The lint trap was full. The towels had emerged still damp from the dryer, and now the whole warm and heavy bundle would have to be put back in. I opened the plastic trap, scraped up the thick blue-grey fluff with my fingernails – short and unvarnished these days – and squeezed it into a ball. The shell-lined path from the laundry led across the scrubby grass of the backyard, and as I followed it back toward the house a movement in the vegetable patch caught my eye.
A creature was hunched over rooting in that unsuccessful corner of the garden, mole-like paws deep in the hard soil. It stood about two feet high, with horns like a bull and a long pelt of filthy, matted brown fur. Between its bandy little legs hung a pair of testicles so absurdly large that they almost reached the ground. As I watched the creature slowed its movements, straightened its back and turned toward me. We both stood frozen for a long, mistrustful moment. Its small eyes were yellow and smeared with gunk, giving it the look of an old man with jaundice. It opened its small, black-tongued mouth and made a plaintive noise, like the maaaa of a baby goat.
“Wait there”, I told it. “I’ll see what I can find.”
The inside of the refrigerator had its usual ozone and lettuce smell. The electric light was as matter-of-fact as ever. All I could find was a ceramic dish of shepherd’s pie left over from last night’s dinner, hastily covered in plastic wrap with the serving spoon still jammed in it. When I emerged back into the yard, with the cold, oily dish in my arms, the thing was still there. I took a seat on the back step, placing the dish beside me, and waited to see what it would do.
It approached warily, sniffing the air, its gigantic scrotum swinging gently as it moved. When it reached the dish it stretched forward its little paw, snatched the spoon and retreated back a few steps. Still staring directly into my eyes, the monster opened its mouth up wide, far wider than I would have thought possible, and shoved the spoon in sideways. It swallowed, then turned and shuffled off, shoulders hunched, burrowing under the wire fence and making for the forested hill behind the house.
I said nothing about the monster when Greg came home. We ate canned soup for dinner, watched television, then he went to bed and I sat up a little longer to sew. I set up the machine so I could watch the window, in case the thing came back, but all I saw was my own reflection – pale, unsmiling, and a little rounder in the face than it used to be. I’d started gaining weight after I stopped working. It was as though the weight of the hours I’d spent alone had settled on my body, sluggishness creating unmoving ripples on my belly and thighs.
A day or two passed without any sign of the thing, during which it rained lightly in a noncommittal way I found irritating. I had washed the breakfast dishes and emptied the kitchen scraps into the compost heap, and was sneaking a cigarette on the back step when I heard a rustling and there it was. The same animal, but changed – its coat clean though still a little tangled, its eyes clear and bright. And though I couldn’t be sure, I would almost have sworn it had grown a little larger. Clutched in its paw was an old wine bottle, smeared with dirt and clotted with cobwebs and dry leaves. Swirling about at the bottom were a few inches of a cloudy liquid, a fat, dead fly spinning lazily on the surface. Like a good houseguest, it held the bottle out to me as it approached, placed the gift warily in the grass a few feet from where I sat, then retreated and crouched to watch what I would do.
With a shudder I put it to my lips and took a drink of silty rainwater, stinking of rotting leaves and the forest floor. The headiest feeling ran through me, and suddenly I felt free, vivid, ready to run, break windows, flee from bad food and a sour marriage and the dullness that hung over me like a killing smog. I realised that the empty bottle in my hand was very pretty, with the dirt smears on the flanks of the bottle like clouds in a sepia sky, and a delicate lace of cobwebs and leaves overhanging all.
“Wait,” I told my monster friend, and I ran back into the house, opened the cutlery drawer, and pulled out every fork, spoon and knife we had. Holding the cold, rattling bundle like a wedding bouquet. I approached the waiting monster and pressed them into his little black paws. It turned and bounded over the fence, clutching its bounty as it vanished into trees. Returning to the house, I wondered – did the monster have babies to feed? A monster wife to comb his fur? Where was his home, and who was sharing his food?
On the last night I woke from strange, sweaty dreams and stoked Greg’s belly hair and kissed his shoulder until he shook me off and huddled away irritably. I lay awake until he’d left for work, then pulled on a dress. I gathered every plate, every pan, every last mug and cleaver into a pile on the shell path, and I sat barefoot on the back step and I waited for the monster. Hours passed in a long sigh of wind over trees and backyard sprinklers and cars on the highway nearby. Yet I was still taken aback when he appeared. He was definitely larger, almost the size of a man now, and his coat was as rich and glossy as a showdog’s, his ridiculous balls standing proudly on display. He approached almost without hesitation as I stood and gathered up my gifts. A metallic scent, like blood, wafted off his breath.
“Take me with you”, I whispered, holding out my free hand, and together we bounded across the garden, a pair of unnatural things flying, flying, over the wire fence and into the dripping forest.
Photo by _swika, via Flikr.