I have yet to make a friend, but that is by design.
The beauty of existence in a verbal dimension is that nothing is a product of happenstance. There are no coincidences, no mistakes, no serendipity. However, there are demands. When your life is measured by the story it unfolds, it requires relations. As a word needs a language, a character needs a milieu. Antagonism. One is what one does, and the effects must reciprocate.
A friend might be a bit much. I should say what I need is companionship. A friend, by definition, harbors concern. But a companion: well, a companion is nothing if not a trove of secrets.
The objects of my relations are not most important. Most vital are the relations themselves and their dynamics. The how of my being will say more than the what. I need to initiate a relation.
And I should like to reserve the right to control, to dictate the course of its terms. I should like to own it, to set its parameters.
Above all else, I should like to live with it. I need a home, and a home needs company, but as I’ve explained, people pose a problem. I tire of people. I bear the weight of their deficiencies. They are blind with malice. I have already relinquished enough by accepting my extremities—I don’t need more variables that exceed my grasp. I don’t need a peer; I’ve endured many, and let’s just say they never fail to disappoint. I’ve been indicted in enough trials, been sentenced to enough errors. I need companionship, a home, to feel at home: expansion of my sovereign space encompassing more than just myself so I can fulfill my human impulses for social intercourse and ambition.
Relations without people. Motivation, control. Affection and respect.
A novel means to manage a ménage.
It would be a model process. An array of words conjures a man of excess proportions who cares for animals. A seamless spectrum, a reverse of evolution—from sheer abstraction to moral responsibility to natural instinct. The word made flesh.
Zoology, n., from Gk., zoion ‘animal’ and legein ‘to speak.’
I will need to start with an animal. A pet. I will need to buy the pet. This will require a vendor, in a district, in a city.
I will need to emerge, to come out, to come into play from somewhere. A root. A starting place.
The place where I live.
I can sense the extrusions of reality surround me. Somewhere with space, with walls, chairs, windows, views, memories, keys.
I leave my flat, turn up my collar, weave through people on my way to the Underground. Feet in boots, hands in pockets, I amble down the steps, hips cocked to one side.
The Metro ride is short. Six stops. I can count them on one hand. There are plenty of seats but I choose to stand.
The Subway doors retract. A pool of people pours up the escalator. A turnstile, a beep, a wrought iron gate. The street is bright, the alleys dark, it’s breezy. An aproned man unloads a van. Strangers share tea. Tall children argue and smile.
I step on a black rubber mat and glass doors open to a fluorescent scene. Neat rows of toy castles, jars of pig ears, the odor of shampooed rodents. I can hardly stand the indignity of such a mundane reality, but if it’s companionship I seek, I have to meet the world halfway.
Buenas tardes, señor.
Hi, how are you.
Muy bién, gracias. ¿Y usted?
I’m fine, thank you.
Me alegro. ¿Y cómo puedo ayudarle hoy?
I’m looking for a companion.
I said I’m looking for a companion.
Yes, a companion, an animal as a pet. I can browse, Miss, thanks.
A sus órdenes.
In a far back corner of the store, a sign hangs from the ceiling that reads, “Lieblinge.” I walk along a wall of bubbling fish tanks, microfish species from every ocean of the world. Schools synchronize around plastic driftwood. Some tanks have one or two floating at the surface. They say tiny fish have a memory span of seconds. It must be torture discovering the same dead cellmate 10,000 times a day.
I stand before a wall of Plexiglas nests. Rabbits, pythons, chinchillas, turtles. But I’d prefer to found my menagerie on the first domesticated animal.
Canis lupus familiaris. An illusion of history.
Hi, I’d like to buy a dog.
Un chien, très bon. Vous pouvez choisir, he says, waving the tip of his pipe at the wall.
Oh, I don’t want to choose. You can choose for me. One of the puppies.
He frowns, raises his chin, and gravely declares, Un chiot fortuit.
He shrugs and peels through his keys. My fists tighten in my pockets.
I cannot select a specimen.
I feel I’m being watched. I look over my shoulder. Behind me, in a large cage, a brilliant parrot seesaws its head, turns side to side, takes me in one eye at a time.
Raat! Where’s the body?, it blurts.
I shiver. I face it.
Raat! Four too many! Four too many! Yoo-hoo!
My palms sweat.
Heh heh, the man mutters, kneeling at the opened display. Il vient de l’Amazone mais il parle anglais. C’est très bizarre.
I turn away, try to act aloof. My body language belies that every sense I have is attuned to the bird. The man shuts the frame, turns the key, labors to rise to his feet. He comes closer. Cradling the puppy, gently stroking its ears, he seeks my approval. He doesn’t understand why I won’t subject it to inspection. To humiliation.
I crane my neck to see the Amazon. It returns the gaze with one eye, then the other.
Raat! Polydactyl wanna cracker! Ha-ha!
I squint, flex my jaws. I shoot the Amazon a look and think to myself, I’ll be back for you tomorrow.
Raat! I’ll be waiting! Toodle-oo!