasted paper.” She placed her warm hand on my back. What if I had something to make me look less scary. Like a hat or something? I wrote ‘hat?’. “Ah. Oh, I know.” She went out of the study where we had been working. I could hear drawers opening and closing. When she came back a few minutes later, she had a pile of clothes in her hands. “Let’s try some of these. They’re my son’s he doesn’t live here now, hasn’t for many years but still has some clothes here. What about this jumper?” It was a dark green, large woollen jumper. With large knit and had just about enough give to cope with my large torso and head. Marina dressed me like dog. Well what I thought it would feel like to be a dog and someone to put clothes on me. The wool kept getting stuck to my leg hairs, it covered the legs. The back two sets I pushed through the gaps in the knitting.
“What do you think?” I bent down in agreement and we made a second attempt at taking a photo for my social media accounts. Once Marina had uploaded the photo, she asked for my approval. I don’t know whether it was the light, or the colour of the jumper but I could make out the scar on my top lip. Which was of course no
longer a lip as such but it was there. It had bled and bled mum had tried to stop the bleeding by pressing a tea towel over it but it kept going. Gen wasn’t born then, so mum was still alive. There was blood everywhere by the time we left for the hospital. Dad must have gotten quite the fright when he got in, he still noticed things back then. We really did all fall apart. But this scar survived somehow.
The conference was nearing and we now had over two thousand followers on Twitter, people would ask me questions through FaceBook. It was kicking off. In time for the big reveal at the conference. When we’d find out if all our hard-work had paid off. Would we be laughed off the stage? Would they listen? Would they believe? After much consideration we had decided I would go, that I would accompany Marina to the conference. The paper had been submitted. Marina practiced her presentation of the paper. An overview of the topics, all revolving around me. What it was like being a nonhuman. The desire to be seen, to be recognised and the reactions from the majority of people. The dangers and desires of visibility. We had yet to hear from any scientists. It was mainly the curious and media people who got in touch. I had saved the most difficult part of the story for last. The day Gen ended. The day life as Alfie knew it ended, and the day my life as a human ended (at least temporarily). When it went live, I felt nervous, a nervous anxiousness, as if I was waiting for something. As if in sharing this last segment, I was revealed, I had been let loose, now they could see all of me, the ugliest truth of all.
Crashing, right knee hitting hard, back, then head. Thud. The force brings the head back up. Was she trying to get up? To lift her head to joke? Complain or rib? Stillness.
“Mum?” A quiet Alfie crept up the stairwell from where he was told to hide. He looked around the corner where he had last seen his mum, stopping abruptly, grazing the top of her head with his little knee. Looking down at her and then up the stairs towards where I was standing. I lay down. There was nothing to hold me up, it felt as if all my insides had gone. Had left me. Slumped on the floor, I watched as Alfie began to pat his mum on the pack, pulling at her tight purple cropped jumper. “Mum? We need to go. Mum?” Blood began to spill out from her nose. Her head resting limply near the edge of the landing. A small pool formed that soon expanded, sliding onto the stair below. Realising his mum wasn’t moving, Alfie took her hand which lay dumbly in front of her. And stood, watching. It continued to flow, her ears too began to bleed, building up in her outer ear, dripping from her lobe, spilling over and merging with the pool from her nose. Alfie watched as the pools grew. He looked up at me, as if he might see his Uncle Greg. “Uncle Greg!” I couldn’t move. As Alfie watched the door of my studio flat, I caught Gen’s eyes, that were still open, wide open. Empty, but looking at me, as if to say, what have you
A door opened below, voices echoed around the mostly concrete stairwell. And I ran. I ran for my life. I ran for the guilt. I ran. Ignoring the screeches that passed me. The shoes that nearly hit me. The cries from Alfie as neighbours began to see the state of his mum. *** The day before we were due at the conference. I received emails and messages from people looking forward to meeting me at the conference on Friday. We were on the last day of three, so it was already in full swing. Marina had wanted to attend the keynote speech by Judith Butler on the opening day but her media advisor, who she had hired for the occasion, advised against it. To get the most out of it, tomorrow had to be her first appearance. People would be waiting, anticipating her presentation they had said. After Marina’s presentation, which was supposed to be for fifteen minutes, there was going to be a panel discussion with Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz and Jane Bennett chaired by Amia Srinivasan. This was all beginning to feel like second nature to me even though before all this, I had been far away from this world. It had never seemed more important to be heard, to be seen. Even like this, especially like this. I would never have done something like this in my human body.
We had decided I should wear the jumper at the conference. To avoid the fainters.
No doubt there would be some. Definitely screams. Gasps? Absolutely. My photo was even up on the conference website. It would have been in the programme but they had printed them before I had gained any online visibility. It was fast. The jumper had been altered slightly. I could walk in it. During the speech Marina was going to make, I would respond to her and write on stage and perhaps answer a question from the audience. I was relieved it wasn’t me speaking, perhaps the only good to come out of not being able to be understood. My main fear was having things thrown at me. Or being the wrong way up. Or being drowned. Or my mouth seizing up so I couldn’t write. If this happened it would undermine Marina’s entire speech and my own story. They needed to see.
“Thank you Marina Warner and Greg. That was an inspiring and groundbreaking presentation. Hearing these words today is a recognition that this Nonhuman Turn is a subject matter long overdue or perhaps very timely for a conference such as this. The knowledge that has been shared over the last few days is essential to our moving forward to our human comprehension of how we exist in this world. Affecting everything from capitalism, war, violence to global health and climate change. On that note I would like to introduce our panelists for todays discussion, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz and Jane Bennett and which will be chaired by myself… .”
We had done it! Marina was nervous, I could tell and my writing was a little shaky
from nerves. And nothing went disastrously wrong. In the moment of me coming on stage, I was clapped, no one threw a thing! Of course there were gasps too but Marina had prepared the audience so well that they were aware of what they were going to see. I had a name badge and everything. Marina pinned it to my jumper. I didn’t have the chance to answer any audience questions as Marina had gone overtime but this was probably for the best. The lights were very bright on stage and I wanted to get off as soon as I could. If I could have sweated I’ve no doubt that’s what I would have done. The makeup artist had put this non-sweat foundation on Marina before she went on as she was sweating so much. They were a little stumped as to what to do for me. They settled on trying to buff my shell. No doubt the oddest moment in her career.
“I’m so relieved. I stumbled a bit. Did I talk too fast? I was trying so hard not to I think I may have!” I moved my head from side to side to indicate a ‘no’. “Oh thank god. You know, I’ve never been so nervous for one of these things. I’ve done bigger, more people but. There seemed much more riding on this than anything I’ve done before. And Judith Butler is here! All done now. I’m looking forward to a drink after this.” Marina whispered as we took our seats.
*** Everyone was clapping. I must have been exhausted. I had intended to watch the whole thing. But this day, the lead up to it, had been draining. Sucked the life out of
me. “Shall we go? Perhaps we should wait for the people to drain out of here.” We sat in our seats on the front row and watched the stage technicians pack up. The panelists themselves remained chatting once their microphones had been removed and the stage lights switched off. “I packed us some snacks somewhere in here.” Marina rummaged through her various bags she had with her. Meanwhile Judith Butler, Elizabeth Grosz and Jane Bennett were heading our way. Marina?! Marina?! “You must be Greg? I’m so pleased to meet you.” I couldn’t believe it. She knew my name, I thought to myself, then remembered I was wearing a name badge, then remembered I was an insect. I’m so pleased to meet you Judith. I mean Mz Butler, I mean Judy Butter, I mean Oh dear. What was I saying! I then remembered, with relief, she of course couldn’t understand the complete gibberish I had just blurted out. Thank God you can’t understand me Judith! I couldn’t be happier in this moment. “You have a very important perspective Greg. One that academics and scientist and everyone should, and no doubt will, be listen to you. We have so much to learn from you.” Oh my God did Judith Butler just say she could learn from me!? Oh my god, I think I’m going to faint. Can I faint? “Hello Judith. It’s lovely to see you again. How are you? Such a fascinating panel discussion. And what a panel!”
“Thanks Marina, great to hear you speak earlier, such important work. It’s an increasingly poignant issue, the complexities of recognition and what happens in that process.” Judith was cut off. So engrossed in our exchange, none of the group appeared to have noticed two police officers had entered the now empty conference hall. They stood directly behind the group, staring intently on. “Can we help you?” Marina asked. “Are you, no I can’t do it. Is this, is it Greg?” Asked one of the officers, pulling a piece of paper out of her pocket as she spoke. I am Greg. “This is Greg. Why do you ask?” “I can’t believe I’m going to do this. Is this really what he said?” The officer turned quietly to her counterpart. “Just get on with it, get it done.” She whispered back. “Here goes. Ok. Well. Greg, I’m arresting you on suspicion of manslaughter. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. And anything you do say may be given in evidence. I guess we don’t need these cuffs huh.” “Shall we just, pick him up?” “Are you serious, no, you’re joking. You are.” “Believe me mam, I’m shocked myself but here’s the warrant.” The police officer handed the warrant to Marina. Who didn’t seem to know what she as looking at. “But you can’t arrest him, he’s not even a him, he’s a, it’s a… .”
“Not according to the Twitter post dated, November the second twenty twenty five, this is a man, just looks like, like, like that.” “I’m sorry mam. We have to take him now.” “Officer, pick him up.” “Me? Why me? Can’t you do it.” “Just do it.” No! Do not pick me up! You can’t! It was a mistake! I didn’t mean to! Put me down. PUT ME DONW NOW. I tried to yell. And yell. No one knew what to say. It seemed absurd. Too absurd for words. Could they really do this, they said to each other. And yet it was happening, I was carted off, carried off. I did sit in the back of the police car. They did take me back to the station. And to the hilarity of the officers, they did process me, and they really did put me in a cell. Thankfully they did gave me pen and paper, given that I couldn’t make a phone call, they said I could write a letter. And I began to write: