He stood in the kitchen wearing nothing but his duly-rude apron and the birthmark that covered the left side of his face from his eye to his lips, up to his elbows in papier mâché. His skin was evenly covered with lifeless black hair. So much so that he looked like he was going bald, everywhere, as if he had once possessed a full pelt of fur, without commercial value perhaps but a full pelt nonetheless, that due to some disease or nervous disorder was falling out. He looked like an unassuming, woolly biped, with mange. And a birthmark. He applied the strips of glue-soaked newspaper to a chicken-wire form that he had twisted, bent and pounded into shape. “How can you tell what it’s going to look like when it’s finished?” He shrugged, not wanting me to see that he was wanting me to see that he was pleased by my admirative tone. “So what’s it going to be when it’s finished?” “A spotted hyena.” “Yeah but, it looks to me like it’s got like, six leg things. Hyenas don’t have six legs.” “This one is the tail.” “Yeah but, they don’t have a tail and five legs either.” “You’ll see.” And I did, much to my rejoicement. A spotted hyena it was, with no spots, yet, but with a cackling snout, a tail, and four fine legs straddling a considerable peenits. “Can we call him Gérard? Can we? Gérard, marquis d’Hyène. Or Jim? Julian!” “Her,” said Danilo. “Her?” “Her.” He looked at me. I have seen a sort of similar look in the eyes of other men. When their unbuttoning of the first button meets with an inability to resist. When, that is, they begin to lose interest. “That’s her clitoris actually. You know what a clitoris is, do you? I think it’s the same word in French. Cleetoreece?” But it was a peenits, it was. As much a peenits as Danilo’s own. “You don’t know what a clitoris is? I’ll have to show you then. Jump up here on the table.” “You know I know what it is. And it’s not that.” Danilo’s hobby, apart from me, was animal sex. The sex of animals, I mean, how they do it. His apartment was full of papier mâché sculptures of creatures whose reproductive strategies excited his curiosity. “This,” he might say, fingering a strangely contorted creature perched on his piano, “is a paper nautilus. A mysterious animal. Tonight is paper nautilus night. Ready?” He threw a sheet over my head and tied it at my waist. I should maybe say I wasn’t wearing anything underneath. “At one time, people thought that female paper nautiluses were afflicted with parasitic worms.” He cut out a hole for my face and another hole lower down and then he tied some pink-ribbon tentacles around me because paper nautiluses are actually octopuses, despite the fact that they live in paper-thin shells that are really very beautiful. “Then they realized that the worm in question was actually one of the male’s arms which was also its peenits. They thought it broke off after the naughtiluses intercoursed.” He put a sheet over his own head, and tied some tentacles around himself. “Then they discovered that the male actually shoots his whole peenits into the female, harpooneer style.” He cut the point off a sugar cone. Then he got me to lie down on my back, spread my tentacles and inserted the cone into my slit. “So that’s how we’re going to do it.” He lay down on his back too. “Hold the cone upright.” He had a bunch of small tubes filled with coloured pellets, cake decorations actually, imported from Holland. He broke the end off one, held it against the rigid catapult of his peenits, and fired. He was not a crack shot. Oh, he did make the occasional hit. Overall, though, my face-hole received considerably more decorations than my sugar-cone-hole, so I was not in any great danger of getting fertilized. Nevertheless, Danilo inspected me closely when we got up, licked his index, and carefully removed any cake decorations that hadn’t fallen out. “Goodness,” he said, as I hurried on my snow pants over my ratty pyjamas, “your ears are just as red as red.” I have to write a poem for French. I do it in a minute and a half during recess. Sitting on the can. All I want is to go to sleep. I get the poem back: *Ton poème est charmant, Josée. Je m’offre le plaisir de réécrire ces quelques vers, que j’ai adorés: Ma vie est un croquis dessiné sur, oui, du bon papier, trouvé là, sur la plage, un caillou à chaque coin C’est beau. A++++ What a joke. Danilo stormed and trumpeted, flapped his triangular ears, slashed away with his floppy trunk. He had big green tears painted on his cheek under his good eye. “The male elephant,” he roared, his voice, due to the toy proboscis dangling in front of his mouth, seeming to come from somewhere behind his head, “enters a state of vicious frenzy called musth, characterized by the exudation of a dark green ichor.” “A wha’?” “A ichor. A body fluid. Ichor is what the Greeks called what the gods had instead of blood. So. Musth. Characterized by the exudation of a dark green ichor under the eyes and over the generative organ.” He had big green tears painted on his generative organ too. He ranted and puffed, overturned the kitchen table, spilling the dishes and dried flowers, leaving the salt shaker spinning on the floor. He grabbed the shaker and sprinkled himself liberally. “Mwaaa!” he brayed. “Come, female, and snack on my salted peenits.” “Oh, Josée,” says my mother, fingering my intermediate algebra text, smelling of gin, smoke, and indolence, “a boy wanted you to call him back.” “Who? When did he call?” “Yesterday, I guess. I forgot to tell you. I’m sorry.” Her small, unsubtle ways. “He said his name was Sébastien.” I roll my eyes with disgust. Sébastien has a dimple in his chin so deep you can only think that that was where the umbilical cord was attached when he was a foetus. So deep you can’t help but see yourself being sucked into its vortex. My disgust is genuine. I’m not trying to sooth my mother’s sense of ascendancy. “Mmn,” she says, her sense of ascendancy soothed nevertheless. “I know what you mean. The thing about boys is that the vast majority give the rest a bad name. You’re smart not to let boys get in the way of your good years.” Danilo, like me, was an only child. “What are you making?” I said. “I’m melting chocolate. Tonight we’re going to be spiders. Okay?” “Okay. But what’s the chocolate for?” “Well. The interesting thing about spiders is that the male produces his sperm in one place, his abdomen, and his spermatozoa in a completely different place, his pedipalps, which sort of stick out from his mouth, like hollow antennae, like straws. First he spins a small web. He deposits a drop of his spermatozoa-free sperm onto the web. And then he sucks it up into his pedipalps, where it gets mixed with the active ingredient. After that, he inserts the pedipalps into the female. Got it?” “Sure. But what’s the chocolate for?” He was adding cream to the chocolate, stirring like sixty. He slipped off his shiny, white housecoat, folded it, and lay it across my ribs. I was lying on the kitchen table. I didn’t say that, did I. “The chocolate is the spermless sperm.” He was back to stirring. “I’m going to deposit it, when it cools, on the housecoat, which is silk, so there must be a spider in its past. Then I’m going to take two of these excellent flexible straws, that I ripped off a hospital actually, and use them, pedipalp-like, to suck the chocolate cream into my mouth where it will get mixed with my active ingredient. Then I’m going to insert the straws into you, which I trust you will enjoy.” “And how, may I ask, will your active ingredient find its way into your mouth?” “Oh, we’ll think of something. We’ll think of something.” We were only children, Danilo and I. Playing. “What’s this?” I said. “That?” said Danilo. “Where’d you find that? Been rooting around in my shit, eh. It’s a report I got from a specialist way back when. I think I was about your age, in fact. There must be a date on it somewhere. Translated into straight English it says that I have a birthmark, a naevus flammeus, that I need glasses, but that I’m not wonky.” The patient was born with a left-sided facial naevus flammeus (port wine stain), involving the cheek, lips, upper eyelid, and left side of the nose. This is a benign, vascular lesion, medium purple, that can be expected to deepen in colour over time, as well as to thicken and become ridged. “Neeevis,” I whispered, calling. Calling it. “Neeevis-sonneeevis. I am your kelpie, neevis.” “Khiss me, khelpie,” it murmured, answering. Answering me. “Khisss.” It’s cobbles caught on the ridges of my lips. The masking cream’s fading sheen clung to me, its perfume mingling with the odour of my own poisonous, braces-breath, scorching my nostrils. I navigated the neevis’s coastline in my lip-ship, sailed the eyelid, plied the nose. “I am dry, kelpie, dry. Hideous to look at. I am thickening and ridged.” I traversed the neevis’s grainy moraine with my tongue-tip’s pink nib, making my mouthwater trickle into it’s fissures. The neevis softened, shuddered. “Khiss,” it murmured, “khiss only me.” His left eye is hyperaemic over the bulbar conjunctiva. He also has anisometric hyperoptic astigmatism of the left eye. “Kelpie, kelpie,” murmured the neevis, calling. Calling me. But my throat was too thick, too rigid to answer. I licked the damaged left eye, the misgrown lashes. I breathed on the neevis my putrescent breath. The neevis gasped, grew. “Breathe on me, kelpie, do. Please, please. Your breath stinks, it is alive with rot, your breath, alive.” I breathed on the neevis, scrubbed it with my forehead, buffed it with my hair. Its medium purplicity shone, shone. Fundal examination of the eye revealed the presence of left choroidal haemangioma, well circumscribed, slightly raised, affecting the left foveal region. “I, I am your kelpie, neevis. Only I.” The neevis blushed. I could feel my brain collapse, my insides yield, until I could no longer tell my surface from my spirit. I wanted to slither over the neevis’s gleaming fleshlets, to sing, to sink into its deep purplicity. The naevus flammeus involves the ophthalmic and maxillary divisions of the trigeminal nerve, and the choroidal haemangioma has the characteristics of those associated with Sturge-Weber syndrome. Nevertheless, the patient does not suffer from seizures. The hard, piglet snouts of my nipples nosed the neevis, sniffed its wattles. I breathed through my piglet snouts, breathed the neevis into every part of me, my pancreas, my slit, my liver and lungs. How it shone, the neevis did. It shone like liver, shone like lung. He has no apparent neurological deficit. “Neeevis-sonneevis-sonneevis-sonneevis,” chanted my slit, my conne. I kissed with my clit, with my clittlekiss, the neevis, cleaned it, scoured its nubs with my slit, my conne, so it shone, the birthmark, shone like my slit, my birth mark, my conne. I scrubbed the neevis, the neevis-sonneevis, the neeevis-conneevis-conneevis-conneevis. Until I was sick to my slit. Sick with such pleasure. I slid the key into Danilo’s door. I could feel him looking at me, from the other side. It was so easy to look into Danilo’s eyes. He knew how to let his gaze be absorbed into mine. How to let me win. But when he had his back to me, when he was in another room, then I could feel him looking, looking, his duly-rude gaze fingering me, feeling me up, making me squirm. Then I wanted to run to him. To make him look at me. So he would not look. I could feel him, on the other side, looking. I slid the key out of his door. I learned this from Danilo: The spotted hyena was once thought to be a hermaphroditic animal. It is difficult, in fact, to determine the sex of an individual hyena because the clitoris of the female is virtually identical to the penis of the male. Both organs are fully erectile. Both are used for urination. The vaginal lips of the female, moreover, have melded together and become infused with fibrous tissue to form a false scrotum containing false testes. Having no vulvar opening, the vagina can only be accessed through the urogenital canal which passes through the clitoris. Mating is achieved by the male’s inserting his erect penis into the female’s relatively flaccid clitoris. Clitoral erection occurs at earlier points in the mating ritual, and during exchanges, often aggressive, between females. The female must also give birth through this same urogenital canal, through the peniform clitoris, which ruptures during parturition. The wound is severe and slow to heal. The mother does not always survive. If I could, I would grab the female spotted hyena by the shoulders and shake the daylights out of her. I would scream at her, “Stop it! This is lunacy, an aberration. You can’t have fake balls! You simply can not give birth through a prick! Stop it. This is not who you are.” But it is, isn’t it. It is. The female spotted hyena is, to me, the most terrible of animals, the most forthright, the most chastening. I slid the key out of Danilo’s door and let it drop onto the rubber mat. I took off my snow pants and kicked them down the corridor. And then, in my ratty, red pyjamas, I walked out into the warm suburban night. I listened to the conspiracy of trees, the ominous, unruly council of leaves hissing behind the huddled streetlights. And far ahead loped the spotted hyena, her snout high, her back sloping. She stopped to sniff the air, looked back at me, harried but not impatient, unassailable. “Grouille-toé,” she cackled. Get your ass in gear. “Conne-que-t’es.” Idiot-that-y’are. The hyena had the right name for me. Cunnkitay. I ran after her, doing the best two-legged lope I could muster. She shook her head with disgust, turned and set off. And so I thought about all my young loves. About Marie-Noëlle, in class, her left arm raised straight up, elbow locked, palm flat. Ready, should the walls give way, to hold the ceiling up. About my mother, sitting at her vanity, leaning forward to suck the life out of a cigarette pinned between the mirror panels, her hands close to her shoulders, like stubby wings, the feathers of her fingers rippling to hurry the drying of her blood-red nails. About my father, in the velveteen armchair, a patch of Crisco calf showing, the comics lying open over his crossed knees, snores billowing out of his mouth in clouds of thick, black smoke, etched with the word, “Papoo-eeyoo-eeyoo.” About Danilo, detailing my sexual comportment to his assembled girlfriends, with little enthusiasm. About my one true love. The neevis-conneevis. At the thought of which, every beat of my heart hurt. I gave up loping, stopped to sniff the air. The wind was slick, the trees were rearing, tossing their heads. And I was free at last of all my young loves, free, for the moment anyway, the hyena having disappeared in the distance. Free to be the idiot that I was, Cunnkitay. *Your poem is lovely, Josée. I can’t resist the pleasure of rewriting it, it’s so short and I enjoyed it so much: My life is a sketch drawn on, yes, good paper, discovered on the beach, a stone at each corner Beautiful.